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All You Can Eat

Seattle Times food writer Nancy Leson serves up the best info and tips on Northwest food, cooking, dining and restaurants.

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August 27, 2008 10:38 AM

Call me well-grounded: DIY burgers

Posted by Nancy Leson

After the latest go-round of ground-beef scares, and many years of thinking about doing so, I finally purchased a grinder attachment for my KitchenAid mixer (as I discussed this week on KPLU). I tried it out for the first time last weekend, when I decided to make some homemade burgers -- a family favorite. When my husband makes burgers, our son calls them "Dadu Deluxe" -- after a certain fast-food chain. But since Dadu was out of town on an extended business trip, and I've been pretty cranky and short-tempered in his absence, I figured I'd get on Nate's good side (and one-up his dear-old-dad) with my own version, the Mamu Deluxe:


While perusing the meat case at Costco on Sunday, I asked a young butcher what he'd use if he were grinding his own burger and he showed me some stew meat. So I bought some (OK, it was Costco, I bought a lot), then decided to put that side-o-beef aside, freeze it and use it to make Sri Lankan beef curry later, instead. And when I stopped at QFC, I queried another butcher, who suggested I use top sirloin for a better burger, so I gave that a go:



Next, I unwrapped and washed the grinder gear:



Getting down to the ground, I consulted the KitchenAid instruction book, trimming the fat and slicing the meat in long strips before feeding it into the hopper, as directed. And I used the "fine plate" rather than the "coarse plate" to grind, which was my second mistake -- as I'll explain later. But I've got to say, when that meat came coursing out of the grinder plate with a flick to the No. 4-speed-dial on my mixer, I was practically dancing around the kitchen. Very cool! Unless, of course, you're a vegetarian or a vegan, in which case you should have stopped reading when you saw the subject line on this post:



Next, I mixed in some salt, garlic powder and Worcestershire sauce then used a burger-press to form the patties, as dad always does. (The press was another mistake. Mac doesn't mind getting his hands dirty at work, but he absolutely hates to get them dirty in the kitchen -- right, hon, wherever you are!):



Because you've got to have fries to go along with a burger, I went out into the garden and dug up some potatoes:



FYI: these are carolas, which are gorgeously golden inside and the most amazing potatoes I've ever grown:



If I sound like Sky Swanson from the sunny city of Molbak, WA, think again. Potatoes are one of the few crops this not-so-green-thumbed gardener manages to grow successfully each year. Here's the bed earlier this summer:



I fried those potatoes in peanut oil "sweetened" with a little bit of pure pork lard, purchased Saturday at the University District Farmers Market. (Yes, it cost more than the beef, but if you smelled it, you'd know why I bought it.) And if you're a vegetarian/vegan and you're still reading this, what did I say earlier?!:




Back to the beef. I grilled the burgers on the gas grill, buttered and toasted some Franz buns, sliced some (pretty but soggy-textured) tomatoes from the garden, made some "special sauce" (using my friend Jodi's homemade ketchup, Best Foods best and a bit of relish) and melted some cheese on those burgers. Then I dragged Nate away from Mario Kart (so sue me, it's been a long summer), then we sat down to dinner:



The verdict: "I like Dadu's better," said James Beard Jr. "But those fries are great!" Me? I thought the burger was delicious, but putting my restaurant critic's hat back on, I have this to say about my first round of home-ground:

1) the meat was too lean (I knew it! I shoulda used chuck!)
2) the "fine plate" proved too fine
3) that hamburger press? Fuggetaboutit.

And so, last night, I did it all over again. This time I used "Natural Chuck Steak" (two steaks, $7.05, enough for six burgers). And the "coarse plate" on the grinder:



I seasoned the meat simply -- salt, pepper, garlic powder -- then lightly patted it into a burger, and instead of grilling the beef, I took a page from the Lunchbox Laboratory cookery-book and pan-seared it (with a tablespoon of that snowy-white pork lard) in a cast-iron skillet, which gave the burger a terrific "crust." Taste and texture? Incredible.

So, do you have any great burger recipes for me and my Eaters? What about other do-it-yourself ground meat tips? Word has it that a food processor works pretty well as a meat grinder. True? What say you, my fellow cooks?


