Hamburger

All About Grinding Meat

May 15, 2014

Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun.

Today: Get back to the grind with your meat.

How to Grind Meat on Food52

If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. While this mantra may not always hold true -- we're thinking of haircuts here -- it certainly applies to grinding meat. 

However, while plenty home cooks will tackle a lamb shoulder, a piece of chuck, or a fatty brisket, few have the hutzpah to grind it themselves. People seem to think that ground meat has to go through some mysterious, alchemic process to transform from a marbled hunk of sirloin to burger-ready material. We're here to wave away the mist and reveal how truly simple it is to grind your own meat, even if you don't have a meat grinder -- and the results are leagues apart from what you'd buy in the store.

More: Turn your freshly-ground meat into the ultimate burger, no recipe required.

How to Grind Meat on Food52

Why Do It 
In The New York Times, Mark Bittman makes a pretty convincing case for grinding your own meat, going so far as to say that home-ground meat is the key to a better burger. However, if his word isn't enough, we've got three concrete reasons to get your grind on (at least when it comes to meat):

Suzanne Goin's Grilled Pork Burgers on Food52  Suzanne Goin's Grilled Pork Burger on Food52

1. Taste
How many of us actually know exactly what goes into the pre-ground meat we buy in stores? The short answer? None of us.

If you're buying pre-ground meat, the plain truth is that you'll never know exactly what's going into it. Even if it's organic, local, grass-fed, and every other trendy adjective out there, you won't know exactly which cuts of meat it's composed of. And if it's from a more run-of-the-mill supermarket section, you have no way of knowing how many animals went into the meat, or their quality. Bittman warns that some packages of ground beef can contain meat from dozens of animals, all processed together -- and not only the nicest bits, either. If you grind your own meat, you have total control over both the quality and cuts of meat that you're consuming. 

2. Texture
As Kenji at Serious Eats points out, all pre-packaged meat in a supermarket sits on the shelf for at least some amount of time -- probably longer than you realize. As the meat hangs around in its packaging, it compresses and oxidizes, which will make it denser and tougher when cooked. 

More: Texture plays a huge role in these meatballs -- use the best.

Meatballs on Food52

3. Health
When beef is ground and exposed to air, it can pick up bacteria in the air of wherever it was processed. Therefore, when you buy pre-ground meat, you run the risk of its being contaminated with such unpleasantries as E. Coli and salmonella. By grinding your own, you avoid this risk, plus you can be sure your meat is free of any questionable additives or chemicals.

Really, what all these reasons boil down to is control. By grinding your own meat, you can control the cut, fat content, and texture of the final product, all while avoiding any risk of contamination. Have we convinced you? Great -- let's get started.

More: Grinding your own meat is also more economical: Here's how to turn ground pork into 5 dinners.

Ground Pork Thai Salad on Food52

Choose Your Meat Wisely
Though this may be common sense, you want to take care when choosing the piece of meat you're going to grind. Inspect it, size it up, get a good feel for it -- because this is your blank canvas. Make sure you choose a piece of meat with a sizeable fat content, at least 20%. Fat is key -- so much so that Michael Ruhlman asserts that the fat content of the meat matters much more than the cut. A good rule of thumb is to choose a piece of meat with clearly visible fat marbled throughout. If you're aiming for extra-juicy burgers, you can even ask your butcher for some pure fat (called backfat) to grind into the meat. 

How to Grind Meat on Food52

We opted for chuck, but brisket, short ribs, or sirloin will also do the trick. Experiment with different cuts to find your preference, or try a mixture. If you're going to grind pork or lamb, the shoulder cut is a solid bet -- again, make sure it has visible fat. If it's poultry you have a hankering for, Mark Bittman recommends using neck meat. However, be aware that ground chicken or turkey will never be as flavorful as its bovine and porcine counterparts, as it has a much lower fat content.  

Break It Down Now
Before processing, break your meat down into small, uniform chunks, about 1 to 2 inches. If you're adding in extra fat (we salute you), be sure to cut it to a quarter of the size of the meat pieces.

How to Grind Meat on Food52  How to Grind Meat on Food52

Lay the meat out in an even layer on a baking sheet, then wrap the entire thing tightly in plastic wrap. You're already halfway there!

