As much as I love to cook, I am really not a fan of kitchen gadgets. This is partially out of necessity; our very small kitchen doesn’t have room to store every species of specialized tool for making every conceivable cooking task a breeze. I also have a deep aversion to spending money, so when I walk into the local kitchen store whatever desire I feel is quickly snuffed out by a look at the prices. All that said, I can’t pass up a deal, so when Martha came home from some thrift-shopping with news of old-fashioned, hand-cranked meat grinders for the ridiculous price of $2.00, I made a quick decision: it was time to start grinding my own meat.
“But Tom,” you say, “it’s the twenty-first century. You don’t have to grind your own meat anymore! You can buy it ground in nice little packages from your local grocery. You can even get it pre-pattied for all your hamburger needs!” True, but then how would I get two dollars worth out of this grinder? Besides, there are some real advantages to grinding meat at home. If you’re worried about E. Coli, grinding in small batches means less chance of mixing in contaminated meat (this always remains a possibility, of course). More importantly for me, by grinding at home I can control what beef gets ground. Specifically, I can grind in a high percentage of beefy, marbled short-ribs. Given the variety of beef cuts available, a grinder can take you way beyond the grocery store options of chuck or sirloin.
Although the pitted cast iron surfaces, wooden handle, and the fact that it was a consumer product made in the USA all suggested to me that my thrift store grinder was quite old, it appears that it was actually in production recently enough to be sold new over the Internet. My particular model was either old and neglected or just neglected enough to require vigorous a scrubbing down.
With a mind to that scrubbing, I fired up the Google to learn about meat grinder care and was surprised and a little disappointed that my meat grinder was actually a Food Chopper – a kind of proto-food processor. The difference seems to be that while meat grinder usually extrude the grind through perforated disks, the Universal Model 2 Food Grinder passes the food through a kind of toothed wheel that screws on to the end of the unit. Different tooth sizes and spacings are used to produce different sized chops. But you can in fact grind meat with a food processor (chill cubes in freezer 30 minutes then pulse), so it stands to reason that its predecessor would work well enough. I set about cleaning it anyway.
With all the parts cleaned and dried, I was excited to cube my beef and get to the business of grinding. For simplicity’s sake I planned to make hamburgers using a beef blend that has worked in the past: about 70% beef short ribs and 30% chuck. For the beef to be caught by the augur of the Universal Model 2, I cut it into 1″ chunks.
The grinding process went very smoothly; I was able to process the 1.5# of beef in under 5 minutes. I did notice two apparent flaws in the design: 1.) the cutting wheel is positioned too close over the base of the grinder, making it difficult to place any kind of tray in a spot where it will collect all of the ground meat and 2.) as I was grinding, I started to notice blood dripping onto the floor out of the place where the handle attached to the augur. Martha acted quickly, putting a plate down to protect our floor, but it seems to me that any blood that is squeezed out by the action of the grinder is blood that’s not going to be making your hamburgers juicy. Still, for a pound and a half of meat, I think we only lost a teaspoon of blood; hardly earth-shattering. This might be remedied in the future by remembering to chill the meat in the freezer before grinding to firm it up. The grind produced by the larger cutting wheel was suitable for hamburgers, though I might have liked it a bit coarser.
How were the burgers? They were good – how could anything involving that much short-rib go wrong? I was pleased not to notice any metallic taste from flaking off rust – we must have done a good enough job scrubbing. Ideally, I would like to do a blind taste-test involving store-ground beef, beef ground in a food processor and the Universal. I am also excited to use the grinder in other applications, especially revisiting my old friend the terrine. Now I just have to figure out where I’m going to put the thing.