Published May 1, 2011. From Cook's Illustrated.
Meat lovers who appreciate not just a good burger, but a great one, know that grinding your own meat is totally worth the effort—provided you’re using a well-made machine.
Hoping to single out a worthwhile contender, we rounded up four models—three stand-alone machines and a grinder attachment for our favorite KitchenAid stand mixer. We then processed 1-inch chunks of sirloin steak tips and fatty pork butt through the medium and large grinder plates, for hamburger and chorizo, respectively.
The lone hand-cranked apparatus got itself in a jam—literally. Despite its sharp, hardened steel grinding blade and large hopper, even the most muscular test cooks struggled to crank out more than a pound of ground beef or pork—a measly 50 percent of the starting weight—and were left extracting stringy, fatty wads of meat from the mechanism. The meat we were able to salvage seemed crushed, producing dense spongy results that couldn’t compare with the tender, juicy burgers and sausage made from meat put through the other grinders.
But all three motorized models processed both cuts faster than a food processor, with no pushing or prodding the meat through the hopper required. Even better, they yielded almost as much meat as we fed them, meaning no fat or sinew got stuck around the grinder plate and ground into unusable pâté. Of these, the powerful (albeit loud) winner worked particularly well, easily grinding all the meat we could fit into the hopper. It comes with a five-year warranty, which helps reconcile us to its steep price of nearly $200. Both this model and the equally efficient second place finisher were easy to assemble, which was more than we could say for our third place finisher (though the latter was a quieter, otherwise admirable performer and, at less than half the cost of the winner, still gets a thumbs-up).
What if you don’t want to buy a special appliance but still want to execute a recipe that calls for a small amount of freshly ground beef? Our favorite food processor can chop meat into a decent mince that produces acceptably tender burgers. But it’s a time-consuming business, requiring the cook to reload the processor bowl three times to mince 1 pound of meat.
The only real downside to owning a meat grinder is the cleanup (and here, the food processor is a cinch). Ensuring that every bit of meat is scrubbed away is essential for sanitation, and save for the dishwasher-safe second place finisher, the other models (including the otherwise-stellar top-of-the-line winner) came with fussy hand-washing instructions—plus the winner required that its metal parts be oiled and swaddled in towels for storage.
Bottom line: For meat-grinding enthusiasts with cash and counter space to spare, the winner is the Rolls Royce of contenders, while others should consider adding the affordable, compact second place finisher to their kitchen arsenal. With relatively few parts—most of which are dishwasher-safe—it’s a cinch to use and clean.