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News Releases Archive (Prior to 2011)

College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


Chow Line: Try leaner ground beef for burgers (for 5/29/11)

May 20, 2011

I want to try using very lean ground beef for grilling burgers, but I’m afraid they will be dry. What is the best fat content for burgers?

The juiciness and a lot of the flavor of hamburgers does come from the fat, so it’s natural to wonder how lean ground beef will taste once the burger gets between the bun.

First, here are some basics about ground beef. Under law, ground beef or hamburger must contain no more than 30 percent fat. So, if you see a label saying “70 percent lean,” that’s the fattiest burger you’ll find in the grocer’s case. On the other hand, you can find ground beef up to 95 percent or sometimes even 96 percent lean -- just 4 percent to 5 percent fat.

Which type is best? To be honest, that’s something you’ll have to decide for yourself. But here are a few things to consider as you weigh the options.

First, keep in mind that most of us should reduce saturated fats. According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, saturated fats contribute an average of 19 percent of total calories in American diets. The amount should be less than 10 percent, or about 22 grams a day on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet. 

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Nutrient Database, a 3-ounce broiled hamburger (about the size of a hockey puck) made from 80 to 85 percent lean burger has 6 grams of saturated fat. Burgers made from 90 percent lean burger contain 4 grams of saturated fat, while those with 95 percent lean meat have 3 grams of saturated fat. Total fat and calorie counts range from 15 grams and 232 calories for the fattiest burger to just 6 grams and 145 calories for the leanest.

According to a survey published in the fall 2010 issue of Beef Issues Quarterly, more than half of consumers (56 percent) choose 80- to 85-percent lean beef for cooking hamburger patties. At the same time, more than a third (36 percent) prefer 90-percent lean or leaner for burgers.

No matter which type you choose, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association offers these tips for the best burgers:

Handle the meat as little as possible. Too much mixing will produce a tougher burger.

Add salt after cooking; adding it to the raw meat can draw the juices out. Also, resist the urge to press burgers with a spatula when you turn them. Again, you’ll lose juices.

Use medium heat. Note: Ground beef must be cooked to 160 degrees F. to be safe; use a meat thermometer. (Ground turkey or chicken needs to be cooked to 165 degrees F.)

Another idea: Consider adding whole oats or other grains as well as chopped vegetables to the ground meat. They’ll add nutrients and cut fat and calories: a win-win.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1044, or

Editor: This column was reviewed by Amber Riggin, a dietetic intern with Ohio State University Extension’s Community Nutrition Programs.

Martha Filipic
Amber Riggin