Jan
18

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Meat Grinders – Meat Money Maker

Owning a meat grinder is a great way to save money on your food bill – which let’s face it isn’t likely falling.  In fact, there’s a good chance you can pay for the addition of the grinder to your household the first time you use it – and that is a pretty incredible payback.

#32 hand cranked meat grinder - simplicity and durability

#32 hand cranked meat grinder – simplicity and durability

You’ll often see bigger cuts of meat, beef and pork roasts and whole turkeys selling on special for a fraction of what ground meat costs.  While you could make a paying proposition of simply grinding up these cuts instead of buying ground meat there is an even more lucrative possibility.  I like to cut up roasts into thick steaks and chops and then trim off the parts that will be extra fatty or gristly – you know the parts that would otherwise end up being left on the plate.   I wrap the steaks or chops in a good butcher paper and toss the trimmings in ziplock bags and everything goes in one of my freezers.  Then once a year I’ll grind and process all of the accumulated trimmings.

When it comes to the turkeys, which can be offered up at crazy low prices to induce Thanksgiving and Christmas shoppers to visit one retailer or another I trim the breasts off first and wrap those to use in place of chicken breasts.  Then once the breasts are off I like to cut off the easy to remove meat for grinding, and then toss the carcass(s) into a big pot with a bit of water and boil them down.  I like to use a reciprocating saw to cut the turkey skeletons up so that I can cram more into one pot.  Once the carcasses have been cooked cool them down and then strip the remaining meat off of the carcass and then pressure can the meat and broth for cooking and easy hearty soups.  I usually freeze the cooled fat rather than can it and then add it after.

#12 Electric Meat Grinder

#12 Electric Meat Grinder

So a meat grinder makes a great fit into an active home kitchen – given this what are some realistic options.  Well the lowest cost entry point is a tinned cast iron hand cranked grinder, they are a bulletproof design, and are very affordable.  I’ve had one of the smaller ones – a #10 (about $30) and it did a good job, but while it is bulletproof and easy to crank it is limited in terms of throughput.  One advantage is that it can be clamped on a counter – as long as your counter isn’t something that mars easily.  I found this grinder too small for my purposes – but then I tend to do big batches in a single go.

I now have the largest of the hand cranked cast iron grinder, a #32 – which costs about $40. It requires a solid mounting to a working surface – usually by bolting them down, so it probably isn’t something you are going to be affixing to your kitchen counter.  I generally bolt it to the surface of a workmate portable workbench which I then need to hold down with some of my weight applied with one of my feet while cranking.  It does a great job but certainly does give a good workout.  If you are smaller you might want to opt for the medium size #22 which like the #32 needs to be bolted to a work surface.

There are #32 grinders which come with big pulleys in addition to the crank.  If you’ve got a bit of space this might be a good option – bolting the grinder and a big electric motor (a Harbor Freight farm or compressor duty motor would be my choice) to a solid work surface.  This would combine the last a lifetime or two design of the cast iron mill, the capacity of the #32 and the advantages of electric grinding with hand crank back up.  But you’ve got to have the space to store a setup of this size.

#32 meat grinder left and #12 grinder right with the plates in front showing size difference

#32 meat grinder left and #12 grinder right with the plates in front showing size difference

On the electric grinder front, I’ve got a #12 Kitchener brand grinder which features a 400 watt motor. This is a pretty good home size grinder – I’ve done a lot of grinding on it, but it definitely isn’t a professional or industrial model.  The construction is solid, but you can hear the motor laboring at points and it needs to be shut off an cooled periodically to avoid overheating.   Now, it’s priced right – this brand and similar models run about $70, they have a pretty good throughput rate, and it doesn’t require any mounting to counters or work surfaces, but while I’ve been using it for about three years now I’d be surprised if it end up being handed down to my kids.  I know my #32 hand cranked unit will be still going strong for my great grand kids.

I’ve also seen small grinders that are mostly plastic and use suction mounting to attach them to a counter.  I haven’t used one of these, but even the #10 sized mill needs to be solidly attached to the end of a counter with the pretty strong built in clamp.  Since I have used apple grinders that feature the same suction mounting and had them move around I can’t believe these will do anything more than waste your $25 and frustrate you – if you are looking for something on the smaller size go for a #10 cast iron mill, or one of the electrical ones.

What about one of the mill attachments for your stand mixer?  Since they are similarly sized to the electric grinder I have my reasoned guess would be that they would be pretty good buy you’d have to watch the motor and ensure that you shut things off and let it cool unless you really do have a heavy duty mixer.

In terms of incorporating these into you food strategy, I usually spend part of a day or two once a year grinding the meat trimmings I’ve accumulated in the freezer from cutting up beef, pork and venison and making them into burgers and fresh and cured sausages.  Another day gets spent grinding up those discount turkeys and then canning cases of stock that result.

Check out the price of these meat products in your grocery or butcher shop and it should be clear that this is a strategy that can not only add capacity to your home but save loads of money.

