The trick is to smoke the meat and not make the meat smoke

Back to the Grind

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For many years I had read that grinding your own meat was the way to go in terms of getting the best hamburgers possible. I was given a Kitchen Aid stand mixer about a year ago. One of the first things I did was to buy the Kitchen Aid “Breakfast Kit” which was a package of 4 different accessories including the a citrus juicer, food grinder, sausage tubes and a food tray for holding larger batches of food for the grinder. My first attempt at grinding my own ground beef was less than 100 percent successful on several fronts. But thanks to the recently reviewed WICKED GOOD BURGERS cookbook, I am back grinding my own ground beef and having good success, This blog shall cover both what went wrong initially and what is now going right when I grind my own meat.

Why Grind Your Own?
First of all lets discuss why you would want to grind your own ground beef. Here are just some of the reasons:
  • Freshly ground beef makes a better tasting burger than the packaged ground beef that you get at the store. The pre-packaged ground beef you get from the store is usually about two days olds when it gets into your hands.
  • Freshly ground beef often has a better texture than the store bought variety.
  • You are able to combine meat from several cuts of beef to get a blend which will give you a flavor profile which can be better than a single cut of beef.
  • You are able to add any dry spices you wish to use just before grinding. The grinding process then helps distribute the spices throughout the resulting ground beef. Often when done grinding you simply need to form your patties. With store bought ground beef you must further handle the ground beef to get the spices mixed into the meat before you make the patties. Everyone agrees that the less you handle the ground beef before turning it into patties the better.
  • Where you might use a blend of several cuts of meat to get the best flavor and texture, commercial ground beef ingredients are often chosen with an eye towards using the cheapest cuts possible to lower manufacturing costs and maximize profits.
  • In these days of “Pink Slime” (aka Lean Finely Textured Beef) a controversial filler product added to about 70 percent of the ground beef in the U.S., you can control what is in your ground beef.
  • Assuming you keep your equipment, hands and work surfaces clean, your fresh ground beef is less likely to contain harmful bacteria than ground beef coming from a giant food processor. A commercial food processor often buys their ingredients for their ground beef from multiple sources. Contamination can creep in at any of the various plants these ingredients come from. You are grinding meat from a cut of beef that has been “handled” far less.
  • Instant gratification: if you have the necessary cuts of meat around, you can fire up the grill, grind the meat and be ready to go with freshly ground meat any time day or night.

The Equipment:
There are four categories of equipment you can use to grind your own meat.

Manual Grinder:
When I was growing up it seemed like everyone had one of these around the house they would trot out for making turkey stuffing, meatballs or stuffed pepper filling. These were a gravity fed metal grinder that clamped to the countertop and had a large metal crank you turned by hand. The meat was placed into a tall feed chute and the ground meat emerged out the bottom. They are still used today, but are less popular than electric models. But they are still viable solutions for grinding small quantities of meat.

Food Processor:
You can use a food processor for grinding your own meat, but it isn’t as easy. Unlike the other products where the size and texture of the grind is determined by the grinding disk you use, the person using the food processor must manually control the texture of the meat. So this isn’t really a practical solution if you are going to be grinding your own meat very often. Every grind you do will be a little different than the one before or after.

Electric Meat Grinder:
This is the opposite end of the price and convenience spectrum from the manual grinder. This is dedicated electric appliance for grinding meat. These work faster and are more practical for doing large quantities of meat on a regular basis. Many folks graduate to these from using an accessory attachment for a stand mixer. They find once they start grinding their own meat, that they want to do it more and can’t live with some of the limitations of the stand mixer grinding attachments in terms of time or limited quantities.

