As we kick off the grilling season with Memorial Day this weekend, let’s talk burgers. Here’s how to grind your own burgers.
We already love local beef because it tastes better and supports the farm-to-table philosophy. And when we can’t buy local, we buy organic, to avoid added hormones and chemicals. (Pink slime, anyone? Blech.)
So why not take it up one step further? Grind your own beef. Think it’s hard? No way. If you can grate potatoes for latkes, you can grind beef for hamburgers.
My dad, who was the gourmand in our family long before being a gourmand was cool, had one of those clamp-on-the-table-and-crank-it grinders, which I inherited. And while that’s fun to use — and beats bicep curls at the gym — I prefer using the sausage-making attachment for the Kitchen Aid mixer
You can also grind meat with a food processor, pulsing quickly but sparingly until it’s chopped. Don’t whir. You’ll end up with paste. (See? Just like latkes!)
If you’re taking the time to grind your own beef, buy it from a reputable source. That might mean a local farm, farmers market, or even butcher or small grocery store. Ask where the beef comes from and whether it’s organic or grass-fed.
I recommend a combination of half chuck and half brisket, because good fat content will make the burgers juicy. A little bacon never hurts, either. (Sirloin works, too, but more expensive.)
To form patties, gather about 6 ounces of beef and loosely pat them together. So they don’t shrink when you grill them, use your thumb to make an indentation in the center.
Best meat cuts for grinding
Beef: For best flavor and juiciness for burgers, use chuck or a blend of chuck and round. The advantage with chuck: It’s the cheapest to grind and has the most fat, which will keep burgers juicy. You can also use shank, flank, short ribs, brisket and stew meat (which may be chuck, round or other trimmings). For leaner cuts of beef (such as round, rump, sirloin), you will need to add suet or fatback to the grind or the mixture will be too dry.
Pork: Use pork butt (which is actually the upper shoulder) or picnic (lower shoulder). You can also use shanks, rib chops from loin, country-style ribs or lean belly.
Lamb: The first choice is shoulder meat. Or try boned arm and blade chops or cutlets. Unlike other meats, lamb only needs to go through the grinder once because it is finely textured.
Chicken and turkey: For the most lean meat, grind skinless, boneless chicken breasts. For a more juicy grind, use boned and skinned chicken thighs and drumsticks and gizzards. Boneless turkey breasts and wings offer more flavor than chicken, as do turkey thighs, drumsticks and gizzards. Very lean ground poultry works best when combined with ground pork or moistened with cream or half-and-half.
Source: James Villas and MCT
Tips for grinding
• Be sure to have a bowl or plate under the spout of the grinder to catch the finished product.
• Cut meat in small pieces (1- to 2-inch chunks) so it goes through the grinder easily. Remove any gristle or heavy fat from the meat before grinding. Trying this for the first time? Buy beef stew meat (which is already cut) and put it through the grinder and see how you like it. For some extra flavor and fat, run bacon through the grinder and add it to the beef for a great-tasting burger.
• Chill the meat in the freezer for 15 to 30 minutes before grinding. This helps with the grinding process and, from a food safety point of view, keeps the meat cold as you are doing the work.
• With the exception of lamb, put meat through the grinder twice to make it more tender.
• If fat or meat builds up inside the grinder, run a few slices of bread through to clear it out.
• If using a hand-crank grinder and the handle is hard to turn, loosen the screw on the other end of the auger.
• When done, disassemble the grinder and wash it in hot, soapy water right away. Dry the grinder immediately — don’t let it air-dry — or it will begin to rust almost instantly. If some rust develops, just scrape it off.
• Keep ground meat refrigerated for no more than two days.
• Fat gives flavor; don’t be afraid of it. Experiment with different cuts of meat until you find the flavor and juiciness that you prefer.
• Meat grinders cost $30 and up, depending on size and type, with the manual grinder the least expensive. You can find the manual versions at some hardware stores (call ahead) or order them online. Electric models or grinder attachments for electric mixers are available where small kitchen appliances are sold.
• You can use the grinder for more than meats — remember this was the 19th-century version of a food processor. Vegetables also can be quickly chopped with a grinder (many households still use these for making cranberry relish, chow-chow and salsa).
Lamb burgers make for a nice twist, and they are are easy to make when you’ve already got the grinder out. Serve a burger of half lamb shoulder and half chuck on a English muffin dressed with Green Goddess dressing, and you’ll be the star of the neighborhood.
And here are two last tips: it’s easier to grind meat if it’s hardened by the freezer, but not frozen. About 15 to 30 minutes should do the trick. And when you grind meat: make extra. Sure, grinding your own beef is as easy as making latkes, but pulling a package of ground beef out of the freezer is even easier.
Now get grinding — and grilling!