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How to Buy and Store Ground Beef

posted in Meat, Poultry and Seafood by Kathy Maister

There must be at least 10 million different ways to cook ground beef! Here at I have many recipes for the beginner cook using ground beef.

Tex-Mex Cheeseburgers, Chili, English Muffin Pizzas, and Beef With Bow Ties and Beans are just a few of the recipes here that start with ground beef.


Chili Anyone?

Buying Ground Beef

The first thing you will notice when you go to the meat section of your grocery store is that there are a wide variety of different packages of what all looks like ground beef, but with different prices. In most cases, the pricing is directly related to different levels of fat content. Generally, the lower the fat content, the higher the cost will be per pound. The fat content is indicated by the numbers on the package.

I usually buy what’s called 85/15, which is the ratio of beef — in this case, 85 percent — to fat, which is 15 percent here. This ratio gives me the taste and texture I like when I’m cooking.

Many people who are watching their fat intake purchase ground beef with a 90/10 fat content ratio. I find that ratio to be a bit dry, but each to his own! My trick is to use the 85/15 beef, but drain off the fat after I have browned the beef. Put a small bowl beneath the colander to catch the fat and then throw it away in the trash. DO NOT PUT THE FAT DOWN THE DRAIN as you may end up clogging your pipes!


Storing Ground Beef

You should use or freeze ground beef within 2 days of buying it. Remove the beef from the store packaging and double wrap it in plastic wrap / freezer wrap to protect it from “freezer burn.”

Frozen ground beef should be used within three to four months of purchase. After that, I’d definitely recommend throwing it away!. The US Department of Agriculture guidelines say that even properly frozen food can deteriorate in taste and nutritional value if stored too long in the freezer.

If meat (or bread or even ice cream) has been in the freezer too long, the food gets very dried out and develops white edges. It not only looks awful but the taste and texture will be pretty bad as well.

Another “must” before freezing, is to label and date the package. You’d be amazed at how long unmarked packages take up residence in the freezer!

I also flatten and stack frozen foods. They take up less space plus it’s easier to find things this way.

Frozen Mushroom Gravy, Chicken Gravy, Sweet Potatoes and Pureed Squash and Ground Beef

Be sure to check out my video on How to Brown Ground Beef and How to Thaw Ground Beef.

If you are new to startcooking, or are a regular visitor here, please consider subscribing for free.


Graydon said:

One thing on freezing ground beef. I’ve always taken the meat out of the original packaging and place in a freezer zip-lock making sure to squeeze out all / as much of the air as possible and then forming down as flat as possible.

This helps if you don’t always wrap it twice as you suggest but the key benefit is that it thaws much faster (greater exposed surface)… and in a pinch, you can start browning the beef while still a bit frozen in the middle by starting on a lower heat.

Kathy Maister said:

Thanks Graydon for the tip! Squeezing the air out of the bag makes a lot of sense. My grocery store sells beef in Styrofoam containers which take up too much space in the freezer, so I tend to rewrap the beef. (Otherwise there isn’t enough room for ice cream!)

Kathleen OBrien Thompson said:

Greetings Kathy- Sensational Site! The company I work with has worked in support of your husband for years and in reading his blog, I saw this site and knew I had to check it out…I too have a passion for cooking…In fact, a few years ago, I was doing in person classes for many of my girlfriends who didn’t know the basics of cooking. What a terrific idea to bring it to a larger audience, Congratulations! The other element I added was how to do it quickly and cost effectively (The girls were fresh out of college and had small amounts of time or money, and even smaller skills!) In any case, my comment or question has more to do with a recent article I read about many supermarkets that were using carbon monoxide to keep the meat looking red, even after it had already gone bad. I was horrified by this knowledge and the fact that the FDA has not outlawed this practice. I do recall there was a lawsuit by one major grocery chain that does not use the practice, Kroger, who was trying to get this unsafe practice, made illegal. The suggestion made in the article was to go more by date than look of the meat, but that the best way to avoid the problem all together was to ask the butcher to ground fresh meat for you. You can ask at the counter, do your shopping and go back for it. Unfortunately, I don’t have the article name or location, but perhaps you can find it, a likely source would be Again, congratulations and I love the clear pictures, this is so much more useful and accessible than a TV show.

Lydia said:

It’s absolutely critical to remove any meat from the supermarket packaging right away, unless you are using it the instant you get it home, to avoid contamination and spoilage. Rewrap in clean plastic wrap or ziploc bags (and date, as you suggest) and seal before freezing.

BOFH said:

I find the best thing to do is split the meat up into single/double serving then put a serving into a zip-lock freezer bag and smash it into a thin flat slab. Is best to get it all the way into the bottom corners and lest about 10-20mm free at the top.

Now seal the bag making sure not to trap to much air. This will make it easier and faster to de-frost (in a black water is best) and take up less relative space in the freezer.

