Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Grinding your own beef burger with a food processor: a tutorial

A few weeks ago, a regular reader that I admire a lot (Alison Fowler, check out her work), mentioned to me that she was curious about grinding her own meat but didn't have a meat grinder of her own. I insisted that she didn't need a meat grinder to share in the joy of home-ground meat, and that a good-quality food processor does the trick. For condo dwellers like yours truly, items like barbeques and stand mixers take up precious real estate where coffee makers and deck furniture need to go, so you do with what you have.

I managed to squeeze all necessary instructions to Alison within a single tweet but since then I've had a few other inquiries about the method, so I decided to devote a post to it. After the break, I've put up a tutorial in pictures on how to successfully grind your own meat.

Now, why bother doing this when good ground beef is readily available? Two reasons. First, the texture is amazing, a serious improvement over store-ground meat. Grocery stores are aiming for the typical consumer, which they believe likes a finer grind. I use a very coarse grind, and it's won over everyone I've cooked them for. Second, you can play around with the cuts that you want to experiment in protein and fat content as you like, mix meats together or add in smoked products such as bacon. It doesn't take very long either; from steak to dinner time took a total of one hour and five minutes.

Today I ground up a piece of sirloin acquired from my go-to butcher, Saslove's Meat Market on Wellington street in Hintonburg. This meat was as left-wing as you get: local, grass-fed, growth hormone-free, antibiotic-free, sang kumbaya and ate roses (a lie), all the good stuff that despite my jokes I believe in. But Mike, you exclaim, I thought you're against using sirloin as burger meat! Well, fine readers, you are absolutely right. I did rail against the practice a couple of months ago right here on this blog. However, I am also experimenting with every cut a bovine has to offer to see what are the optimal cuts to use, balancing available fat, protein and cost. Also, as you'll see in a moment, my food processor burgers aren't exactly your run-of-the-mill mush.

Remember when working with meat to regularly wash your hands and work surfaces, and don't contaminate the utensils used to cut non-meat ingredients with your raw meat-slicin' knives. Raw beef won't kill ya - in fact it's darn tasty - but as you grind meat you increase the available surface area for errant bacteria to grow, so it's better to practice good food hygiene than not!

So grind on, burgerventurers!

Step 1 - Start with meat, like this sirloin steak. You want around 150g per burger, not including bone if there is one.

Resist the temptation to just throw on grill.

Step 2 - Cut the steak into little cubes like so.

Art shot!

Step 3 - Note the delicious marbling (fat) as it runs through the muscle protein. This is the key to deliciousness. Now put the cubes into a bowl and place the bowl in your freezer for 30 minutes. This is an important step - failure to do so will cause the lovely fat to smear on your bowl, leaving it in your processor and not in your burger. Take the freezer time to slice and chop your buns and toppings.

Step 4 - Set up a grinding station as pictured for convenience.

Note my lack of kitchen real estate. Sob!

Step 5 - Put cubes in food processor. Do not overfill or you'll get too much inconsistency in the grind. Fill from 33-50% max.

This moment is too solemn for some silly picture caption.

Step 6 - Grind. Try 10 pulses, 1 second each. Do not just turn it on and let it slice amok into your sirloin. Remove the batch quickly with a spatula (there's a blade in there) and grind the next batch. Don't wait too long or the meat will warm up and you'll get smearing.

Note the coarseness of the grind. It is very satisfying.

With success you will obtain a deliberately uneven grind, with a few larger bits that have retained the grain of the steak. When you bite into the burger, it will taste "steakier" (stupid word of the day). Pieces larger than 2cm should go back in for regrinding.

Fear not the ampoules of fat; they will render into explosive taste nuggets.

Step 7 - Form into patties. Form what you need and freeze the rest. Don't overwork the patty, don't press too hard, and make sure that the burger is wider than your bun because it will lose circumference during cooking. Finally, ensure that the patty is not too round, because that will cause juices to form on a single point of the bun and sog it through. J. Kenji Lopez-Alt wrote a well-researched and very funny article on shaping a patty for A Hamburger Today; I highly recommend it. I personally cook burgers on a flat surface to maintain fat, but if you are grilling your burgers please take note of his lessons.

A postmodern interpretation of the "before and after" pic, with after
coming before before. This is why I have a day job.

Step 8 - Cook patties on very high heat to get a wonderful seared char-crust. Roughly 3 minutes a side. Season them with salt and pepper when they are on the grill, enough to enhance the meat's flavour. Do not ever press down on them. Do not fuss with them. Let the burgers do their thing. Listen to the sizzle. See the smoke. Burger.

Now the pupils start to dilate and the pulse quickens.
Step 9 - Prepare your toppings as the burgers cook. Here I have tzatziki, thinly-sliced cucumber and beefsteak tomato on Art-Is-In dynamite white. I have Le Coprin oyster mushrooms ready to sauté.

Veggies? WTF is this?! Take me back to the beef!
Step 10 - Flip carefully; there are no fillers and sirloin is fairly low in fat so you don't want it falling apart by uncaring hands. Don't press down ever. Every drip of juice lost now is juice lost to your palate.

Ohhhhh yeah baby, that's the stuff.
Step 11 - Build any way you like. Let your meat rest a little before serving; a burger right off the grill isn't as good as a burger with more relaxed protein. Consume.

My meat-to-bun ratio was off. -0.5 BurgerDAR quality there, Mikey.

So there you have it. Give it a try and let me know what you think; I'd be interested to hear how it went!


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