Lowering The Fat Of Regular Ground Beef

Ground Beef is sold according to it’s fat content:
Ground Beef is available in many forms these days. The most common forms are Super Lean, Extra Lean, Lean, and Regular old humble Hamburger. Each type has a different percentage of fat added to it. Super Lean is the most expensive; it has the least amount of added fat. Regular ground beef is the most economical; it has the most amount of added fat. There are ways around this extra fat though, so that we can eat the cheapest ground beef, and still consume the least amount of fat possible. Keep reading to get to the nuts and bolts of a procedure called Draining and Rinsing.

Super Lean: This type of ground beef usually has between 4% and 10% fat content. At 90% or 96% lean beef, it is the leanest ground beef you can buy. This also makes it the most expensive. In my area it is $4.99 lb at most supermarkets, although at a local Warehouse Store (Sam’s) it is a more reasonable $2.19 lb. A 4 oz portion of raw super-lean ground beef contains approximately 170 calories, 8g fat, 3g saturated fat and 61 mg cholesterol. Once cooked a pound of super-lean ground beef weighs about 12-2/3 oz. Thus a 4 oz portion of raw super-lean turns into about a standard 3 oz portion, once it is cooked.

Extra Lean or Ground Round: Most cookbooks and magazines call for this type of ground beef in their recipes. It contains 15% fat and 85% lean beef. In my area it costs between $2.99 and $4.59 a pound. A pound of raw ground round becomes about 12 oz when cooked.

Lean or Ground Chuck: This type of ground beef is 80% lean and 20% fat. Usually it is called Ground Chuck on the label. In my area it costs between $1.99 and $3.99 per pound. A pound of raw lean ground beef weighs about 11-1/2 oz after it is cooked.

Regular or Humble Hamburger: This is the least expensive ground beef and it also has the highest percentage of added fat. Normally it is 70% lean and 30% fat. Sometimes it is advertised as 27% fat and 73% lean though, so check the label. It is often on sale for about $1.50 lb. Even at it’s highest price it usually costs no more than $1.99 lb. In my area it is available in 5-pound rolls for about $1.42 lb. If you cook a pound of raw hamburger, it will become about 10-2/3 oz of cooked meat. This is merely 2 oz less than the most expensive super-lean ground beef. Regular hamburger costs less than half as much as super-lean ground beef. I am not willing to pay double for 2 more ounces of meat. For frugal folks trying to keep the grocery bills as low as possible, Regular Hamburger is the best choice.

But what about the fat content? When you are trying to reduce the amount of fat and cholesterol in your diet, wouldn’t Super Lean Beef be a better deal nutritionally? Well that depends. Regular Hamburger is higher in fat than Super Lean, however most people don’t consume the fat which cooks out of their ground beef. Usually people drain it off. For Health & Budget conscious folks like us, there is an even more thorough way to reduce the fat in regular ground beef.

Drain & Rinse Regular Hamburger to eliminate as much fat as possible. Fry up a pound of regular, cheap Humble Hamburger in the normal way. Break it up into small pieces, and cook it until all the pink is gone. Drain as much of the accumulated fat as you can into a handy vegetable can, or grease catcher. Then dump the ground beef into a colander or strainer in the sink. Run hot tap water into the greasy skillet. Pour this water over the hamburger in the strainer. Do it again. Allow the beef to drain a few minutes, and then return it to the skillet. Proceed as directed by the recipe.

If you like, you can put a bowl or pot under the strainer to catch the water that drains off of the hamburger. This can be chilled until the fat solidifies on top, and then the remaining broth can be used anywhere beef broth is called for. It can also be frozen for later use. This way any nutrients which wash away with the water are still preserved; a very thrifty and conservative use of resources.

I usually don’t add onions, garlic or other seasonings until after the hamburger is cooked, drained and rinsed. Some folks fry the onions or garlic along with the meat as they cook it. Do what you feel is best for your circumstances.

A 4 oz raw portion of regular hamburger that has been cooked, drained and rinsed has approximately 155 calories, 9g fat, 4g saturated fat and 46 mg cholesterol. Compared to the values for super-lean ground beef above, drained and rinsed crumbles have 15 fewer calories, 1 more gram total fat, 1 more gram saturated fat and 15 fewer miligrams of cholesterol. Because of this information I am whole-heartedly willing to eat and recommend regular ground beef that has been cooked, drained and rinsed to anyone who is trying to eat a healthier diet.

Below you will find a chart detailing the caloric differences between several types of ground beef. You will see that draining and rinsing regular hamburger makes it lower in calories than any other type of ground beef.

Type of Ground Beef

1 lb Raw; Weight after cooking

1 lb Raw; Calories after cooking

1/4 lb Raw; Calories after cooking

Super Lean (7% fat)

12-2/3 oz



Extra Lean (15% fat)

12 oz



Lean (20% fat)

11-1/2 oz



Regular (30% fat), Broiled

10-2/3 oz



Regular (30 % fat) Drained & Rinsed

11 oz



If you still have hesitations about using cheap regular hamburger after reading this article then print it out and share it with your dietitician or doctor.  Ultimately you should follow their advice and not mine.  It’s my bet that if they investigate this option as thoroughly as I have they will agree that using regular hamburger that has been cooked, drained and rinsed is the best alternative for people trying to improve their diet while maintaining a tight budget.

