The Best Ground Beef For Every Type Of Recipe

Burgers, tacos, and casseroles, here's the meat that's best for each.

raw ground beef on a white piece of paper

Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling; Torie Cox

Ground beef is a great way to use up bits and pieces of beef or cuts that butchers might have left over. It also tenderizes tougher cuts of beef and boosts flavor by incorporating additional fat.

It’s a staple when making meatloaf, tacos, spaghetti sauce, and other recipes. Because we use it so much in everyday cooking, buying ground beef should be simple, right?

Well, the different labels and terminology can confuse many folks. Let’s take a peek behind the curtain and break down ground beef.*

Which Types of Ground Beef Are Best for Recipes?

All ground beef you purchase from the store is legally required to contain only beef—no fillers, binders, or added water is allowed. Different ground beef will vary in the cut of beef used and the fat content, which is labeled as a ratio on the package (lean meat to fat).

Beef is a great source of protein, minerals, and vitamins. But, it is also one of the largest sources of fat in our diets. Ground beef comes in different ratios of lean-to-fat. You can choose from high- to low-fat, depending on the grind.

Most ground beef is now clearly labeled with the fat and lean percentages on the packaging. If for some reason it’s not, or you can’t find it, you can make a rough guess by color. The brighter the red color, the leaner the beef will be.

Beef Brief

What's the best ground beef for burgers?

Ground beef or ground hamburger—they have a higher fat ratio, which delivers the most moisture and flavor, but they'll hold together nicely while grilling.

What's the best ground beef for tacos?
Ground round or ground sirloin—these are leaner versions of ground beef, so they don't have as much flavor on their own. That makes them perfect for cooking with lots of herbs and spices, as you do when making taco filling.

What's the best ground beef for meatballs?

Ground beef or ground chuck—the higher fat percentage can take a longer cook time.

What's the best ground beef for soups?

Ground round—it has less fat, which means less moisture and flavor. It does well in things where it cooks alongside other flavorful components, like soups, stews, and casserole.

70/30: Ground Beef and Ground Hamburger

These grinds are usually made with tougher or less popular cuts (such as brisket and shank), trimmings from nicer cuts (like sirloin or filet mignon), or a combination.

While ground beef cannot have added fat, ground hamburger can have added fat mixed into the grind. Both cannot contain more than 30 percent fat by weight. This is the highest fat ratio of grind, which means it is also the moistest and most flavorful. Because it can be made from any and all cuts of the cow, it also tends to be the least expensive.

Ground beef is great for dishes that take a while to cook, like meatloaf or meatballs simmered in sauce, because it won't lose moisture. Ground hamburger is best for—you guessed it!—hamburgers. Keep in mind that as it loses fat while cooking, this is the cut that will also shrink the most.

What Are Specialty Grinds?

Some grinds are made with only one cut of beef and are labeled as such. Because they are not a mix of different cuts, specialty grinds tend to be more expensive than regular ground beef. 

80/20: Ground Chuck

Ground chuck is 80 to 85 percent lean (15 to 20 percent fat). It’s the highest lean-to-fat ratio in the specialty grinds and tends to be quite tender and juicy.

Ground chuck is from the shoulder of the cow. It is rich and tender with plenty of flavor. Often referred to as “lean ground beef,” this is perfect for hamburgers and meatballs. It keeps the burger juicy, but a lot of the fat is rendered while grilling. The burgers will hold together well while cooking, but won’t dry out. 

85/15: Ground Round

Ground round is 85 to 90 percent lean (10 to 15 percent fat). A middle-of-the-road grind, ground round can dry out easily with its lower fat content. Like ground sirloin (see below), it is considered to be an “extra-lean” grind. It’s cut from the back of the cow and isn’t as flavorful as ground chuck.

Because it lacks flavor and moisture, it is best in recipes that mix it with other ingredients. Avoid it for burgers, but it’s great for soups, stews, sauces, and tacos. 

90/10 Ground Sirloin

Ground sirloin is 90 to 92 percent lean (8 to 10 percent fat). This is the leanest type of ground beef, often referred to as “extra-lean” and a great option if you are looking for a healthier choice. It is cut from the middle of the cow. Because it is so lean, it’s not a good choice for hamburgers, but it is great for casseroles, sauces, chili, and stuffed peppers.

*Keep in mind that these are standards in the United States. Other countries might vary.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles