Ranchers have survived on red meat for centuries. Make a hearty beef dish for dinner tonight with these recipes.

I’d bet the ranch that Americans eat more hamburger than any other country in the world. During the 50 years Mack and I lived on a ranch, we butchered our own beef and pork, and processed the meat for the freezer. When making hamburger, we used an old hand-powered grinder that made the job slow and hard.

One wonderful day, I purchased a commercial-size electric meat grinder from a restaurant supply firm in California. The equipment enabled me to freeze dozens of packages of hamburger, along with our steaks and roasts.

During hunting season, I loaned my grinder to neighbors who didn’t butcher their own beef, but were lucky enough to bag an elk or deer. When they returned the grinder, they always included several packages of their ground game meat as a “thank you.” I mixed the game meat with ground pork, because the game meat didn’t have enough fat in it to make good game burgers.

Beef on the Wagon
While managing the tribal ranch for the San Carlos Apaches in eastern Arizona, Mack butchered a beef once a week during the roundup. His crew usually consisted of 12 to 14 cowboys, a horse wrangler, a truck drive, a pickup driver, and the cook and his flunky. For breakfast, the meat-eating men liked hamburger gravy, served over hot baking-powder biscuits. An inspired cook used hamburger for meatloaf, macaroni and meatballs, chili and beans, or just hamburger patties fried and served with mashed or fried potatoes.

Parts of the remote ranch were roadless, and the outfit moved camp via pack mules. The cook made sure to find room to store his meat grinder in one of the kiack boxes. During one roundup, Mack split his crew into two camps, one starting on one end of the vast range, and the second crew sent to the home ranch on Eagle Creek. Mack hired another cook, and the two camp cooks quarreled over who could take the meat grinder. The loser quit and caught a ride to San Carlos. Mack simply appointed one of the cook’s flunkies to take his place, and this man managed to make a meal without the grinder—he boiled everything!

Honor The Hamburger
Recently, while browsing a slick food magazine that was tossing kudos to various eateries in a large city, I read, “Fare ranges from the simple appetizer or lowly hamburger to a full-course meal.” There may be plenty of simple appetizers, but there’s no such thing as a “lowly” hamburger. Hamburgers are always super fare. If they aren’t, it’s the cook’s fault, not the hamburger’s.

No other meat has as much going for it as hamburger. It can be used in hundreds of different ways, from a quick-and-easy cookout to a company dinner. In fact, hamburger can put on just about any face a good cook could imagine. It can be served solo on a bun, or you can mingle it richly with vegetables, cheese, sauces and spices. Change its shape, you change its name—think, Sloppy Joe, meatball, meatloaf.

Beefing About Beef

A humble family food noted for its versatility and economy, hamburger has blossomed into a great American tradition, even more American than apple pie. I hate statistics, and I don’t intend to offer a bunch now, but I will offer a few tips on buying hamburger.

• Ground beef bearing a hamburger label can, by law, contain up to 30 percent fat. This fat consists of the natural fat attached to the beef, plus “loose” fat in the form of suet.

• Ground beef (not hamburger) may also contain 30 prevent fat, but the fat mut be only that which is attached to the meat. In other words, it had to form right along with the lean while the animal was growing up. No other fat may be added to reach this 30 percent level.

• Ground chuck (meat from the shoulder) usually has a 20 percent fat level. This type of meat is best suited for ground-beef dishes.

• Ground round (steak) is the leanest of all ground beef with about 15 percent fat, perfect for those watching their fat and calorie consumption.

Which one of these products is for you depends on the recipe and your budget. For the juiciest hamburger, use ground beef or chuck. The fat content in both allows the burgers to baste themselves. The leaner the meat, the less juicy it’ll be. But remember, the more fat, the more shrinkage.

Ground beef with higher fat content is the cheapest to buy. Ground chuck and ground round are more expensive because of all the other, and more costly, uses the butcher has for them. No matter which label you choose, all ground beef should have a bright, pinkish-red color.

When preparing hamburger patties, always handle the meat with care. Too much handling gives the burgers a compact texture. When boiling or pan-frying, gently turn the meat once during cooking, and never press the burgers with a spatula so all the lovely, nutritious juices drip onto the coals or into the pan.

The beauty of burger is that you’re not limited to patties. Here are two of my favorite hamburger recipes to feed your hungry crew.

Roundup Hamburger Casserole
1 pound lean ground beef, browned and drained
1 cup minced onion
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes with liquid
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups sliced potatoes
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 10-ounce package frozen corn
1 green pepper, cut into strips
1½cups shredded cheese

In a mixing bowl, combine beef, onion, tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce and salt. Pat mixture into a greased, three-quart casserole dish. Layer with potatoes, flour, corn, lima beans and green pepper. Cover and back at 375 degrees for 45 minutes. Top with cheese and bake uncovered 30 minutes.

Tangy Meatballs
2 eggs
2 cups quick-cooking or old-fashioned oats
1 12-ounce can evaporated milk
1 cup chopped onion
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon garlic powder
3 pounds lean ground beef

2 cups ketchup
1½ cups packed brown sugar
½ cup chopped onion
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
½ teaspoon garlic powder

Beat eggs in a large bowl. Add oats, milk, onion, salt, pepper and garlic powder. Add beef and mix well. Shape meat into 1½-inch balls and place in greased baking pans. Bake uncovered at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove meatballs from oven and drain. In a pan, combine all sauce ingredients and bring to a boil. Place meatballs in one baking pan and pour sauce over them. Bake uncovered for 20 minutes.

Stella Hughes was a longtime Western Horseman contributor and author of the books Bacon & Beans, Chuckwagon Cooking and Hashknife Cowboy: Recollections of Mack Hughes. She passed away last December in Kingman, Arizona, but will be remembered as a devoted horsewoman, ranch wife, cook, seamstress and mother.

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