Monday, January 16, 2012

Grinding Meat - Revisited

I've had a handful of messages from folks wanting to know more about grinding game meat into burger, so since we just did it this weekend, I thought I'd share the process. I did write a very similar post a couple of years ago on the subject, but I've learned some things since then that I'll add to this post.

As we butcher an elk or deer, all of the small scraps of meat and lower-quality meat cuts go into the "burger bucket." (We use a five gallon bucket lined with a clean plastic trash bag.) Wild game fat isn't the greatest tasting, so we trim most of the big fatty chunks off, but little bits left on aren't really a problem. When we're done processing the animal, we freeze the burger meat big freezer bags until we're ready to grind it. Yes, this means we refreeze our meat once. I'm not gonna recommend you do it too, but I can tell you that after spending a day (or two) cutting up and packaging an animal, the last thing I want to do is stand at the grinder for another few hours. I prefer procrastination. We've never noticed a problem with the taste and/or quality of our burger meat because of it.

So anyway. Thaw your meat if it's frozen, and round up some fat*. Pork and beef fat are equally suitable. Pork fat tends to be less "gummy", making less mess and not clogging the grinder as often. Beef fat is kosher, and we have kosher family that we like to have for dinner on occasion. Either way, you want a pound of fat for every four pounds of burger meat. This makes an 80/20 mixture, which makes great burgers, meat loaves, meatballs, etc. (I've done a 3:1 ration in the past, and it's good too, but the difference is minimal. 4:1 means you buy less fat.) Fat is cheap, about $2 a pound. Find a butcher shop that will sell you fresh fat, already ground. (We ground our own for the first two years, thinking that was the only way. All butcher shops are not equal - find a good one.)

Grind your meat on the coarse setting first. Then, mix four pounds of meat with one pound of fat. We mix by hand, wearing gloves.

When it's well mixed, run it through the grinder with a finer grind plate.

Then package it according to how you'll want to use it - we do one pound portions.

To package it, I put it in sandwich size ziploc bags, press out all the air and seal it, then wrap it in a layer of freezer paper.

This seems to work great - we'll still be eating this meat in August, until next hunting season, and freezer burn hasn't been an issue for us yet. Mark the package with the contents, and load up the freezer. From the deer we processed this fall, we ended up with 24 pounds of burger in addition to the steaks and roasts we kept out.

Notes and tips:
*Work quickly, and keep your meat cold.
*Have every large bowl in your kitchen clean and ready for use. You'll use them all, and wish you had more.
*Two people working is better than one. It makes the work go faster, and it's more fun that way.
*Get a small kitchen scale. Ours is a little digital that goes up to 10 pounds. You'll be surprised at the number of uses you'll find for it.
*We've used our Kitchen-Aid food grinder, and a Cabela's heavy duty meat grinder. The Cabela's one is about three times faster than the Kitchen-Aid, and doesn't have to be stopped periodically to prevent overheating. It was a worthwhile investment. If you're cooler than we are, you could also use an old fashioned hand-crank grinder. We've done it... well, we tried it. That's a whole lotta work.
*For self-sufficiency reasons, obviously purchased fat isn't absolutely necessary for making burger meat. But the taste is better, and added fat keeps the meat moist. A hamburger with no fat is going to be a dry, crumbly burger, and not very pleasant to eat.
*If you're going to make sausage, leave some of the ground meat out of the freezer, and plan to make the sausage soon. It's not a hard thing to do, and worth the extra effort.
*Clear your counters of everything you don't want blood splattered on. Then, consider using a bit of foil to create a sort of tent over the grind plate. Otherwise, your kitchen will resemble a massacre scene by the time you're finished. Grinding meat is messy work.
*Learn the "butcher wrap", or you'll be going through an insane amount of freezer paper and tape. Ignore the directions on the side of the freezer paper - you'll use twice as much. The trick is the work on the diagonal.
*Do buy freezer tape. It looks just like masking tape, but masking tape will come undone when it gets cold. Freezer tape won't.
*This process is the same for any kind of meat you want to grind. We made sausage out of last season's snow goose as well. Burger/sausage is fabulous for any meat you don't love the taste of (like snow goose) because you can easily cook it in a way that hides the gamey taste.
*The cost analysis: $10 for purchased fat, $20 for deer tag, $1.50 for a fourth of a roll of freezer paper and a bit of tape. $31.50 total. 24 pounds of meat at $31.50 equals $1.31 per pound for free range, grass fed hamburger after two hours of work. Not a bad deal.

This post is shared on Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways.


dr momi said...

Well done! Lots of info.

leavesheal said...

Not a bad deal at all-- go, you! I'm trying to figure out how to do it without having to kill anything LOL!
Andy want to come out here & hunt a bit? LOL! Pint-sized deer out here, but they're taking over the city!

bammajan10 said...

For Christmas my daughter wanted one of the foodsaver things... they suck the air out of the package. She says it's awesome and it only cost me $100 or so. Probably worth the investment since you wouldn't need the paper.
I cannot imagine butchering my own meat. Where do you do it? An animal that big has to take up some serious space before it's dismembered.
And my husband, who loves venison, would like it if you sent him

Julie said...

Jan - we tried a FoodSaver, but the meat freezer burned much faster than with the freezer paper wrapping, so we're sticking with that for now. We butcher elk and deer in my parents' barn, but one could do it easily in a garage. Some guys even do it outdoors. You hang the animal up, and just cut off one quarter at a time, then use a table to cut it up into usable chunks. Guess I oughtta take a few pictures of that process next time 'round! :-)

Julie said...

Shawnna - I imagine Stephen could do a wonderful job of hunting. Heck, knowing him, he could even just trap the deer! haha You could do your chicken meat the same way, and even have chicken sausage. You pick the herbs - sage is a great one - and just use straight chicken meat. Might be a nice change, and it's really easy to do. I see hand-crank grinders at yard sales and auctions all the time. I bought one for $2 once. Keep an eye out :-)

Andrea said...

Wow! This post is packed full of information and money saving tips! I'd be honored for you to share it today at Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways:) Here's your link:

Elliot said...

Perfect hand + great machine = finest grind. Love to have some sausages. :)