What is 80/20? Guide to Beef Leanness Levels

8020 ground beef

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80/20. 70/30. 73/27. 90/10. 85/15. You’ve seen these ratios on labels in the ground beef section at your local grocery store, but what do they actually mean?

And why does every homemade burger recipe call for 80/20?

What does 80/20 mean?

The ratio you find on packages of ground beef refers to the ratio of lean meat to fat.

All ground beef in the meat coolers at your grocery store will have a maximum of 30% fat. The amount of fat versus meat will vary based on the types of beef cuts the butchers used to make the blend.

Packaged Ground Beef from Farm Foods Market
Farm Foods Market offers flavorful grass-fed 80/20 ground beef that can be delivered right to your door

You typically will find packages labeled 70/30, 80/20, 85/15, 90/10, or even 93% in the cooler.

You want the best ratio possible for making burgers, which means managing the amount of lean meat to fat. The higher the lean meat content, the less amount of weight is cooked off in the form of fat. Patties will also stay together better, but you won’t have the beefiest flavor.

However, a higher fat content will keep your burger moist. It will also have more flavor than a leaner cut. Remember, fat is flavor. However, too much fat leads to the patties falling apart.

The more fat in your mix, the more will cook off, leading to shrinkage.

Why is 80/20 the perfect blend for burgers?

80/20 is right in the sweet spot of having enough fat to keep the meat moist and flavorful while preventing it from drying out while cooking.

It also doesn’t have so much fat that it falls apart and causes flare-ups on your charcoal or gas grill if you’re grilling your burgers.

uncooked burger patties on a wooden board
Perfect burger patties made with the 80/20 blend

You may be wondering how packagers and butchers arrive at the ratios? Meat processing plants and butchers have different tools at their disposal, including fat testers. A butcher will place a sample of the ground beef inside, and the tester will cook the meat and measure how much fat gathers which determines the amount of fat. 

Processing plants and local butchers are also subject to inspections to determine that they are producing the correct products that correspond to the labels.

If you are grinding your own meat at home, you wont’ have any expensive testing equipment so you’ll have to rely on your eyeballs to estimate.

Lots of homeground burger recipes call for chuck steak, which naturally has about an 80/20 ratio.

Is 80/20 always ground beef chuck?

On a label of 80/20 ground beef, you will often see the word chuck used. There are some differences between ground chuck and regular ground beef

Ground chuck comes from the shoulders and neck of the cow which are areas that naturally have a good amount of fat. Butchers do not have to do much to ground chuck to make it fit the 80/20 ratio.

trimmed pieces of beef brisket
Save your brisket trimmings to use next time you grind your own meat

However, you can achieve that 80/20 target ratio by blending different cuts of meat as well. You can take a fattier cut of meat, such as brisket trimmings, and mix it with a leaner cut, such as ground sirloin. In the proper blend, you can achieve a very flavorful 80/20 mix.

For example, sirloin still packs plenty of beef flavor despite its leanness, and brisket trimmings pack plenty of fat and flavor – so it’s great to combine these to hit a ratio that’s close to 80/20. 

What are the different leanness levels used for?

The grocery store wouldn’t sell the different ratios if they weren’t used for something, right? What would you use 70/30, 80/20, or 90/10 for? 

Jess Pryles of Hardcore Carnivore broke down the different common levels of leanness and their uses in the video below.

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

70% lean (also known as 70/30 or 73/27)

You might see either 70/30 or 73/27, but they are very similar in terms of their fat content and uses. This ground beef has a ton of flavor and, due to its higher fat content, it won’t dry out. This makes it perfect for dishes that will cook for a long time, such as meatloaf, because it won’t dry out like a leaner mix. It also works for meatballs that cook for an extended period of time.

You can also use 70/30 if you like making burgers on a flattop griddle or in a cast-iron pan. The extra fat helps prevent sticking while imparting flavor and also helps the burger brown.

80% lean (or 80/20)

80/20 ground beef is the iconic ratio for making burgers. It has enough fat to keep the flavor high and keep the meat moist. Yet it’s lean enough to keep the shape of the burger patty that would otherwise fall apart with a higher fat percentage. You are also less likely to get flareups on a charcoal or gas grill than if you used a fattier blend like 70/30.

90% lean (or 90/10)

90/10 is ideal for recipes that have other sources of liquid or fat, or it works for recipes where rendered fat would just accumulate and be unpleasant. Typically store-bought 90/10 is ground sirloin which packs a lot of flavor despite the lower fat content. 

That makes 90/10 ground beef ideal for being browned for pasta sauce because the liquids will prevent the meat from drying out. It also works well for taco meat because you won’t have to drain excess fat off before adding seasoning. If you using ground beef that gets cooked in a casserole, 90/10 works well so you don’t have rendered fat floating around.

90/10 also works well when you are mixing your ground beef with other, fattier ground meats such as pork. If you like your meatballs or meatloaf as a blend of meats, using 90/10 to balance out ground pork is the way to go. 

Wrapping it up

Armed with the knowledge of the different levels of leanness in ground beef, we can now answer what 80/20 ground beef is. It’s usually ground chuck at a ratio of 80% lean beef to 20% beef fat.

That ratio is ideal for making homemade burger patties because it has enough fat to keep the burgers moist without falling apart or causing flareups on your grill.

If this new knowledge has you ready to start grilling some burgers, here is a selection of our best burger recipes:

Leave a comment below if you have any questions! Also, let us know if you have a preferred blend of beef for your homemade burgers!

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