Q: What’s the difference between ground beef and pea soup?

A: Anyone can grind beef.

Now that you’ve stopped laughing (or groaning), here are two more beefy questions to chew over: What’s the difference between extra-lean, lean, medium and regular ground beef? And why does it matter?

The difference between grades has to do with their fat content. Extra-lean ground beef has no more than 10 percent fat, lean tops out at 17 percent, medium has at most 23 percent, and regular contains a maximum of 30 percent fat.

Beyond the cost of the stuff, which tends to go down as fat content goes up, understanding these grades is important for two main reasons: Calories and cuisine.

Fat and calories go hand in hand

Because cooking reduces fat content, a six-ounce burger made from regular ground beef loses about a third of its fat while being grilled. That’s about 20 grams of fat, which adds up to around 170 calories. If you’re striving to lose weight, let’s hear it for BBQs!

On the other hand, all the fat can’t be cooked away. That burger still contains about 11 grams (and 95 calories) more fat than one made from lean ground beef and 21 more grams (or 180 calories) more than an extra-lean patty.

The takeaway here: If you’re trying to get leaner yourself, go with the leaner ground beef.

Which grade for which dish?

Keeping fat content in check also depends on the type of food you’re cooking. Dishes like meatloaf and stuffed bell peppers, for instance, can’t be drained of their excess fat, so extra-lean and lean work better there. Medium, meanwhile, is a good call for burgers, meatballs and tacos, as the fat drips off, or can be drained off, during cooking.

The pros and cons of ground beef

All grades of ground beef are superb sources of protein, B vitamins, iron and zinc. However, eating too much red meat has been linked to an increased risk of colorectal cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. So keep it to no more than 18 ounces a week, OK?

Now for the encore!

Q: What do you call a cow with no legs?

A: Ground beef or nothing, they won’t come anyway.

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