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Ground Beef Q&A

Consumers often have questions about the ground beef products they purchase. That's why we've assembled this comprehensive list of frequently asked questions about ground beef, paired with answers from recognized ground beef experts. And if you can't find the answers you're looking for here, feel free to ask our Customer Service staff so we can get you the information you need.

Q&A Categories

Ground Beef Types/Lean Points

Q. What are the differences in usage and taste between the various ground beef lean points, for example 73/27, 80/20, 93/7, etc.?

The lean point represents lean-to-fat ratio. For example, a 93/7 product will be much more lean than 73/27. The level of fat does have some effect on flavor and juiciness, given fat provides a juicier, beefier flavor profile. For details on recommended lean points for various recipes, click here.

Q. What is the best kind of ground beef to use for burgers on the grill?

While everyone has a preference in terms of juiciness and flavor, recipes commonly recommend an 80/20 lean point to create the juiciest, old-fashioned style hamburgers. Many burger recipes are available in our Recipes section.

Q. Does the percentage of fat in ground beef have any effect on flavor?

Yes. There are slight differences in the flavors between the various ground beef lean points. The main contributor to flavor in ground beef is the amount of fat included. Enjoy flavorful ground beef recipes by visiting the Recipes section.

Q. What is the difference between ground chuck and ground beef?

Ground beef is often sourced from a specific sub-primal area of the animal. Ground chuck (usually 80/20) comes specifically from the chuck area of the animal. Learn more about lean points here.

Q. What are the differences in usage and taste between the various kinds of ground beef lean points, for example 73% lean/27% fat, 80% lean/20% fat, 93% lean/7% fat, etc.?

The lean point represents lean-to-fat ratio. For example, a lower-fat-and-calorie 93% lean/7% fat product will be much more lean than 73% lean/27% fat product. The level of fat content will have slight effects on flavor and juiciness given fat provides a juicier, beefier flavor profile. For details on recommended lean points for various recipes, click here.

Q. What does “lean” mean in terms of beef?

Lean meat is the edible muscle provided from beef cattle. The technical definition of healthier “lean” beef according to the USDA are lean points of at least 91.9% lean/8.1% fat and above. Anything 95%lean/5% fat and above is given the American Heart Association’s Heart-Check mark. “Extra lean” is 96% lean/4% fat. Read more in our Nutrition section and check out some of the heart healthy recipes in the Recipes section.

Q. How many calories are in each lean point?

Visit our Nutrition section for more information on the differences between lean points in ground beef here.

Q. What does all natural ground beef mean?

All-natural ground beef contains no artificial ingredients or added colors and is only minimally processed, meaning that it's produced in a manner that does not fundamentally alter the product. All "natural" labels must include a statement explaining the meaning of the term natural, such as "Contains no artificial ingredients, only minimally processed." For more ground beef production information, click here.

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Ground Beef History

Q. When and how did ground beef originate?

Chopped or minced beef has been used in a variety of dishes dating back to ancient times. More on the history of ground beef is available here.

Q. When was the first hamburger served? What is the history of this American favorite?

Dating back to around 1885, the exact origin of the hamburger is shrouded in mystery. While there are many who claim the honor, there’s little evidence to support any individual claim. The first commercial hamburger was marketed in 1921, when White Castle opened in Wichita, KS. Try a delicious burger recipe in our Recipes section.

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Handling and Preparation

Q. Can ground beef be thawed, then re-frozen?

No. Once thawed, ground beef needs to be properly prepared. However, you can freeze many cooked ground beef dishes for future use and added convenience. Lasagna is a prime example. For lasagna recipes, click here.

Q. When cooking crumbled ground beef (like for taco meat or spaghetti), how do you know when it is cooked to proper doneness? Is it possible to use a meat thermometer with crumbled ground beef?

Yes, a food thermometer should always be used when cooking with ground beef to ensure proper doneness. Whether browning for use as part of a recipe, making meatballs or patties, the food thermometer should read at least 160°F before the meat is ready to serve. Practice safely cooking ground beef with a recipe from the Recipes section.

Q. How can I tell if my ground beef is cooked to the correct temperature?

Using a meat thermometer is the best way to ensure your ground beef is cooked to at least 160°F. Click here to learn more about how to safely handle ground beef.

