If you really want to elevate your burger game and treat every week like it’s burger week, there’s a strong case to be made for grinding your own patties. Aside from avoiding the unfortunate reality of pink slime (made from cheap pieces of scrap meat), the increasing risks of foodborne illnesses, and the fact that your average pound of ground chuck from a supermarket can be made from dozens (or hundreds) of cows, grinding meat yourself is generally a safer, cheaper, and healthier alternative than buying it off the shelf.
Best of all, is that creating a patty that’s 100% customized to your personal taste is absolutely delicious. You want a straight up, lean all-beef patty, you can do that. Should you choose to mix it up by adding hunks of bacon fat and bleu cheese, you can do that, too. With the right equipment and mastering a few basic steps, you can create a custom burger that’s calibrated to your taste buds and limited only by your wildest imagination (within reason, of course).
Choose The Right Meat Grinder
For me, this was an easy one. Several years ago, when cleaning out my late grandmother’s apartment, I ended up inheriting most of her old kitchen supplies, which included an old Economy 10 meat grinder. After I got it home and clamped it onto my countertop, I haven’t yet perused the ground meat section of any local supermarket since. Granted, the somewhat laborious task of a manually-powered meat grinder isn’t for everyone. If that’s the case, there are no shortage of options. A quick search on Google will reveal a multitude of choices, from the hand-powered to the electronic, all priced to fit a variety of budgets. Even better, if you already own a food processor or an automatic mixer of some kind, chances are there’s a meat grinder attachment out there, which could save you some valuable cabinet space.
Do Some Research
First and foremost, educate yourself on exactly what the cuts of meat are. As we’ve explained before, there’s been a disassociation between consumers and the kind of meat we buy, often separated by some styrofoam and a thin sheet of plastic wrap. While you can find plenty of options in a big chain grocery store, this is one of those perfect opportunities to head out to your neighborhood butcher shop and get some expert advice on the matter. Telling the butcher that you’re shopping for some choice cuts to grind up into your own patties is very likely you’ll earn some respect in their eyes.
Pick Your Meat(s)
A big advantage of grinding your own burgers is that the kind of meat that doesn’t usually make for a great steak (or even a passable one), can do wonders in a patty. While it’s generally regarded that chuck is the optimal choice for grinding, other cuts like shank, flank, round, or even stew meat can be fantastic when thrown into your grinder. Of course, you’re not limited to just beef here. Look around for some pork, buffalo, or lamb — or anything that might be on sale, especially if the beef you’re buying is on the lean side. Those super-cheap pork ribs with just a little bit of fat clinging to them can be trimmed off to help make a more complex, flavorful patty.
But if you think the fun stopped at meat, then you’re wrong. Throwing in some garlic cloves, diced onions, or any variety of sweet or hot peppers can do wonders for a burger patty. And if you want to move away from red meat altogether, one of my favorite go-to recipes is a ground chicken and zucchini patty.
Now that you’ve selected your ingredients, cut the beef into roughly one-inch cubes and lay them out flat on a cookie sheet. If you’re adding in some fattier cuts, they can be cut a bit smaller. Once that’s done, put them in the freezer for about 20ish minutes. You don’t want them frozen solid, but you will want them to be firm enough to grind. Lukewarm chunks of meat can wreak utter havoc on the inside of a meat grinder, and will likely leave you with an unappealing meat paste. No one wants that.
Now that you’re ready to grind, it’s important to work through in small batches, throwing in only a few pieces at a time. If you’re going with a gourmet blend, like lean beef with some fatty pork, throw in one fatty cut to about every three or four lean cuts. If you’re adding in vegetables, toss them in at a steady pace as well. Then, season according to taste, and don’t be afraid to mix it again with your hands to make sure all the flavors and textures are evenly dispersed.
At this point you’ll want to make a test patty to see how you did, usually about the size of a slider. Toss it in a pan and after it’s cooked, make sure it’s suited to your taste. If it needs any adjustment, now’s the time to make it. If it meets your approval, toss the ground meat into the refrigerator for at least a few hours. Cooking a full-sized, fresh-ground patty without cooling it first is a good way to get yourself an unplanned loose-meat sandwich. A lot of sites will tell you to wait at least 12-24 hours, but I’ve found that a good solid three or four can do the trick just fine.
Master The Cleanup
With your meat chilling in the fridge, now’s the time clean up your mess. Typically, any electronic model or specialty attachment will come apart into a few manageable pieces to make cleanup easier. If you’ve gone the old fashioned route (as I have), you’ll find that cleaning out what’s essentially a single, 10-pound hunk of metal isn’t all that quick or easy. And remember, avoiding possible food-borne illness is one of the reasons to start grinding your own burgers, so you don’t want to undo that ideal with a bunch of poorly-cleaned equipment.
To make sure you get it right, first take a couple pieces of bread and feed them through the grinder, which will help push through any loose or sinewy pieces that got stuck to the inside walls. After that, there’s no real trick other than lots of hot, soapy water and a little bit of patience to make sure it’s properly cleaned and ready for use again.
After your meat has been properly chilled and ready for cooking, shape your patties, fry ’em up (or grill, depending on what you’re into), and be prepared for one the best, freshest-tasting burgers you can imagine. Here’s one I made a few years ago for the Breaking Bad finale, where I added some homemade sauerkraut to the ground beef, which I aptly named the Heisenburger. Of course, to stay on brand, I whipped up some onion Frings to go with it. Though Breaking Bad may be gone (or on Netflix, whatever), the memory of the Heisenburger will never fade.