Why so much Ground Beef?

To follow up with our last installment about carcass yields, we are going to discuss the breakdown of cuts from a single animal carcass.  Each species is different; a lamb will have different cuts and muscle makeups than pork or beef.  During cutting, excess fat and bones are trimmed and discarded, resulting in another loss of weight between the carcass/hanging weight and your take-home weight.

You may have also been startled by how much ground meat you took home, and spent the car ride trying to think of new meatloaf recipes.  There is a good reason, and it’s mostly because there is a lot of muscle that has to work hard to move that cow around, and there are a lot more of these tough muscles than there are delicious, tender steaks.   

The tender cuts are the muscles that get the least work-out on a daily basis when the animal is moving around.  Less tender cuts, such as the short ribs, still get a workout but can be tasty if prepared correctly.  What is left after that are cuts that are not enjoyable as a steak to most diners, and end up as ground product.  Combining these tougher cuts that you choose to grind with pieces of trim that come off of the neck, shoulder, and other cuts, results in a lot of stew pieces or ground meat.

These are my estimates, based on experience and observation, for figuring how much ground product you may take home, using a standard cutting style that includes a good mix of bone-in and boneless cuts.

Percentage of take-home weight that could be ground product:

Beef - 50% ground(to as low as 25% if you keep all roasts, other leaner cuts)

Pork - 15-20% ground 

Lamb - 15-20% ground

Using our beef example from the last post to determine how much ground you’ll get, remembering that take-home weight is usually 67% of our carcass weight (from the Whole Animal Buying Guide):

732 lbs. carcass weight * .67 = 490 lbs take-home weight

490 lbs. * .5 = 245 lbs ground meat take-home

Why does beef yield so much more ground product than pork and lamb?  This is mainly due to the way that these carcasses are usually broken down.  In lamb and pork, the shoulder and neck cuts, as well as shanks, legs, and ribs are utilized more often in cooking.  Even if these same cuts are saved from a cow, a lot of fat and flaps of meat (called “tails”) are trimmed to create an even-cooking piece of meat, and those trim pieces are turned into ground beef.  The neck, plate, and much of the shoulder and legs are also ground.  


Recently there has been attention around “adding value” to the beef carcass.  Groups such as the Beef Checkoff Program, Beef Innovations Group, the Certified Angus Beef group as well as many State University agricultural programs are figuring out how to create more usable steaks from these parts of the cow and avoid selling it as ground beef.  We will dedicate a post later to this topic so you can try new ways to sell more steaks and less ground.

Now let’s explore steaks, roasts, chops, and ribs.  I generally group these cuts into two separate categories: premium and budget.  The premium cuts include things like T-bones (or new york strip steaks and filet mignons, which are T-bones with the bone removed), rib-eye steaks, and sirloin steaks.  The budget cuts include cuts like chuck steaks, short ribs, brisket, or cubed steak.  You can expect about 40% of the remaining take-home weight (after subtracting ground beef) to be premium steaks, and 60% to be budget cuts.  These amounts are applicable to lamb and pork as well, but with lamb I would flip the percentages (60% premium and 40% budget) thanks to the leg-of-lamb being a popular cut.

Continuing with our beef example:

245 lbs * .6 = 147 lbs as budget cuts

245 * .4 = 98 lbs as premium cuts

Now that we have talked about the percentages, you can start to get an idea of why nicer cuts are so much more expensive than other cuts - there just isn’t much on each animal relative to the amount of budget cuts and trim (98 lbs of premium out of 490 lbs take-home!).  You can also see why it may be difficult for many farmers to sell all of the animal without stockpiling a lot of ground beef - there’s just so much of it.  For anyone who has purchased meat by the half, or quarter, you will probably remember the first time picking your meat up and thinking, “I will be eating meatballs forever”.  Now you know why.