How to Grind Meat on Food52

Keep Your Cool
The key to optimizing the texture of your ground meat, especially if you're working with a food processor and not a meat grinder, is to partially freeze everything: the meat, the food processor, and preferably your hands (Kidding. Sort of.). Chilling your meat and your tools will help you achieve a finer grind, and it will reduce the amount of meat "smear" that inevitably occurs when grinding meat in a food processor, as opposed to a tool designed specifically for that purpose.

How to Grind Meat on Food52

If you know you'll be grinding meat a day ahead of time, put your food processor in the freezer overnight. If not, make sure to give it a good 30 minutes to get nice and frosty. Your meat is ready when the edges of each chunk are frozen firm, but the center is still slighly pliable.

How to Grind Meat on Food52

Hit the Grind Running
When you're ready to grind, work relatively quickly so that everything stays cold. Fill your food processor only about 1/4 of the way up, giving the meat plenty of room to blend. Put on the lid, then pulse -- but be careful. The worst sin imaginable is to come this far with a beautiful hunk of meat, then overprocess it into an unappetizing paste. Pulse 8 times, then take off the lid to check the consistency. It should look vaguely like the pre-ground meat of supermarket packages, but more loose, more free. Pick out a small amount and press the meat lightly between your fingers -- it should stick together and form a patty. 

More: When you're ready to turn that ground meat into burgers, we've got everything you need.

How to Grind Meat on Food52

Transfer the meat to a bowl, picking out any larger pieces that escaped the spinning blades and putting them back in the food processor for a second go-round. Continue pulsing the meat in batches until it has all been transformed. If you're not planning on using it immediately, store your ground meat in airtight ziploc bags and keep in the freezer until ready to use.

What are your best tips for grinding meat -- and your favorite ways to use the finished product?

Photos by Mark Weinberg

24 Comments

[email protected] February 20, 2018
Is that possible with stuffer?Can anyone told me what is the different between stuffer and grinder?Which one is better for multi work?
 
Chris G. April 1, 2017
For those of you that are going to get "serious" about grinding meat, and think that it will be a continuing endeavor, don't ruin you expensive Food Processor! It wont hold up for very long to the stresses of grinding meat for very long! I suggest doing your homework! Do the research, if you subscribe to "Consumer Reports," that is the ideal place to find out what is the best Meat Grinder for you needs! If you are not a subscriber, you undoubtedly know someone that is, that is a good enough friend that will do the research for you?<br /><br />The grocery stores are a horrible place to buy ground meat now, because their meat is regulated and tested on how much fat they can add to it, they are now adding "X" amounts of water without putting it on the contents label! (All under the guise of water added for meat grinding facilitates the grinding process! That's why why when you try to fry any store-bought meat all it does for the first few minutes is steam! Not fry and caramelize right away! <br /><br />I'm 70 years old now, I've spent a lot of time and money, numerous books about meat cutting, sausage making and etc. For back-ground, for those of you with strong stomachs, I recommend reading Upton Sinclair's The Jungle!" That will inform you about what can happen with "de-regulation," and how bad it could become! STILL, that is possible! I worked 5 years in a meatpacking house in the late 1970's through the mid 1980's! It was a life changing experience, physically and mentally!<br /><br />For sausage making, ground meat etc. you need some FAT! The best ratio is about 80% percent lean, to 20% fat! An old article that I have from a 1960's vintage, or so, Sunset magazine on Sausage Making recommended using some fat with flavor, i.e BACON, and for the purposes of the fat ratio to consider it all FAT! That way you get the proper ratio and a bonus of extra "YUMMINESS!" You can put anything in sausage/ground meat and as stated test patties are the way to go, no sense in ending up with a batch of sausage no one wants to eat. One more tip as stated in the article, just to re-enforce it! ALWAYS USE THE FRESHEST, BEST INGREDIENTS YOU CAN AFFORD! Another tip, if making meatballs, let your finished product rest for about 30 minutes in the refrigerator before cooking the fat and or binder ingredients will work much better and the meatballs will not fall apart in the cooking process that way! But, the most important tip I can give you is Do Your Research! You will find lots of conflicting opinions, you job is to make sense of what you find and research some more. Food52 and the members is/are a marvelous resource and so is the internet! I'm old enough to remember my families 5 encyclopedias and the days when people had to go to the library to do research for school! (Oh, and Thank God for "Spell Check," Cell Phones & T.V.) How did we and and our kids survive in the ages before all this! My family played games at the dinning room table, actually talked to each other and went on long family camping trips!<br />Chris
 
terri H. February 17, 2017
I ground chuck ribeye I went to locker got suet same as fatback but I've got KitchenAid grinder for mynmixer I used both blades ran it through once with each on My burgers was tough as a boot The butcher at store was baffled as to why Do you have any idea?
 
michael1245 September 18, 2015
I did this with some alligator tail. IT WAS SO GOOD! I added some beef fat, because alligator is so lean. Lots of cajun seasoning and made a patty. Put it on a hot grill, lettuce, tomato, slice of onion on a toasted potato bun with a smear of Duke's mayo.
 
