Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Save Money Today: Grind Your Own Hamburger

I finally did it. I made my own hamburger.

This is not ground-breaking news; our great-grandmothers did this all the time. Nevertheless, it is a timely topic given the current worldwide economic situation. Let's face it: groceries are getting more expensive.

But Why?

My incentive was purely an economical decision. Over the last 12 months, the best price on 85% lean ground beef has been around $2.59 US per pound at my local warehouse club, where I have to buy at least 5 pounds, bring it home, portion it out and freeze. I don't mind doing that--it allows me to do additional meal prep such as making meatballs or hamburger patties, forming meat loaves and even pre-cooking some ground beef for those nights I really need to get a meal on the table in a jiffy. (Believe me--it really helps avoid fast food lines!)

But I still think $2.59 per pound is high. Higher fat varieties weren't much cheaper. We're not talking about great cuts of meat, here, either. And most store-bought hamburger meat is a mixture of leftover bits from various parts of the animal--or animals. The thought of my nice tray of ground beef coming from several animals sort of skeeves me out. It just seems wrong.

As I perused my local grocery ads, the meat prices for cheaper cuts seem to be soaring! $3.99 per pound for a chuck roast? That can't be right. Then I found angus top round for $1.99 per pound. Angus. Pre-ground angus hamburger is way more expensive than $2.59 a pound!

A light bulb came on somewhere in my head.

Top round is a relatively lean cut of beef--around 15% fat. And it can be ground (well, chopped, really) in the food processor, so there was no need to purchase another piece of equipment. And I found this SF Gate article online that told me how to do it. All I needed was time.

I've got lots of that.

The Process

So I bought my roast--about 3.25 pounds for a first try. I sliced it down in about 1-inch widths, then cut those slices into 1-inch strips. The strips, in turn, were cut down into 1-inch cubes. I refrigerated the meat cubes for about 30 minutes before continuing (along with the blade from my food processor) to make sure everything stayed as cold as possible.

A few sudoku puzzles later I was ready to get dirty. After retrieving everything from the fridge and assembling my ancient food processor, I dumped in 2-cup portions and pulsed (about 2-second bursts on high power) about 15 pulses per batch for a relatively uniform medium dice. Occasionally I found larger bits of fat that stuck together--I just took my chef's knife to those.

The Result

It looks like store-bought ground beef. It smells fresh. It fries up well and made for a great ragu. The texture was not exactly like store-bought--it was certainly more of a coarse-grind mouth-feel that was nice in the ragu. I can't wait to try it in a hamburger patty! Plus it was made from superior-quality meat purchased on sale.

But Is It Worth It?

For this first-try batch I selected a very small roast, so pound-for-pound I really saved very little in comparison to the $2.59 I could have spent on store-prepared ground meat (though not angus)--especially if you consider the hour I spent cutting & processing the meat, including the 30-minute chilling/quality sudoku puzzling time. However now that I know how to do this, I'll be buying larger roasts to process into hamburger meat, thus increasing my savings. Mr.W and I are also discussing the possibility of a kitchenaid meat-grinding attachment for a finer product.

And while it's true that my time is valuable, when you're trying to leave more cash in your wallet, one often has to put in extra effort to make up the difference. I don't mind that at all. The care and effort I put into preparing a superior product to feed myself and my friends and family is worth it to me.

Not to mention the fact that I can customize freshly made ground meat for a higher-end product, such as adding chopped vidalia onion or prosciutto for a little something special.

Die-hard frugalites could also add meat stretchers in with the grind, such as cooked (and cooled) lentils or brown rice.

Have you ever ground (or processed) your own hamburger meat? Share your tips in the comments section below.


Kathy said...

Very interesting - I love the step-by-step description and photos. I have never tried this myself but have wondered about it. Let me know if you ever decide to try the meat grinder attachment.

Amanda said...

Thanks, Kathy.

After pricing a number of meat grinders online and locally, it seems most prudent to go the kitchenaid attachment route. Those old-fashioned hand crank models look fantastic, but it occurred to me that we don't have any counter to clamp it to in my pint-sized kitchen! Plus it's about the same price--under $50. Ya gotta love motorized grindability!

Lulu said...

Wow...guess I'm going to have to rename you Sam the Butcher! Haha! I am so very impressed!

Amanda said...

@Lulu - Sam the Butcher I am, then! :) I love it--my grandfather is a retired butcher, as a matter of fact.

Joy @ Joy Of Desserts said...

Your post is nicely done with the photos and directions. Nice that you were able to find beef for such a low price.

Amanda said...

Well thank you, Miz Joy! I had fun writing this post--and playing with all that roast! It was very relaxing to do.

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