COMMENTS













Posted by Denis (aka E. coli lawyer)





10:50 AM, Aug 27, 2008



I hate to be a kill-joy here, but the USDA does not care about E. coli O157:H7 on so-called intact cuts of meat. Most of the recent recalls have involved Nebraska Beef selling contaminated intact cuts that were then ground up and sold by stores like Whole Foods. So, bottom-line: homemade ground beef may be fresher and taste better; but it is not necessarily safer.









Posted by Andrea





11:25 AM, Aug 27, 2008



Have you tried brisket? We get our butcher to grind it on occasion (special occasions), and the burgers you get out of it are AWESOME.

Gonna have to get me a food grinder...fun!

Posted by David

11:27 AM, Aug 27, 2008

I don't grind my own, but I have consistently good results and rave reviews doing the following. I use some ground pork with my ground beef (about 3 or 4 parts beef to 1 part pork), throw in some chopped sweet onion, and a dash or two of whatever BBQ sauce is in the frig.

Posted by redman

11:31 AM, Aug 27, 2008

you can go down to the fine plate with a kitchen aid but probably best to grind first on large plate and work your way down.

It doesn't sound like you did, but definitely don't work the meat too much, patty as loosely as possible if you want the tenderest burger.

Posted by KAG

12:05 PM, Aug 27, 2008

How did your son like the second go-round? What type of cheese did you use? (It looks like swiss or havarti) Your second attempt looks Awesome! Mazel Tov! -- even with the pork lard!

Posted by Seefood

1:29 PM, Aug 27, 2008

my secret is to mix a few drops of toasted sesame oil in with the ground meat. That and salt and pepper and they somehow taste meatier, smoky and delicious. I start with ground beef from Skagit River Ranch

Posted by foozy

1:33 PM, Aug 27, 2008

I've been using exactly that attachment for years, and was motivated by the same e. coli stories. I hear ya, Denis, but what freaked me out about those stories was the fact that thousands of different cows from all over the country get ground up into a single batch. At least this way you know it all came from the same animal.

Anyhoo, I HAVE used a food processor to grind meat and it is vastly inferior to the Kitchenaid. The grind is very uneven, and it almost liquifies some of the meat. It seems to shred the tissue rather than grind it.

And as for favorite cuts to use: try one of the tougher cuts that still has some fat. My personal fave is a hangar steak or a skirt steak. More flavor than chuck,

Posted by Lisa

2:08 PM, Aug 27, 2008

I make cuban-style burgers for about 20 people every summer during our houseboat vacation, and it's always a hit.

Grill your salt and peppered patty. While that's going on, slather a bun with dijon and mayo, add a deli slice of ham and swiss cheese and a few nice pickles. When the patty is done, build your burger. Then wrap the burger in aluminum foil and gently smoosh. Put it back on the grill to heat through and make the cheese all gooey.

And it's not that grinding your own beef gives you a free pass around e-coli, it's about numbers and odds. One cow isn't less likely to be contaminated than one cow going into a grinder with a thousand other cows. But the odds that one of those thousand cows is contaminated is high- and you've just gone from eating 1 cow in 1 burger to 1,000 cows in 1 burger. And a million pounds of beef is destroyed because it's all been contaminated.

Posted by Tim

2:18 PM, Aug 27, 2008

This is not a burger, but ground pork mixed with ground turkey, plus smooshed garlic, a little olive oil, salt, pepper, chipotle chili powder, and lots o' fresh chopped sage, all mixed up and formed into patties and you have yourself a dandy breakfast sausage.

Posted by Alan

2:56 PM, Aug 27, 2008

Well, you figured out the two things I would have suggested, coarse plate and chuck, I would add a couple of comments.

I usually use 7 bone chuck when on sale. I will buy about ten or 15lb. (When Safeway has a sale, it is really cheap.)

Now on to the essentials. First, before you cut up the meat, use the sharp edge of the chef's knife to scrape off the surface. The only e-coli you will encounter is on the surface. Follow up with a wet paper towel, wiping off the residue of scraping.

Cut the meat into either slices or cubes, and put them in the freezer until semi-frozen. It will make running through the plate much cleaner and faster, with little remaining pieces.

Shape your bugers, double wrap them in saran wrap, and place several in a gallon freezer zip lock bag. Freeze them until needed.

No way will I ever buy ground meat for a hamburger.

Posted by Nancy Leson

3:40 PM, Aug 27, 2008

Thanks, all, for the great posts.

KAG: Nate didn't want a burger. I repeat (only because I know I'll never get a chance to say this again): Nate the burger king did not want a burger. (He'd already eaten a burrito at a friend's house by the time I made them and he wouldn't even take a bite -- go figure.) That was not havarti, nor Swiss. It was Old Apple Tree Tomme, a cow's milk cheese bought from the fine folks at Montesano's Estrella Family Creamery. I got it at their stand at the U-District farmers market on Saturday: http://estrellafamilycreamery.com/cheese.aspx. While that's delicious, my favorite among their cheeses is the "Jalapeno Buttery" though I'd never turn down anything they'd offer.

Posted by Sean Harding

4:29 PM, Aug 27, 2008

I use a combination of chuck and sirloin, which I think I first learned from Alton Brown, but I'm not sure. Best of both worlds, IMHO.

Posted by Mr Cheese

4:43 PM, Aug 27, 2008

I learned the virtues of coarse grinding years ago from Bob Fogelman, who ran the Green Lake Bowl Cafe and made the best burgers I have ever tasted.

I was never really pleased with burgers I made at home until I started grinding (coarse plate) my own beef about six years ago. The improvement over store-bought beef was remarkable. I've been very happy grinding chuck, but do plan to give brisket a try.

I season with salt and pepper and pan fry loose "patties," then it's bacon, cheese, mayo, mustard, good tomato if available, Clausen pickle from the 'fridge, sweet onion and red relish.

Posted by SMiles

5:41 PM, Aug 27, 2008

Hi Nancy-

Thanks for your fun series on KPLU! I just caught your story today about grinding hamburger meat at home.

I've just got to tell you that there is SO MUCH more you can do with that machine! I was a meatcutter in a former life (while attending college,) working for a small mom and pop shop in Ballard, "Jones Bros. Meats." The shop was run by a Swedish family, and they had several family recipies for holiday meats, pork sausage, and Swedish potato sausage.

Rolling around in the back of my mind for several years was the memory of the baked potato sausage, and it dawned on me a few years ago that I had never seen it sold in any of the markets I shopped at. So I decided to find a meat grider - probably like the one you found - and shopped around for a couple of sausage recipie books.

I tried making Sweet Italian Fennel sausage, the Potato sausage, brats, on and on. It is a very satisfying avocation for a number of reasons- you know what's in the sausage, you can sample the sausage as you mix the ingredients (fry up a sample,) you can freeze and store most of what you make for several months, and you can impress your friends and family with a sausage that you made just for them!

If your grinder came with casing stuffer attachments, you might want to look around for hog casings. The only place in Seattle that I have found them is at Bavarian Meat's packaging plant. Look them up! Or if you know of other outlets - then please let me know as well!

Thanks again for the story, have fun with your grinder!

SMiles

Posted by Cindyj

6:49 PM, Aug 27, 2008

I have ground my own chuck for burgers for years using my kitchenaid grinder. I started grinding lamb for lamb burgers when I was not able to easily find ground lamb. Here is an article and recipe from Nancy Silverton of LaBrea bakery fame for her perfect burgers. http://www.latimes.com/features/food/la-fo-encore070408,0,2060283.story
and for the exact recipe
http://www.latimes.com/features/food/la-fo-encore070408-rec1,3,7281452.story

Posted by Bruce

8:41 PM, Aug 27, 2008

Some stores (such as Metropolitan Market) grind their own beef in-store, so you avoid the 1000-cow problem there as well.

I like the Cook's Illustrated tip, when shaping burgers, to press down on the middle so it's a little thinner than the periphery. That way the meat will cook more evenly.

Posted by Nancy Leson

8:27 AM, Aug 28, 2008

Bruce: Funny you should mention the CI trick. My pal Clint (who cooks like nobody's business, as I've mentioned before on the blog) stopped by with a big batch of lasagne for me and my family and stayed to watch as I made my burger (I gave him half my fresh-ground beef in exchange for that fabulous roasted-pepper-laden pasta). He took his thumb and pressed it into the middle of the second (pan-cooked) burger, exactly as you described. It was a trick I was unfamiliar with and worked like a charm.

Posted by Ballard Boy

8:28 AM, Aug 28, 2008

I also use the Kitchenaid attachment with excellent results. The only complaint I have is that I end up with beef "juice" splattered all over my counter and cabinets! Wifey (the eat no meat wife) does not care for that. I now grind with a towel over the attachment. Does no one else have this problem?

Posted by Nancy Leson

8:33 AM, Aug 28, 2008

Mornin' Ballard Boy:

Nope, I didn't have that problem at all (were you using the No. 4 speed as the directions call for?). That said, when I sent the post to "Dadu" (who's still away and says he can't wait to come home to try one of my burgers), he mentioned that he hates to pan-sear a burger because it splatters all over the stove and cabinets above. (See: what did I say about him and "messes"?) I told him it's worth it and I'll keep the Formula 409 handy (or better still, the fancy basil-scented Williams-Sonoma cleanser I prefer to HIS preferred "industrial" cleaner), pair it with Bounty -- the "quicker-picker-upper" and dispatch the greasy residue.

Posted by Tikuahote

10:35 AM, Aug 28, 2008

Dude, you're making me hungry! Those fries look amazing. I love that you harvested the potatoes right before making them. And yes, you do need to include the fat when you make burgers. It's the fat that carries the flavour.

Thanks for the tip on the lard. As a family, we're going to a sort of paleo-traditional foods diet, and actual animal fat is part of it. Gotta get me some of that pork lard!

Posted by ldylatuna

12:27 PM, Aug 28, 2008

OMG! You are great! A family that cooks! Loved it!
Mary

Posted by Denis (aka E. coli lawyer)

1:38 PM, Aug 28, 2008

It's not really a "1,000 cow problem," it's a 6-cows-per-minute" problem, which is the average chain-speed of most meat processing plants. Using intact cuts of meat to make your own ground beef can be safer IF (and it's a BIG if) the meat has come from cattle not processed in a big, commercial facility--i.e., 6-cows per minute. Meat does not get E. coli O157:H7 on it unless it is contaminated during processing. And don't assume that just because Metropolitan Market is grinding its own that its safer. It depends on where the meat used came from. Remember the recent outbreak and recall involving Whole Foods? Same situation.

Sorry to be a kill-joy here, but people should know the truth about the relative risks. Oh, and one more thing, this nasty bug is hugely more prevalent in cattle during the summer months.

Posted by KAG

2:29 PM, Aug 28, 2008

Would it be close to the same to go to a small butcher shop and buy the meat you want (or combinations of meat) and have them grind it for you on the spot? Wouldn't that be safer and yummier then buying off the shelf at your local mega-mart? I don't have a grinder attachment, and I'm not sure I want to buy one. That said I would like the option of mixing cuts of meat for burgers or meatloaf. (my mom-in-law mixes in fresh ground venison with her meatloaf recipe and it is Wonderful!)

Nancy? What do you think?

Posted by sailcocktail

4:19 PM, Aug 28, 2008

SMiles: you can get casings at Don & Joes in Pike Place market. And you don't even have to buy a whole bucket full ;-)

I like to grind half beef sirloin and half lamb sirloin. A little fresh dill, a little fresh mint, top with feta on a toasted homemade bun. You can do the same thing with beef and some nice pork butt and grind your own meatloaf, grind the bread or oatmeal right in with it.

Posted by Chuck

8:31 AM, Aug 29, 2008

think Denis makes a valid point. For the best quality product, you need the best quality ingredients, and you should know the source. One option is looking at animals (beef, lamb, etc.) that are grass-fed, raised on small farms (local is possible) and don't go through the grinder themselves, so to speak.

See the link below for some local options, including farms and markets that carry said products in our area:

http://www.eatwild.com/products/washingtonresources.htm

P.S. I grind my own and like to use 100% chuck, but have mixed in sirloin at times. One tip is that it's easier to cut it into strips to feed into the KA grinder instead of small chunks. Once the mechanism grabs the meat and it starts churning, the need for filling chunks and constantly pushing down is alleviated somewhat.

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