MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Burgers are a key component of summer backyard barbecues. But, there are so many options – 80 percent lean, 85 percent, 90 percent?

Janine from Chaska and Sean from Inver Grove Heights asked: How is the ground beef lean content measured?

Decades ago, butchers would measure by sight, but that created inconsistent results in terms of quality, according to Penn State Extension.

Now, there are machines that allow for meat processors to meet the requests of restaurants, grocery stores and regulatory agencies.

The USDA does have labeling requirements when it comes to lean content. The minimum lean content for ground beef is 70 percent.

One of those machines used to measure fat is essentially a grill with a test-tube attached.

“We’d take a burger, you’d have to cook it off and measure the drippings,” says Mark Mann, owner of Swanson Meats in Minneapolis. “But, that got to be laborsome and you would spend 20 minutes waiting for a batch to find out what the lean was.”

Now, Mann says his company uses a $50,000 fat analysis machine that x-rays the meat and gives the lean content within seconds.

Swanson Meats provides ground beef to some of biggest names in the Twin Cities restaurant business – ST. Dinette, Matt’s, Lion’s Tap, Lurcat, Revival and many more.

He won’t give away their secrets, but says most restaurants burgers have been 75 percent and 82 percent lean content.

“That’s one of the reasons when people do to restaurants they like their burgers better than they do at home,” Mann says.

He doesn’t recommend that high a fat content for backyard barbeques because that much fat would be more likely to cause flare-ups.

Heather Brown