NOTE:  The information for other ground meats like sausage and turkey is not available.  It is reasonable to assume that draining and rinsing these meats would result in similar reductions in fat, cholesterol and calories.

Independent Links which confirm the information on this page.

Journal of The American Dietetic Association, Vol 92 No. 11 Nov.1992 (PDF document)

Canadian Beef Information Centre

Canadianized Ground Beef: PDF (adobe acrobat) booklet detailing extensive nutritional information for many different types of ground beef, including regular ground beef that has been cooked, drained and rinsed.  Highly Recommended.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below

susan - May 20, 2009

Very nice

Arlene - June 8, 2009

This works. I’ve been doing this for years, however instead of running water over the cooked, browned meat, I add enough water to cover and simmer for about 15 minutes. Then I drain the meat into a colander, reserving the liquid. Next I put the drained liquid into a fat separator and pour the liquid, minus the fat, back into the pan with the meat. This way I have removed virtually all the fat yet retained the flavor from the meat.

Mel - August 23, 2009

I’m going to start doing this. I usually buy lean ground turkey but regular ground beef is so much cheaper! I guess it also helps that I’m starting to miss beef :/

Angela J. - November 16, 2009

The problem is that you’re paying for the meat by the pound & a sizeable portion is cooking away into the fat that you’re going to drain & rinse away. I’d rather go ahead & pay more for a pound of meat & end up with a pound of meat than pay less for a pound of meat & end up with 2/3 of a pound of meat. Maybe it’s still cheaper to do it your way. I haven’t really done the math down to the ounce. I just know that it irritates me to see my pound of ground beef cook away to far less than what I’d paid for.

    Shane - December 31, 2014

    Sorry for this 5-6 year old reply, but if one simply does the math on the weight of the beef that is left over after cooking you will see that the fattiest ground beef still has the best price per pound.

Angela J. - November 16, 2009

Ah, I see your table above now. I guess I’ll have to try to reconsider. It sure is tough to change my mind about this tho’. It appears that so much cooks down to fat & so little is left behind afterwards.

Christine - January 27, 2010

I wonder how many calories for the super lean if you drain & rinse?

Kelly - January 27, 2010

Try this to cook ground beef ahead of time for soups, etc.
Cook the ground beef, drain and submerge in warm water. Place in the refrigerator overnight or for a couple hours before using. When you remove from the refrigerator, you can “scoop” the fat off the top. Gross, but it removes a good bit of fat!

Ellen - May 5, 2010

This is a great idea! I do wonder about Angela’s calculation- I’m sure someone has figured it out somewhere!

Cathy - May 5, 2010

To compare the cost of super lean vs regular burger in your area, this is the formula (I think!):

Based on the above tables, I have calculated the approximate percent of “loss” of each type of meat after cooking (loss of water and fat)

Super lean = 12.67oz/16oz = 79% meat retained (21% loss)
Regular burger = 11oz/16oz = 69% meat retained after draining(31% loss)

To figure out the cost of meat per COOKED pound, simply take the price of burger and DIVIDE it by these percents (move the decimal over to be 0.79 and 0.69).

For example:

Super lean burger @ $4.50 per pound: 4.50/0.79 = 5.69 per cooked lb
Regular burger @ $2.00 per pound: 2.00/0.69 = 2.90 per cooked/drained lb

Clearly, the regular burger IS a better deal. HOWEVER, just be aware that it’s not always the fat that becomes a “filler” for burger. Another “filler” is all the connective tissue and “gristle” that makes burger sometimes kinda chewy. I don’t know much about store bought burger, but sometimes these are also determining factors for the price of burger, and not only the fat content.

Deirdre - May 7, 2010

Any way to reduce the fat content in regular ground beef when cooking it up as meatballs or patties?

    Damie - July 4, 2012

    Yes! Just cook the ground beef according to the directions above. Rinse and blot. Place thoroughly cooked ground beef crumbles in food processor. Add other meatball ingredients. Pulse lightly to combine. Allow to rest for 5 minutes. Form into balls. Brown in non-stick skillet.

    I do this all the time and people rave about my meatballs.

Nancy Clinton-Ross - September 13, 2010

I’ve been doing this for years…just didn’t like the grease that well. Nice to know that I’m not the only one..lol I usually just discard the greasy water, but I wonder how it would work for hamburger gravy (sans hamburger)? I’ll have to try it!

Nitalynn - November 1, 2010

Angela I still would rather pay more and be a little more sure of what I have. I was raised on a farm and it was drilled into my head that if you weren’t going to raise your own animals to eat to buy the best meat you could afford. The problem with cheap hamburger is not only fat but the fact that it is the trimmings off of everything else. I prefer to buy less fat in my ground beef and then add a touch of olive oil if it needs more fat for what I’m doing with it.

