Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Grinding your own meat for burgers

Which burger mixture is the most effective? I tried a passel of them for a story in July 2008. Here's how I did it and what I learned:


PUTTING BURGERS THROUGH THEIR PACES
To come up with a great beef burger, I did some work.


Most experts agree a great burger needs fat, a ratio of 80 percent lean to 20 percent fat. Much leaner and you'll get sawdust on a bun. No wonder supermarket meat cases are full of 80/20 ground beef.

But experts agree that pre-ground beef isn't the way to go. You don't know much about the meat, even if it's labeled by cut such as chuck. And you have to cook pre-ground beef thoroughly to rid it of any possible bacterial contamination.

Grinding meat yourself isn't as hard as it sounds. I have a meat grinder that attaches to my KitchenAid mixer, but most people don't have them. So, for this project, I used the food processor. The trick is to make sure everything is very clean and the meat is cold. Cut it away from the bone and trim cartilage if necessary, but leave fat. Cut the meat into large chunks, 3 to 4 inches square, and process it using pulses of 1 to 2 seconds.

Don't process the mixture into paste. Within a few pulses, you'll get a fluffy, ground mixture.

Next, I looked into what meat to grind. Chuck gets the most votes, although sirloin has fans. I was also intrigued by suggestions of adding a little short rib meat. I love short ribs for their succulence and beefy flavor.

Next: What to add to the meat. I found reports by Vogue writer Jeffrey Steingarten and food scientist Harold McGee on adding moisture to burgers, either water or cream.

Cream rang a bell. Sure enough, I found a once-classic recipe by the late James Beard that mixes ground beef with a little cream and grated onion. Grating onion releases juices, adding moisture, and gives a hint of onion flavor without overwhelming the meat.

Cream makes sense. It adds richness and moisture, but it also binds the beef. Burgers made from home-ground beef can fall apart on the grill. After trying both water and cream, cream was the clear winner.

I set up mixtures of meats chuck and sirloin alone, plus various combinations of chuck, sirloin and short rib, all with and without cream and grated onion. Then I tasted all of them along with pre-ground chuck from the supermarket.

The meats I ground myself were superior, with beefier flavor and more depth. The pre-ground beef tasted flatter and fattier. Sirloin didn't look promising, with a pasty consistency, but it had a good "hamburgery" flavor.

But the best were burgers made with chuck and short rib, with or without sirloin, and a little cream and onion. They were tender and juicy, with a rich, beefy flavor.

So, if you want a great burger, you need to grind a little chuck. And don't skip the cream.

6 comments:

Jumper said...

I suspect extra grinding of a small amount - yes, slightly pasty - and blending well into the bulk of the rest might serve as a binder as well. I will try that soon also.

Mr. P said...

I started grinding my own meat a few years ago. Alton Brown did a show on it. I agree it makes incredible burgers! I use chuck and Sirloin. I will try the cream and onion.

Luke Paulson said...

Where are the best places to buy meat in the Chapel Hill /Durham area?

Kathleen Purvis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kathleen Purvis said...

Luke, first I'd try Cliff's Meat Market in Carrboro. It has a big following. Next, my colleague Andrea Weigl at the Raleigh News & Observer suggests the chain The Meat House, which has a location in Durham. Finally, you might look at the Carrboro Farmers Market on a Saturday morning. Here in Charlotte, I find excellent meat, pork and chicken from local farms at all of our local farmers markets.

PJ Mullen said...

For the last five years or so I've stuck with the Michael Symon formula of 1/3 each chuck, short rib and brisket and it has never failed me. Twice ground through a coarse plate to ensure proper texture.