Q: Are ground beef and hamburger the same thing? Which one should I use in recipes?
A: When shopping for ground beef, follow these tips.
GET THE REAL STUFF
Don’t confuse ground beef with products labeled "hamburger" or "hamburger patties," which can contain added fat and seasonings. By law, ground beef can’t be more than 30 percent fat, and it can’t contain added water, binders, extenders, seasonings or flavorings.
MAKE AN INFORMED CHOICE
Most ground beef sold today specifies how lean it is on the label. Price typically increases as the percentage of fat drops. The cheapest ground beef is 70 percent lean (30 percent fat), and the most expensive is 95 percent lean (5 percent fat, and sometimes labeled "100 percent lean"). Which ground beef is best to use depends on how it will be used.
--80 percent lean (regular) Use in recipes that keep the ground meat intact and not crumbled. It has ample fat to keep the meat moist, even when cooked to well-done (160°F.).
--85 to 90 percent lean (lean) Use when the meat is browned and crumbled to maximize the amount of meat and minimize the amount of fat (excess fat is usually drained off).
--95 percent lean (extra lean) When cooked to a safe temperature (160°F.), it’s often too dry, so we don’t recommend it.
DO THE FRESHNESS CHECK
Fresh ground beef should look pink to red, with no brown or gray areas, which indicate the meat’s been exposed to air and is getting old. When you unwrap the package, it should have just a faint beefy odor. If it has a strong or ammonia-like odor, discard it or return it to the grocer.
USE IT OR STORE IT
Ground beef doesn’t keep long refrigerated. Use it within 2 days from purchase or freeze it up to 4 months.