(This post does contain affiliate links). My kids love spending time in the kitchen, and what better way to learn than playing with food. Over the years, our family has done plenty of experimenting with food, but I have never actually written about it. In this first installment of science experiments with food we are going to explore Ground Beef, and the problem with older recipes. We have talked about the Life of Walt Disney and the development of Disneyland in our (free) Elements of Fun Curriculum: Unit One Found HERE!

Science Experiments with Food Ground Beef
My first attempt at Walt Disney’s Chili Recipe

The problem with Walt Disney’s Chili Recipe

In studying the life of Walt Disney, I decided to look at some of the foods he ate. In attempting to recreate some of the recipes, I came across “his chili” recipe. It seems that Walt liked chili so much that he ate it nearly every day. When he wasn’t eating homemade chili, he was opening up canned chili and eating that. But it seems that there is a problem with Walt’s Chili.

From a quick internet search, there are a lot of people that attempt to make Walt’s Chili and fail. They will say it lacks flavor, and they attempt to find excuses, “Walt was from the Midwest. They didn’t eat spicy foods in the Midwest.” Or the favorite excuse I have come across, “Walt was a simple man and liked simple things.”  I attempted to make the common recipe that is published on many blogs and even in the book EAT LIKE WALT, but I still came up short. In the photo below, I used 90/10 beef and this chili is pretty bland. 

Walt's Chili

Science Experiment with Food: The Hypothesis

And then I realized something very important. You see from my knowledge of ingredients, I knew that as our beef has become leaner and leaner we have lost a lot of fat, but even more than losing fat, we have lost the taste associated with that fat. 

When frying to recreate the chili, our current beef does not have enough fat to make a tasty chili recipe and so as a substitute for the fat, we add more spice until all you can taste is spice. Then we add cheese and sour cream to add even more flavor. 

Recently, I visited a local grocery store that actually cuts and grinds their own meat. After talking with the butcher I discovered that in the 1950’s, there were no federal standards for the percentage of fat in ground beef. The butcher said that at that time they just eyeballed it. If it looked like it needed more fat, they added more. They also used their sense of touch to feel if the ground beef felt right.

In addition to the lack of standards, the livestock we now raise for human consumption is a different product than what my parents were eating in the 50s and 60s. It is estimated that the fat content in the beef of that day was approximately 70/30 which produces more fat and more flavor.

Science Experiments with Food: Ground Beef

I purchased 3 freshly ground packages of beef from the butcher – one pound each. The first one was 90/10, the second one was 80/20, and the final one was 70/30. In this first installment of Walt’s Chili, I decided to just fry up the meat as an experiment in the amount of fat in each. Then we would taste test the ground beef. Obviously, I would know which one was the highest level of fat, but my family would not.

Ground Beef Before Cooking

While the above photos are supposed to show pre-cooked ground beef, I put all three packages in the pans and turned the pans on. Then I started to take the photos. I took the 90/10 first, the 80/20 second, and the 70/30 last. By the time I took the last photo, the 70/30 beef had already cooked significantly. It took much less time to cook all the way through then the 90/10 beef.

Now for a quick little lesson in percentages of fat. You can see the differences in the fat level on each pan, but what you can’t see is the time it took to cook each one. The 70/30 meat ground beef means that it is 70% lean and cannot have more than 30% fat. Obviously 30% fat is considered more than 90/10 – 10% fat, but most the flavor comes from the fat. You will have a lot of shrinkage from the higher fat content beef. (Example: 1 lb of 90/10 means you will lose about 10 percent in fat, or approximately 2 oz. for the package of meat. At 70/30 you will lose almost 5 oz.)

Science in the Kitchen: Ground Beef

There is a significant amount of fat in the last pan. If you add that fat to your chili, you get a lot of flavor! In my next installment of creating Walt’s Chili, I will actually make the “Walt’s Chili” recipe in 3 different pots.

To Try at Home: Science Experiment with Ground Beef

I did the following without making patties and just fried it for chili. At the end of the experiment, I combined all three to make a pot of chili).

Give your child 1/4 pound of each of the three grades of meat 90/10, 80/20, and 70/30. 

Make hamburger patties. Do not add anything to the burgers – no salt, pepper, spices, seasonings. Weigh the patties on a kitchen scale. Make sure all patties weigh the same.

Cook each patty in a separate frying pan. Make sure to cook thoroughly so there is no pink in the burger. 

After cooking, weigh each patty. 

Taste each patty and see which one is the most flavorful.

After the fat in the pan cools slightly, but not enough to congeal, pour into a measuring cup and record how much each was generated from each patty.

Which pattie did you prefer? Which did you children like? 

To make beef brisket, visit HERE!

Percentage of Fat in Ground Beef

1 thought on “Science Experiments with Food: Ground Beef”

  1. This is so interesting Patty! Thank you for posting this, it proves MY theory that the groupnd beef that has the most fat tastes better lol

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