Mark Bittman's been talking about grinding your own meat for hamburgers since a 2007 Minimalist column. I'm just gonna let him explain:
The key is to avoid packaged ground meat. When you buy it, you may know the cut of the meat — chuck, for example — and the fat content.
But you have no way of knowing whether the meat came from high- or low-quality animals. It could come from dozens of animals, and they could all be poor-quality animals — old dairy cows, for instance, rather than cattle raised for beef. The meat from these animals is ground together in huge quantities.
If the aesthetics of that don’t give you pause, consider the health concerns. Massive batches of ground meat carry the highest risk of salmonella and E. coli contamination, and have caused many authorities to recommend cooking burgers to the well-done stage. Forgive my snobbishness, but well-done meat is dry and flavorless, which is why burgers should be rare, or at most medium rare.
The only sensible solution: Grind your own. You will know the cut, you can see the fat and you have some notion of its quality.
Sold. I don't have a meat grinder, of course. But I do have a food processor, and you guys know how I love to use it. Score one more for the Cuisinart--it grinds meat!
Bittman suggests starting with a chuck roast or sirloin steak, cutting it into 1- or 2-inch cubes, and just pulsing it with a bit of onion. I did it in batches, not wanting to crowd the processor's bowl. I was careful not to chop too much, which Bittman warns against. Hindsight being 20/20, I definitely could have pulsed the meat a bit more, but it was still good. In this burger recipe, entitled simply My Favorite Burger, the only ingredients are the meat, about 2 lbs., half an onion, and salt and pepper. I added to that some soy sauce, but I figured on this inaugural DIY grinding project I'd just keep it simple.
The burgers were fantastic; you can really taste the quality of the meat. Bittman is right; it's going to be hard to go back to preground meat after this. The benefits far outweigh the perceived inconvenience which, really, only amounts to a few minutes of cutting, grinding and washing of the food processor. On top of that, you can use this method for any kind of burgers; pork, chicken, lamb, fish, whatever you like. Check out the Minimalist article, or HTCE, for more ideas.
With the burgers, I made the Cold Asian Greens and Ginger Salad, which sounded great but ended up kind of mushy and weird. I may have just overcooked the bok choy, I'm not entirely sure, but either way I think I'd have preferred the Cold Cooked Greens, Greek Style which this recipe is a variation on.
The Minimalist: For the Love of a Good Burger [nytimes]
Thanks to Kyle Kabel for taking these pictures.