Lean ground beef is made by grinding down whole cuts of beef, including roasts, steaks, and trimmings. The meats are processed in a grinder, and the resulting product comes in a uniform shape designed for use in hamburgers, casseroles, meatballs, and more. Ground beef cooks quickly and is versatile enough to use in different cuisines, from Italian to Mexican. Meat products labeled lean beef need to have a minimal amount of fat. To be called lean ground beef, meat should have no more than 10 percent fat, though some varieties have as little as five percent.
This type of ground beef is ideal for including in casseroles and mixed dishes; it can also be used in tacos, sauces, and sautes. While lean ground beef can be used to make hamburgers or patties, this is not considered an ideal application. Since the beef lacks fat, the resulting burgers may be dry or lack flavor. Choosing the right beef blend for a recipe is one of the keys to cooking meat successfully. Most recipes specify the particular type of ground beef that will yield the best results for the cooking method used.
Like all beef, lean ground beef comes from the meat of a cow. The actual cuts of meat used to create a lean blend may vary from store to store. Ground beef is required by law to be at least 70 percent meat; up to 30 percent of fat can be added. Lean ground beef has a more stringent labeling requirement; no more than 10 percent of the product by weight should be from fat.
The safety standards used for all types of beef should be followed for ground beef as well. Use beef by or before its expiration date, and never leave ground beef on the countertop; defrost it in the refrigerator. Hands should be thoroughly cleaned after handling lean ground beef or any raw meat, and any items used to prepare the meat should be cleaned in hot, soapy water.
Cooking methods vary, but ground beef should always be heated to at least 160°F (about 71°C). According to the USDA, about 25 percent of hamburgers turn brown inside before they reach a safe temperature for consumption, so using a meat thermometer is the best way to cook safely. Reading labels, choosing the right recipe, and handling and cooking the beef safely are the best ways to prepare and serve lean ground beef at home.