Q. Do I need to thaw frozen ground beef prior to cooking it? What about frozen ground beef patties?

You don’t have to, but it’s recommended to simplify cooking. Ground beef should be thawed prior to cooking, but do not thaw frozen beef at room temperature. Thaw frozen beef in the refrigerator to prevent bacterial growth. Place the package on a tray to catch any drippings and place in the refrigerator the day before it's needed, allowing approximately 24 hours to thaw a package of ground beef or 12 hours to defrost ground beef patties. Cook ground beef as soon as possible after thawing and always cook ground beef to 160°F and verify with a meat thermometer. Click here to learn more about how to safely handle ground beef.

Q. If it is time to start cooking dinner and all I have is frozen ground beef, what options do I have to expedite the thawing process?

To defrost ground beef more rapidly, you can defrost in the microwave oven or in cold water. If using the microwave, cook the ground beef immediately because some areas may begin to cook during defrosting. To defrost in cold water, put the meat in a watertight plastic bag and submerge. Change the water every 30 minutes. Cook immediately. Do not refreeze raw ground meat thawed in cold water or in the microwave oven unless you cook it first. After safely defrosting ground beef, use it in a recipe from the Recipes section.

Q. How do I know when ground beef is no longer safe to eat?

If not frozen immediately after purchase, ground beef should be discarded after the “use or freeze-by” date listed on the package. If the ground beef has a grayish or brown color on the outside and has an unappealing odor, there is a chance it has spoiled and should not be consumed. Learn more about ground beef safety here.

Q. Why does ground beef sometimes appear purple or brown instead of pink/red?

Oxygen from the air reacts with meat pigments to form a bright red color, which is usually seen on the surface of meat purchased in the store. The pigment responsible for the red color in meat is myoglobin, a substance found in all warm-blooded animals. The interior of the meat may be purple or grayish brown due to lack of oxygen; however, if all the meat in the package has turned gray or brown, it’s likely spoiling. Click here to learn more safe handling information.

Q. What temperature should I cook my ground beef to? 

The recommendation for a safe, minimum internal temperature is 160°F. Use a meat thermometer to ensure that it has reached a safe internal temperature. Find out more in our Preparation & Cooking tips section.

Q. How long does it take to cook ground beef?

Cook time will depend on heat used and how you are preparing your ground beef. If browning in a skillet with high heat, the average cook time should be roughly 4-6 minutes. If grilling patties, it can take approximately 10-15 minutes, depending on heat and thickness of your patties. Be sure to use a meat thermometer to verify that the internal temperature has reached 160°F prior to serving. Find out more in our Preparation & Cooking tips section.

Q. If my ground beef is browned/cooked – can I go by cooked color or the color of juices to validate cooked temperature?

No. Cooked color is not an indication of doneness. For example, premature browning can occur, which is ground beef that has a well done appearance, but hasn’t reached proper doneness. Also, the color of juices is not an accurate indicator of doneness. The only way to guarantee a safe eating experience is to cook ground beef to 160°F and verify with a meat thermometer. Click here for more cooking tips.

Q. What are some health safety tips for handling ground beef?

The key to handling ground beef safely is to ensure it’s purchased fresh, stored properly and then cooked to a safe internal temperature. Find out more in our Preparation & Cooking tips section.

Q. How long should I thaw a package of ground beef prior to cooking? 

The best way to safely thaw ground beef is in the refrigerator. Keeping meat cold while it is defrosting is essential to prevent the growth of bacteria. This will take roughly 24 hours. To defrost ground beef more rapidly, you can defrost in the microwave oven or in cold water. If using the microwave, cook the ground beef immediately because some areas may begin to cook during defrosting. To defrost in cold water, put the meat in a watertight plastic bag and submerge. Change the water every 30 minutes. Cook immediately. Do not refreeze raw ground meat thawed in cold water or in the microwave oven unless you cook it first. Never leave ground beef out at room temperature for more than two hours. Find out more in our Preparation & Cooking tips section.

Q. What is the best method for defrosting ground beef? Should you thaw ground beef in the microwave?

The recommended way to thaw ground beef is in the refrigerator. But to defrost more rapidly, it is considered safe to use the microwave oven. If using that method, cook the ground beef immediately because some areas may begin to cook during defrosting. Find out more in our Preparation & Cooking tips section.

