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Why you should never buy pre-packaged ground beef

No need to buy pre-ground meat. Have a butcher grind it up right before your eyes.

No need to buy pre-ground meat. Have a butcher grind it up right before your eyes.  (iStock)

Beneath all of a burger’s cheese, bacon, and fancy condiments, there’s a patty. It’s the reason you fired up the grill in the first place. And unfortunately, it’s sometimes too perfect.

According to Meathead Goldwyn (yes, he asks to be called that), author of the upcoming grilling cookbook Meathead, those perfectly circular, finely ground burgers you make from pre-ground meat might look great, but they're not delivering the juiciness, tenderness, and flavor you deserve. The good news is, you don't need to go to a specialty butcher to get the best ground beef for your burgers. You just need to know the right moves at the supermarket.

Here's your three-step plan:

Get Fresh, Be Clean

If your supermarket has a butcher counter (or even just a meat guy), you have almost no excuse for not getting your burger meat ground to order at the store (unless you’re grinding it yourself, congrats!). 

“If you just pick up a package of something labeled ground meat, you’re getting the lowest common denominator,” said Goldwyn. The meat can be from scraps from unproductive dairy cattle, can have extra seasonings added, or come from a facility that’s nowhere near the butcher counter you’re browsing. And those factors can affect the food safety and flavor. So leave the mystery in your beach novel and choose the piece of meat you'd like ground.

Don’t Fear the Fat

The good news is, choosing that cut couldn't be easier. A chuck steak is widely available, super-affordable, and thanks to its 20% fat content, it has the richness you need for your burger. “If you’re high heat grilling, when fat gets hot, it develops great flavors and aromas,“ said Goldwyn. Fat is what gives even a blend of tough cuts plenty of juiciness, and by asking the butcher for a custom grind, you can get even more of that.

“I’ve even recommended taking the fat level up to 30%,” said Goldwyn. To do that, just choose a steak with plenty of extra fat along the edge.

Check out more fresh ground beef buying tips.