Stand Mixer Grinding Attachment:
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This is the method most people grinding meat at home use. Most brands of stand mixers offer grinders as an accessory unit/ The same unit is often used throughout the manufacturers entire product line. By this I mean if you buy a Grinding Attachment for your current KitchenAid stand mixer and you later get different model KitchenAid mixer, the food grinder should be compatible with your new mixer. These units are well suited to grinding 1-2 pounds of ground meat at a time. They can even handle a bit more on special occasions. The more meat you grind the slower these units will be when compared to an Electric Meat Grinder. But if your meat grinding needs are modest and you already own a stand mixer, this tool has a very low cost of entry. They can be had online for around $50.00. In my case I bought the KA “Breakfast Kit” which included a citrus grinder, sausage stuffing tubes and a larger feed tray for use with the grinding attachment. When I bought the kit I was interested in the grinder and juicer. Tho cost of the kit including the 4 items was actually less than buying the two items individually, so this was a no brainer.

Buying the Meat: What Cut of Beef Should I use?:
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You will most likely need to do some experimentation on which cuts of meat gives you the flavor and texture you prefer. There are many articles online which discuss the best meat or meat blends for home ground beef. Simply Google “Grind your own beef” or “Home Ground Beef” and you will turn up lots of articles. Also your cookbook may actually have some suggestions and these suggestions may vary with each recipe. WICKED GOOD BURGERS is just such a cookbook. Part of the fun of doing this is experimenting to find your favorite blend. Some times I go with chuck and sometimes I use a 3 way blend consisting of chuck, brisket & short ribs.

You are looking for a piece of meat that is well marbled and preferably has some fat around the edges. Don’t cut this fat off as you might if you were going to grill up this piece of meat.

Adding Fat:
If the cuts of beef you are using are too lean or if the pieces of meat you find seem too lean, then you can add some pieces of meat into your grind. Some folks will also add in uncooked bacon to add some fat and flavor.

What Form to Buy the Cut in?:
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Many cuts of beef are available in several forms such as a roast or steaks. I have found that the steaks often are far less lean than the roast and the extra fat is desirable in this case. The steaks are often the right thickness where I just have to cut them into strips to get them ready to use. A roast you must slice to the proper thickness and then cut the slices into strips. Also if you are looking for 1-2 pounds of meat, it is often easier to buy 1 or 2 steaks and hit that weight vs trying to find a small roast.

Prepping the Meat: Hot Wash / Cold Rinse:
When getting ready to handle the meat always wash your hands thoroughly with hot water and then finish with a cold water rinse. This keeps your hands cool while handling the meat. Be sure to dry your hands thoroughly, you don’t want to add water content to the meat for any number of reasons.

Do NOT Automatically Trim the Fat:
You are looking to have fat content in your ground beef, many folks say 80 percent meat to 20 percent fat (80/20) yields the tastiest burgers and anything over 85/15 is just not going to yield a tasty burger. So unlike say a steak or chop, where it is normal to trim the fat around the edges, don’t automatically trim the fat around the edges of the meat. Take a look at the fat content of the interior meat and if it is lean and not well marbled leave the perimeter fat on the meat.

Use a Kitchen Scale to Weigh Meat:
I use my zero tare Kitchen scale to weigh out the amount of meat I need to grind. Place a bowl on the platform (so you don’t need to clean the scale-just clean the bowl), zero out the weight of the bowl and add the proper portions of meat to the scale. Doing things this way will give you consistency when using a recipe that is a blend of different cuts. ie: 40 percent chuck, 30 percent beef short ribs and 30 percent brisket. You can get a consistent blend every time out.

Cut the Meat Into Strips:
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Many books suggest cutting the meat into cubes which will fit inside the feed chute of your grinder. WICKED GOOD BURGERS suggests cutting the meat into feed chute sized strips. This cuts down on prep time and seems to go through the feed chute even easier than the cubes. I think the strips take advantage of the worm gear inside the grinder to help push the longer strips through the grinders. The author’s of WICKED GOOD BURGERS seem to have done all of their research and well know what they are talking about. So for me less prep time and as good or better feeding of the meat makes strips of meat my preferred method.

Freeze the Meat:
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Instructions for grinding your own meat always mention freezing the meat to make the grinding easier. It also helps keep the meat from getting too warm during the grinding process. Place the meat in a plastic freezer bag and store in the freezer. The times given range from 30-60 minutes. You want the meat partially, not totally frozen. For me with my freezer 45 minutes seems to work the best. Your mileage may vary.

