was a time when people would go to the butcher and get their meat ground to
order. Or they would buy the meat and take it home to grind themselves. As
ground meat grew in popularity butchers began pushing pre-ground meat on their
customers. This would speed the flow of people through the store by allowing
them to grind the meat in advance. In the beginning customers were suspicious.
They wanted to see their meat ground in front of them so that they knew exactly
what they were getting. Good butchers would grind meat daily to ensure
freshness. But as time went buy and butchers moved to supermarkets and then to
meat processing plants, the practice of buying pre-ground meat became standard.
the information on your label is key. Packages may be labeled hamburger or
ground beef. According to the USDA beef fat can be added to ground beef labeled
“hamburger.” Both categories can contain up to 30% fat and in American
supermarkets the fat percentages are clearly marked on the packaging. The only
additional ingredients allowed in your package of ground beef are seasonings.
No fillers, extenders, phosphates, binders or additional water are permitted.
There are safe handling labels that explain how to properly store, handle and
prepare the meat because ground beef is known to sometimes harbor pathogenic
bacteria, such as Salmonella, Escherichia coli O157:H7, Campylobacter jejuni,
Listeria monocytogenes, and Staphylococcus aureus. Ground beef contains more
surface area than whole muscle cuts so there is amplified opportunity for the
bacteria to multiply during storage. Safe handling instructions include
avoiding cross-contamination and cooking the meat until it reaches an internal
temperature of 71°C/160°F. This temperature is significantly higher than the
juicy pink medium rare that we enjoy for our burgers. We could roll the dice
and cook our pre-ground meat the way we like it or we could step up to the
plate and see about grinding our own.
grinders are fairly straightforward machines. Pieces of meat are fed through a
tube and pushed through a turn screw, which forces the meat through the cutting
plate, which determines the size of the cut pieces of meat. This means that you
can control how chunky or fine you want to grind your meat. After the blades
cut the meat it is pushed out of the grinder. The grinders can be electric or
manual. Some are free standing or you can purchase them attachments to other
pieces of equipment, like standing mixers. Which type you buy really depends on
how often you will be using it and what quantities of meat you plan to grind.
are good for more than just ground meat and sausages. It can be used to grind
vegetables for pickles and relish. Bologna and ham are ground to make excellent
salads. Certain cookie doughs are
put through the grinder to achieve the right shape and texture before baking.
Cooked meats are ground to make the basis for killer hash. Dried fruits can be
ground into a paste for use in cookies and cakes, think fig newtons. Cheese can
be put through the grinder for pimento cheese and its myriad variations. There is
a wide range of reasons to add a meat grinder to your kitchen.
if you only want to make your own burgers it’s worth the effort of grinding
your meat at home. For our first experiment we decided to grind half of our
meat one evening and leave it in the fridge overnight and the other half right
before cooking the burgers. We wanted to see how much of a difference freshness
would make. It’s safe to say that it made a big difference in the blind taste
test. We used classic chuck for our ground beef and right off the bat it had a meatier
flavor than we get from our normal pre-ground beef. As a matter of fact, the
difference was so significant that it made us realize how much of the taste of
our average burger actually comes from the condiments. Then we compared the two
different patties. We were both struck by the distinct difference between the
burgers. One patty seemed much more game-y than the other, unpleasantly so. The
meat was darker and seemed to have more earth and mineral notes. The other
patty had a cleaner taste, a sweetness to it that made the first burger seem unpleasant
in comparison. It came as no surprise that the first burger was made out of the
clearly has a big hand in this process. Oxidation is responsible for the
myoglobins in the meat turning red in the first place. Of course the longer
that the meat is exposed to air the more oxidation occurs, slowly changing the
color from bright red to grayish brown, just as when meat is cooked. Bacteria
already present in the meat begin to consume the glucose and proteins. The
by-products from this consumption react with the myoglobins turning the meat
yellow, brown and green. Another issue in the deterioration of ground meat is
lipid oxidation. Lipases are enzymes that hydrolyze triglycerides and
phospholipids. This process results in slime formation, sour flavors, the
production of sulfur gas, and color changes in the meat.
Commercial ground beef utilizes a modified atmosphere packaging to combat the effects of oxidation. Air is sucked out of the package and replaced by a blend of purified gases. The two most common blends are 80% oxygen: 20% carbon dioxide or 0.4% carbon monoxide: 30% carbon dioxide: 69.6% nitrogen. Carbon monoxide was approved for use in 2002 as long as it is not combined with oxygen. Another option is vacuum packaging that removes residual air. In both cases decreased oxidation of the meat improves the shelf life of the packaged meat products. Anti-oxidants are sometimes added to the meat to control oxidation. Nitrite in particular has an antioxidant, antimicrobial effect. It is often used in cured foods to retain a pink color. Nitrite can be applied to meat as a powder or as a gas.
Of course the easiest way to avoid all of these additives is simply to grind your own meat. The rewards absolutely justify the extra effort and in the end, that's all that really matters. Freshly ground meat just tastes better. And that's all we have say about that. This week we'll be sharing some of our favorite recipes using the meat grinder. Starting with our world famous butter burger recipe tomorrow...