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Cooking with Ground Beef

Q. Can ground beef be thawed, then re-frozen?

No. Once thawed, ground beef needs to be properly prepared. However, you can freeze many cooked ground beef dishes for future use and added convenience. Lasagna is a prime example. For lasagna recipes, click here.

Q. If I'm hand-forming burger patties and am having a difficult time getting them to stay together, what can I do or add to the mix to better help them bind together?

Starting with a lean point that has a higher fat content (73/27 or 80/20) helps not only with flavor and juiciness but also in producing the perfect patty. If wishing to use a higher lean point and you are having difficulty making patties, an egg or breadcrumbs can be used as a binding agent. Find burger recipes in our Recipes section.

Q. Is it safe to eat a burger cooked to rare or medium rare doneness?

Raw and undercooked meat may contain harmful bacteria. The USDA recommends not eating or tasting raw or undercooked ground beef. To be sure all bacteria are destroyed, cook ground beef to a safe minimum internal temperature of 160° F. Use a meat thermometer to check that each burger has reached a safe internal temperature. Visit the Recipes section for delicious burger recipes.

Q. If ground beef has been fully cooked, how long is it safe to sit out before refrigerating or discarding it?

Refrigerate or discard prepared ground beef or leftovers containing ground beef immediately. Find out more in our Preparation & Cooking tips section.

Q. If it's safe to eat a steak that's bright red in the middle, why not ground beef?

Because grinding beef for ground beef increases susceptibility to bacteria, it is important to cook ground beef more thoroughly to eliminate bacteria prior to consumption. To destroy harmful bacteria, cook ground beef to a safe, minimum internal temperature of 160° F. Click here for more safety information.

Q. I would like to season my ground beef. What are some good seasonings to consider?

Ground beef is a very versatile product and can be used in many recipes, prepared a number of ways. Simple seasonings such as salt and pepper can be all you need to enhance the naturally delicious flavor. For meal ideas, visit our Recipes section.

Q. How can I cook my ground beef (Grill? Skillet?)

There are many ways to cook ground beef. Visit our Recipes to select the perfect dish for dinner tonight.

Q. Why do ground beef patties shrink when cooked? 

All meat will shrink in size and weight while cooking. The amount of shrinkage will depend on fat and moisture content, the temperature at which the meat is cooked and how long it is cooked. Higher cooking temperatures and higher fat content increase the amount of shrinkage and moisture loss. Cooking ground beef at moderate temperatures will reduce shrinkage and help retain juices and flavor. For more information, take a look at our Preparation & Cooking tips section.

Q. Why are there hard things in my ground beef sometimes?

Sometimes gristle can be found in ground beef. Ground beef is made of four components: muscle tissue, fat, collagen and elastin. The elastin is stretchy and incredibly tough. Elastin does not break down when applied to heat and this is where gristle comes from. If pieces of gristle aren’t identified when cooking, it will not affect the flavor but it can add an unpleasant texture to the meat while chewing.

Q. What is the ideal temperature for cooking 1/4-pound burgers on a grill? For what amount of time? Open or closed grill?

For the perfect burger, use moderate, direct heat and cook the meat fast (about 10 to 15 minutes depending on size) so it does not dry out. Leave the grill lid open. And, always, cook to 160° F and verify with a meat thermometer. Try a delcious burger recipe from the Recipes section.

Q. When cooking crumbled ground beef (like for taco meat or spaghetti), how do you know when it is cooked to proper doneness? Is it possible to use a meat thermometer with crumbled ground beef?

Yes, a food thermometer should always be used when cooking with ground beef to ensure proper doneness. Whether browning for use as part of a recipe, making meatballs or patties, the food thermometer should read at least 160° F before the meat is ready to serve. Learn more on safely handling of ground beef here. 

Q. What is the best kind of ground beef to use for burgers on the grill?

While everyone has a preference in terms of juiciness and flavor, recipes commonly recommend an 80/20 lean point to create the juiciest, old-fashioned style hamburgers. Many burger recipes are available in our Recipes section.

Q. How can I tell if my ground beef is cooked to the correct temperature?

Using a meat thermometer is the only way to ensure your ground beef is cooked to at least 160° F. Click here to learn more about how to safely handle ground beef.

