2012-07-05 / Opinions & Commentary

Why am I getting so much ground beef?

Butcher’s Block
By Chris Fuller • General Manager, Alleghany Meats

To follow up with our last installment about carcass yields (The Recorder, June 14), here is an overview of the breakdown of cuts from a single animal carcass.

Each species is different — a lamb will have different cuts and muscle make-ups than pork or beef. You may have been startled by how much ground meat you took home. There is a good reason, and it’s mostly because there is a lot of muscle involved in moving that big cow around — in the shoulder, neck, and hind end (the round).

The tender cuts are the muscles that get the least workout on a daily basis when the animal is moving. Less tender cuts, such as short ribs, still work but can be tender if prepared correctly. What’s left include cuts that are not as enjoyable as steak to most diners, and end up as ground product.

There are estimates for figuring how much ground meat you may take home, based on a standard cutting style using a good mix of bone-in and boneless cuts. The percentage of take-home weight that could be ground product:

• Beef — 50 percent ground

• Pork — 15-20 percent ground

• Lamb — 15-20 percent ground

Why does beef yield so much more ground meat than pork and lamb? This is mainly due to the way these carcasses are traditionally broken down.

In lamb and pork, the shoulder and neck cuts, as well as shanks, legs, and ribs, are used more often in cooking. Even if these same cuts are saved from a cow, a lot of fat and flaps of meat (called “tails”) are trimmed to create a clean and even-cooking cut, and those trim pieces are turned into ground beef. The neck, plate, and much of the shoulder and legs are also ground.

Recently, there has been more focus on adding value to a beef carcass. Groups such as the Beef Checkoff Program and the Certified Angus Beef group, plus many state university agricultural programs, are figuring out how to create more usable steaks from these parts of the cow and avoid selling it as ground beef.

When it comes to steaks, roasts, chops, and ribs, I generally group these cuts into two separate categories: premium and budget.

The premium cuts include things like T-bones (or New York strip steaks and filet mignons, which are T-bones with the bone removed), rib-eye steaks, and sirloin steaks.

The budget cuts include cuts like rump roast, chuck steaks, short ribs, or cubed steak.

You can expect about 40 percent of the remaining takehome weight (after subtracting ground beef) to be premium steaks, and 60 percent to be budget cuts. These amounts are applicable to lamb and pork as well, but with lamb I would flip the percentages (60 percent premium, 40 percent budget) because leg-of-lamb is a popular cut.

With these percentages in mind, you can get an idea about why some cuts are so much more expensive than other cuts — there just isn’t much on each animal relative to the amount of other cuts. You can also see why it may be difficult for many farmers to sell all the cuts from a single animal without stock piling a lot of ground beef — there’s just so much of it!

For anyone who has purchased meat by the half or quarter, you probably remember the first time picking your meat up and thinking, “Gosh, that’s a lot of ground beef.”

Now, you know why. Editor’s note: Chris Fuller is general manager at Alleghany Meats. He has worked in the meat processing industry for five years, following 10 years in the food service industry. He contributes a column on this subject from time to time for Recorder readers.

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