Your supermarket's meat counter offers a wide variety of cuts and packages, and deciding which one represents the best value isn't always a straightforward proposition. Bone-in cuts are often cheaper, but might not give as much meat for your dollar once the bone is removed. That calculation -- called the "yield" by professional chefs -- applies to ground beef, as well. There, the fat content of your beef plays a large role.
Ground Beef Basics
Aside from packages labeled as a premium product, such as ground chuck, ground beef is usually the butcher's or meat packer's way of using up tough cuts and any leftover scraps from the meat cutting process. By law its fat content can't exceed 30 percent, and usually it's lower than that. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's standardized database of food nutrient values offers detailed information for beef at several fat levels. While conducting those tests, it also calculated yields for lean beef at 12 percent fat or less, medium beef at 12 to 22 percent fat, and fatty ground beef at 22 percent fat or more. These detailed the loss of both fat and moisture content during cooking.
Lean Beef Yields
In the USDA's testing, lean ground beef provided yield of 69 to 77 percent, depending on the cooking method. That means each pound of lean ground beef yields approximately 11 to 12 ounces of cooked beef. Cooking the beef as loose, browned "crumbles" for use in casseroles or sauces gave the lowest yield. Crumbles lost the most moisture -- almost 30 percent -- while reducing fat by 1.4 percent. In contrast grilled or broiled patties lost only 24.2 percent of their moisture, while shedding 1.6 percent of their fat.
Medium Beef Yields
For beef in the medium range of fat content, the overall yield was comparable. Depending on the method, yields for medium ground beef ranged from 67 to 70 percent. That means a pound of medium yields just under or just over 11 ounces of cooked beef. Again, beef cooked as crumbles had the lowest yield, with its fat content dropping by 5.3 percent and its moisture by 27.8 percent. Broiled or grilled patties lost 5.2 percent of their initial fat by weight, but only 25.1 percent of their moisture.
Fatty Beef Yields
Working out the yield is most important for fatty ground beef, which is often available in large packages at an attractively low price. In the USDA's testing, yield for the fattiest beef ranged from 62 to 63 percent. That means every pound of this inexpensive ground beef will provide just about 10 ounces of cooked beef, depending how it's prepared. As crumbles, fatty ground beef reduced its fat content by 12.6 percent and its moisture content by 25 percent. As grilled or broiled patties, the fat reduction was 12 percent and moisture loss was 24.2 percent.
Yields in Cooking
For making hamburgers or simple recipes such as meatloaf, you probably won't have to think too much about the amount of beef you're buying. You'll get four quarter-pound patties from each pound if you're making burgers, and most other recipes specify a weight of beef rather than a quantity. If you're uncertain, a pound of uncooked ground beef equals approximately two cups. If you're cooking and freezing beef in bulk for later use, it's easiest to use a kitchen scale. Weigh and bag 5 1/2 to 6 ounce portions if your recipes call for a half-pound of lean ground, or 11 to 12 ounces if they call for a pound at a time.
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