The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest official data says in Sept. 2021, the average price of a pound of lean ground beef climbed to a whopping $6.15 per pound. Since then, we’ve seen all kinds of economic turmoil, sending us into inflationary times, when the price of everything is soaring.
If you and your family are not ready to turn vegetarian—nor are you prepared to pay a king’s ransom for quality hamburger—you do have another option: Get creative. Okay, maybe a little sneaky, too.
But first, let’s talk turkey, I mean ground beef. The really lean option of ground beef, 93/7, is not easy to prepare well. That’s because there’s not enough fat in it to turn out juicy, delicious fare. Super lean ground beef requires careful seasoning as well as fussy cooking—and even adding fat. So save your money and go with a less lean more flavorful option.
Let’s say that you, like I, prefer 80/20 ground beef. Yesterday (6-15-22) I paid $2.97 per pound for that at my supermarket on sale (reg. $5.49). But I didn’t really pay even that much.
My effective cost is more like $1.97 per pound. How? Please don’t tell a soul—I stretch it. I take the best quality ground beef and then “extend” it by at least one-third. So whatever the price in the store, I mentally reduce it by 33% to get my effective cost.
How Far Will Fillers Stretch Ground Beef?
A pound of ground beef usually comes out to about 2 cups cooked. Adding a cup of fillers will give you roughly 50% more meat to use. If you typically serve one-quarter of a pound of meat per person for dinner, you can transform a dinner that usually feeds four people into one that feeds six.
Regardless of which you choose, the filler is usually much cheaper than the meat itself. You may easily spend less than a dollar per cup for filler and then even split up a pound of meat into multiple meals. Doing this can make a significant difference in your grocery budget.
A Good Rule of Thumb
Add one cup of filler per pound of meat. If you’re worried your family will notice the difference, start with less filler and work your way up in future meals. In recipes that use crumbled meat (e.,g., tacos, spaghetti, lasagna), you can use equal parts of filler and beef and stretch the meat even more. Just make sure you add seasonings as if you are working with all meat.
When packing meat into a ball, loaf, or patty, you need to be cautious because it’s a delicate formula. Eggs bind the meat and filler so the mixture holds its shape and cooks to an ideal texture and moisture. If you use too much filler, meatloaf and meatballs will be mushy, and your burgers may fall apart.
One egg and no more than one cup of filler per pound of meat makes for a good balance for most dishes. If it’s too thick, add another egg.
How to Stretch Ground Beef
By mixing in something with the ground beef to make it go farther, I get results that are so much better than the beef alone. I’m always doctoring, seasoning, and adding this or that depending on what I’m making.
Take meatloaf for example. I wouldn’t be surprised if just the word “meatloaf” makes you respond with a resounding “Yuck!” That’s because a brick of ground beef stuck in the oven with a little salt and pepper is going to turn out dry as shoe leather, and about as tasty.
But take that same amount of ground beef and mix it with a few well-chosen ingredients, then bake it up or put it on the grill. You are going to be amazed. Even your children are going to say it’s great, and ask you to do that again. And again.
Just don’t be so anxious to tell your secrets. There’s something about adding stuff to ground beef that grosses people out.
When browning ground beef for anything like tacos, chili, or sloppy Joes, add one cup of cooked rice for every pound of meat, just after draining the grease from the meat. Your family will never know. The rice (brown or white) takes the seasoning very well so that visually it looks like it is all ground beef.
Add grated pre-cooked potato or dry potato flakes to hamburger meat for any Mexican dish like tacos or chili.
Cook it first in water until soft according to label instructions. Then add to any recipe calling for ground beef and tomato sauce, reducing the amount of ground beef you use to accommodate the addition of the bulgur wheat. Shhh! I’ve been know to go 50/50 cooked bulgar to ground beef. That means 1/2 pound ground beef where the recipe calls for 1 pound.
Roast them first, then puree in the food processor or blender. Add one cup per pound of ground beef.
Add one-half cup of pre-cooked lentils, kasha, quinoa, or beans to the raw ground beef. Now cook it just as if you would if it were all ground beef.
Stale bread, crackers
Tear it up into little bits. Add an egg and spices to make meatballs and burgers.
Ground turkey is very lean and often lacking in flavor. And it’s dry. Mix 50/50 with ground beef for fabulous results.
Here’s my family’s all-time favorite recipe for meatloaf. This is the way your grandma made it, trust me on this. This is the recipe that made the house smell great, that went perfectly with mashed potatoes, and which you knew you could eat every day of your life and never get tired of it.
This is the recipe that will make your family hope and pray there will be leftovers for tomorrow. If you follow this recipe well, the kids will never know you used bread, carrots, and cheese to turn 1 1/2 pounds of ground beef into more like 3 pounds.
Best Meatloaf Ever
- 2 eggs
- 2/3 cup milk, whole or 2%
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 3 slices dry bread, crumbled finely
- 1 1/2 pounds ground beef
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup shredded carrot, extra fine, or chopped in blender for picky eaters
- 1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup ketchup
- 1 tablespoon prepared yellow mustard
- Preheat oven to 350 F.
- Whisk eggs, milk, salt, and pepper in large bowl. Add crumbled bread and stir until dissolved.
- Mix ground beef, chopped onion, Cheddar cheese, and carrot into bread mixture.
- Transfer to a 9x5-inch loaf pan. Press firmly into pan.
- In a small bowl, combine brown sugar, ketchup, and mustard. Spread over meat mixture.
- Bake until no longer pink in the center, for an hour. Check at one hour with an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center. It should read 160 F. Do not over bake. Servings: 6
Revised, Updated, Republished 6-16-22