Jeff - February 6, 2011

I made some lentil beef chili out of 2 pounds of regular HB. Fried it first to get in browned, poured out the fat, put water in it and boiled it, put it in the fridge overnight scooped off the remaining floating hardened fat, put it thru a colander to collect the water and used that with some more to cook 1 cup lentils. Added 2 cans of diced tomatoes, some leftovers (beans, tomato paste, etc), chili, etc – eating it right now – great and no fat. And not many carbs either.

Jag - November 16, 2011

Nitalynn is correct.

You’re not paying just for less fat, you’re also paying for better beef. I worked in a butcher’s and later in a steakhouse that trimmed its own steaks. In both cases, because they were buying meat by the pound, they would be purchasing meat that was sold to them untrimmed, resulting in a lot of gristle, undigestible fat called silverback, and tendons. The cheaper meat in the butcher’s was always full of this gristle and tough tissues along with fat and ground together. This made hamburger that was better for slow cooking recipes where the tissues would gelatinize, but made for absolutely nauseating hamburgers from a mouth-feel perspective. They were chewy, fibrous, and bland.

Higher quality burgers/steaks have all this extra fat, silverback, and gristle trimmed off before they’re cooked/ground. It’s more expensive because you’re getting primarily just the edible beef and tissue fats, not all the extra stuff mixed in. This results in a product that cooks more uniformly and with less melting away, resulting in a better product for your dollar.

However, you have to be willing to pay for that better product., just like anything else. It’s not always about the fat content of the beef, but all the extras that the customer isn’t aware that they’re getting. No one who has trimmed meat before will skimp on it if they don’t have to.

Jag - November 16, 2011

If you doubt me, just remember.

Every restaurant (dine-in, not fast food) serves a burger that’s extra lean, often a hundred percent lean. There’s a reason. Better mouth feel, better value for the customer’s dollar, and higher quality beef used in production.

    Shane - December 31, 2014

    Actually, I deliver to Chili’s and Maggiano’s and they purchase 70/30 ground beef and burger patties.

Sharon Hotchkiss - January 19, 2012

I’ve been draining and rinsing for years. Just a little differently. After browning and draining I put it into the colinder and rinse under the hot water faucet directly.

Linda Larsen - April 15, 2012

“A 4 oz raw portion of regular hamburger that has been cooked, drained and rinsed has approximately 155 calories, 9g fat, 4g saturated fat and 46 mg cholesterol.”

The fat in ground beef is measured by weight, not by calories. So that portion of hamburger described above gets 52.2% of its calories from fat. Calculate that by multiplying 9 grams of fat by 9 calories per gram. Divide that total, 81 by the 155 calories in the beef.

Ground beef is not a low fat food, no matter how much you drain or rinse it.

That’s not something many people understand. Why the government labels ground beef that way is beyond me.

    Floyd - April 18, 2012

    So if you add enough carbs to equal the calories you’re getting from the fat you end up with a fairly close to balanced meal (protien/carb/fat ratio around 33% each). This is a very healthy balance.

    I used this method while loosing weight. I lost 100 pounds and drained/rinsed ground chuck made up about 50% of the meat that I ate (I used the chuck to get more protein into my recipes). It seemed like with regular hamburger too much of it melted away. 85-90% was better of course but it was rarely on sale. Ground chuck seemed to hit the right spot in terms of price and amount of protien you were left with after draining and rinsing (just check the package, it will tell you how much protien in a 4oz serving).

    I always rinsed it down the drain but now that I have a septic tank I need to look into one of those “grease catchers”.

      The Hillbilly Housewife - April 19, 2012

      Has anyone tried grinding their own chuck? If so, what kind of grinder do you use?

Dee - December 23, 2012

I’ve been doing this for a very time to get as much fat out of the browned ground beef as possible. I wouldn’t use very hot tap water though. This water comes from your hot water heater and more than likely has deposits from the water heater. I microwave my cold tap water to get it hot, put my ground beef into a strainer and pour the hot water over it. I do this until the water runs clear. It doesn’t take long.

KB - October 11, 2013

You know what – this is an endless debate and this article is informative but still doesn’t answer the question – and the chart is technically wrong. Let me explain. Let’s just use 93/7 beef (super lean).

Package say 170 calories per 4 oz portion – so does every website across the internet. So I take my 4 oz 93/7 burger, throw in the gas grill, flip it a few times, maybe press on it a little with the spatula – and I bring it inside and throw it on my scale. Now it weighs 3 oz. Now I eat it.

Did I just consume 170 calories or did I consume 127.5 calories (because it’s now a 3 oz portion)?

Your article sort of goes down the path of saying you count the amount after cooking, but then the chart debunks that. For 93/7 beef the first column says 1 lb will drop to 12 2/3 OZ (of course, true). Then the next column header is “1 lb Raw; Calories after cooking” – and lists the same calorie amount that is on the outside of the package (170 per 4 oz portion). Wait a minute – this burger went from 4 oz to 3 oz and a lot of the fat came out. So is it 680 calories for 1 lb of cooked beef (which technically requires 21.3 oz to begin with).

Like I said…it’s an endless debate.

LUTHER KARR - March 26, 2015

Nowhere in all of the comments have I seen the added cost for paper towels, water, and fuel to heat the water figured into the overall cost. Not to mention your extra time in the kitchen.

Leave a Reply: