Tuesday, November 17, 2009
On Grinding Meat
I know y'all are desperate to know just exactly how one goes about making elk burger from scratch, right? Well, it's your lucky day. Grab a cup of tea and sit back while I share the intimate details of meat grinding with you.
We'll assume you have a considerable quantity of red meat to grind. We do both elk and venison the same way. (In case you've ever wondered, we got 36 pounds of meat from the little buck that Andrew shot. 36! As compared to about 200 for the bull elk. We're grinding nearly all the venison - it's just not as good as the elk and we have plenty of steaks and roasts from the two elk he shot first. Basically, any meat that doesn't make a good steak or roast gets chopped up and tossed into the burger bucket.)
So anyway. Wild meat such as this is very lean. And the fat on an elk or deer doesn't taste that good anyway, so we cut most of it off. Have you ever tried to grill a 100% lean burger? Right - it falls apart. Good, juicy hamburger has fat content. That's where the pork comes in. Call up your local butcher and request "pork trimmings". (It's the fat that's been trimmed off of the pork they sell.) It's cheap - a little more than a dollar a pound. You'll want enough pork trimmings so that your meat is 25% fat, 75% elk. You could probably go more like 80% elk if you wanted, but much more than that and you run into very dry, crumbly meat.
Now for the grinding. We use a KitchenAid mixer with a food grinder attachment. I pine for a true honest-to-goodness meat grinder, but the KitchenAid serves the purpose for now. Whatever kind of grinder you have, it will likely have a plate with larger holes and one with smaller holes. Start with the larger holes. Grind all the fat, put it in a big bowl, a grocery sack, a garbage back, whatever, and stick it back in the fridge. (Meat needs to be kept cool or it spoils. Work in small batches and get them in a cooler or fridge as fast as possible.) Once the fat's ground, grind the elk. You should have three times as much elk as you do fat if you did your math right.
Now we mix 'em together - one pound of ground fat, three pounds of ground elk. (An inexpensive kitchen scale is a must have if you want to have any accuracy in doing this.) Put on some rubber gloves and start mixing. It's like kneading bread.... really, really cold bread that makes your fingertips numb. Mix it good. Now run that four pounds back through the meat grinder, this time with the smaller plate.
What you have now is hamburger. Yay!
For packaging, I use an ultra-high-tech method that involves sandwich-size Ziploc bags and freezer paper. I weigh out one pound in each bag, push out the air, seal the bag, wrap it in freezer paper, tape it, and label it. Air is your enemy when it comes to freezing meat. The double wrapping seems to do a great job of saving the burger from freezer burn, even a good eight months later.
Sounds easy, right? And it is, really. It's just that until you do it, it's hard to imagine the actual amount of time it takes. We ground about 160 pounds of burger and sausage this weekend. It was a full three day's job for two people.
My life has been consumed by meat for the past few weeks. I'm glad it's all in the freezer now, ready to keep us fed all winter long... and I promise, I'll stop talking about meat!