Ethylene said:

I’m interested in more information that is noted in a prior post about stores putting carbon monxide into meat to keep it red. Last night I bought some lean ground beef at a local store. It looked bright red, freshly ground and I wanted to cook a hamburger. I brought it home and found that actually only the outter layer of beef was red, and inside was some brown old looking groud beef. I took it back this morning. I ended up with a manager of some sort, who tried to convince me that when oxygen hit the meat that is what made it red, and that oxygen just hadn’t gotten to the inside meat. I grew up on a farm and we processed our own meat. I had never heard of such. Meat getting brown to me has always been a sign of aging….and perhaps spoilage. I got a refund and do not intend to shop there again. I suspect they are using the process that you mentioned earlier. I will now have to drive about 20 miles to another store.

Kathy Maister said:

Ethylene, According to the USDA:

“Why is pre-packaged ground beef red on the outside and sometimes dull, grayish-brown inside?

Oxygen from the air reacts with meat pigments to form a bright red color which is usually seen on the surface of meat purchased in the supermarket. The pigment responsible for the red color in meat is oxymyoglobin, a substance found in all warm-blooded animals. Fresh cut meat is purplish in color. The interior of the meat may be grayish brown due to lack of oxygen; however, if all the meat in the package has turned gray or brown, it may be beginning to spoil.”
I think Kathleen’s suggestion makes a lot of sense and may save you a very long drive to another grocery store: “the best way to avoid the problem all together was to ask the butcher to ground fresh meat for you. You can ask at the counter, do your shopping and go back for it”
Good Luck!

Somi said:

I am obsessed with washing meat before cooking, especially Ground beef, since it has so much visible blood. sometimes i spend a whole half hour just rinsing a single pound of beef again and again through a strainer until its white. it takes lot of effort and time. can someone please tell me an easier way to wash ground beef. i hear that a vast majority does not wash it at all.

please help

Kathy Maister said:

Somi, it is not necessary to wash ground beef before cooking it. Some people rinse it after it is cooked in order to rinse off excess fat.

Julie said:

I have a lot of great recipes that call for ground beef. However, when I brown ground beef in a skillet, my kitchen and house smell like a wet dog! Any way to brown ground beef without such a strong smell? Thanks!

Kathy Maister said:

Hi Julie, the best suggestion I can come up with is to be sure to run the exhaust fan over the stove. You might want to also have a separate fan running to push the odors out the window.

steve said:

My understanding of this issue is as follows and is not gospel:

Smell, appearance, and labeling are all factors in determining the freshness of meat. ‘

The simplest way to get the answer is to just ask the butcher or manager, “when was this meat ground? Can you tell from the label?”

Hemoglobin in the meat will react with oxygen to make the “red” color. Of course, eventually the red color will give way to other colors as the meat gets older and, eventually, spoils.

Carbon monoxide binds with hemoglobin in the same way, yet doesn’t oxidize the same way as oxygen, so the red color stays longer.

My understanding is that The Carbon monoxide treatment is usually only used at big meat plants, as it is deadly poisonous to breath fin its free form or people and needs special equipment to apply is safely. It is not unsafe to eat once it is “bound” to the hemoglobin in the meat.

Meat that has been ground in the store and stored in normal plastic wrap with styrofoam is not going to be CO-treated by the store. It is possible that it could have been ground at the store from CO- treated meat, however, but highly unlikely. CO treatments are more for packaging meat in individual portions for consumer purchase, not for delivery as large cuts to a store.

anything in CO treatment will be presented in a thicker plastic that is vacuum and heat-sealed as well.

Laura said:

I have a question. We have a freezer full of ground beef from a cow my father-in-law just had slaughtered. How long is the beef good after it is defrosted? It is in 1.5 pound packages. Sometimes when I defrost a package I only cook 1 pound and put the other .5 in the refridgerator for later use. How long is the other .5 good for?

Thank you in advance.


Ethylene said:

For your information the employee told me that the meat was dark looking when they take it out of the packing boxes….so it was NOT fresh meat ground in the store. I have shopped at that store since and not experienced that problem since! You can smell meat, but it can be on display several days before it has an oder.

I did growup on a farm about 4 miles from where I live now. We hunted deer, dressed them out, plus raised our own beef, pork, chickens , turkeys, goats etc and put them in our freezer! We had fresh meat….not meat that sat on display for days in a store, or was shipped unfrozen in boxes to a store.

Another store where I shop stamps the date of their cut on the package, so I know how old the meat is when I purchase it.

To answer the last question about ground meat…I would use it within 2-3 days of defrosting. If you are not ready to actually use it, then I’d at least cook it to use within another 2-3 days.

Bill said:

Any gound meat that is gray or brown is spoiled. Despite what some supermarket chain meat department managers will tell you. – Just smell it. Yuck! – – Ground beef is mixed with oxygen at the time it’s ground, and the interior is just as red as the outside as a result. Unless it’s been sitting a long time unsold, in which case the interior turns gray and starts to smell bad. – – I learned from one employee at a meat market in a major food store chain that they “regrind the meat” to add oxygen to it and then repackage it with a new expiration date. This is not uncommon. And they usually don’t grind the meat themselves originally. It comes in bulk packaging from a plant, where it’s been ground. The local Meat department just repackages it in smaller store packages. – – Meat departments in most major grocerery chains will not grind meat to order. You get what’s on display in the meat counters, or else go to the gourmet counter to get special cuts etc at higher prices.

Not all chains sell old meat as fresh, although many do. You will have to shop around and find a grocery chain or a smaller store that sells REAL fresh ground beef

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