By Jeremy Berger
on 10.11.12
Photo by E. Yang

Ground beef has fallen on hard times in the public eye. It started with the October 3, 2009 New York Times cover story, “The Burger That Shattered Her Life” about a woman infected by E. coli from a frozen Cargill burger patty. Since then: more stories, many recalls, and debates about the safety of “pink slime,” or lean finely textured beef.

Ground beef is inherently more vulnerable to bacteria — more surface area, more exposure to machinery, and, it turns out, less information about its provenance. Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) laws in the U.S. do not govern processed meats. Just last month several grocery store chains in the U.S. recalled ground beef originating in Alberta, Canada. The recalled Canadian beef was sold under the house label at places like Wal-Mart and Safeway.

So can we still eat burgers?

The short answer is yes — don’t throw out tonight’s dinner. The longer answer is that we’ve all got to be a little bit more careful about buying ground beef. The best case scenario, and the one that makes the best burgers, is grinding the beef at home. Continuing our Month of Beef, we got the step-by-step for making the perfect burger patty from beef pro Pat LaFrieda of Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors.

Ground rules after the jump.

As you know from our round-up of online meat purveyors, LaFrieda is something of a macher in the meat world. His family has been selling wholesale in New York for the better part of a century and is best known for providing ground beef to some of the region’s best restaurants and burger joints. He suggests buying ground beef marked with the USDA logo, or, even better, making it fresh at home. Here’s how.

Blend It

“A combination of different cuts is what makes a great burger. You can make the best hamburger blend at home with three simple cuts. I suggest a piece of brisket. It’s one of my favorite tasting cuts because the fat that separates the two muscles of the brisket is very buttery. The other part would be from the shoulder. In the shoulder you have the chuck and then you have the clod. The combination of those three are basically the backbone of my grandfather’s recipe for ground beef. It’s very simple and inexpensive”.

Grind It

“What I suggest is cutting them [the three cuts] into long strips. This way, when you put them into the food processor attachment, you don’t have to push them down; the augur pulls it all the way through. Cut the meat into strips and put it on a plate in freezer for a few minutes — not to freeze it, just cold enough so the cell integrity is kept intact and it doesn’t turn into a mushy product. Then you want to grind it twice to get a good homogenous look and feel to the meat. The first hole can be as wide as 3/16. The final hole should be 5/32 or slightly larger so you still have some good coarseness to the blend”.

Remember It

“I can still remember going to work with my dad as a kid and smelling the sweetness of American beef mixing in his grinders at 2 or 3 in the morning. He used to pull a little handful out, dust it with some salt, and feed it to me. We didn’t even know what E. coli was”.