One type of ground beef does not fit all recipes.

By Lisa Cericola
January 23, 2021
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Whether you're buying a car or a pound of ground meat, one rule applies: always read the fine print. Those shrink-wrapped packages of bright red beef at the supermarket may look exactly the same but there is a key difference you should know about.

Instant Pot Meatloaf Image
Credit: Southern Living

All ground meats have a lean-to-fat ratio; you can find the numbers in fine print on the packaging. If ground beef is labeled "90/10" that means it is made of 90 percent lean meat and 10 percent fat. The ratios range from 70/30 (fattiest) to 93/7 (leanest), but the most common ratios you'll find at most grocery stores are 80/20 and 90/10.

You may also see other labels, such as "ground chuck," "ground round," and "ground sirloin." These names also refer to the lean-to-fat ratio; ground sirloin is the leanest and ground chuck contains the most fat. Knowing the percentage of fat will help you choose the best type of ground beef for the dish you're making. Read on to find out which one is best for three common recipes.

Meatballs
Most meatballs served in marinara sauce are made with a mixture of beef and another ground protein, like pork sausage or veal—or all three. Pork gives the meatballs extra flavor, and veal helps keep them moist and tender. But all-beef meatballs taste great too, as long as you choose an 80/20 blend, which has enough fat to keep the meatballs from drying out. If there are other types of meat in the mix, choose 90/10.

Meatloaf
Unlike meatballs or burgers, which cook relatively quickly, a meatloaf spends a good amount of time baking in the oven. This means you need enough fat to keep the meatloaf from being tough and dry. Like meatballs, many meatloaf recipes include a blend of meat, which will determine whether you need fattier or leaner beef. If it's an all-beef recipe, avoid 90/10, and go for 80/20 or 85/15.

Burgers
Most recipes call for 70/30 or 80/20 ground beef, which makes a rich and juicy burger patty with a good exterior crust. But if you prefer a burger that doesn't require 10 napkins, look for 85/15.