Serious Eats

Equipment: How to Buy, Use, and Care for a Meat Grinder

Each week J. Kenji Lopez-Alt will drop by with a list of tools or a tool you might want to stock your kitchen with—if you haven't already. Kenji also writes The Food Lab column here on SE. You can fan The Food Lab on Facebook for play-by-plays on his future kitchen tests and recipe experiments.—The Mgmt.

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If you are still asking the question, "Why should I grind my own meat?" All I can say is that you probably haven't been following this blog for too long. The advantages are numerous, but here are just a few:

While it's possible to grind meat in a food processor, or even to chop it by hand, a dedicated meat grinder is your best option if you plan on grinding meat on a regular basis. Here's a basic guide on how to select, use, and maintain your grinder.

The Parts

All meat grinders consiste of the same basic parts:

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Although the basic parts are all the same, you have a number of options when it comes to buying a meat grinder. The good news is, none of them is bad.

Manual Grinders

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Manual grinders are the cheapest way to get good quality freshly ground meat at home, and are a great option for casual grinders who don't own a stand mixer. You have two options.

If you've got a nice wood work table or counter top and are planning on doing a lot of grinding, a bolt-mounted meat grinder is the way to go. At less than $40, they should last you a near lifetime of grinding, provided you care for the working parts properly. For an even cheaper, though slightly less sturdy option, at $29.95, this clamp-mounted model allows you to work on any tabletop you'd like.

One word of warning: The clamp-mounted models tend to be less sturdy than the bolt-mounted ones, and getting the pieces to fit together properly can sometimes be a pain. It'll still grind your meat just as well, but do expect a few headaches trying to put it together and take it apart.


Stand Mixer Attachments

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The next level up is for anyone who owns a stand mixer. All of the major brands have their own attachments, including KitchenAid ($49.95), Viking ($124.95), and Cuisinart ($128.95).

The great thing about buying a meat grinder attachment is that you already know that the hardest working part of your grinder—the motor—is going to be a workhorse that can power through even the toughest grinding projects.

You are basically stuck buying the attachment for whatever brand stand mixer you own in this department, but none of the options are that bad. While both the Cuisinart and the Viking feature all-metal parts, which can stay chilled for longer than the plastic KitchenAid model, they are also three times more expensive.

Stand mixer attachments are a great option if you make a lot of sausage. You can grind the meat directly into the processor bowl, then attach the bowl to the machine and immediately start mixing it with the paddle to develop protein. It's a real time-saver.

Standalone Grinders

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I don't know many home cooks outside of those who do a lot of hunting who have a need for a standalone grinder, like this one from Waring ($99.95). Although they usually come with a wider assortment of plates, a wider feed tube and screw shaft, the motor is only as good as the money you pay for it. Cheaper models will work no better than the stand mixer attachments, and more expensive models are only necessary if you plan on doing a whole lot of grinding. I grind well more than the average cook, and my KitchenAid attachment has yet to fail me.

The one distinct advantage that standalone grinders have is that most of them have a reverse function—a real time-saver if you are trying to chop especially troublesome meat with lots of connective tissue to get caught in the blade.

Sausage Stuffers

Most meat grinders and attachments come with funnels designed for stuffing sausages. They will work in a pinch but can be a real headache to use. The main problem is that they don't push the meat forcefully enough, so stuffing sausages can take five or ten times longer than it should. All the while, the meat is slowly warming up.

I've had better luck stuffing sausage with a pastry bag (this requires two people—one to squeeze the bag, the other to pull the casings off the end as the meat comes out), but if you're really serious about sausage-making, you'll want a piston-based stuffer that pushes the meat out with a lever rather than trying to force it out with a screw. The result is faster, tighter sausages with fewer air bubbles.

Necessary? No. Useful? Definitely.

How to Use and Care for Your Meat Grinder

There's really not much to it when it comes to using a meat grinder. Basically, all you've got to do assemble the grinder with the plate you desire, take your trimmed meat (grinders hate sinew and connective tissues, so make sure to trim it all out), feed it into the hopper, turn the grinder on (if using a grinder on a stand mixer attachment, a relatively fast speed is the way to go—I've found that about 6 to 8 on the KitchenAid produces the best results), and press the meat through. Ground meat, simple as that.

That said, there are a few things to keep in mind while grinding:

A Final Quick Tip

After you're done grinding, before you take the grinder apart or move the bowl at all, take a couple wadded-up paper towels and pass them through the grinder just like you are grinding meat. They won't come out the other end, but they will push out any stray bits of meat that have managed to stay behind, as well as help clean out the inside of the feed tube and shaft. Better yield and easier clean-up result.

About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.

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