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Ground Beef: Freshly Ground or Vacuum-Packed?

I'm starting to get into hamburger grilling, and I'm wonder about the differences between freshly ground meat, as found in the butcher's case, and the pre-packaged, vacuum-packed stuff (I'm deliberately excluding the packaged non-vacuum-packed stuff from this discussion, as that seems to be the worst of both worlds; I'm also excluding grinding the meat myself, because, to be frank, I'm too lazy).

To me, the fresh meat looks more appetizing. Perhaps I'm off-base, but to me, the bloodiness of the vacuum-packed meat is unappetizing. I have nothing against bloody meat (I love a rare steak), but the liquidiness of the packaged meat looks unappealing. Does the liquidity affect the taste/texture of the finished burger? I'm guessing it does, because my sense is that the meat needs to be relatively dry to get crispy on the outside (that, at least, has been my experience with steak).

Of course, one might argue that the vacuum-packed meat keeps longer and is less likely to grow bacteria. I'd love not to have to go to the butcher every time I want to cook a burger, but I am willing to cook the meat the day I buy it if it will make for a better finished product.

Thoughts?

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  1. The vacuum process sucks the fluids from the meat. After unwrapping it, you can stir it up and then let it rest (chilled if you are not using the whole package at once) to redistribute the bloody liquid and get it back into the meat. I also do that when I defrost frozen ground beef, which is invariably exuding liquid that was forced out of the cells as the meat froze.

    1. I use the stuff that is sold in the vacuum packed mylar chubs. In my opinion, any advantage the freshly ground stuff has is counter balanced by its exposure to the atmosphere. The mylar completely eliminates exposure to the atmosphere.

      I think what gregarious says about stirring any liquid back in and allowing it to sit for a few minutes makes sense, especially since all the experts recommend you allow it to return to room temperature anyway.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Hank Hanover

        I must admit, I'm surprised to hear this. Is a bit of exposure to the atmosphere really that bad? After all, steak that's been dry-aged for weeks is, in my opinion, the tastiest steak money can buy. Obviously, leaving raw meat out in the air for many hours would cause bacteria to proliferate to an unhealthy degree, but going from the butcher's case to the fridge to the grill in less than 24 hours seems pretty safe to me.

        I have trouble imagining that stirring and resting would dry up the meat enough that bloody vacuum-packed meat would end up be as dry as freshly ground meat. And having the raw meat be as dry as possible seems to be key to getting a crispy crust.

        So my question to you, Hank, is *why* is any advantage the freshly ground stuff has outweighed by its exposure to the atmosphere?

        Also, would anyone else care to weigh in here?

        1. re: damian

          Some exposure to the atmosphere is a good thing. i don't buy ground meat as a rule, I prefer to grind or chop it myself. And when I do, I always leave it uncovered in the fridge for a short time to let it dry a bit. When it has picked up a rich, red color, I'll use it.

          Packaged ground meat (especially the vacuum packed tubes) is, quite simply, the pits.

      2. I buy ground beef from a local butcher. Through a glass partition I can watch them removing the meat from the bones which comes from all the carcasses hanging behind them. I can watch the meat put through the grinder and fall onto a tray then I can watch someone take some of the freshly ground meat and wrap it up for me. Then I take it home and use it that day. Having witnessed how big slaughter houses remove every scrap of meat from a carcass...............you don't want to know believe me.
        If you are ever entering Duncan BC from the south look for the Cowichan Valley Meat Market. It's really quit enlightening to see the huge carcasses hanging and to see all the cuts 'from nose to tail' on display for sale.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Puffin3

          Thanks, Puffin. Good to know. This definitely sways me towards the fresh stuff.

          1. re: Puffin3

            OK but how often is that grinder at the butchers cleaned? How much meat from how many cows goes across those blades in a day? Because they are not washing it between customers. Personally we grind our own.

          2. Fresh ground; every last time. I can't handle those meat tubes.

            7 Replies
            1. re: mamachef

              Why can't you handle those meat tubes?

              1. re: damian

                I find them disgusting. I don't like vacuum packed anything, especially that meat. It smells bad when you open it, and looks worse. I like bloody meat, but it's too much for me to handle.

              2. re: mamachef

                That's what she said.

                My problem with the descriptively-named meat tubes is that when you slice one open, the smell is just disgusting. It's not rotten or anything, it's just got this really unpleasant undertone of chemical funk that makes me not want hamburger anymore.

