A few tips and tricks to convert ground beef pizza topping into a marketable hit
When I was 16 years old, I worked as a dishwasher at the White House Tavern in Palatine, Illinois. This bar had a small kitchen that served huge cheeseburgers made by a grouchy Hungarian chef. Every day I would show up to a pile of dirty dishes, a cranky chef and the wonderful aroma of paprika dusted onions sizzling on the flat top. A line of ravenous customers snaked out of the front door for these glorious burgers served medium-rare and topped with a mountain of melting cheddar cheese. This burger was nestled in a basket with giant home fries and a large Chicago pickle and made my staff meal a paradise of chin-drenching beef juices and onion-cheese grease.
I always dreaded going into the creepy, dank basement to get more of these ¾ pound burgers from the fridge. When I returned from the dungeon, the chef would open the box and smile as he inspected a new meat disc saying in a deep accent, “Dees ees pura ground chook young man, eets all about the beef son, the beef.” I immediately realized that he liked his burgers more than me, but it took me years to figure out that he meant “Chuck”. To this day, I always put my faith in the “Chook”.
Ground beef in many a pizzeria is almost an afterthought. It’s not the most popular topping and is usually labeled “ground beef” on many a menu. What if you could increase your sales with ground beef that is sexy and not just a back-up singer? Here are a few tips and tricks I’ve tried to convert ground beef into a marketable hit.
- Take advantage of the burger trend: Create a pizza that mimics the best of burgers. I created a pizza called “Bride of Wonderboy” with a hot dog and mustard-stuffed crust, mac and cheese sauce, onion, ground beef, cheddar, tomato and dill pickle — all topped with oven ready fries and slathered with ketchup after the oven. I know this is way-out, but it got us in the papers and sales of beef jumped (especially after 2 a.m.)
- Go ethnic: We have a successful double decker taco pizza with plenty of ground beef on it. Every pizzeria has everything a taco place has except tortillas. A handful of curry cooked with your onions and cream cooked in your pizza oven introduces your customers to a wonderful curried beef topping to remember.
- Meaty pairing: Ground Beef complements a broad range of other toppings like cream, onion, Parmigiano, jalapeño, tomato, mushroom, cheddar, potato, black olive, Asiago, ricotta, roasted red peppers, roasted garlic, beans, curry, cumin, parsley, coriander, eggplant, green pepper, acorn squash, cashew, curry, cauliflower, cucumber, romaine lettuce, ranch, greens, sausage, butternut squash, sage, basil, cilantro, bacon, sweet potato, chipotle, cinnamon, walnuts, broccoli, pineapple, mango, avocado, tortilla, lime, peanut, fava bean, Manchego cheese, Gruyere cheese, BBQ sauce and celery.
- Go Local: I’ve used ground beef from a local farmer for over two years now. It is more expensive but there is no better ground beef in the world! I was amazed how easy it was to prep and my customers really respond to my ground beef marketing as local, no GMO, feedlot, antibiotics or added chemicals. The rancher and his extended family and friends are now my greatest customers.
Ground beef is graded and priced on the following specifics — type of meat, fat content, provenance (where it was grown), feed of the cow, additives and packaging. Here is some of the raw and cooked products available with prices per ounce.
.11 cents per ounce: Beef made with TVP available in pound slabs. (TVP is textured vegetable protein and is food product made from soy flour after the soybean oil has been extracted. It is then pressure-cooked, extruded and dried, then added to meat products.)
.14 to .18 cents per ounce: Ground certified chuck, not imported in tubes, 81/19-percent fat and fine grind. Sometimes this is included in pound slabs for freezer-to-cook portion operations. Some may be “Free Fall Bulk,” or beef that isn’t pressed into a tube. This loose pack is for making patties and separating for soups.
.27 cents an ounce: NAMP certified processor, minimally processed, no added ingredients, no artificial color or flavors, no growth hormones, no steroids, no antibiotics, 80/20 (NAMP is North American Meat Processors Association).
.29 cents per ounce: Grass fed and farm-raised with certification of all natural feed and farm included.
Fewer pizzerias are using raw meats on pizzas because of sanitary, training and consistency issues and have replaced this with smallish pellets or cooked, frozen beef granules.
.37 cents an ounce for a fully cooked frozen beef crumbles with VPP, (Vegetable Protein Product), served in a giant boilable bag for institutions to thaw in boiling water.
.25 cents an ounce for fully cooked frozen pure beef crumble topping, very lean and individually quick frozen for instantly placing on a pizza before the oven. This is a “kibble” sized product and looks like production sausage.
I’ve been baking these pizzas in the style of Turkish Pide. This football shaped pizza with knotted ends is a popular pizza, but the taste is all umami!
(Makes one, 14-inch pizza)
John Gutekanst owns Avalanche Pizza in Athens, Ohio, and has a pizza blog called Pizza Goon. He is an award-winning pizzaiolo, baker, teacher, speaker and author.