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Healthy Ground Beef Meals

Q. Can you cook ground beef to be as lean as other lower-fat proteins?

No. But there are tips to cooking ground beef to help reduce excess fat during preparation. Visit our section on Ground Beef & Healthy Eating to learn more.

Q. What does all natural ground beef mean?

All-natural ground beef contains no artificial ingredients or added colors and is only minimally processed, meaning that it's produced in a manner that does not fundamentally alter the product. All "natural" labels must include a statement explaining the meaning of the term natural, such as "Contains no artificial ingredients, only minimally processed." For more ground beef production information, click here.

Q. Is ground beef healthy?

Beef is part of a healthy, well-balanced diet. It provides vitamins, minerals and proteins critical to a healthy lifestyle. Ground beef is an excellent source of protein, B vitamins, iron and zinc. The leaner grinds such as 93/7 and 96/4 are lower in fat content and are a great option for health-conscious beef lovers. Visit the Recipes section for heart healthy meal recipes.

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Storage and Shelf Life

Q. How long can I keep ground beef in the freezer?

It is recommended that ground beef be used within 120 days of purchase if frozen immediately after purchase and properly wrapped. Learn more about how to properly store ground beef in the freezer here.

Q. Is the “use or freeze-by” date or “sell by” date important?

The "use or freeze-by” or “sell by" dates are a guide for consumers and retailers, although it’s not a federal requirement for stores to include. While these dates are helpful, they are only reliable if the food has been kept at a safe temperature during storage and handling. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggests that consumers cook or freeze ground beef within 2 days after purchase for maximum quality. For more information regarding food safety, click here.

Q. What is the shelf life for ground beef?

Fresh ground beef is perfectly wholesome and safe to eat within 2 to 3 days of purchase as long as purchased and used prior to the “Use or freeze-by” date. An additional option is to purchase ground beef and immediately freeze. Please note that chub products do not need taken out and repackaged, they can be frozen as is for up to 6 months. Although, overwrap or tray ground beef needs to be repackaged for freezing in aluminum foil, freezer paper or plastic freezer bags. If immediately frozen, these types of ground beef can be safely used within 120 days of purchase.

Q. How many days can you refrigerate ground beef before it will go bad or need to be frozen?

Fresh ground beef purchased in store prior to the “use or freeze-by” date and stored below 40°F should be used or frozen within 1 to 3 days. Learn more in our section on Safe Handling & Storage.

Q. What is the best way to tell if my ground beef is fresh? How can you tell if ground beef has gone bad?

Ground beef will begin to brown on the outside and put off an unappealing odor when it begins to turn bad. The best gauge for determining the safety of your ground beef is to reference the “use or freeze-by” date. If it was frozen after purchase, do not consume after it’s been thawed for more than two days. Learn more in our section on Safe Handling & Storage.

Q. After ground beef has been properly cooked, how long can it stay in the fridge for leftovers?

Refrigerate leftovers immediately or discard. Consume refrigerated, cooked ground beef leftovers within 2 to 3 days. Learn more in our section on Safe Handling & Storage.

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Production and Distribution

Q. Is the meat I get at my local grocery store from my area or is it shipped in?

Most stores will purchase ground beef from distributors and have it shipped in from locations around the country. However, there are retailers that focus on locally processed and grown products that may choose to obtain their ground beef from local producers. Find out where Cargill ground beef is made here.

Q. What sorts of fillers, preservatives, etc. are added to Cargill's ground beef, if any?

Many of Cargill's ground beef products include no artificial ingredients, added colors or flavorings. Although, some products have added seasonings, like Italian or rosemary, or even bacon for obtaining a special kind of flavor.

Q. What does minimally processed mean?

Most all-natural ground beef is minimally processed, meaning that it's produced in a manner that does not fundamentally alter the product. All "natural" products omit artificial ingredients or added colors and product labeling must describe what makes the product natural. Cargill Ground Beef describes their natural products as "Contains no artificial ingredients, only minimally processed." For more ground beef production information, click here.

Q. What's the difference between hamburger and ground beef?

Beef fat (fat with no lean meat) may be added to "hamburger," but not "ground beef." A maximum of 30% fat is allowed in either hamburger or ground beef. Both hamburger and ground beef can have seasonings, but no water, phosphates, extenders or binders. Learn how to make a great hamburger in the Recipes section.

