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Pre-ground v. fresh-ground beef for hamburgers


Fat Guy
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Just to add a little post breakfast story to the butcher and what it is exactly that he/she is grinding...

When I was in high-school, I worked in various supermarkets in my hometown.  First in the meat department, then moved on to fish (yes, supermarkets had fish departments back in the day), and finally, deli (where I did some of my best work).

So, one day while shrink wrapping some packages of beef, I cut my finger.  One of the butchers called out to "run over to the meat grinder, it helps with the color!"  Of course, he was joking.  I've ground my own meat ever since.

Are you still slicing off fingertips? Because they must be down to the nub by now....

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...whenever you increase the surface area of a product, you increase the area for air and drying almost exponentially, guaranteeing you a loss in quality...

It has always struck me that the nouvelle cuisine "fresh is best" mantra wasn't comprehensive. While I don't want to eat brown, wilted lettuce, the freshest Châteauneuf du Pape = grapes, and the freshest roquefort = milk.

How do you guys think the flavour change of aging ground beef compares with the aging of steaks?

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There's a big difference between grinding aged beef (good) and aging ground beef (bad).

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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There's a big difference between grinding aged beef (good) and aging ground beef (bad).

I've probably had the latter. Much of the ground beef at my supermarket qualifies ...

Never the former. In fact I'm not tempted to grind really first rate beef into burgers. But some day I'd like to grind some good beef and see how it is. So far all I've ever ground is beef from my downscale supermarket ... varying combinations of chuck, brisket, sirloin, and flank. Even with crappy beef the results are mind blowingly good. I'd like to try the same cuts, only nicer, fresher samples from a decent butcher.

Edited by paulraphael (log)

Notes from the underbelly

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What makes you say that? We look down upon ground beef because it is in general made with lower grade beef and/or "beef." But a hamburger is mighty fine food in its own right, no reason to be met with derision when compared to a ribeye or porterhouse: just a different prep method. I suspect that I'm not the only one here who is "insane" enough (though perhaps not actually wealthy enough!) to consider making some freshly-ground dry-aged prime beef into burgers.

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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The question is not whether it would be good to turn some dry aged ribeye meat into burgers. Of course that would be delicious. The question is whether you want to spend 30 bucks a pound for dry aged prime ribeye steaks and then toss them into the grinder rather than cooking them whole as steaks. To my thinking, it's a bit insane to grind up a whole dry aged prime ribeye for hamburgers. Scraps from trimming 50 dry aged prime ribeyes, on the other hand? I'm all over that.

ETA: I would also suggest that there is a fundamental difference between eating a steak, seasoned simply with salt and pepper and cooked to order with a nicely maillardized crust, is fundamentally different from eating a burger, between two pieces of bread with various condiments and vegetables. One is the pure expression of the meat, where the quality and character of the primal (only) ingredient is not only the central thing, but the only thing. In the other treatment, much of what makes a great steak great is obscurred. It's like making a Sidecar with "Paradis" cognac. The Sidecar is worth plenty of respect, just as the hamburger, but it's still not a good use of zillion-dollar cognac.

Edited by slkinsey (log)

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In Brooklyn, Peter Luger's burger is said to be made from trimmings of their dry-aged beef. I've had several over time and the flavor is excellent, though the restaurant's kitchen is totally not up to the task of cooking burgers to the requested degree of doneness.

My favorite burger spot in New York, the Burger Bar at Beacon, does something I think makes a lot of sense: they use Niman Ranch chuck ("Certified Natural Black Angus") as the foundation of their burgers, and they enhance the grind with trimmings from the dry-aged steaks they sell a la carte for between $36 and $48. (They grind their own, though presumably not at the moment of service.) This allows for a cost-effective burger ($12.95 with fries and a bunch of nice garnishes) with an overlay of premium dry-aged complexity.

