Somewhere in the recesses of my grandmother’s cellar is an ancient hand-crank meat grinder. I am reminded of this because it’s a piece of equipment I saw often on the barbecue trail, and when it comes to grinding meat for burgers and koftas, nothing can beat it (or its motorized cousins).
The reason is simple. Inside the meat grinder is a cross-shaped blade that rotates against a perforated metal plate. Together, they function like a knife on a cutting board. The grinder cleanly chops the meat into tiny pieces, just as a well-wielded knife or cleaver would do.
Hard-core grill buffs may wish to invest in their own motorized or hand-crank meat grinder or a meat grinder attachment for another appliance, such as a KitchenAid mixer.
How different is the food processor, today’s high-tech answer to the meat grinder. A food processor tears and mashes the meat instead of chopping it. The result tends to be mushy and stringy, with a spongy, uneven texture.
GRINDING IN A FOOD PROCESSOR
If you wish to grind your own meat, and must use a food processor, be sure it’s fitted with a metal chopping blade. First cut the meat into 1/2-inch dice. Do not fill the processor bowl more than one quarter full. Run the machine in short bursts. Following these three simple steps will give you ground meat, not mush
THE fat factor
Two other factors determine the flavor and succulence of your grilled ground meat: the cut of meat and the fat content. In general, you want to use a flavorful cut of meat: shoulder when it comes to pork or lamb chuck, round, or sirloin for beef.
You need a certain amount of fat to keep ground meat succulent. Turks use as much as 30 percent fat in their ground lamb kebabs. This may seem excessive to health-conscious North Americans, but remember that fat carries flavor and it bastes the meat as it cooks (and some of the fat will melt out during cooking). For the recipes in this chapter, I recommend a fat content of 15 to 20 percent to keep ground meat dishes moist and tender.
The fat content of ground beef is usually marked on the package at the supermarket (ground sirloin is leaner than ground round or chuck). When in doubt about fat content, ask your butcher.
By the way, in Turkey, Azerbaijan, and other Near East countries, the preferred fat for making kebabs is lamb tail fat. If you live near a neighborhood with a Muslim butcher, you may be able to buy this flavorful fat.
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