What is Considered Lean Ground Beef? A Guide to Fat Percentages

Ground beef is a kitchen staple used in dishes like burgers, tacos, chili, meatloaf, and many more. When purchasing ground beef, you’ll notice labels indicating the percentage of lean meat vs. fat content. This percentage is an important factor that affects the taste, texture, and nutrition of ground beef. But what exactly constitutes lean ground beef? This guide will explain fat percentages in ground beef and overview the leanest options for health-conscious cooking.

Defining Lean Ground Beef

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides standardized definitions for labeling meat as “lean” or “extra lean”. For ground beef, the criteria is as follows:

  • Lean – Contains less than 10g total fat, 4.5g saturated fat, and 95mg cholesterol per 100g (3.5 oz) serving
  • Extra Lean – Contains less than 5g total fat, 2g saturated fat, and 95mg cholesterol per 100g (3.5 oz) serving

Therefore, when you see a label indicating “lean ground beef”, it signifies the meat meets the fat and cholesterol thresholds for the USDA lean definition. Ground beef with the extra lean label has even lower amounts of fat and saturated fat.

Choosing lean or extra lean ground beef is a smart option for limiting fat intake from both a health and calorie standpoint.

Fat Percentages in Ground Beef

The percentage listed on ground beef packaging represents the lean meat to fat ratio. An 80/20 label means the ground beef contains 80% lean meat and 20% fat. The higher the first number, the leaner the meat.

Here are some common lean points for ground beef and what they mean:

  • 80/20: 80% lean meat, 20% fat
  • 85/15: 85% lean meat, 15% fat
  • 90/10: 90% lean meat, 10% fat
  • 93/7: 93% lean meat, 7% fat
  • 96/4: 96% lean meat, 4% fat

As the fat percentage decreases, the calorie and saturated fat content per serving is also reduced. However, less fat means the ground beef may have a drier texture when cooked. Many recipes using very lean beef call for adding moisture back through broth, sauce, or additional ingredients.

Leanest Options for Ground Beef

If you’re looking for the leanest possible ground beef, here are some top options to consider:

96/4 Ground Beef – With just 4% fat content, this ultralan option fits the USDA’s criteria for extra lean ground beef. Each serving is exceptionally low in total and saturated fat. Be sure to add liquid when cooking to prevent dryness.

Ground Sirloin – Made from meat from the sirloin primal cut near the rear of the cow, ground sirloin is typically 90-95% lean. It has little marbling so cooks fast, making it ideal for high-heat cooking like grilling burgers.

Ground Round – Ground beef from the round primal cut tends to be 85-95% lean depending on the specific muscles used. It has good lean-to-fat ratio for many recipes calling for ground beef.

Ground Bison – Ground meat from bison, also called buffalo, is an extra lean alternative to beef, with a 92-96% lean point. Its low fat content makes it perfect for health-minded dishes.

Ground Turkey – Extra lean ground turkey can match the leanness of the leanest beef. With careful cooking, it can work in many recipes calling for ground beef as a lower fat and calorie substitute.

Tips for Cooking Lean Ground Beef

The lack of fat in lean ground beef poses some unique cooking challenges. With less fat for flavor and moisture, lean beef requires some special preparation:

  • Cook at lower temperatures to prevent drying out
  • Add extra liquid like broth or sauce
  • Mix in breadcrumbs, oats, or mashed potatoes to retain moisture
  • Combine with fattier meats like pork or sausage
  • Limit direct high-heat cooking like grilling or broiling
  • Add healthy fats like olive or avocado oil
  • Don’t overcook – use a meat thermometer to avoid going past 160°F internal temp

Choosing healthier lean ground beef can be an easy way to reduce fat and calories in your favorite recipes. Just be sure to adjust your cooking technique to retain moisture and prevent the meat from becoming dry. With some simple tweaks, you can still achieve delicious results with these leaner varieties of ground beef.

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


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.

Is 80 20 lean ground beef?

80/20 means 80 percent lean ground beef with 20 percent fat. This ground beef recipe has excellent flavor without needing much else.

How do you know if ground beef is lean?

“Look for the red.” If shopping for beef ground in a local store, a package of ground beef will be redder in color the higher the lean content, so if no other indicator is available, the redder the color, the leaner the ground beef.

What ground beef is 90% lean?

The leanest type of ground beef is called ground sirloin, with a lean point of 90% lean and 10% fat (90/10).

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