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Harbor Freight Dehydrator – all things considered a good value

Dehydrator tray of tomatoes

Dehydrator tray of tomatoes

Among the food preservation techniques dehydration has to be one of the easiest, and that alone should merit it’s incorporation into your household, and the dehydrators sold by Harbor Freight offer a reasonable entry point to do just that.

I’ll say right now – these five tray units run about $20 when coupons and the frequent specials get figured in.  That’s cheap.  Now the current models aren’t anything fancy – just basically a 125 Watt heating element in the bottom, five plastic trays and a top.  The previous model which featured a fan and a turntable type setup for the trays was about the same price, but in my experience does and equally OK job.

Current HF dehydrator, and previous model (L & R)

Current HF dehydrator, and previous model (L & R)

Now, it appears some folks have received units that overheated pretty much at startup.  I’ve never had that happen but you’d probably do well to start it up for the first time during a period where you could observe it and if problems happen bring it back and swap it for another one.  The other issue has to do with the durability of the trays.  To be sure these trays are fragile – you have to treat them carefully or they will break.  BUT, this is a $20 dehydrator.  Spend five times as much and you can get the bottom of the line Excalabur… or you can build one easily enough, but even that approach is likely to run you more than $20 not factoring in your time.

I have a really big homebuild dehydrator – but it only really gets called out when we’re in prime harvest season.  Otherwise one or both of my Harbor Freight dehydrators are going to be doing the work for me.  During the summer that is often drying tomatoes or zucchini for fall soups and dressings.  In the fall and winter more often than not they are drying apple slices we’ve peeled, sliced and frozen or making apple leather from some of the apple sauce we’ve put down.  It doesn’t take much time to pay off the $20 investment when you are making dried fruit.

So if you don’t have a dehydrator or want another one consider the Harbor Freight units – they aren’t fancy, they aren’t really solid but the price factor means they possess significant value.

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Tattler Reusable Canning Lids – Great But Tricky

Tattler Reusable Canning Lids

Tattler Reusable Canning Lids

I’ve been canning for years – small batches when I lived with my parents that then grew to be a bit larger when I got out on my own, and by a bit I mean I’d do things like I’d use my big outdoor gas burner and converted stainless steel keg to make 10 gallons of marmalade, jam, canned fruit or other preserves whenever some product became available for a great price.  Enough to share with friends and family and last a couple of years.

All of that processing was boiling water bath canning and quite often I would reuses the rubber gasketed steel lids for several batches – until it appeared that they were deteriorating or they failed to seal.  That worked very well for me and saw a minimum of new lids purchased every year.

Tattler lid and gasket on a jar of apple pectin

Tattler lid and gasket on a jar of apple pectin

But then I picked up an All-American pressure canner – the really big one.  It’s a great tool and has been great for making homemade low cost convenience foods.  The value derived from being able to can up turkey stock alone has been huge.

However, there is no way that you can reuse a metal lid from a pressure canned jar.  The vacuum is so great that inevitably they are bent enough that the risk of failure were they to be reused is great enough that it makes more sense to recycle them once the jar has been emptied.  Doing that saw me needing to buy quite a few boxes of lids.  That’s when I decided to try Tattler lids.

Tattler lids are basically a modern incarnation of the old glass lids with rubber gaskets – reusable time and again even after pressure canning.

So, what’s my verdict after about five years of using them?  Great but there is definitely a learning curve associated with their use.  They aren’t as easy to use as conventional metal lids – but once you get a feel for how to use them your failure to seal rate should be pretty close with either boiling water bath or pressure canning methods.

Check out the video for more on my preferred technique.  But until you get the process down I’d suggest you continue to do batches with the majority of the jars topped with metal lids to reduce your frustration.

There is no mistaking a jar properly sealed with a tattler lid

There is no mistaking a jar properly sealed with a tattler lid

Some folks have complained about the lack of ease in figuring out if the jar is sealed – sure you can’t push on the top of the lid and see if it has been sucked down but if you remove the ring you’ll see very quickly if the jar is sealed.  Really the danger is if the jar looks to be sealed but isn’t – that isn’t a problem with the Tattler lids – even with boiling water bath canned one litre jars the vacuum is great enough to allow you to hold the lid and suspend the jar – there is no guessing needed.  It is readily apparent if the jar is or isn’t sealed.

In terms of price – well I bought my first case of lids [and I have standardized with regular mouth masons jars] at regular price directly from Tattler and they do pay for themselves very quickly if pressure canning – less so if you are boiling water bath canning and can reuse the metal lids.  After getting hooked on them Tattler had a crazy special where they were offering their lids for around half price – and that’s when I purchased a couple of bulk bags of lids and gaskets – so I expect that I’ll be using Tattler lids for the the rest of my canning life.

Now I can principally with the Tattler lids – the steel tops are reserved for jars which will be given away with no expectation of return.

If you probably should give Tattler lids a try – play around with them a bit and I am pretty sure you’ll end up hooked on them.