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.
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.
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.
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.