But yeah, you need to be working with at least subprimals to make that work.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I have never compared fresh-ground to pre-ground, but strongly feel that prime-grade dry-aged beef makes the best hamburgers. Like many serious about beef, we buy our beef by the half from a farmer we know --- without any overhead, it is surprisingly economical at only a couple dollars a pound. After aging, the locker packages the cuts we want and grinds the rest into hamburger; while not quite as good as hamburger made from grinding the entire steer (as hummingbirdkiss mentioned above), it is better than anything you can find at your local butcher and is a fraction of the price.

My Guide: A Practical Guide to Sous Vide Cooking, which Harold McGee described as "a wonderful contribution."

My Book: Sous Vide for the Home Cook US EU/UK

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The question is whether you want to spend 30 bucks a pound for dry aged prime ribeye steaks and then toss them into the grinder rather than cooking them whole as steaks.

So, call it $15/burger? Would I pay that every day, or when feeding a crowd at a picnic? No. But once, to give it a shot? Hell yes. I'm not exactly in a position to buy dry aged beef by the side, so no trimmings for me: the only way I am ever going to get a dry-aged, prime, fresh-ground burger is if I make it myself from a normal steak cut. And I think it may be worth trying. Later. When the economy is better... :smile:

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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. . . Like many serious about beef, we buy our beef by the half from a farmer we know --- without any overhead, it is surprisingly economical at only a couple dollars a pound.  After aging, the locker packages the cuts we want and grinds the rest into hamburger . . .

Douglas, what you are talking about, essentially, is grinding up the trimmings. If I had access to a custom-aged half of a beef for a few dollars a pound, I'd grind up the aged beef I didn't want for steaks or stewing/braising meat too!

The question is whether you want to spend 30 bucks a pound for dry aged prime ribeye steaks and then toss them into the grinder rather than cooking them whole as steaks.

So, call it $15/burger? Would I pay that every day, or when feeding a crowd at a picnic? No. But once, to give it a shot? Hell yes. I'm not exactly in a position to buy dry aged beef by the side, so no trimmings for me: the only way I am ever going to get a dry-aged, prime, fresh-ground burger is if I make it myself from a normal steak cut. And I think it may be worth trying. Later. When the economy is better... :smile:

I have a hard time paying $15 for a hamburger that a restaurant is cooking for me, and which typically includes fries, never mind paying $16.50 (adding $1.50 for bun, condiments, vegetables and possibly cheese) per person for a hamburger I'm making at home. No, if I'm paying $30+ for me and Mrs. slkinsey to have dry aged prime beef for dinner, it's going to be in the form of a steak. Would it be worth trying once for the sake of curiosity? Sure. But no matter how good it was, I can't imagine that becoming my standard burger.

Edited by slkinsey (log)

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The question is whether you want to spend 30 bucks a pound for dry aged prime ribeye steaks and then toss them into the grinder rather than cooking them whole as steaks.

So, call it $15/burger? Would I pay that every day, or when feeding a crowd at a picnic? No. But once, to give it a shot? Hell yes. I'm not exactly in a position to buy dry aged beef by the side, so no trimmings for me: the only way I am ever going to get a dry-aged, prime, fresh-ground burger is if I make it myself from a normal steak cut. And I think it may be worth trying. Later. When the economy is better... :smile:

It would be great. But for the money (and maybe out of some misplaced, meat-centric sense of principle) I'd much rather just eat a steak like that as a steak.

It's like with anything else. If you had perfectly ripe heirloom tomatoes that you just plucked off the vine, you COULD simmer them for hours to make pasta sauce. But they'd be just a bit better than run of the mill tomatoes in that application. On the other hand, eaten raw and unadorned, they'd give you an incomparable experience.

Notes from the underbelly

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What makes you say that? We look down upon ground beef because it is in general made with lower grade beef and/or "beef." But a hamburger is mighty fine food in its own right, no reason to be met with derision when compared to a ribeye or porterhouse: just a different prep method. I suspect that I'm not the only one here who is "insane" enough (though perhaps not actually wealthy enough!) to consider making some freshly-ground dry-aged prime beef into burgers.

