High-end meat intended for restaurants has nowhere to go. It may end up in your hamburgers.

By Mike Pomranz
May 11, 2020
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“Strange times” is a phrase used to describe the current COVID-19 pandemic, and for the meat industry, it’s a downright Bizarro World. Americans are in danger of facing a meat shortage as coronavirus outbreaks have forced shutdowns of some of the country’s largest processing plants; at the same time, however, at least one high-end farm decided to donate $60 American Wagyu steaks to food banks because restaurant closures had left them with a surplus of the coveted beef. Similar trends have surfaced across the food world: The upheaval of supply chains has created a paradoxical mix of both unmanageable shortages and surpluses.

With that in mind, a recent revelation from the New York Post actually makes perfect sense: Yesterday, the paper reported that the coronavirus is driving up the quality of ground beef. The logic is simple: Typically, ground beef—by its very nature—is made with less expensive cuts and leftovers; but as the aforementioned Wagyu donation story demonstrates, plenty of higher quality meat that would usually end up in restaurants now has nowhere to go. “A burger maker [or supermarket] is going to buy anything they can grind into chopped meat and we are starting to see that happen,” Gary Morrison, vice president for the analyst firm Urner Barry, was quoted as saying.

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Andy Wiederhorn, chief executive of Fat Brands—best known for the California-based burger chain Fatburger—agreed. “The burgers will get better for a few weeks, because there is a glut of prime meat,” he told The Post.

However, all this news comes with a caveat: Unless you have an uncanny skill for eyeing up meat blends, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to know you’re getting extra posh ground beef when you buy it. This information isn’t usually included on grocery store labels or at your favorite takeout restaurant. So you’ll just have to trust your taste buds that your meatloaf tastes better than usual. Not that you’re meatloaf recipe wasn’t always amazing, but some unsolicited help certainly can’t hurt.