Not sure why you’d pick ground chuck over regular ground beef? Read on, and we’ll break down the differences and why you might choose one over the other.
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Ground beef vs. ground chuck
Let’s get one thing out of the way before we start getting into the details. Ground chuck is a type of ground beef, and it can be used interchangeably in most meals.
However, there are a few key differences that make ground chuck better suited to specific recipes.
What is chuck?
The chuck is a primal cut of beef, one of the eight primal cuts recognized by the USDA. As you’ll know from our article on the different cuts of beef, the chuck is specifically the area around the neck and shoulder of the animal.
As with any grazing animal, the shoulder and neck of a cow do quite a lot of work during its lifetime, so the chuck tends to be filled with a lot of tough muscle, sinew, fat, and connective tissue.
The presence of all that connective tissue means chuck can be quite tough if not cooked properly, which is why, with the exception of chuck eye steak, most cuts from the chuck are used in roasting joints or ground beef.
One of the advantages that ground chuck does have is a higher fat percentage than the ground beef from leaner primal cuts like the round or the sirloin (somewhere in the 15-20% range).
This extra fat makes ground chuck better suited for foods made of shaped beef, like burgers or meatballs.
The higher fat percentage of the ground chuck stops your hamburgers or meatballs drying out when they are cooked, keeping them nice and juicy.
This is especially important if you are planning on grilling your hamburgers, as they tend to lose a fair bit of fat and moisture through the grill grate.
That extra fat does mean extra calories.
A 3-ounce serving of ground chuck contains 66 more calories and 8 grams more fat than the same weight in ground round.
Regular ground beef, which is made of the trimmings from various primal cuts and inexpensive meat from the brisket and shank, tends to have more fat in it- around 25 to 30%.
This fat content can vary quite a bit and is a little too high for burgers and meatballs, as it can cause them to become too loose and fall apart during cooking.
Does ground chuck taste better?
Fat means flavor, so the extra fat content in ground chuck does make it taste a little better than leaner ground beef.
That extra flavor might get a little lost in a good chili, but it really shines through when you’re making a burger. The 80/20 ratio keeps the patties moist while still being cohesive enough to stop your burger filling escaping out the back of the bun when you take your first bite.
If you’re looking for a way to take advantage of that extra taste, we suggest trying J. Kenji López-Alt’s Ultra-smashed cheeseburgers recipe. The smaller thinner patties in this recipe maximize the crisp, browned crust that really makes a burger, while the extra fat stops them from getting too dry.
When to use ground chuck?
As we’ve mentioned, ground chuck is ideal for making burgers, meatballs, or really any recipe where you’re shaping ground beef and cooking it.
The golden ratio of around 20% fat to 80% lean meat in ground chuck means your burgers won’t dry out, like they would with ground round, or fall apart, like they would with standard ground beef.
That being said, you can use ground chuck in pretty much any dish that requires ground beef, from chili con carne to bolognese.
If you happen to be dieting, or you have trouble digesting animal fats, you might want to step away from ground chuck or standard ground beef and look for something a little leaner.
Under USDA guidelines, ground beef labeled “lean” can have no more than 10% fat, and ground beef labeled “extra-lean” can have no more than 5% fat.
If your supermarket doesn’t have a lean mince option, look for ground round, which usually has a 10% fat to lean meat ratio. For an even leaner cut, look for ground sirloin, which generally has a 5% fat to lean meat ratio.
If you’re shopping somewhere that has a meat counter, they might be able to grind up one of these primal cuts for you, or you could always grind your own meat at home.
Wrapping it all up
So there you have it. Ground chuck is a form of ground beef taken from the shoulder and neck of the cow.
The 20/80 fat to lean meat ration in ground chuck makes it great for burgers and meatballs, but it can be used in just about any dish that needs ground beef.
For a leaner mince than ground chuck, look for ground round, ground sirloin, or any ground beef marked “lean” or “extra lean”.
If you’ve got any great recipes using ground chuck, or advice on using it to make the perfect burger, we’d love to hear about it in the comments below.