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Inessential Tools: Meat Grinder

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As home cooks, we rely on our instincts, our knowledge, and our curiosities—but we also have to rely on our tools. Some we couldn't cook without (knives, pots, pans). Others we don't necessarily need, but sure are glad we have around. Here, we talk about those trusty, albeit inessential, tools.

Today: Get an arm workout while preparing dinner.

Do you have a sturdy counter and a frying pan? You're three-quarters of the way to burger nirvana—and the last piece of the puzzle is a meat grinder. While it's certainly easier to buy sausages or beef pre-ground at the grocery, grinding your own can produce far more than what you're undoubtedly paying for, you can blend different cuts of meat, and the result will be much more fresh. What's more is that once you get a good-looking grinder, it can become a beautiful, functional part of your kitchen. (To be honest, mine sat on my counter unused for many weeks, but I was happy to have it around as a reminder that I could do it myself. And for a great conversation starter. No Fargo jokes, please.)

To use a manual grinder, you first need to affix it to your counter. Secure it with the bottom knob so it's on there tight; you'll be using some arm power later on. Make sure you have the size of the grinder plate you want on the front—finer for things like hamburgers, breakfast sausage, or jerky and coarser for the likes of chili meat, summer sausage, or bratwurst. There's a small blade that goes behind the plate, too; make sure this is turned the correct way or you won't be able to turn your handle in a full circle (unfortunately, we're speaking from experience). A large ring screws on over the plate and blade to hold everything together.

When we visited our local butcher shop, they gave us some invaluable advice about the meat that we were planning to grind, and now we can share it with you. Before you start, remember to do these three things:

  • Lean on lean meat: Your lean to fat ratio should be around 70% to 30%. You can bump up the fat percentage a little more, depending on your preference for doneness. For example, you might want to go with more fat if you like your meat a little more done. (More time on the grill gives the fat more time to render.)
  • Freeze your meat—and your grinder: At least 30 minutes before you grind, put your grinder and your meat in the freezer to firm up. This will help the meat keep its shape throughout the process.
  • Cut meat into cubes before it goes in: Don't try to stuff an entire hunk of pork butt through a grinder. One- to two-inch cubes work best, and make sure to line the surface where the meat will be landing. We use wax paper for this.

You can then season your protein as you see fit: We like adding some chopped, fresh sage or a classic combination of salt, pepper, and chili powder. Now, who's ready for a meal from the grill?

More: Once you've ground your beef, make the perfect cheeseburger. 

Do you have kitchen tools that you don't need but that you're glad you have? Share with us in the comments!

Photographs by Mark Weinberg

Tags: Meat, Tips & Techniques