In ideal circumstances, ground beef has a pleasing texture. However, there are a few reasons why your ground beef might have turned out chewy instead of moist and tender. This guide will take you through the most common ones.
Why Is My Ground Beef Chewy?
Cooked ground beef can be chewy if it was undercooked, overcooked, or if you handled it too much prior to cooking. Some cuts of meat make better ground beef than others, so it’s important to purchase the right type. When there’s not enough fat in the meat, the lack of moisture can lead to a dry, chewy product.
About Ground Beef
To make ground beef, butchers take a large cut of meat and feed it through a grinding machine. That means it includes fat and connective tissue as well as protein.
Depending on the cut and fat content (more on that later), the ground beef may be very lean or exceptionally fatty. Lean ground beef is better for recipes that call for a great deal of spice, whereas burgers that contain 15 to 20 percent fat make excellent burgers.
You can make ground beef at home if you have a meat grinder or food processor. That way, you’ll have more control over the product.
Why Is My Ground Beef Chewy? A Guide
All beef products can become chewy under certain conditions. The rules don’t change just because the meat has been ground into smaller pieces.
If the connective tissue hasn’t had a chance to break down, or if the fat hasn’t rendered, then the meat might turn out chewy. Likewise if the meat has lost too much moisture, or if it wasn’t moist enough to begin with.
Meat that’s low in quality can also result in chewy ground beef. That’s why you should buy your ground beef from a reputable source—or make it yourself.
Let’s take a closer look at these issues.
If you’re starting with an inferior cut of meat, it stands to reason that the ground product won’t be that impressive either. Feeding the meat through the grinder doesn’t magically transform it into a better product—it just gives it a different texture.
It’s still possible to buy decent ground beef in bulk, but it’s better if you know what you’re getting. Stores that advertise their meat as “ground chuck,” for example, are telling you that the beef came exclusively from the upper shoulder region of the cow.
The way the meat was handled will have an effect on its quality as well. How fresh was the beef before grinding? And how long has it been sitting around since it was packaged?
If the meat isn’t fresh, then it won’t be as juicy and delicious after it’s cooked. The proteins start to oxidize over time, causing the meat to deteriorate. In addition to being unpleasant, this is potentially hazardous to your health.
Often, when you purchase ground beef, you’ll notice numbers such as “85-to-15” and “90-to-10” on the label. These figures refer to the protein-to-fat ratio of the product. In other words, “85 to 15” means the beef contains 85 percent protein to 15 percent fat.
The meat might also be labeled at “80 percent lean” or “90 percent lean.” You’ll have to do the math in your head in these cases, but it’s giving you the same information. Meat that’s 80 percent lean is made up of 20 percent fat.
These percentages play a large role in the cooking process. If the ground beef is very lean, it will turn tough and chewy if it’s overcooked.
Ground beef with a high fat content, meanwhile, might be chewy if it’s undercooked, since the fat hasn’t had a chance to render. As a rule of thumb, you should cook lean ground beef for less time, and fatty ground beef for a longer period.
While we’re on the subject of undercooked ground beef, we should reiterate why this is important for both texture and food safety.
Many people enjoy eating their burgers medium rare. The meat retains more moisture when it’s cooked to just 135 degrees or so, and it will have plenty of flavor as well.
However, the USDA recommends cooking ground meat to an internal temperature of 165 degrees. It’s the only way to ensure that the meat is free of certain types of bacteria.
Undercooking can also have an adverse effect on quality, especially when the beef has a high fat content. If the ground beef is 20 to 30 percent lean, a great deal of fat will still remain intact at the 135-140 degree mark.
In this case, the protein itself should still be tender to the bite, but when you hit a pocket of fat, you’re sure to notice the difference. When the fat makes up such a significant percentage of the weight, this can be problematic.
Before you decide to crank up the heat in order to caramelize all that fat, know that overcooked ground beef can fall prey to the chewiness factor as well.
In this case, the chewy texture isn’t due to the presence of fat, but the absence of it. Overcooked meat lacks fat as well as moisture. When the proteins toughen up as a result of overcooking, they can’t reabsorb fluids, leading to a dry and chewy product.
Cut of Beef
Not every cut of meat is well-suited for the grinder. Filet mignon, for example, is very tender on its own, so there’s no need to soften it up by grinding it. What’s more, the meat lacks fat, meaning the ground product could turn out too dry.
Most of the time, the ground beef that’s sold commercially is made of chuck, round, plate, or sirloin. These are inexpensive cuts that contain a reasonable amount of fat, making them ideal for grinding.
Brisket is another cut that takes well to the grinder. Since it has plenty of connective tissue and intramuscular fat, grinding the meat makes this large and intimidating cut easier to manage.
Remember this tip if you ever decide to make your own ground beef. Fat is an essential component of the ingredient. If you use a cut that’s too lean, you’re bound to be disappointed with the results.
The texture of ground beef causes many amateur chefs to treat it like modeling clay, pushing and prodding it into shape. In fact, you should handle the meat as little as possible.
When ground beef is overworked, it will have a tough or chewy texture once it’s cooked. Use a light touch when you’re forming it into patties. When making meat loaf or meatballs, mix in the seasonings until they’re just combined.
Tips For Fixing Chewy Ground Beef
What if you’ve already cooked the ground beef and the first few bites were unpleasantly chewy? If you’re dealing with burgers, there’s not much you can do. But if the meat is in a loose form, you might still be able to salvage it.
Return the ground beef to a skillet and set it over medium heat. Add some stock or broth to the meat (about 1/2 cup per pound) and bring to a light simmer. The excess liquid should cook down and tenderize the meat.
This isn’t a foolproof method, and it might not be the answer if you’ve already seasoned the meat for tacos or stuffed cabbage rolls. But it’s worth a try when discarding the meat is the only alternative.
Preventing the Issue
The best way to circumvent the issue of chewy ground beef is to avoid it in the first place. Here are a couple of tips on how to do that.
- Heat the pan before you start cooking.
- Add the beef as soon as the pan is hot, breaking it into chunks so that it browns evenly.
- Season the beef with salt as soon as it hits the pan.
- Stir with a spatula every 2 to 3 minutes, but don’t overwork the meat.
- Cook the ground beef to an internal temperature of 160 degrees, then remove it from the heat to finish cooking. This may take 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the fat content.
- Don’t rely on color—the ground beef can stop cooking at 160 degrees, whether it’s still showing hints of pink or not.
Once you know how to choose and handle your ground beef, you should be able to avoid the indignity of chewy meat. Fortunately, the guidelines aren’t all that difficult to follow.
Hi there! I’m Darren Wayland, your BBQHost. My love of great barbecue inspired me to curate this site as a resource for all my like-minded fellow pitmasters out there. When I’m not researching and learning all I can about the latest tips and techniques, you can find me at the grill—that is, if you can spot me at all through the clouds of sweet-smelling smoke. And since you asked, yes, that probably is barbecue sauce on my face. Welcome to the party!