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Burgers for Better or Worse

August 30, 2016

When I look at a pig, I enjoy the fact that I can point to it and say, “there’s the prosciutto.” I’ve taught Little Miss Fussy where the bacon comes from as well. It’s the belly of the beast. Together we’ve tried chicken feet, which look exactly like chicken feet.

But for the most part, you can’t point to a cow and show where the hamburger comes from. And while you might be able to point to the part of a pig that resembles the sausage, that’s something else entirely.

Relatively recently, Mrs. Fussy was in the mood for hamburgers, and sent me a text while I was at Trader Joe’s asking that I bring home some ground beef. This is my nightmare. Because ground beef can be sketchy, and labeling can be misleading. So I was looking for the best possible option based on what was available.

I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t overthink the decision.

The goal here wasn’t to optimize on the price to value ratio. I was looking for the best possible product, period. With that in mind, looking at the highest price per pound wasn’t a bad place to start.

Even at Trader Joe’s that put me in the ballpark of $7.50 a pound. For industrial ground beef? I couldn’t quite believe it myself. But when the wife wants burgers, and you’re unwilling to settle for the second best ground beef, and you need it now, you do the best you can.

At that price point the choice was between a dense block of organic ground beef floating in its own juices, or a pack of kosher finely ground beef that looked like it had been pumped full of gas to keep the meat’s bright red color.

Organic is appealing, because it implies that the animal was raised without the overuse of antibiotics and that it wasn’t fed GMO corn or soy as part of its diet. How much of that is actually true is widely a matter of trust. But even small improvements over conventionally raised meat are still improvements.

Kosher in theory should be appealing, but I do have deep concerns that the ancient practices for the quick and painless slaughter of animals are no longer the quickest and most humane ways of dispatching these sentient creatures. And while I would hope that kosher laws would require cows to be fed a wholesome diet free of chicken litter and other garbage, I couldn’t tell you for sure.

What I did know, because it said so on the package, was that the kosher ground beef was ground chuck.

Like I said before, I can’t point to a cow and tell you where its hamburger comes from. However, I can absolutely show you the chuck.

And this, in combination with its kosher seal, won the day for me.

So when push comes to shove, I’d rather have a burger from a cow that was fed GMO grains and given routine antibiotics, than one that was raised using organic practices, if I knew the burgers were being ground from a specific piece of meat.

Here’s the killer. In my mind, when the package reads, “made from ground chuck,” I’m picturing whole pieces of chuck being processed through the grinder. But perhaps even that is naive. I could also imagine that the trim around the area where a chuck roast is removed from the chuck could still qualify as “chuck.”

In that case, this higher quality ground beef is still little more than the scraps of a carcass, marketed towards people like me, to get them to pay an outlandish sum for a dream.

The bottom line here is that I don’t trust anybody anymore in the food business. And I think a bit of healthy skepticism is important. Avoiding most hamburgers probably isn’t the worst idea either. But more on burgers and their alternatives very soon.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. August 30, 2016 10:53 am

    “Made from ground chuck” tells me they took some chuck and turned it into something else. Bwahaha…..

  2. August 30, 2016 11:21 am

    I say this all of the time. A grinder should be part of most kitchens. Even a good hand cranked one could suffice. Grinding meat is not scary or complicated. I think people have just adopted some strange mental framework where “ground beef” is a thing in and of itself. It’s weird.

    • August 31, 2016 1:16 am

      Damn you. Now I want a small hand cranked meat grinder. Actually, I want a row of hand cranked kitchen gadgets. A few years back I was coveting a hand cranked coffee grinder. I love the idea of having a kitchen filled with cranks.

      Somehow it kind of makes a lot of cosmic sense.

  3. enough already! permalink
    August 30, 2016 11:42 am

    Scooting out the back of traders and behind the mall brings you right to whole foods, where you can buy a variety of ground meat, including lamb, from the butcher.

    • August 31, 2016 1:14 am

      I would have if I had the time, but I was already running late as it was. My life is often a battle against the clock.

  4. EPT permalink
    August 31, 2016 8:44 am

    Dave is correct. If you want to know exactly what’s in your burger, grind it yourself. I prefer the grinder attachment to the Kitchen Aid mixer. Actually just had birgers last night and the mix was 60% short ribs and 40% bacon. Quite good.

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