Q. Is ground beef made out of the unsavory parts of the cow?

No. If not sourced from a specific sub-primal area, ground beef can be made from less tender and less popular cuts of beef. Trimmings from more tender cuts may also be used. Grinding tenderizes the meat, and the fat reduces its dryness and improves flavor. Learn more about How It’s Made.

Q. Is all ground beef taken from the same animal? 

No, not always. Most often, ground beef is made from steak and roast trimmings that can come from multiple animals. Although, ground beef is often sourced from a specific sub-primal area that offers you even more choices when your recipes call for a special grind such as ground sirloin (90/10), ground round (85/15) or ground chuck (80/20). Learn more about How It’s Made.

Q. Are the cattle in pain when they are going through the production process?

No. At Cargill, we are dedicated to treating the animals in our care with respect and as co-founder of the North American Food Animal Well-being Commission, Cargill considers the humane and respectful handling of our animals to be a moral obligation. Our livestock handling procedures were designed in consultation with Dr. Temple Grandin to help minimize animal stress, and we strictly adhere to American Meat Institute (AMI) animal handling standards. Visit our Processes page for more information on humane handling.

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Packaging Types

Q. What is the difference between ground beef in a tube (chub) and ground beef in a Styrofoam tray?

There is no difference in the ground beef product itself. They are simply two different packaging formats, each providing different benefits. Learn more about ground beef packaging here.

Q. I'm planning on cooking burgers for my family – there are four of us. How many tubes (chubs) of ground beef should I buy?

If you’re measuring a quarter-pound patty for each person you’re feeding, you can get four burgers out of a one-pound chub. Want burger recipes? Click here.

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Other Topics

Q. Are the cattle in pain when they are going through the production process?

No. At Cargill, we are dedicated to treating the animals in our care with respect and as co-founder of the North American Food Animal Well-being Commission, Cargill considers the humane and respectful handling of our animals to be a moral obligation. Our livestock handling procedures were designed in consultation with Dr. Temple Grandin to help minimize animal stress, and we strictly adhere to American Meat Institute (AMI) animal handling standards. Visit our Processes page for more information on humane handling.

Q. What is Finely Textured Beef (FTB)?

Finely Textured Beef (FTB for short) is 100 percent beef from trimmings separated from fat using an approved, simple process. It’s a product that enhances the availability and affordability of our ground beef offerings. For more information, visit our Finely Textured Beef section.

Q. Does Cargill focus on humane handling of animals?

Yes. We are dedicated to treating the animals in our care with respect and as co-founder of the North American Food Animal Well-being Commission, Cargill considers the humane and respectful handling of our animals to be a moral obligation. Our livestock handling procedures were designed in consultation with Dr. Temple Grandin to help minimize animal stress, and we strictly adhere to American Meat Institute (AMI) animal handling standards. Visit our Processes page for more information on humane handling.

Q. What kind of bacteria is common in ground beef?

In foods of both plant and animal origin, naturally and randomly occuring bacteria like Salmonella and E.coli, can be found. These harmful bacteria cannot be seen or smelled. To be sure all bacteria are destroyed, cook ground beef to a safe minimum internal temperature of 160°F using a meat thermometer. Click here to learn more about how to safely handle and store ground beef.

Q. Is the ground beef that I eat at restaurants the same product that I can buy at the store?

As long as you are ordering 100% pure, ground beef, it’s probable that the ground beef you consume at restaurants is comparable to the ground beef you’d purchase at your local grocery store. Although, depending on the supplier producing the meat, there may be differences in overall quality, production and food safety practices and added flavorings. Learn more about Cargill’s quality and food safety practices here.

Q. Which country is the largest producer of ground beef? The largest consumer of ground beef?

The United States of America is the largest producer of ground beef and the largest consumer of ground beef in the world in terms of total pounds.

Q. Is it true that even small packages of ground beef contain the meat of more than one animal? If so, is this safe?

It is likely that a small package of ground beef will contain the meat of more than one animal, however, Cargill goes to extensive measures to ensure the safety and quality of our ground beef products. Read more about our production processes here.

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Most Hamburgers Eaten

August 2010: Guinness World Record set for most hamburgers eaten in 3 minutes. Takeru Kobayashi of Japan consumed ten burgers in 3 minutes.