On the Trail of the Lowly Hamburger
All this week NHPR is taking you dinner.
With our own Josh Rogers serving as chef, the NHPR news department recently enjoyed a meal around his table.
The main course was hamburger, which according to the USDA, is the most common form of meat in the typical cartful of groceries.
As part of our week-long series on Food, called "Eating-In", NHPR’s Mark Bevis tried to determine where the ground beef in that hamburger came from.
(general sound from dinner)
Like so many dinners with friends this time of year, ours involved charcoal, a grill….. and hamburger.
(Dan) “Josh likes having his burgers a little off the direct heat......”
These were big hamburgers….about the size of a small meatloaf.
And our cook had mixed in some spices….and a little ground veal.
But they were mostly ground beef , and it came from a Marketbasket supermarket in Concord.
Tom Beakey, the store’s manager, gave me a tour, and took me to where the meat is cut and packaged.
“A lot of hamburger comes in like this now…..”
Beakey shows me what’s called a chub.
Imagine a big sausage link, about 6 inches in diameter and about 2 feet long….and kind of pink.
….wrapped in clear plastic.
“What we do is blend it just to blend it up a little more and then we put it on to trays.”
The machine you’re hearing spits the beef out on to those little Styrofoam trays.
Now it looks more like the ground beef you find in the meat case….and less like a chub.
A label says the meat comes from Cargill Meat Solutions.
Using the numbers on the label, Mike Martin, a Cargill spokesman, traced it to a meat plant 2000 miles away.
“The ground beef that you talked to the people at Marketbasket about was produced in Ft Morgan Colorado which is a Cargill beef processing plant that actually handles about 4500 head of cattle daily, 5 days a week, year round. There are approximately 2000 employees there. “
For 16 hours a day, workers are cutting the steaks, rump roasts, and all the other cuts.
Any meat trimmed off is thrown into a bin.
Fat is thrown into another bin.
They mix the two and fill that chub.
There is another number on that label that will tell you what hour that meat was trimmed off.
But if you do the math, that Cargill plant is butchering about 280 carcasses an hour.
The cattle typically come to the Cargill plant in Fort Morgan Colorado via feed lots.
Ivan Steinke, with the Colorado Livestock Association says there are some 300 feedlots in his state alone.
“And those will range from having a couple of hundred head to our largest lot that has about 125 thousand head.”
A feed lot is in the business of buying cattle and fattening them up for slaughter.
And where a feed lot buys them depends on complicated economies of price and distance and age and time of year.
One feed lot owner outside of Ft Morgan says he’s bought cattle from as far away as Florida and California.
And he’s kept them on the lot for as long as 7 months…fattening them up on corn.
Fade in dinner sound…(Josh) “Give a go, give a go to the burger, if you want them…”
So back to that hamburger sitting on that plate in Hopkinton.
We don’t know exactly where it’s from, but we do know it’s got a lot of miles on it….at least 2000…
It’s likely got a lot of corn in it from its days on the lot.
And if any of the cattle that went into it got ill along the way, some worry about the antibiotics used to treat it.
“Cheers, cheers. Here’s to the cook…..”