Burger Season May Be Over, But Here's Why You Should Keep Buying Ground Meat

In case you haven't noticed, it's the end of grilling season, and with that, the end of burgers. At least that's what the Internet tells me. You can see how this might strike a bit of fear into the heart of your local whole-animal butcher shop. No more burgers? What will they do with all that trim that gets turned into ground beef, which apparently is only good for burgers? More times than I would care to remember, I've heard, "Don't worry, you'll sell more ground beef once burger season comes around."

When is it not burger season? You would think that ground beef, for most of the year, just sits there in a case, like some young kid (let's call him Lucas) standing wide open, waiting for the ball. "Throw it to Lucas, throw it to Lucas!" Except this time, Lucas doesn't get the chance, and you buy a rib eye instead. Spoiler alert: Lucas drops the ball anyway — that's the way things were back in the 1980s. Cold-hard reality.

What is even more of a reality jolt is the price of ground beef. Over the past few years, ground beef prices have been creeping up slowly. In fact, certain types of ground beef have encroached on the pricing territory of steaks, which is something that would have been unheard of just a few years ago. We're talking around $4.20 per pound, according to the latest industry numbers. And that's for commodity beef. Stick a grass-fed, organic or local tag in front of it, and you're into the $7 to $10 range.

Not that these prices aren't fair. Clearly, someone is buying ground beef out of season. In fact, 60 percent of all beef consumption is in the form of ground beef, which makes sense since cuts like rib eye, New York strip and tenderloin only account for about three percent of the animal. Tack on to that all those old dairy cows — what, you didn't think they gave milk forever, did you? That all adds up to a lot of trim that isn't quite steak-worthy.

So if you're a little burned out on burgers, here are a few ideas that will keep the meat a'grinding year-round. Except for ground turkey. Seriously, why are you eating a turkey burger?


helgasmeatballs Swedish meatballs (Marcus Samuelsson's depicted here) are perfect for fall and easy to make. (Photo: Mahir Hossein.)

I have a Sicilian mother. For most of you, that probably means nothing. For some of you, looking at the title of this section, you're cowering in fear wondering if I'm about to reveal some secret family recipe and unleashing il malocchio. No way! Those recipes stay closely guarded until the okay is given. Besides, I don't even have them...yet. What I do have is the next best thing: Swedish meatballs. Sure, they take a little more time and may require a few extra steps, but what you're left with is something so tender and juicy that even Mad Men's Don Draper would give it a nod. (Not familiar with the show? The meaty orbs were a big fad back in the 1960s.)

As with most of my recipes, you probably already have all the necessary ingredients in your pantry. Bread, eggs, spices, beef stock, some cream and, of course, ground beef, and you're good to go. We're going to go to the well again for this recipe, and by well, I mean Alton Brown (because I'm a bit obsessed with Good Eats). His Swedish-meatballs recipe is spot on and about as easy as you can get. Mix ingredients, pan-fry, bake, make a roux (which is super easy) and mix yourself a Manhattan. Don will thank you.

Swedish Meatballs (adapted from Alton Brown)Ingredients

2 slices fresh white bread

1/4 cup milk

3 tablespoons butter, divided

1/2 cup finely chopped onion

A pinch plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt

3/4 pound ground beef (80/20)

3/4 pound ground pork

2 large egg yolks

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

3 cups beef broth

1/4 cup heavy cream

You can also use 1 1/2 pounds of ground beef instead of the beef/pork mix.Directions:

  • Tear your bread into small pieces and place in a mixing bowl with milk.
  • In a large skillet over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon of butter, add onion and salt and cook the onions until they are soft.
  • In a separate bowl, combine the bread and milk mixture, ground beef, egg yolks, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, black pepper, allspice, nutmeg, and onion. Mix until fully combined. If you have a stand mixer, even better. Use medium speed for about two minutes.
  • Using a tablespoon-measuring spoon, scoop out your mixture and quickly form into a ball. The less you handle your mixture, the less your hands will heat it. Three seconds and whatever shape you get, you get.
  • Heat the remaining butter in your skillet over a medium-low heat. Add the meatballs and cook, turning often, until golden brown on each side — around 8 to 10 minutes. Remove your meatballs and place in a 200°F preheated oven to keep warm.
  • Once you've removed the meatballs from the skillet, decrease the heat to low and add the flour. Whisk until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Slowly add in your beef stock and whisk until thickened. Add cream and continue to cook until the gravy has reached your desired consistency.
  • Meatloaf

    MarioBatali_PolpettonaRipienarecipe Not your everyday meatloaf. Try stuffing it with spinach, bacon, prosciutto and whatever else you fancy. (Photo: Quentin Bacon.)

