Charcuterie For Dummies
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Meat grinders are machines designed specifically to break pieces of meat and fat into smaller pieces by forcing them through a metal plate with several small holes. Sausage in its most basic iteration is simply ground meat with seasoning; in USDA terms, it’s a non-intact meat product. You can choose from several different types of meat grinders.

Several factors come into play when grinding sausage, and you will need to take them into consideration to ensure the best results.

  • Sanitation: You want to make sure you don’t make yourself or anyone else sick. To reduce the chances of this happening, before you get started, you should thoroughly wash your hands, and clean your work area and all equipment that you will be using to grind your sausage. Chapter 1 contains a great deal of information on proper hygiene and sanitation; take a gander if you haven’t already!
  • Temperature control: Your meat mixture needs to be kept as cold as possible (without freezing). This is to control the growth of bacteria and to ensure that the fats in your meat mixture don’t begin to smear. Smearing won’t hurt you, but the meat doesn’t look as pretty at the end of the process.

To drop the temperature of the meat, try putting it into the freezer for 10 to 20 minutes before grinding.

  • Proper seasoning: Nothing is worse than swollen hands and fingers after a night of eating salty foods — or maybe even worse, singing Johnny Cash the morning after a run-in with an overly spicy meal!
  • Protein-to-fat ratio: I love full-flavored food just as much as the next guy, but nobody wants a sausage that is 50 percent fat — even folks on the keto diet.

Meat preparations

Before you can grind your meat, you need to prepare it. You will first need to determine your protein-to-fat ratio. Typical sausages are 70 percent lean, meaning that the total weight of the sausage is 70 percent protein and 30 percent fat. You can have a sausage that is 60 percent lean, but it will definitely be a fatty sausage. I suggest that you start by making your sausages 80 percent lean for a couple of reasons:
  • Leaner sausages render less fat when cooked. Rendering is a technical way to say “melting.” When you render fat, you lose mass. Naturally, a sausage that renders less fat will be more substantial in size when it is cooked.
  • Fat provides flavor and retains flavorings. Fat also provides that juicy texture — that is, when you cook your sausage right.
To calculate an 80-percent-protein to 20-percent-fat ratio, you will multiply the total weight of your batch by the percent of protein and fat, respectively. For example,
10 lbs. of sausage at a ratio of 80/20 =

(.8 * 10 lbs.) = 8 lbs. protein

(.2 * 10 lbs.) = 2 lbs. fat

Once you have calculated the amount of protein and fat that you want, you need to portion them out separately to ensure you have the correct ratio. For ultimate precision, you will need to trim fat from your protein using a knife. However, many recipes will allow you to substitute pork belly for fat because of its high fat content.

Before you grind, you will need to break down your protein and fat into pieces small enough to fit into your grinder. This is a good time to separate the fat from the protein for your recipe. The following figure illustrates a reasonably sized chunk of meat in relation to the size of the grinder hopper opening.

grinder hopper Photo by David Pluimer

Meat sized for the grinder hopper opening.

Grinding is a very intense mechanical process that generates a lot of heat through friction. As a result, it’s important to break your meat down into smaller pieces to reduce the amount each piece is worked by the grinder; this will reduce the amount of heat-producing friction during grinding.

Spices are the spice of life

When measuring spices and ingredients for your sausage recipes, you can opt to use volume measures (cups, tablespoons, teaspoons, and so on) or weights (pounds, ounces, and grams). The most precise recipes will rely on weights that are relative to the weight of your protein and fat. Volumes can be deceiving because of the size and shape of the ingredients. For example, kosher salt is less dense than sea salt, and so a tablespoon of kosher salt is much less salt than a tablespoon of sea salt. However, 10 grams of kosher salt is the same amount of salt as 10 grams of sea salt. For precision, all of the measures are in grams, and calculated by percent of protein and fat mass.

Using recipes that rely on weight measures will make it easier to modify those recipes by increasing or decreasing the weights.

There are several schools of thought on when ingredients should be added to your protein and fat. I suggest that you add dry ingredients prior to grinding. This is because as the mixture is ground, it is also mixing, and this helps ensure that you have a more even distribution of ingredients throughout the meat mixture. For this reason, all ingredients will need to be measured before you can start grinding. The figure shows meat and ingredients prior to grinding.

meat and spices for grinding Photo by David Pluimer

Meat and ingredients prior to mixing and grinding.

Wet ingredients are always incorporated after the meat mixture is ground. Water, vinegar, wine, fruit juices, and so on will blend into a ground meat mixture and not wash off.

Time to grind

You’re going to get tired of hearing this, but I’ll say it anyway: Temperature control is of the utmost importance! Meat grinding produces heat through friction, but cold meat is safer and less likely to smear when grinding. An additional step that you can take to avoid temperature increases is to place your grinder hopper (with the worm, knife, plate, and locking ring installed) in the freezer prior to grinding. After the assembly is freezing cold, you can connect it to the grinder once you’re ready to start grinding.

The size of the holes in the plate on your grinder will determine how coarse or fine your grind is. The following figure shows a comparison of different plates. If you intend to have a fine grind, you will want to start with a plate that has larger-diameter holes and then re-grind with a plate that has smaller-diameter holes. This approach will get you a fine grind with less friction along the way. Your recipe will dictate the grind and size of plates that you use.

grinder plates Photo by David Pluimer

Plates with holes of different diameters.

A word about safety: Grinders are powerful machines that can cause severe bodily harm when not used appropriately. Your electric grinder should have a meat tray, a guard of some sort around and over the hopper opening (see A), and a stuffing tool (see B). Never stick your hand or fingers into the hopper. It is very easy for your fingers to get drawn down inside, and finger sausage is gross and very painful to make. Make sure you never use your fingers to stuff a meat mixture into the grinder. Instead, use the stuffing tool, and rely on the guard for extra safety.

Grinder hopper guard and stuffing tool Photo by David Pluimer

Grinder hopper guard and stuffing tool.

Just prior to grinding, combine your dry ingredients with your meat and fat mixture. Thoroughly mix them until all the dry ingredients are adhering to the mixture. Then power on your grinder and start carefully running the mixture through the grinder. After your mixture has been ground, hand-mix it for a minute or two. Proteins contain a compound called myocin that will help bind your ground mixture. Mixing by hand for a couple of minutes will help activate it. When you are finished mixing by hand, cover the mixture with some plastic wrap and refrigerate it overnight.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Mark LaFay is a tenured entrepreneur. He started two successful businesses in the music industry, and he is the co-founder of Lectio and Roust. Mark is also the author of Chromebook for Dummies.

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