The backstory: I won a gift certificate for doing a good job at work in 2005, and coincidentally on the same day made Swedish Meatballs with my favorite meatball combination: half ground beef and half ground pork.
Wouldn’t you know that it was not the first time (nor the last) that I ended up with a too-small-to-choke-on-but-too-large-to-ignore piece of who knows what in my meatball. Thus the happy marriage of disgust and anger (about the ground meat from my favorite grocery store once again including non-meat mystery ingredient with bad texture) and a windfall (of $100 to spend at my favorite online store). All roads led to the decision to grind my own meat, from then on!
(Not to mention some of the information that has since come to light about the prevalence of E Coli in large processing plants; the unsavory meat trimmings and by-products that are sometimes added to ground meat to increase its bulk; the chemical preservatives that are added to ground meat to preserve their color and appearance in stores.)
I did a bit of research online- much easier then than it is now, because there wasn’t as much information out there to choose from- and landed on the beauty pictured above, a Villa Ware 320 watt Power Grinder. The attributes I like about it:
Parts disassemble for easy cleaning
Forward and Reverse direction (in case meat gets stuck)
3 grinding plates (for coarse, medium, or fine grind)
And, the piece that was missing in my Cooks of Crocus Hill Class yesterday, the Cutter blade (shaped like an X)-
which cuts the meat right near the grinding plate so it doesn’t get stuck.
I also like the fact that the grinding tube, plates, and cutter are stainless steel so that I can chill them in the fridge before using them.
Some secrets I’ve learned since I purchased my grinder:
*Start with a nice cut of meat. I like to use a boneless roast (for example: pork butt or shoulder, beef chuck or round) that has very little connective tissue or “silverskin” (aptly named since it has a distinctive, silver-like sheen). Good cuts will be nice and uniform, and I try to preserve the fat for my ground meat but certainly not any cartilage or silverskin that will plug the grinder or ruin the texture of my ground meat.
*Cut the meat into pieces no larger than 1″ cubed. I’ve found that grinding pork is a bit more challenging than grinding beef, so if you are a new grinder, start with beef and move to pork once you’ve gotten some practice.
*Chill the meat before grinding- it does better if it’s really cold. I have even put my cubed meat in the freezer for 10 minutees before grinding, which is easier for the grinder to handle.
*For beginners, you may choose to go with the largest/coarsest grind first, and then grind to the medium size. The grinder has an easier time processing smaller pieces.
*Grind into a smaller bowl nestled into a larger bowl filled with a bit of ice and water. I use glass or stainless steel bowls that can fit right under my grinder. This keeps the meat nice and cold.
*Grind your meat when you will use it. I don’t like to grind my meat to freeze it; part of the beauty of grinding my own is that it is very fresh. However, if you are going to freeze some, make sure you keep the meat very cold; and put it in small ziploc baggies (expressed of air to minimize freezer burn) and flatten them before freezing. Do not pile many of your baggies together, to ensure that your newly ground meat quickly freezes.
If I am making sausage, I typically add my seasoning (less than you think you’ll need, as you can’t take it out afterward!) on my cubed meat before I grind it, so the flavors really equally distribute. I shape it into patties, thus eliminating the need to purchase casings and deal with that part of the process. However, sausage links are easier to store so if you aren’t planning to use your sausage right away, you should consider casing your sausage (which is also a bit more technically difficult).
There are lots of great, inexpensive, well-rated meat grinders out there… are you tempted to start a grinding practice at your house?
(By the way, thanks to the Cooks of Crocus Hill class attendees from yesterday for the inspiration! Now you get to see a GOOD grinder!)
Need recipes? Watch for some fun sausage, meatball, and other fun recipes – coming soon!