A staple of our childhoods and the base ingredient for countless culinary creations, ground beef is embedded in Canadian culture and accounts for over 50% of the fresh beef purchased at retail stores. However, if you’ve ever stood in the cooler section and pondered the difference between Regular, Lean and Extra Lean trying to decide which ground meat is best for your family, then read on.
What is the difference between Lean and Extra Lean?
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) regulates Canada’s food system. Their requirements for food labelling cover everything from allergen warnings and nutrition tables to the descriptors used on meat packaging. In the case of ground meat, these descriptors refer to the maximum fat content of the meat in that package.
In Canada, a package of ground meat, whether beef, turkey, veal, chicken, pork or lamb, contains only minced meat (no fillers, binders, preservatives) and comes labelled as either Extra Lean, Lean, Medium or Regular.
This means that a 1 lb (500 g) package of Lean ground chicken is in the same fat content category as 1 lb (500 g) of Lean ground beef (up to 10% fat, that is).
Here’s a breakdown of the fat content of ground meat as regulated by CFIA:
DYK – The American meat naming system uses descriptors such 83% lean to refer to the fat content of meat, as you will see in the recipes or other references coming from the U.S.A.
Minced beef is the term used for ground beef in the UK, Australia and New Zealand.
- Extra Lean – maximum fat content of 10% (90% lean)
- Lean – maximum fat content of 17% (83% lean)
- Medium – maximum fat content 23% (77% lean)
- Regular – maximum fat content 30% (70% lean)
If you like to experiment in the kitchen, you can blend different types of ground beef to suit your needs. For example: blending Lean with Medium at 50:50 ratio will result in a maximum 20% fat content.
How do I choose?
Any type of ground beef will work in a recipe. You should choose your ground beef based on personal preference for fat content, mouth feel and price point. However, Extra Lean meats work best in recipes that you can’t drain, like meatloaf, cabbage rolls and casseroles. Lean beef is a great all-purpose choice –in fact, 53% of ground beef purchased by Canadians is Lean. Medium and Regular ground beef should be pan-fried and drained before being added to recipes, but their higher fat content makes for the juiciest burgers and meatballs!
So, what about Chuck?
The term chuck refers to meat that is sourced from select muscles in the shoulder and neck region of the animal that are typically marbled with fat. Unlike most ground meat, ground chuck comes from this specific muscle group and is not a blend of trimmings left over from cutting roasts and steaks.
Other ‘single-source’ ground beef includes ground sirloin, ground brisket or ground prime rib, which will taste more like a steak from that part of the animal.
These premium grinds are on the rise and can often be found in the frozen burger section, with one-quarter of Canadians buying them in 2020.
Why do so many Canadians choose ground beef?
Ground beef is a versatile ingredient that is an excellent source of high-quality protein, easy-to-absorb iron, zinc and vitamin B12. It is gluten-free, colour-free, carb-free, contains no fillers and more than 50% of the fat in ground beef is unsaturated – the same type of good fat found in canola and olive oils, nuts and avocados.
One serving of cooked Extra Lean ground beef (60 g) is only 130 calories and offers 18 g of protein that is easy to cook and easy to chew, making it an excellent choice for seniors and young children alike.
No matter what type of ground beef you prefer, making fresh ground beef part of your diet is always a great choice.