For better burgers, take matters in your own hands
Words by Barry Jarvis • Photography by Brooke Allen
If you want to have the best burgers on the block this summer, it’s not going to come from exotic pickles or the crock of kimchi bubbling away in your basement. The real ticket to the burger hall of fame is to take the most important ingredient and technique into your own hands, literally:
It’s time to start grinding your own meat.
The best part, other than superior taste, is that it’s easy. Condiments and toppings will almost be afterthoughts and the lucky mouths you’re feeding will thank you. Firing up the grinder is also super fun. This technique allows you to achieve broader flavors and textures by combining different meats, cuts and fat types. Beyond that, you get to see the quality of the meat and know it’s from a single source.
Ground meat is essentially the suspension of a type of fat inside of protein—a meat emulsion. Grinding meat is the best way to distribute fat evenly throughout lean, flavorful cuts. For burgers, meatballs and meatloaf, 20% fat is a good target while sausages typically end up between 25% and 30% fat.
If you add salt plus seasonings, spices, aromatics or liquids to meat before or while grinding, then technically you are making sausage whether it takes the form of a patty, loaf, ball or link. Adding at least some seasoning before the grind allows you to get deeper flavor without the over-handling and compaction that results from hand mixing in seasonings and spices.
A meat grinder or grinder attachment for a stand mixer can be a valuable and versatile tool in any kitchen. While a brisket or a pork shoulder may take hours to smoke or braise, with grinding in your technical arsenal you can raise your ground-meat game on short notice out of the less expensive cuts.
If you don’t have a meat grinder, go order one today. Seriously, a food processor works almost as well. We used all three tools to cover our Ground Rules.
TIPS TO A GOOD GRIND
Keep your equipment cold. This is as much about safety as craftsmanship. Chill any equipment that will come into contact with the meat. You can use the freezer or a bowl of ice water to keep everything below 40°. If you’re doing large batches and the equipment starts to warm up, rinse it in ice water to chill quickly again.
Keep your meat cold. Cut up your meat into cubes that will fit through the tube of your grinder or about 1 inch for the food processor. Trim away sinew, silverskin and connective tissue. Season your meat lightly (about 1 teaspoon of salt per pound) and put in the freezer for 30–40 minutes until firm but not solid.
Get ideas on how to dress up these burgers in Building the Local Burger, page 20. We like a maximum of 3-4 toppings on our burgers. Choose a few of your favorites for a truly local and seasonal burger.