    Taken as two separate words, I can completely understand the slight repulsion — not to mention what the Swanson-brand frozen dinner version did to us back in the day. I hope to convince you that meatloaf is the single most delicious form of ground meat you can eat. You hear that, Danny Meyer? Now, of course, I'm not talking about your standard preformed meat "patty" slathered with sauce here. We're going to do something a little different. And whether you eat it straight out of the oven or wait a day and serve it cold as a sandwich between some sourdough, I think you'll agree this is ground beef exalted. It's meatloaf Brasciole: flattened and stuffed with spinach, bacon, prosciutto, arugula and whatever else you might want. Sure, it takes a little finesse, but when you pull this out at your next dinner party, you'll wipe away any painful memories of burn-your-mouth apple turnovers and scorch-your-throat mashed potatoes.

    Meatloaf BrascioleIngredients

    1 1/2 pounds ground beef, pork and veal (you can always sub in different grinds if you can't find exactly what you're looking for. Except for turkey — no turkey)

    Salt and pepper

    1/2 cup Italian bread crumbs

    1 egg

    2 cloves garlic, minced

    1/4 small white onion, grated (no chunks, please)

    3 tablespoons grated cheese, Parmigiano or Romano

    2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

    1 cup baby spinach

    6 slices prosciutto di Parma

    6 slices deli-sliced provolone


  • Preheat your oven to 350°F.
  • Mix your meat and the next 7 ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Be sure to work quickly so as not to warm mixture with your hands.
  • Line a sheet pan with waxed paper and place your meat mixture in the center. Cover the bottom of another sheet pan with waxed paper and smoosh your meatloaf mix into a thin layer, about ½ inch thick, about a foot long and maybe 6 inches wide. Again, no need to be exact here. Cover the flattened mix with your spinach, prosciutto and provolone, and roll. This takes a bit of practice, but again, it doesn't need to be perfect. A drizzle or two of olive oil and into the oven.
  • You'll want to bake at 350°F for roughly 60 to 70 minutes. I start checking at 45. You're looking for an internal temp of about 145°F. Remember: When checking temps, insert your instant-read thermometer horizontally into the center of the meatloaf so as to get an accurate reading.
  • You can serve right away, or you can do what I do and let it cool a bit. Slice off 1 1/2 inch "steaks." Heat oil in your skillet over medium-high heat and sear both sides. You'll get a crunchy exterior that adds a bit more texture. And then, of course, there are always meatloaf sandwiches for the week.
  • Mix meat and next 10 ingredients as if you were making meatloaf. Flatten meat out on a wax-paper-lined cookie sheet into a thin layer: 1/2 inch thick and 12 inches long by 6 to 8 inches wide. Cover meat with arugula or spinach, prosciutto and cheese, then roll the meat, using the wax paper to help roll up into a large log, working across the 6- to 8-inch side, resulting in a 12-inch-long log. Drizzle the log with extra-virgin olive oil to coat lightly.
  • Bolognese

    cottonsauce Add some ground meat to your tomato sauce to keep you eating heartily — and your butcher happy.

    So you've picked all your tomatoes and either made tons of sauce or preserved or frozen them. Now what? You're going to have plain old tomato sauce from now 'til May? Of course not! You're going to add meat to it. This is by far the easiest and best way to keep your butcher in business through the winter.

    Just follow these easy steps. Go down to your local whole-animal butcher shop. Purchase one pound of ground beef (or a mix of ground meat, just not ground turkey). Bring it home. Defrost or heat up your preserved sauce. Cook the ground meat for roughly ten minutes before adding it to sauce. Simmer for however long you'd like and add on top of any pasta you have in your pantry.

    Of course, ground beef isn't the only ground meat you should or could be using. Lamb, pork, goat — just about anything works. Anything, that is, but ground turkey (if I haven't yet made that abundantly clear). What's more, you'll be performing a huge service for your local butcher by keeping him or her in business outside of burger season.