Prepping the KA Grinder: Freeze Some of the Grinder Parts:
To avoid heating the meat too much while grinding, freeze some of the grinder parts. I store the 2 grinding plates, the grinder blade and the worm gear feed shaft in a freezer bag in my freezer. Be sure that when you clean these parts you thoroughly dry the parts before putting them in the bag. The grinding plates will really stick well to one another if they aren’t completely dry when they go into the freezer. Don’t ask me how I know this. Add these parts to the grinder just before you grind the meat.

Remove the Attachment Hub Cover:
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With the mixer unplugged unloosen the set screw sticking out the right side of the attachment hub. You do not need to loosen it all of the way, just enough to remover the front cover. I usually loosen the set screw enough so that it is almost, but not completely, removed from the side of the attachment hub. Remove the cover and store it somewhere safe and out of the way.

Assemble the Grinder:
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I find it easier to assemble the grinder before mounting it on the mixer. You are able to turn it in whatever direction makes it easy to do the task you are performing. Get the pieces out of the freezer and gather the other pieces on you counter.

Install the Grind Worm Shaft:
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The grind worm shaft is the long metal and plastic shaft that has a worm gear on the plastic portion of the shaft. Insert the metal end of the grind worm into the hole in the grinder first. The metal shaft of the grind worm shaft ends up sticking out the the hole in the grinder body a little bit and the metal stud on the front end sticks out just beyond the opening in front. You may need to twist and or wiggle the shaft to get it all of the way in.

Install the Grinder Blade:
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The grinder blade has a square shaped hole in the middle which slides over a square section the the end of the grind worm shaft. It is essential that the blade fit over this square shaped hole correctly so the worm shaft will tune the blade.

Install the Grinding Plate:
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There are two grinding plates, one is called Coarse and one Fine. The coarse plate is intended for doing most ground beef, or other uncooked meats. The Fine plate is also intended for other uncooked meats when you are looking for a finer grind for something like stuffing sausages. If you use the Fine plate with cooked meats you will get something that has the consistency of a spread. Another way to get a finer more tender result is to run the meat through the Coarse grinder plate twice. I did this the first time I ground my own beef for hamburgers. The second round of the ground beef had the consistency of toothpaste and kept clogging up at the mouth f the grinder plate. If I had read a little farther along in the tips, I would have seen that the exception to the double grind rule was for fatty meats which should be single ground. So now I do a single grind for hamburger meat using the coarse plate.

The Grinding Plate has two tabs, 180 degrees apart one either side. These tabs fit into two corresponding slots on either side of the grinder body. The tabs must fit inside the slots for the grinding plate to be held stationary while the blade rotates behind it.

Install the Retainer Ring:
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There is a screw-on retainer ring that holds the grind worm shaft, the blade and the grinding disc securely in place. You install this retainer ring quite tightly, but not too tight. There is a white plastic wrench that comes with the grinder. It is NOT intended to tighten down the retainer ring, only loosen one that you put on too tight.

Install the Grinder onto the Mixer:
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Slide the shaft of the grinder into the hole for the attachment hub. Slide the grinder unit back until the alignment pin on the grinder slides into the alignment slot on the mixer body. Yo may have to wiggle the grinder slightly to get it to fit all of the way onto the mixer body. Secure the grinder in place with the set screw. Wiggle and tug on the grinder unit to make sure it is fully secured into the body of the mixer.

Place a Bowl Under Grinder:
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Place a large non reactive bowl under the grinder to catch the ground meat as it comes out of the grinder. Be sure to use a large bowl because the ground strands of beef ten to spew out in every direction. I use my largest s/s mixing bowl for the task.

Grinding the Meat: Wash Again:
Before handling the meat, wash your hands again. Be sure to use a cold water rinse and dry your hands thoroughly before handling the frozen meat. You certainly don’t want the frozen meat sticking to your wet fingers.

