Several years ago, when I read the newspaper about the latest E.Coli outbreak in hamburger, I decided it was time to take matters into my own hands. During my investigation I found that the E.Coli is a common bacteria found in the intestines of healthy beef (and humans, by the way). It is during the butchering process that the E. Coli can get spread throughout the beef.
E. coli O157:H7 and E. coli O104:H4 are two strains of the deadly bacteria that belong to a family of bacteria that’s evolved since the 1960s. Scientists believe E. coli and another bacteria, shigella, swapped genes, creating a form of E. coli that puts off the dangerous shiga toxin. This toxin is what can kill you.
However, one way to protect yourself against E. Coli is to grind your own hamburger! Of course, it’s impossible to know if the meat you are grinding has or has not been contaminated by the bacterium. However, if you simply rinse the piece of meat very well in cold water BEFORE you grind it into hamburger, the likelihood that you will contaminate the ground beef with the E.Coli is much less! Once your beef has been ground, it should be used immediately, frozen or canned, to prevent any of the possible bacteria that may have slipped through from reproducing.
When I grind beef, I like to use cuts that are leaner, but really any cut of beef that is on sale is good. Sometimes I even buy the ones that are marked down because their expiration date is getting close! It’s okay – the beef is still perfectly sound, though it may have lost it’s blood red “bloom” because of the packaging. Bring the meat home and immediately put it in the refrigerator, still in it’s package, and then prepare your equipment. I like to bleach my cutting board and rinse with hot water before I put meat on it, and I have a specific cutting board that I use only for meat! Make sure your knives and bowls are squeeky clean also!
First, wash the meat with cold water and wash it well. This will remove quite a few of the bacteria that may be clinging to the surface of the meat. Next, cut off any fat, gristle or icky things you don’t want in your hamburger. I just hate seeing those big blood vessels and cut them out. I know they are perfectly edible, but it’s just a thing with me! Of course, you have to leave a little fat if you are making hamburgers, but if you are going to just brown the meat or make a meatloaf, you can put in as little or as much fat as you want! I go very lean with mine. Then, cut the meat into strips. Since I am using my KitchenAid with the handy-dandy meat grinder, I cut the meat into a size that will fit easily into the chute. At this point, if I am not ready to devote my time to making hamburger and then cooking, freezing, or canning it (someday) right away, I will take a clean cookie sheet and line up the meat strips on it and flash freeze. Then I can store the meat strips in a freezer bag or container for a day when I have more time to process the meat. If I am dealing with several packages of meat at a time (which I usually do), I only cut up and process one at a time, leaving the others to stay cold in the refrigerator.
Now comes the messy part!
Fair warning: To prevent blood from spattering out, I have devised a wonderful shield that protects my clothes, the countertop, the ceiling and the floor – a paper towel secured with a rubber band! Seriously! if you are using a KitchenAid meat grinder such as mine, the blood has a tendency to spatter everywhere, so take heed! The first time I did this I had on a white blouse. Believe me, you don’t want to do this in a white blouse. Put the dog and cat outside, secure the children and wear your least favorite clothing! Oh, and if you really push hard on the meat going into the hopper with the plunger, it can splatter at least 10 feet! No kidding! So, either use my great invention or drape something (CLEAN kitchen towel) over the grinder end.
Push the meat into the chute with the plunger thingy (I don’t remember what the official name is, but you know what I mean) and not your fingers! The meat will come out of the grinder part spitting and splattering, then down into your bowl.
If you are processing a lot of meat, have another clean bowl waiting. It doesn’t take long at all to grind the hamburger. I can grind five pounds of beef into hamburger in less than five minutes! But, if you are grinding more than five pounds, beware of the gristle/tendon/icky trap on the cutter blade – especially if you are using a Kitchen Aid with the grinder attachment! This thing gets all clogged up and you will need to clean it about every 4 or 5 pounds of meat that you are grinding.
Once your hamburger is ground you need to process it further. I like to take some of the hamburger and brown it in a skillet for future meals – tacos, enchiladas, soup, chili – so once it’s browned and then cooled, I make meal sized packets and freeze it. It is so much easier to brown your own ground hamburger right out of the bowl because it is – well – fluffy! I couldn’t think of a better word for it, but you know how the store bought hamburger comes in this chunk that you have to break apart with a fork as it browns? Well when you grind your own it isn’t packed down, which makes it so much easier to brown in a sauce pan. In fact, all you have to do is stir it a little bit here and there!
Another use for the hamburger is – duh – hamburgers! I like to add in the spices and one or two egg whites (I like to make lean hamburger, and the egg white helps the hamburger stick together when cooking) before making them into patties. I try to touch the ground meat as little as possible, so I really like using my hamburger press for this. I just spoon it into the press, squish it into a patty, then dump it onto a cookie sheet that is lined with parchment paper. I flash freeze them on the cookie sheet, then vacuum pack them two by two in my sucky machine (aka Food Saver) with a piece of parchment in-between.
Another favorite use for my ground beef is to make meatloaf! MMMmmmmmm…………meatloaf! I take about 1-1/2 pounds of ground beef and use my favorite recipe to make small “just our size” meatloafs for my hubby and I! These meatloafs are big enough to eat for dinner and then have a meatloaf sandwich the next day! I form them into mounds, place them on a cookie sheet and flash freeze these also, followed by vacuum sealing. This size freezes quickly, thaws quickly in the refrigerator, and cooks in less than an hour! Sometimes, if I have an extra pork chop or chicken breast, I will grind that up with the beef also!
This method has worked well for me. I have a freezer-full of potential meals that will take less time to prepare since the beef has been already browned, meatloaf that is waiting to be thawed and baked, and hamburgers ready for the grill. The best part is that I am saving money and making my food as safe as I can for my family.
My next trick with the hamburger is learning how to can it. I have been reading through the blogosphere on how to can hamburger and it looks fairly easy. I think. If you have ever canned hamburger and have written about it, please leave a note in the comments so I can find you! Thanks!
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