Whether you call them meat grinders or meat mincers, it’s all the same. These handy tools grind large pieces of meat to make everything from sausages and burgers to meat pies and lamb koftas.
Prepping the Meat
Meat requires some preparation before grinding:
- Remove all the tendons, sinew and other connective tissue.
- Cut the meat into one-inch cubes.
- If mixing meat and fat, give cubes an initial mix to ensure even dispersion.
- Put meat into the freezer until it is firm but not frozen.
Prepping the Grinder
As with the meat, the grinder and work area should be prepared before starting:
- Ensure that all components are clean and sanitized inside and out before use.
- Place all working components into the freezer so that they’re cold.
- Set up the machine at a comfortable working height.
- Have a clean, cold container ready to collect the meat as it comes out of the grinder.
- Ensure your hands are clean before putting the machine together and starting work.
Firming the meat up in the freezer before starting ensures efficient cutting by the mincer. Warm meat is more likely to mush up under compression and block the machine or at least stop it from working at its best.
Keeping the grinder components cold helps to keep the meat cold for longer.
In addition to increasing cutting efficiency, keeping the meat cold minimizes bacteria growth and contamination.
The best meat grinders still become hampered by bits of meat during the grinding process. If you’re only working with a small amount of meat, this won’t be an issue, but processing large volumes requires periodic disassembly and cleaning of the machine to ensure it works at highest efficiency.
Don’t try to make a fine grind straight away. If this is the goal, do a first pass of the meat through a coarse grind and work down to the fine one. Remember to keep the meat cold through this process.
If making sausages, work the meat to the grind desired, then change the end plate to the sausage-case fitting. This is a long, tubular funnel on which the sausage casing is loaded before the ground meat is forced through the machine and into the casing.
Remember to keep the sausage casings wet to ensure they don’t catch and tear. Keep a small bowl of cold water on hand, and keep the controlling hand wet. This ensures the casing remains wet too.
For all grinds of meat, it’s best to send the meat through the machine twice to ensure a consistent, well mixed grind.
Choosing the Meat and the Grind
Grinding meat is one of the best ways to utilize tough cuts that aren’t much good for steaks and roasts. Even so, different grinding cuts have different characteristics.
Chuck, or shoulder beef, has a high fat content and therefore will turn out the juiciest, most flavorful ground meat. This cut is great for burgers.
Other cuts, such as round or even prime steak cuts, have a much lower fat content. In terms of ground meat, this equates to less flavorful, drier mixes. These cuts go best with the addition of herbs and spices, as you might do with chili. The leanest cuts are most favored by those concerned about their fat intake.
A fine grind is the type most commonly found at the grocery store. While we all have eaten plenty of it in various recipes, it’s not necessarily the best for all options. But it is great for sausages.
Medium-ground meat is coarser than fine. It has a meatier texture and retains more moisture, perfect burgers to hold together well.
Coarse-ground meat is chunkier and doesn’t break down as much during cooking. It’s the best for recipes like chili.
Meat Grinder Components
Whether hand or electric powered, meat grinders all have the following features:
Funnel: This is where meat gets fed into on top of the machine.
Screw Conveyor: This corkscrew-shaped component feeds the meat through the horizontal tubing of the machine. It forces the meat as it goes, squeezing it together and partially mixing it.
Knife: The grinder’s knife is multibladed and spins directly against the end plate. As meat is forced into the end plate, the knife continuously slices it.
End Plate: The end plate of the grinder has holes where the strands of meat come out after being chopped by the knife. The fineness of the grind is dictated by the size of these holes.
With an additional attachment, the grinder can also be used to fill sausage casings.
Manual meat grinders are perfectly functional for processing small volumes of meat. They do not require electricity to run, so they are portable, small, and inexpensive.
They can, however, be tiring to use and are slower than electric grinders. They also require that both hands are used and only have a relatively small funnel, which means more handling of the meat and increased chance for contamination.
Many types of electric grinders are available, from small home gadgets to industrial-scale machines. They are fast when compared to manual grinders and are therefore better suited to large volumes of meat or regular usage.
Most electric grinders come with additional feeder trays that attach to the funnel, so more meat can be prepared and ready to feed into the machine, requiring less handling and quicker processing.
They require access to electricity and are generally larger than manual grinders. They range from moderately expensive to expensive units.
Grind Your Own
Grinding meat at home makes for the best product you can get. It tastes fresh, and you can make it to the exact specifications you want.
As ground meat is the most perishable form of meat due to the large surface area and contact with air, it doesn’t last as long as less-processed products. Making your own means that you only have to make as much as you need at the time, and you can store meat in its intact form until you need it.
Related: Is It Cheaper to Hunt or Buy Meat?