*raises insane hand*

I routinely ask the butcher to grind up aged steaks that they cut right off the sub-primals. I don't get $40+/lb meat often enough that I pass up eating it in steak form (if I did, I would), but for the upto $20/lb meats that I can find around me, I regularly ask them to grind it up. I usually go at least 50% aged sirloin before adding in strip or ribeye, depending mainly on what's tangy-er that day. 25-30% fat, 2 passes, then run home and cook it (to stay topical to the thread - cough)

Part of my justification (apart from loving burgers, and eating them mostly without addons) is that there are so many steps involved in technique to crank out a great home burger, that I feel I owe it to myself to start out with the best meat I can find.

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Unless I missed it, I didn't see any mention of how the beef is prepared before grinding at home. When you do it yourself you have complete control, and not just over what kinds of cuts you use. You also have the option of cooking to less doneness, especially if you "sterilize" it first. I use Harold McGee's method and immerse the whole piece of meat in a boiling water bath for about a minute or two, thus killing all the surface bacteria, preventing them from getting into the interior of the subsequent burger. The thin layer of cooked meat disappears in the mass of home-ground, and you've reduced the chance of contamination by a very large factor. Then you can cook to a medium or medium-rare if you like, with resulting increase in juiciness, etc. As I said, I didn't invent this, McGee has it in his book.

Ray

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That's interesting, it had never occurred to me to pre-cook the outside. Of course, it makes perfect sense now that you mention it. At the moment I am following the "I ain't dead yet!" school of thought with rare hamburgers: if I grind the meat myself, I just don't worry about it.

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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If you cook shortly after you grind, it's not clear to me that there is a great deal to be gained by par-boiling the meat. I also have my doubts as to how much "sterilization" there is to be gained by doing this, since two minutes is probably insufficient time (15 minutes of boiling being the usual recommendation for killing most bacteria).

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If you cook shortly after you grind, it's not clear to me that there is a great deal to be gained by par-boiling the meat.  I also have my doubts as to how much "sterilization" there is to be gained by doing this, since two minutes is probably insufficient time (15 minutes of boiling  being the usual recommendation for killing most bacteria).

Most bacteria only lives on the surface of the meat. So heating the outside your cuts before grinding is enough to make it safe. Still, I wouldn't bother. If the meat is fresh to begin with and you cook right after grinding as you said, the bacteria that may be present will not have the time to multiply and colonize the ground meat.

Edited by sjemac (log)
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Here's the paragraph from McGee:

Making a Safer Rare Hamburger One way to enjoy a less risky rare hamburger is to grind the meat yourself after a quick treatment that will kill surface bacteria. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil, immerse the pieces of meat in the water for 30–60 seconds, then remove, drain and pat dry, and grind in a scrupulously clean meat grinder. The blanching kills surface bacteria while overcooking only the outer 1-2 millimeters, which grinding then disperses invisibly throughout the rest of the meat.

In an earlier paragraph he says:

[...]it takes temperatures of 160°F/70°C or higher to guarantee the rapid destruction of the bacteria that can cause human disease

And from the FDA food safety tables here:

°C (°F) Time

63 (145) 3 minutes

66 (150) 1 minute

70 (158) < 1 second (instantaneous)

So, the bacteria that the FDA are concerned about on meat are easily killed at a temp of 100°C/212°F for 30–60 seconds.

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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A better way would be to use something like Ozone-activated water rather than hot water or a blow torch.

Advantages:

  • It's just water.
  • It can be really cold so you don't drop the temp of your meat during treatment.
  • Probably a lot more effective than heat on surfaces since you can keep it in contact for much longer without degrading the product.
  • Another geeky product to own

I use a Lotus sanitizing thingy I got at Costco to make Ozone-activated water. I mostly use it for cleaning, but also use it for washing game that has been given to me and some veggies of unknown origins. For the truly obsessed you can get a small unit from a few sources that goes under the sink and dispenses Ozone-activated water at the sink like one of those hot water spigots. Do I think anyone would bother? I would because I already have one of these things. It's an option.

My soup looked like an above ground pool in a bad neighborhood.

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