The Truth about Ground Beef Temperatures

This weekend is Memorial Day, which means a time to honor the fallen that have protected this great country that we so love. It is also unofficially the start of the summer grilling season. National Hamburger Day also falls on Sunday. This provides us with a lot of different reasons to grill.

We all have our favorite things to grill, but I would argue that hamburgers are the most popular. But the proper cooking of ground beef is incredibly important to food and family safety.  All ground beef must be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees.

Grilling temps for steaks and ground beef

Photo courtesy of the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association Facebook page

Why can I have my steak medium-rare, but not my hamburger? Bacteria. Bacteria can only exist on the surface of the steak – and they get killed once it gets cooked. But Erin Beasley, who has a Master’s degree in Meat Science, explains how ground beef is produced differently.

“To make ground beef we begin with whole muscle cuts such as chuck meat and we place it into a grinder. Once we grind and mix it into ground beef, any bacteria present on the surface of that product will exist throughout the ground beef because of the grinding process.”

Beasley says that is why it is imperative to cook ground beef to 160 degrees and ground turkey or chicken to 165. Doing so will prevent food borne bacteria. Beasley is also the assistant executive vice president of the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association and is affectionately known as the “Beef Girl.”
Another common issue that arises with grilling hamburgers is leaving them out on the counter or out in the sun for too long. Beasley’s suggestion is to practice the 40-140 rule.

Cheeseburgers on the grillThis means keep all products under 40 degrees or over 140 degrees. “Meat products that sit in the danger zone between 40-140 degrees can create an environment for bacterial growth and increase your risk of food borne illness,” explained Beasley.

If you follow the 40-140 rule and cook all ground beef to 160 degrees, then the odds of a food borne illness messing up your meal, family time or holiday weekend are much lower! And makes for a much more enjoyable experience.

If you’re at a loss for what to cook this Memorial Day weekend, then look into the “Beef Girl’s Special.” Erin pats out two thin burgers, and then places a large slice of cheese on one of the patty’s. She then places the other patty on top and forms the two to make a good size burger with cheese inside. Once it is grilled to 160 degrees she likes to top it with bacon and a fried egg. Top it with a good bun and you have a delicious and safe burger that supports a couple different animal agriculture groups!

If you are worried about hormones in your meat, then read this post. Happy grilling and remember the truth about ground beef temperatures!

The Truth about Grass vs. Grain Fed Beef

First a disclaimer: A lot of people say grass or grain fed beef, but that does not mean that the cow was fed grain its entire life. Most cattle live off grass for the majority of their life and then switch to grain once in the feed lot. We’ll get to the specifics of how that happens later.

As consumers, we are all worried about what we eat and the health benefits/risks associated with that. One of these worries is surrounding grass-fed vs grain-fed cattle, whether it be health concerns or animal welfare concerns.

The Grain-Finished Life Cycle

All cattle start out living similar lives; they are born, drink milk from their mothers and then eat grass after being weaned. This continues for about 6-12 months, after that, grain-finished cattle are moved to feedlots.

Feedlot penFeedlots are depicted as horrible, disgusting and cramped places (but that’s a topic for another blog post).
There is actually more room in feedlot pens than most people think. At feedlots the cattle are rapidly fattened up with grain, usually made with corn or soy. When the cattle are first brought to the feed lot they are given feed with high forage/silage content and low grain content to help their bodies adjust to the new diet. The grain portion of the diet steadily increases until the cattle are primarily eating grain. This process occurs over a 3-6 month period. If you are curious about finding out more about feedlots before my next post visit this site.

The Grass-Finished Lifecycle

Just like grain-finished cattle grass-finished cattle spend the first ~12 months of their lives in the same way. The only difference is that instead of being sent off to a feedlot they are “finished” or “grown out” in a grass pasture. This means that they eat grass for the remainder of their life, until slaughter. This entire process can take upwards of a year and a lot of land.

Nutritional Differences

Texas A&M University did a study on the nutritional differences on ground beef grass-fed grain-fed beef cattlegrass-fed grain-fed beef cattlefrom grass-fed and grain-fed cattle. As you can see from the table, grain-fed cattle have a higher omega-3 fatty acid concentration and a higher total saturated and trans-fat content, while grass-fed cattle have a higher oleic acid concentration and lower saturated and trans-fat content. The study continued on to say that the effect of the ground beef on cholesterol was minimal, and Grass vs Grain Finished Beefneither type increased risk for CVD or type II diabetes. “So, at this point, there is no scientific evidence to support the claims that ground beef from grass-fed cattle is a healthier alternative to ground beef from conventional raised, grain-fed cattle” said Stephen Smith, Regents Professor at the TAMU Department of Animal Science.

So as of the research we have right now, there is no health benefits to choosing grass-fed beef. It is solely a choice of preference. If you prefer the taste of grass-fed beef, then by all means eat it. But do not feel like you have to because of health benefits or animal welfare.