                  1. re: mamachef

                    Thank you both, Jenny and Mama. This is definitely helping me decide what to buy next time I'm at the market.

                    1. re: damian

                      Damian, it's always good to see what you're going to eat before you actually eat it. for your very, very best burger, I recommend freshly ground beef at an 80/20 meat/fat ratio, for your juiciest, most delicious burger. Handle it gently, as you would a little tiny baby, make your patties a little thicker than you think you want them, and put a thumbprint about 1/4" deep in the miiddle, which will keep it flatter and juicier, without the dreaded hamburger swell. also, sometimes I top them with a little teenytiny pat of butter, just for giggles.

                      1. re: mamachef

                        Thanks, Mama. Sounds like good advice.

              3. I celebrate your interest, but this is sort of like saying you're getting into baking and you want to know which boxed cake mix makes the best cake. The stuff that grocery store ground beef is made out of is not worth extra care and tending and interest. It is ammonia, it is nasty by products of pressed meat/fat pink sludge, it is from animals not grown on proper diet or processed in a clean and healthful manner, where the focus is only on speed, not precision or cleanliness, it's irradiated, ammonia filled and can be dangerous for you. At the very least, do your newfound interest and hobby a favor and pair it with finding a local butcher who you can see grinding their own beef (grocery stores get big blocks of beef that they "regrind" so they can say it's 'freshly ground'), preferably someone who can talk intelligently about the source of the beef and what the cows were raised on and where they were processed. Otherwise, how much does it really matter which plastic-covered chemical mess you are buying? Sorry, JMO.

                7 Replies
                1. re: rockandroller1

                  I appreciate your concern, but your reference to a "plastic-covered chemical mess" suggests to me that didn't read the parenthetical in the original post: "I'm deliberately excluding the packaged non-vacuum-packed stuff from this discussion, as that seems to be the worst of both worlds." In other words, I'm only talking about *freshly* ground beef.

                  I don't shop at chain stores. There are a couple of local butchers in my area, plus a few grocery stores that have high-quality meat. I'm only talking about 100% grass-fed here. I know the names of all of the farms that the meats come from, and I know that they're high-quality and pesticide-free.

                  All of the five butchers I just called said they grind it fresh every day and told me exactly what cuts they're using: mostly sirloin, chuck, and trimmings. No ammonia, no irradiation. One of them even offered to grind it for me on-the-spot from my preferred cut of meat if what they have in the case looks too fatty or lean.

                  So again, I appreciate your concern, but you seem to be making assumptions that don't apply to my particular situation.

                  1. re: damian

                    My bad, 100% and my apologies. I guess I misread and the responses afterwards led me to think you were debating between the sort of "fresh" styrofoam packed thing in the meat case vs the frozen block that comes in cryovac plastic. Here's what i don't get:

                    "differences between freshly ground meat, as found in the butcher's case, and the pre-packaged, vacuum-packed stuff..."

                    How is anything that's vacuum packed a freshly ground product? Maybe I'm just not understanding the product you're talking about?

                    1. re: rockandroller1

                      No worries, and apology accepted :)

                      Perhaps I'm not being clear. I'm talking about the big mound of unpackaged freshly ground meat behind the class that the butcher scoops, weighs, and wraps for you on demand vs. the cryovac plastic stuff. I'm not meaning to imply that the cryovac stuff is fresh.

                      I think the confusion comes from a grammatical ambiguity. You're (legitimately) interpreting "freshly ground meat, as found in the butcher's case, and the pre-packaged, vacuum-packed stuff" to mean "freshly ground meat: as found in the butcher's case, and the pre-packaged, vacuum-packed stuff." What I meant was "freshly ground meat (as found in the butcher's case) and the pre-packaged, vacuum-packed stuff." Does the revised punctuation clear up your confusion? :)

                      1. re: damian

                        I think I understand now, but can't get why you would want to consider that cryovac stuff, that's worse than what the grocery store itself is putting in the meat case IMO, a lot of it is just Cargill scrap meat?

                        1. re: rockandroller1

                          I do believe I heard here; "soft serve meat ice cream."

                          1. re: mamachef

                            Thanks, mama. Now I *really* don't want to buy it.

                          2. re: rockandroller1

                            Well, the more I learn about the cryovac stuff, the less interested I get. I had no idea what was in it before this discussion; I just thought it might be considering because of its protection from the air, but the more I learn, the less important that factor seems to be.