Mix Dry Spices in Before Grinding:
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Just before grinding the meat, place the strips of meat in large bowl, add the dry spices and toss or mix to coat all sides of the meat with the dry spices. If there are a lot of spices involved, I will often mix the various dry spices together ahead of time before pouring over the strips of meat. This gives me the best consistency throughout the finished ground beef. Adding the dry spices ahead of time give you a consistent blend and you don’t have to handle the ground beef mixture after grinding and before forming the patties. You can simply move from grinding the beef to forming the patties. The less you handle the ground beef, the better and more tender patty you will get.

Set the Correct Speed:
A Kitchen Aid stand mixer gets set to speed 4 to use the food grinder.

Grind the Meat:
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Insert the strips of meat into the feed chute. As long as they aren’t too big, gravity should let them slide down the feed chute where the worm gear on the rotating horizontal shaft should pull the meat out towards the front of the grinder. After a few seconds, you should see strands of ground meat emerging from the grinder plate. The action of the worm gear should be sufficient to pull the meat through in the horizontal direction once it has travelled down the feed chute. If the strips of meat hang up in the feed chute, you can use the plastic pusher device to push the food through the feed chute. You should not have to push very hard on the food. The worm gear action on the grinder worm should do most of the work for you. You should only use the pusher to free food stuck in the feed chute.

Multiple Meats:
When I am grinding two or more cuts of meat (chuck and short rib) or two type of meat (beef and pork) I alternate placing strips of the various types of meat into the feed chute. This gives me a better more distributed blend of meats.

Use a Kitchen Scale to Weigh the Ground Beef:
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I use my zero tare Kitchen scale to weigh out consistently sized patties. Place a bowl on the platform (so you don’t need to clean the scale-just clean the bowl), zero out the weight of the bowl and add the ground beef to the scale. The similarly sized patties will cook in the same amount of time and just look nice.

Handle with Care:
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As mentioned earlier the handling you do with the ground beef, the better. The ground beef you will get out of your grinder attachment has a different size and consistency than the ground beef you get in your supermarket. The supermarket ground beef has much longer and thinner strands of ground beef. The ground beef from the KA grinder has shorter fatter strand and the resulting patty has a looser feel to it. To form a patty, I remove the portion of meat from the Kitchen scale and quickly form it into a meatball shape. Then I rest the meatball-shaped patty on the palm of my hand. I bring my other hand down on the patty in a motion that looks like I am clapping my hands together in the vertical direction, as opposed to the normal horizontal direction. As I am doing the clapping motion I also twist (rotate) my hands in opposite directions from each other. The clapping motion serves to flatten the patties, while the simultaneous rotating motion helps give the patties a round disc shape. I have gotten so that I can get a suitably shaped patty in 6 to 8 claps.

Cover the burgers and refrigerate if you are not going to be using the meat right away.

Add Salt Just Before Grilling:
Unless I am going to be grilling the patties immediately after shaping and grinding, I do not mix the salt in with the strips of meat. The salt will serve to draw out some of the moisture in the meat. I will add the salt to the finished patties just before taking them out to the grill.

Grilling: Sticking Problems:
These home ground burgers tend to behave a little differently on the grill than store-bought ground beef. Be sure you have your grill grates well oiled and clean before putting the meat on. This is always good practice, but particularly with these home ground burgers. The tend to be a little looser in texture and if you aren’t careful pieces of the burger may stick to the grill when you go to flip the patties. Use care when first sliding the spatula under the patty to make sure no stickage is occurring.

Cleanup: Remove and Disassemble the Grinder Unit:
You basically reverse the steps above for Assembly to remove the grinder from the mixer. If the retainer ring is on too tight you can use the wrench to remove it. Remember NEVER use the wrench to tighten down the retainer ring, only to remove it. With two exceptions, all of the parts are dishwasher safe. The knife and grinder plates should be washed in warm soapy water. Be sure the grinder plate, blade and grinder worm are thoroughly dry before putting them back in the freezer. Also be sure to reinstall the Attachment Hub Cover to prevent foreign items from getting inside the mixer.

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