Grinding Meat Tips

Interested in grinding meat yourself? Here are some tips to make your task easier.

Making burgers moves into a totally different dimension once you start grinding meat yourself. After tasting the difference in good quality coarse-ground meat the chances are pretty good that you will become hooked and rarely revert to buying pre-ground meat.

Buying a Meat Grinder

Grinders come in all shapes and sizes. Examples are electric stand alone models, food processor attachments and hand models. Most work pretty well and are fine for domestic use. Before you buy a meat grinder here are some aspects you might want to consider:

Size - you don't want to spend half the day grinding meat. On the other hand neither do you want to pay through your neck for a turbo-charged monster if you only intend grinding a couple of pounds at a time. Discuss your requirements with the manufacturer/retailer before you make your purchase. There are so many alternatives available that you are sure to find one that matches your needs. Something else to keep in mind is that hand models tend to use quite a lot of elbow grease, especially the larger ones.

Cleaning - the grinder must be easy to strip and assemble. The inside of the body should be relatively easy to access to facilitate cleaning.

Replacement Parts - check whether cutting knives, cutting plates, and thrust washers are reasonably priced and readily available.

Cutting Plates - check the sizes of the plates that come as standard equipment with the grinder to see whether they meet your needs. Here are some guidelines:
1/8" (3.0mm) - Fine
9/64"(3.5mm) - Medium Fine
5/32"(4.0mm) - Medium
3/16"(4.8mm) - Medium Coarse
1/4" (6.5mm) - Coarse
3/8" (9.5mm) - Very Coarse, for pre-grinding

Generally when grinding meat for burgers a coarse and a medium plate should be sufficient.

Cutting Knives

Buy a separate knife for each plate, they will stay sharp much longer. Mark the knife (back) and one side of the plate (outer edge) with a punch or hacksaw to prevent mixing them up. The reason for this is that the knife and the plate wear with use and develop a very close fit against each other which cuts the meat much better. Use the knife with a different plate and it has to wear again to adapt to the new surface which does not have the same properties as the first plate. Even when using a matched knife and plate you'll want to assemble the grinder so that the knife always cuts against the same side of the plate.

Grinding Meat

Pretty simple really, cut all the meat into small cubes not bigger than 1"(25mm) and if you are adding extra fat cut the fat into much smaller cubes, maybe 1/4 the size of the meat. This allows you to distribute the lesser volume of fat more evenly. The same principle applies if you add a second meat type, like bacon, which is less in volume than your primary meat.

Spread the meat cubes in a single layer on your work surface and then distribute the fat (or second meat type) evenly over the meat. Spice the layer of meat, turn it over (spatula/egg lifter works well) and spice the other side as well.

If you intend binding the mixture for patties with a little fresh bread crumbs soaked in some cool stock and a bit of egg now is the time to distribute this evenly over the meat.

Mix everything through lightly with your hands and put the mixture into the freezer until it is very cold (just before it starts to freeze). A very cold mixture makes grinding meat a walk in the park and delivers excellent results. Although I don't go to such extremes I know of people who also put the grinder parts into the freezer prior to grinding meat and they claim great results.

Choose the plate size according to the quality and tenderness of the meat. With tender meat a coarse cut is preferred. Tough meat would warrant a medium cut and very sinewy meat would require a fine cut.

Follow the manufactures instructions to grind the meat. The threaded retaining ring on the front of the grinder needs to be pretty tight to force the cutting plate to seat tightly up against the knife otherwise you wont have much success with grinding meat. Use a pushing stick and never your fingers to force the meat cubes into the grinder and down onto the worm.

Stoppages are usually caused by sinews getting wrapped around the knife. This is generally due to a loose retaining ring, a blunt or dull knife, or the meat not being cold enough. Always unplug an electric grinder from the wall socket before attempting to clear a stoppage.

After Grinding

If you are new to this or if you are trying out a new recipe the next step after grinding is to put the ground meat into the refrigerator.

Don't clean up quite yet.

Take a small sample of ground meat and make a miniature patty. A heaped teaspoon is enough. Fry it in a pan and taste the texture and spicing. Here's how to correct some common errors.

Too Tough - If the ground meat is a bit tough you will want to put it through the grinder a second time. If it is very tough or sinewy do this using a plate with smaller holes.

Not Enough Spice - If it is only a bit of spice that is needed spread the ground meat out in a thin layer on the work surface and sprinkle the extra spice evenly over it. Mix through gently with your hands.

Too Much Spice - If the ground meat is too spicy get some more fresh meat and grind it without adding any spice. Spread the over-spiced meat out in a thin layer and distribute the unspiced meat evenly over it. Mix through gently with your hands.

Refrigerate the ground meat until you are ready to mold the patties.

Cleaning the Grinder

No tricks here. It's just important after grinding meat to completely strip the grinder and wash it and all the parts meticulously. A bottle brush works well with small grinders. After rinsing and drying I make a habit of spraying the cutting plate and knife lightly with cooking spray to prevent them from rusting. Assemble the grinder to keep all the parts safely together and cover with a cloth to keep dust out.

Grinding meat is an extremely rewarding experience and once you start you probably will not restrict yourself to only making great tasting burgers. Ground meat dishes will also take on a whole new meaning and then of course there is that whole new world of making your own sausage that lies ahead!


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