At first blush, the idea of grinding your own hamburger may feel like a lot of effort, especially since commercial ground beef is so easy to come by.
The Case for Grinding Your Own Burger Meat
Published May 16, 2023.
But burgers made from the preground stuff are never all that they could be. Store-bought burger meat is ground fine and packaged tightly, so the meat gets compacted, which can lead to dense patties that are also tough. What’s more, the chuck roast that’s typically used in commercial ground beef isn’t particularly flavorful or juicy.
Biting into a burger freshly ground from a carefully chosen whole cut (or multiple cuts) is an altogether different experience. The meat is intensely beefy and ultra-juicy, and because you can control the size of the grind and pack the meat loosely into patties, it’s so tender that it falls apart at the slightest pressure. The coarse grind and loose formation also lead to a craggy surface that crisps deliciously during cooking and collects juices (and burger sauces) in its nooks and crannies.
The best part? Grinding your own burger meat is so easy that you don’t even need a meat grinder—with a bit of strategy, a food processor works just fine.
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Making the Best Burger Meat Blend
To create his Best Old-Fashioned Burgers, former Cook’s Illustrated test cook J. Kenji Lopez-Alt ground over a dozen different cuts of meat and asked tasters to rate each sample on flavor and juiciness.
The winner for beefiness? Sirloin steak tips, also known as flap meat. This cut has since become our go-to base for DIY burger blends—in addition to its deep savoriness, flap meat is decently tender and requires virtually no trimming before grinding, unlike chuck, which contains a lot of sinewy connective tissue.
Steak tips’ only shortcoming? It’s a relatively lean cut that could benefit from some extra richness. The easy solve: Just add an additional fat source to the burger blend.
In his Best Old-Fashioned Burgers, Kenji uses a blend of both flap meat and unctuous, well-marbled boneless beef short ribs.
And in our recipes for grilled burgers and juicy pub-style burgers, we add a few tablespoons of butter to the meat before we shape it into patties.
How to Grind Meat in a Food Processor
The rough action of a food processor can grind the meat too finely, overworking it and releasing lots of myosin, a sticky protein that binds the meat and makes for burgers that are springy, rather than tender. Large chunks of meat can also get caught up in the blade. Here’s how we got around those issues.
1. Cut your beef (and butter, if making our grilled burgers) into 1-inch chunks. This keeps the meat from jamming the blade and also helps ensure the food processor will chop the ingredients evenly.
2. Freeze the beef (and cubed butter) until they’re very firm and starting to harden around the edges, about 15-25 minutes. This keeps the meat from being smeared around the processor bowl and aids in creating coarse chunks.
3. Working in batches, place the chunks in the food processor and pulse until coarsely ground. Be sure to stop and redistribute the meat around the bowl to ensure the chunks are evenly ground.
How to Shape Your Home-Ground Burgers
1. Spread the ground meat over a baking sheet and inspect it. You want to discard any long strands of gristle or any large chunks of hard meat or fat. Drizzle with melted butter, if making our pub-style burger, and gently toss with fork to combine.
2. Shape the meat into patties. Without lifting or compressing, gently form meat into patties with rough edges and a textured surface.
Now that you’ve got your home-ground meat on deck, proceed with your favorite burger cookery method—or opt to follow our full recipes below.