Saturday, April 2, 2011

A Chapter in the Quest for the Perfect Cheeseburger, Part Two

A Good Burger Begins with Grinding

I was resistant to the idea of grinding my own meat as I thought it was being too fussy. What convinced me to give it a try were the testimonials of many burger mavens, and that some restaurants make a point to let it be known that this is what they do. The equipment I acquired for the task is the grinder attachment for my Kitchen-Aid.

Confession time: My first attempts to grind meat were disasterous! How I managed to bungle something so simple and easy is beyond my understanding. So I slunk away, tail between my legs, head lowered. I then tried using a food processor, which was okay, but it seemed to lack something. I began questioning whether or not store bought hamburger was any different than what I was creating in the food processor. I conducted a comparison and was stunned. Even though my food processed meat seemed wonky, it tasted fresher, meatier, and juicier. The results encouraged me to try the fancy grinder attachment once more, and I'm glad I did because it was a success! It's very unlikely that I'll ever used store bought hamburger for patties.

An Apology of Grinding Your Own Meat in the Form of FAQS

How much time does it take to grind meat?
It will depend on how much you want to grind at one time. I estimate it takes about an hour or less (depending on how prepared I am) to cut the meat into cubes, grind it twice, then weigh out patties. I typically grind one to two pounds per grinding event.

How much does it cost?
It depends on the cut(s) of meat used. I buy marked down meat to reduce costs. I pay about $5.00/lb. I make 4 oz. patties, for a total of 4 patties per pound. That works out to be $1.25 per patty.

What cut(s) of meat do you use?
I use chuck cuts. They have a nice fat ratio. Fat is necessary to bind the meat, make it juicy, and give it flavor. I'd estimate that it creates an 80/20 mixture. Some people swear by using different cuts to create complex flavors and textures, but I'm into keeping things simple.

Does patty size matter?
It's all personal preference. I like a 4 oz. patty because it cooks up quickly but still is meaty enough to make a hearty burger.

A Pictorial Tutorial of Grinding Meat

I begin with a cut of chuck meat. Any meat with chuck in the description will work. I purposefully pick fatty cuts because it is an important part of making good ground meat. Lean cuts like sirloin can be used as part of a meat blend, same as brisket and flank. A chuck roast could be used, too, if you want a lot of meat.

The meat should be cold, even slightly frozen. This helps the meat grind better and keeps the fat from smearing. It's also helpful to freeze the grinder parts, too.

I cut the meat in small bits, cut out gristle, and trim of fat pieces that are too big. I don't get crazy with trimming fat, because it's necessary. I have come to think the hamburger comes out pretty lean, as it doesn't taste fatty. It tastes juicy and meaty, the way a burger should be.

On the first grind, I use the larger hole die for a coarse grind. I do a second grind with the smaller hole die. I used to only use the coarse ground meat, but I didn't like the results. It seemed too dry as the fat didn't incorporate well. A second grind seems to emulsify the fat into the meat. Some say to avoid emulsifying the fat, but I prefer a touch of emulsification.

The second grind makes nice ribbons of meat that have a marbled appearance.

I weigh out ~4 oz. clumps of meat. I handle the meat as little as possible to avoid it becoming tightly packed causing it to be dense and chewy. I will do as little patty shaping as possible. If I am freezing the meat, I freeze it as clumps.

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