How Lean Should Ground Beef Be? A Complete Guide

Ground beef is a versatile and delicious ingredient used in many classic American dishes like hamburgers, meatloaf, tacos, chili, and more. But with options like 70% lean, 80% lean, 90% lean and beyond available at the grocery store, how do you know which leanness to choose for your recipe? This complete guide will walk you through everything you need to know about selecting the right fat-to-protein ratio for your ground beef.

Understanding the Labels

Let’s start by breaking down what those percentages actually mean.

  • 70% lean ground beef contains 70% lean meat and 30% fat
  • 80% lean ground beef contains 80% lean meat and 20% fat
  • 90% lean ground beef contains 90% lean meat and 10% fat
  • 93% lean ground beef contains 93% lean meat and 7% fat

The higher the percentage, the lower the fat content. Many stores also carry 85% lean and 95% lean options.

The leanness percentage relates to the ratio of fat to protein, not the absolute total fat or calories. An 80% lean beef will have less fat per serving than 70% lean, but that doesn’t mean it’s low in fat overall.

How Fat Content Impacts Flavor and Texture

Fat is a flavor carrier, which means that fattier cuts like 70% lean ground beef will have a richer, beefier taste. The extra fat also keeps the meat moist and tender during cooking.

On the flip side, leaner ground beef like 90% or 95% will have a slightly less robust flavor. Since there is less fat to keep the meat juicy, extra lean beef can become dry if overcooked.

The fat ratio you choose comes down to your taste preferences and the dish you’re making. Here are some general guidelines for which leanness works best:

  • 70-80% lean – Best for burgers, meatballs, meatloaf and any recipe where you want tender, juicy meat with big beefy flavor. The extra fat helps keep patties moist on the grill.
  • 85-90% lean – Provides a good balance of moisture, texture and flavor. All-purpose choice for tacos, pasta sauce, chili and recipes where you drain away some fat after cooking.
  • 93-95% lean – Ideal if you’re watching saturated fat for health reasons. Works well for dishes like stir-fries, kabobs and crumbles where moisture can be retained. Add extra oil when cooking to prevent dryness.

How to Cook Different Fat Ratios

Cooking ground beef properly relies on understanding how the fat content impacts both flavor and texture. Follow these tips to get the best results:

70-85% Lean

  • Can withstand higher heat since the fat helps prevent drying out. Cook over medium-high heat.

  • Form into thicker patties, at least 1/2 inch. Thinner burgers will overcook.

  • Cook to an internal temperature of 160°F. The fat keeps it juicy when well-done.

90-95% Lean

  • Use medium heat to prevent drying out. Stir crumbles frequently.

  • Form thinner patties no more than 1/3 inch thick. They don’t need as much time over heat.

  • Cook to 155°F for slightly pink center. The lack of fat means well-done will be dry.

Tips for All Fat Ratios

  • Preheat pans or grill before cooking. Starting with hot pan helps beef brown properly.

  • Flip patties only once during cooking for better browning. Pressing burger squeezes out juices.

  • Add oil to lean meat during cooking to prevent sticking. Use nonstick pans for best results.

  • Let meat rest 3-5 minutes after cooking so juices redistribute evenly.

Health Benefits of Leaner Ground Beef

The main nutrition advantage of choosing 90-95% lean ground beef is decreased total and saturated fat.

Per 85g raw serving (about 3oz):

  • 70% lean: 15g fat, 6g saturated fat
  • 80% lean: 12g fat, 5g saturated fat
  • 90% lean: 8g fat, 3g saturated fat
  • 95% lean: 4.5g fat, 2g saturated fat

The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fat to 13g daily as part of a heart-healthy diet. Choosing leaner ground beef can help meet this goal.

However, all beef is naturally rich in important nutrients like iron, zinc, protein and B-vitamins regardless of fat ratio. There are also ways to reduce fat when cooking fattier ground beef, like using a strainer to drain off excess grease.

Best Uses for Different Fat Ratios

Here are specific recipes where each ground beef leanness shines:

70% Lean

  • Juicy grilled burgers
  • Classic meatloaf or meatballs
  • Beefy chili or Bolognese sauce

80% Lean

  • Cheeseburger wraps or tacos
  • Zesty barbeque meatballs
  • Shepherd’s pie or cottage pies

90% Lean

  • Healthy lettuce wrap tacos
  • Stir fried rice with beef
  • Stuffed peppers or eggplant Parmesan

93-95% Lean

  • High protein pizza topping
  • Lean turkey or veggie-based burgers
  • Low-fat chili or taco salad

The most important thing is choosing a fat ratio that suits your taste and dietary needs. When buying ground beef, check the percentage labels closely. With the right leanness and proper cooking, you can enjoy the full flavor and satisfaction this versatile meat provides.

MEAT PERCENTAGES % – how to choose the right ground beef | Jess Pryles


What is a good lean percentage for ground beef?

When shopping for ground beef, the most important consideration is usually the percentage of fat; most of our recipes call for ground beef that’s 85 percent lean (15 percent fat) for the best balance of beefy flavor and tender texture without too much greasiness.

Is 85 ground beef considered lean?

Regular ground beef is 70 to 85 percent lean. There are 230 calories and 13 grams of fat in three ounces of 70 percent lean ground beef. Lean ground beef is 90 to 95 percent lean. There are 196 calories and 10 grams of fat in three ounces of 90 percent lean ground beef.

How lean should my beef be?

Information. The leanest beef cuts include round steaks and roasts (eye of round, top round, bottom round, round tip), top loin, top sirloin, and chuck shoulder and arm roasts. Choose lean ground beef. The label should say at least “90% lean.” You may be able to find ground beef that is 93% or 95% lean.

What is the difference between 90% and 80% ground beef?

Ground beef is packaged and sold in a variety of leanness levels ranging from “70% lean” to “95% lean” or higher. These numbers indicate the percentages of lean meat versus fat that your grind is composed of. 80% lean meat contains 20% fat, 90% lean meat contains 10% fat, and so on.

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