May is National Hamburger Month

Posted at 12:27 PM, May 31, 2013
and last updated 2013-05-31 12:28:55-04

By Emily Smith, CNN

(CNN) — May – also known as National Hamburger Month – might be coming to an end, but grilling season is just firing up. Sure, you could buy your patties preformed, but why not impress your charcoal-loving chums with freshly ground patties of your own? Not only are freshly ground burgers delicious, it’s a heck of a lot easier to control what goes in them.

The trickiest part about grinding meat at home is that you need special equipment, not to mention some forethought. Most stand mixers have optional meat grinding attachments, and some larger food processors have meat grinding blades. There are also hand-crank versions if you want to go old-school.

As for the forethought, the key to good ground meat is that everything involved has to be very, very cold – including the equipment. You can achieve this a few different ways: Freeze the meat you’re going to grind, whole and in its original packaging, for at least three hours. Or, you can cut up the meat, arrange it on a metal baking sheet, cover that with plastic wrap and put that in the freezer. (The second option only takes about an hour to freeze.)

Not only does this step protect against bacterial growth, but frozen meat grinds much better than thawed meat. It’s like trying to grate fresh mozzarella; it’s easier to do when the cheese has been in the freezer for 10 minutes.

What you end up grinding is up to you – whether it’s beef, pork, chicken, turkey or fish. If you’re grinding fish, make sure you use a firm, meaty fish like swordfish as flaky fish doesn’t work as well.

Another thing to keep in mind about grinding meat for burgers — something needs to hold the meat together. That something is usually fat. An 80/20 beef cut won’t need additional fat, but lean turkey or chicken will. Bacon (what else?) is an excellent way to add some fat and flavor to the ground meat.

The ground meat should also be seasoned right before it’s divided into individual patties. Salting the meat before you freeze it will change its texture because salt draws out water.

You can also kick up the flavor by toasting and grinding spices, garlic or onion into the meat, or by adding some Worcestershire or soy sauce.