9 Things You Should Know Before Eating Ground Beef

Memorizing No. 3 is the key to maintaining your diet.

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We bet even the biggest burger eaters don't know all these facts.

Ground beef is governed by the law.

According to the USDA, to be labeled as such, it can't have more than 30 percent fat content, nor can it contain added water or fat. Until earlier this year, the department had also declared it illegal for ground beef to include any organ meat. But a change of policy means the packages you pick up at the supermarket might now have beef heart or cheek in the mixture.

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There's a difference between ground beef and hamburger.

People use the two names interchangeably since ground beef is the main ingredient in a standard patty, but there's a tiny difference: Makers of hamburger meat are allowed to add fat to the batch, as long as it stays below 30 percent.

You can buy four main varieties.

Anything labeled ground beef will have the highest fat content, typically between 25 and 30 percent, because it's ground from inexpensive cuts, like brisket or shank. Ground chuck is slightly less fatty — falling in the 15 to 20 percent range, called lean — and comes from the shoulder. Ground round is made from hind leg cuts and clocks in at around 12 to 15 percent fat, or extra lean. The leanest cut on the market, and therefore the most expensive, is ground sirloin. It's cut from the cow's midsection and contains about 10 to 14 percent fat.

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Some butchers will grind beef on the spot.

Certain meat counters and most legit butcher shops will let you pick out a cut then grind it right then and there.

Remember the 1-2-3-4 rule.

Experts say ground beef shouldn't be kept in the fridge for longer than one to two days, and you should throw it out if it's been in the freezer for longer than three to four months.

It might change color — and that's not a bad thing.

Freshly ground meat should retain its bright red hue, but when you bring it home, it might take on a brownish tinge. Don't freak: That's just because it's no longer exposed to oxygen.

You shouldn't overwork it.

The more you handle ground meat, the tougher it becomes. That means your meatballs will turn into meat bombs and your burgers will be reminiscent of hockey pucks. Do what you've got to do, then drop the beef to ensure a tender dish.

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There's an ideal time to salt ground beef.

It's right before cooking. The rule applies more to intact cuts of steak, but even ground beef can react negatively to premature salting. It can break down the proteins, which — like over-handling — leads to tougher meat.

You can cook it hundreds of ways.

We have proof right here.

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