Ask Casey: I Want to Grind My Own Burger Meat

Casey Barber

by Casey Barber on July 18, 2013

Ask Casey: Cooking and Kitchen Questions Answered

I want to start grinding my own hamburgers. What cuts of meat would you recommend I use, and what’s the best way to grind burgers at home?

Hi, I’m chuck, and I’m the meat you’ll be using to make hamburgers today.

All kidding aside, when it comes to cuts of meat that are best for burgers, you’ll be looking at two key parts of the cow: the front end and the rear. While you could certainly make a high-end hamburger with a pricey porterhouse or delicate filet mignon, it’s gilding the lily in a way that’s not necessary and, if you’re grilling burgers for a crowd, wastes a good chunk of money that could be spent on other cookout essentials like beer.

jalapeno-garlic burgers, via
Hamburger cuts should have a decent percentage of fat, since that’s key for locking in moisture while still maintaining beefy flavor. Chuck is not only marbled throughout with tasty fat, but a cow has virtual acreage of it in comparison with a filet. This cut comes from the shoulders of the cow, whereas the filet is an eensy, tiny strip of meat in comparison.

Based on what the butcher’s offering in the case, I’ll supplement my chuck with one or two other cuts of meat:

  • brisket (from the breastplate/upper shank of the cow)
  • boneless short rib (also usually from the chuck primal cut, since these are cut from between the first few rips of the cow)
  • top round (from the haunches of the cow)
  • sirloin or tri-tip (also from the upper butt/haunches)

best cuts for burgers, via
If you look at a cow’s anatomical chart, you’ll notice all of these cuts skirt the “ends” of the cow, avoiding the tender and expensive inner loin cuts like ribeye, strip, and filet in favor of the harder-working muscles that make the legs move. Basically, if it’s a piece of meat that tastes best when cooked low and slow, like in a stew, braise, or roast, it will make a great burger. Cubes of chuck are a classically crucial ingredient in Julia Child’s famous boeuf bourguignon—need I say more?

(Flatiron steak, one of the cuts recommended in my previous post on inexpensive but tender cuts of meat, would also make a good hamburger add-ins, since it comes from the chuck region of the cow. However, it will be slightly pricier than chuck, since there’s less of it on the cow—but shouldn’t be any pricier than sirloin.)

Experts recommend a balance of 80 percent meat/20 percent fat for optimal grinding. I don’t know if Google Glass or x-ray vision can tell you the exact percentage of fat in each specific cut just by looking at it, but if I stick to a blend of at least 50 percent chuck and one or two of the supplemental cuts noted above, I know my burgers will be juicy and flavorful.

how to grind burger meat, via
While you can ask your butcher to grind your cuts of meat fresh at the counter, I think it’s more fun to do it at home. I’m a little crazy that way, but since you’re asking the question, I suppose you are too.

If you have a KitchenAid stand mixer, I highly recommend buying the inexpensive but oh so valuable grinder attachment. It lets the horsepower of the mixer do the hard work for you and ensures a consistent grind. It’s also hella easy to assemble, dismantle, clean, and store. The food grinder attachment comes with two metal dies: one for a coarse grind, and one for a fine grind. For hamburgers, I stick with the coarse grinding die, but for meatloaf, sausage, and other meat applications (like grinding pancetta or bacon), you’ll be happy you have both.

how to grind burger meat, via
You’re probably nervous about grinding meat at home for the first time. Don’t be; the grinder attachment takes all the guesswork out of the process, and the best advice I can give you is to just chill. Literally: freeze your cubed meat and all the metal pieces of the grinder for 20 minutes before you start to grind. See, the grinder heats up as it works, and the fat and muscle of the meat can get mushy and stringy if the residual heat of the grinder makes them warm too. You don’t want meat paste, so cold metal + cold meat means nothing gums up the works. The 20 minutes of time won’t be wasted, either, since you’ll be prepping the add-ins for your patties.

Here’s how I grind my meat for flavorful hamburgers with just a touch of heat.

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