Nearly every day that Chef Ashley Pado reports to work, she knows it’s going to be a grind. And THAT is precisely why she came. A self-proclaimed beef queen, Chef Pado holds the reins on the stock pile of beef in storage at the Certified Angus Beef ® Education & Culinary Center, and that includes being responsible for transforming certain whole cuts into ground beef.
Meat grinding is a process that goes back to Germany in the late 1700s, and has, at its core, remained relatively unchanged over the years.
Whole cuts of meat go in one side; ground meat exits the other.
The definition of ground beef is “chopped fresh and/or frozen beef from primal cuts and trimmings.” The maximum fat content in any ground beef is 30% (70% lean) by law. No water, phosphates, binders, or other meat sources may be added and still be labeled as ground beef. If a ground beef label has an added label identifier such as “ground round, sirloin or chuck,” the lean and fat used in the product must come from only the primal included in the name. If a package is labeled simply as “ground beef” or “hamburger,” it has to meet all of the already mentioned requirements with the exception that it may contain fat trimmings from other than the primal sources. ~ Davey Griffin, Meat Specialist, Texas A&M University
But for Chef Ashley and many grocery store butchers at the back of the meat department, home grinders simply won’t cut it. That’s not to say the devices haven’t changed. Once-crude hand-crank devices have been replaced by steel. Some grinders even attach to existing kitchen appliances, making the art of home grinding more accessible.
That’s why she relies on “Chomps,” a 200-pound capacity grinder that’s just a shade smaller than her Volkswagen Beetle. It’s here where the chef’s mastery of meat really comes into play. While the art of grinding is fairly simple, understanding what it takes to produce exactly what her fellow chefs and their guests expect is a different story.
That’s because ground beef can come in a bevy of sorts. Different cuts and grinding attachments used at the start will result in different textures and flavors at the end. What’s the difference between ground chuck, ground sirloin and ground round? The simple answer is fat content – the leanest (ground sirloin) to the most flavorful (ground chuck). While there are minor variations in texture between the three, they’re generally indistinguishable to most palates.
These days, an 80/20 lean-to-fat ratio seems to be the gold standard in ground beef. After all, we know that fat is flavor. Too little of it will leave you with a bland mix; too much and you’ll be cooking in a pool of grease.
Most every grocery store carries basic blends of ground beef – already packaged and ready to buy. But Chef Ashley suggests kicking your eating experience up a notch by having your butcher create an en vogue custom blend.
Her current go-to is an 80/20 chuck-brisket blend, which provides a nice balance of texture and unique flavor profile from the brisket. Some restaurants are offering anything from a beef-lamb blended grind to an entire burger grind made from dry-aged beef.
The moral of the story is: open your mind when it comes to your ground beef.
Sometimes the grind is the best part of your day.