Have you ever wondered what’s in that package of ground beef you bought at the grocery store? Seriously, it could be practically anything. One thing you know it isn’t: high-quality beef. And do you really want to cook with anything but the best? The beef (even your steaks) doesn’t have to be graded by the United States Department of Agriculture. Grading is actually a choice the processor makes, and they have to pay for the service. That doesn’t mean ungraded meat is nasty, but grading is the only way to make sure your ground beef is the best quality.
When it comes to ground beef, processors use trimmings and fat cut off while extracting the cuts of beef people pay big bucks to buy. Sometimes the beef trimmings are great, other times they're not the best. The bits and pieces that get ground up might be little more than sinews, tendons, maybe some soft bones, and scraps of meat trimmed from fat. I’ve even found fragments of hard bone in store-bought ground meat before when I've gone to cook it! It doesn’t have to be this way. You can make sure your ground beef, bison, or venison burgers are legendary with a little DIY meat grinding know-how.
We're breaking down our entire process of how we make ground beef in our shop, and going over how to cook it. Make sure you read all the way to the end because we're sharing our favorite recipe for ground beef. You're going to want to get cooking right after reading the recipe!
Selecting Your Trimmings to Make Ground Beef
At Whitefeather Farms, we process lots of carcasses, so we have lots of excellent trimmings to work with. When we break down a carcass, there are lots of bits trimmed off that don’t make very good cuts. It’s still real good meat, but these parts lack the sexiness of a steak. So, we save these parts and use them to grind into ground beef. This will include the neck, back, short ribs, shoulders, and other chunks of meat. Using a mixture of sirloin and chuck roast is another way to get good ground beef when you don’t have access to the types of cuts we use in the processing shop.
How Much Fat Should be Removed?
With a beef carcass, we usually trim off a substantial amount of the fat. We trim the meat close to the bones with quick strokes of our knife then remove the large chunks. The bonus of removing the fat is you get most of the glands that way. Lymph glands are contained in it, and you don’t want those in your ground beef. You’ll also get veins and tendons out by removing it. Later, when we grind the meat, we'll add pork fat back in to get a good meat-to-fat ratio.
Other Things to Remove from Your Beef
Boning out a carcass is much easier when using a sharp knife. We really like using the 6” curved blade boning knife from Victorinox. It’s got a semi-rigid blade, takes an edge well, and is light in the hand. Today we are using a version with a rosewood handle. It’s as attractive as it is effective. This knife lets you take a slab of beef and cut it into chunks the right size to use in your grinder quickly and efficiently.
As you work through the pieces of meat, you’ll find blood vessels, sinew, and tendons. Cut all that stuff out and discard it or save it for making pet food. That's what we use it for here at the shop. As you cut, you’ll see that the different muscles are separated by a thin membrane. This is the silver skin and you should remove it. The easiest way to remove this is by using the fillet technique. Make an incision along an edge enough to get your fingers in there. Then, lay the blade flat and push away from you with the knife while gently pulling the meat back toward you. The knife will fillet that silver skin right off of there.
What’s the Right Sized Chunk for a Meat Grinder?
The right size of chunk will depend on the size of your grinder. A smaller, manual bench-top grinder will only be able to handle golfball-size pieces of beef. While a larger grinder, like the one we use from MeatYourMaker.com can handle fist-sized hunks. If your grinder is jamming up, try cutting your meat into smaller pieces. It’s important to remember that your meat should be cold when you grind it. Having the meat cold prevents your ground beef from separating. You will know your meat is too warm when grinding if it is turning into a sticky, gooey mess. Just pop it in the fridge for a while before continuing to grind.
Grinding the Meat into Ground Beef
You can use either a manual meat grinder or an electric to make ground beef. The important thing to remember about a manual grinder is that you have to keep an even amount of pressure and speed on the handle to get a consistent grind. An electric grinder will do that part for you. But, a high-quality manual meat grinder will do every bit as good of a job as an electric. If you plan on grinding meat regularly, and not just on special occasions, purchasing an electric meat grinder is a sensible decision. Especially if you plan to make sausage (we recommend using our recipe for fresh summer sausage).
A meat grinder works by forcing chunks of meat against a steel plate with holes in it. A blade cuts the meat as it is pressed through the plate. You can use different plates with larger or smaller holes for your ground beef. The plates are identified by numbers that reference the size of the holes the meat will be put through. Most grinders come with more than one plate, but you we recommend at least having two. We typically use two different sizes, a larger one of about ⅜” and a smaller one of about 3/16”.
Grinding the Meat
Remember to start with your meat cold to prevent any separation. Add the chunks of meat and feed them through, but don’t force them into the grinder. When we make ground beef, we do one pass on a larger plate, then a second pass using a smaller screen. This process gives us the best and most even consistency and makes sure to get any odd lumps or chunks of beef that didn’t get ground well the first time.
You can also add some pork fat into your grind, especially if you used a really lean cut to make your ground meat. This is especially important if you are making ground bison or venison, as those animals are notoriously lean. There's no concrete recipe to use, but you can calculate your fat-to-meat ratio based on how lean you want your ground meat. Fat content between 20 and 30% is ideal for burger recipes, while a leaner ground meat will work well for meatloaf, meat balls, and other recipes where you are adding moisture into the mix.
Once you have ground your meat twice, all that’s left is to cook something up!
Ground Beef Recipe: Asian-Inspired Basil Beef Rice Bowls
While we cook with ground beef often, this is a favorite recipe with ground beef when we need to cook something easy, quick, and absolutely delicious. It’s a Western take on a traditional Korean recipe consisting of brown ground beef and spices served over white rice.
- 1 lb Ground Beef
- 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
- 6 Garlic cloves, thin sliced
- 2 red chiles, cored, seeded and thinly sliced
- ½ cup chicken or beef broth
- 1 cup fresh basil, coarsely chopped
- 2 carrots, grated or julienned
- 2 scallions, thinly sliced
- 2 Tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 Tablespoons lime juice
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- Cooked white rice
- In a heavy skillet over medium, heat 1 Tbsp oil, then add garlic and 1 chile.
- Saute in skillet over medium until the garlic is lightly browning and aromatic, about 1 minute.
- Add the ground beef to the and saute. Use a spoon to break up the chunks of ground beef and brown.
- Add in the broth and about half of the basil.
- Simmer until the liquid is reduced, about 10 minutes.
- Toss the remaining basil in at the very end of cooking.
- In a separate bowl, combine carrots, shallots, soy sauce, sugar, remaining oil, chile, and lime juice. Stir.
- When the cooked beef is ready, serve over rice with the vegetable mixture drizzled over the top. Garnish with lime wedges and a few basil leaves.
This recipe takes just a little over 10 minutes to make and it's one of the best ground beef recipes we've tried.
Making your own ground beef is actually pretty fun. There is something very therapeutic about prepping the meat for the grinder, removing the fat and gristle, and getting all the nasty little bits you don’t want to eat out of there. When you are done, you have the best ground beef that's superior to anything you can buy in the store, often at a lower cost than buying ground meat, and perfect for your favorite recipes. These same steps can be taken to grind pork, venison, bison, and anything else, even alligator. There are a ton recipes with ground beef out there, and cooking your own homemade ground beef in your recipes will make them ten times better. Good luck out there and stay tuned for more recipes, cooking tips, and cooking essentials from the Bearded Butchers.