Tatiana September 13, 2015
Is this possible with a blender?
 
Lipstick L. August 2, 2015
Would this procedure work with grinding salmon for salmon burgers or salmon cakes? I expect it would if the fish is good and icy or frosty?<br />
 
Lisa July 9, 2015
It's "fatback", not "backfat"!<br />
 
Mona C. April 22, 2015
Can you clean bits of meat from a food processor with water and dish soap as you would a blender?
 
Judy April 21, 2015
I bought a Blendtec refurbished blender and ground some chuck roast that was on sale and it turned out great.Easy to clean,just a cup of water a drip of dawn and pulse for 5 minutes, then rinse.I donated my food processor.
 
lilmartha4 May 21, 2014
I agree with the health reasons for wanting to grind your own meat so I made my own tonight by following the instructions in this excellent article. I was a bit anxious when I started but was happily surprised that the texture was perfect for forming hamburger patties and meatballs. Grilled a patty up quickly just to make sure it tasted as good as it looked and again, perfect. Thanks Catherine for an enlightening and useful article.
 
Helen B. May 16, 2014
What about chicken...chicken breast has very little fat...will this method work? Thanks.
 
Author Comment
Catherine L. May 20, 2014
Hi Helen,<br /><br />It will work, the meat just might not be very moist or flavorful. I'd recommend adding some fat to the grind, or seasoning the chicken very well before cooking it. You can add herbs, spices, even mayonnaise -- try it!<br />
 
Helen B. May 20, 2014
Thank you Catherine. I have never seen organic ground chicken breast and would love to be able to try your method at home.
 
Mike May 15, 2014
Any good butcher will also be happy to grind a cut (or blend, like 2lb brisket to 1lb chuck) of meats for you if you buy them there. They'll appreciate that you know what you're doing.
 
Matilda L. May 15, 2014
This is true, but because the butcher will be starting with cold (ie: not half frozen) meat, he'll lose some in his grinder--I lost half a pound once. The fat percentage will also not be the same since some will render with the heat of the grind.
 
Mike May 15, 2014
A half a pound -- really! Agreed that some will wind up stuck in the machine, though. Somehow this seems to be a concept that people don't take advantage of at the butcher, where if it isn't already ground and in the case they don't ask for it.
 
Gaia G. May 15, 2014
I never even thought of using my food processor to grind meat which is part of the reason why I've never tried grinding my own meat. This is such a great informative post. I use my food processor to make smoothies and ice cream. Would you suggest I get a separate processor just for the meat? I'm a little weary of cross contamination. If not, do you have any suggestions on how to disinfect and thoroughly clean the processor after grinding? Thank you.
 
Matilda L. May 16, 2014
I put my food processor parts in the dishwasher after picking out the bits of raw meat out of the gasket. I figure that I never disinfect my chef's knife, why do I need to disinfect my food processor?
 
Gaia G. May 19, 2014
Good point Matilda Luk! I don't disinfect my knives either. Just thought since the processor has more nooks and crannies it might be easy to leave some raw meat pieces behind. Thanks for the tip.
 
Author Comment
Catherine L. May 20, 2014
Thanks Gaia! I'd agree with Matilda -- it shouldn't be necessary to purchase a separate piece of equipment, if you're cautious about putting it straight in the dishwasher after blending your meat.
 
Malika May 15, 2014
Such a great idea.. I'm going to do this from now on.
 
GourMel May 15, 2014
Would the process be the same for turkey or chicken? Which cuts would you suggest (I'm assuming breast would be too lean)?
 
Matilda L. May 16, 2014
I've used this process with skinless boneless chicken thighs, too. It's easier to overcook (and thus toughen) the chicken, though.
 
Matilda L. May 15, 2014
I always grind my own meat, even though my husband thinks it's a waste of my time. I do find the clean-up a drag: prying out the bits of raw meat out of the gasket of the food processor plus washing its many parts is not fun. The texture and cleanliness of home-ground meat is worth it, though.