The Accidental Scientist: Science of Cooking Exploratorium
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activity: Find the Fat
Fat is a very important component in our diet. It's the most efficient source of energy in our bodies, and plays an important role in the flavor of foods. Here's an experiment you can try to see just how much fat is in ground beef.

 

 

CAUTION
You will be working with heat and hot liquids. Children should do this activity with an adult.
   
What Do I Need? .
• 1 pound ground beef (fat content usually runs about 7% to 22%, get the highest available)
a nonstick skillet
a wooden spoon
a slotted spoon
a thick plastic cup (one that's heat-resistant)
a kitchen scale
hot pads
a fine mesh strainer with handle (optional)
paper towels
• a heat source (hot plate or stove)
 
What Do I Do?

 

1. Divide the meat into two equal portions and place one of the portions on the scale. Record the weight.

Share & Discuss
Did the fat you extracted weigh what you thought it would? Take some pictures of your results, and send us a photo!

2. Weigh the plastic cup. Record the weight.  
   

3. Turn the heat up to medium high, then break up the meat and place it in the skillet.

 
   
4. Break up the meat further as you stir it. When bubbles of liquid start to form around the meat, take it off the heat.  
   

5. Use the mesh strainer or the wooden spoon to hold the meat in place as you pour off the liquid. Look for shiny bubbles suspended in the liquid. This is fat.

 
   
6. Put the skillet back on the heat and continue to cook the meat until it is well done (no pink showing and the meat has turned grayish-brown).  
   

7. Drain the rest of the liquid into the plastic cup. Record the weight.

 
   
8. Take several paper towels and stack them on each other. Weigh the paper towels (they probably won't register or will register very slightly). Spoon the cooked meat out of the skillet onto the paper towels with the slotted spoon.  
   

9. Weigh the cooked meat. Compare the weight of the raw meat with that of the cooked meat. What is the difference in weight between the two?

 
   
10. Try the experiment again with the other half of the ground chuck and see if you get similar results.  
   
What's Going On? .
You will probably find that the cooked meat weighs quite a bit less than the raw meat. When meat is cooked, the proteins denature, squeezing out liquid. This liquid is mostly made up of water and fat.

This experiment doesn't get all of the fat out of the meat. Some of it stays inside the meat, some sticks to the surface, and some turns into smoke.

 

 

 
What Else Can I Try? .
• Try this experiment with other meats with high fat contents, such as bacon or sausage, and see how the results compare.  
 
 

 

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