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What is a Meat Grinder?

Mary McMahon
Updated Jan 25, 2024
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A meat grinder is a piece of kitchen equipment which is designed to grind meat into segments of uniform size. People are probably familiar with hamburger meat, a common product of the meat grinder, but these tools are also used to grind meats for sausages, meat loaves, and similar products. Incidentally, many butchers are happy to custom-grind meats for customers who ask, and you may find the freshly ground meat tastes better when used. They can also be used for things other than meats, like nuts and some vegetables.

The basic operating principle of the meat grinder has remained the same since it was developed in the 19th century by German inventor Karl Drais. The meat is forced through a metal plate which is punched with numerous small holes. As the meat is extruded, it takes the form of long, thin threads of meat which can be further broken up into chunks. It is possible to change the fineness of the grind by switching plates, from very fine to quite coarse.

The earliest meat grinders were hand cranked, and some smaller meat grinders are still designed to be operated by hand. However, commercial meat grinders are electric; this is vital when processing large amounts of meat, as otherwise one's hand could become quite tired. In addition to being used to grind a single type of meat, a meat grinder can also process mixed meats, ensuring that they are uniformly combined, as it often the case with sausages.

Many meat grinders have a sausage making attachment. To make sausage with a meat grinder, people attach the casings to the sausage making plate and then force the meat through the plate into the casings. Periodically, the casings may be twisted to create individual sausage links which can later be cut apart.

Ground meat is extremely useful, but meat grinders can be dangerous. When using a meat grinder, always keep extremities and hair clear of the device, as it is possible to get caught and badly injured. It is also important to remember that ground meat is an ideal environment for bacteria, since so many exposed surfaces are created. Ground meat should always be cooked very thoroughly, and a meat grinder should be meticulously cleaned after use to prevent contamination. The use of very hot water and bleach or a similar strong disinfectant is highly recommended.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments
By literally45 — On Jul 27, 2014

I have an electric meat grinder at home and it works great. It's fast, it has several settings and it's easy to clean. I eat kosher meat and I don't eat pork. So I find it easiest and safest to grind my meat at home. I make some great homemade sausage.

By fBoyle — On Jul 26, 2014

@SarahGen-- Well, I'm sure that the electric meat grinders used by butchers require extensive cleaning as well. I think the risk of contamination from old meat and bacteria exists for those grinders as well. Of course, a professional butcher will take care of this and clean the grinder every day and prepare it for next day's grinding.

I have my meat ground with an electric grinder at the store too. I've discovered that freshly ground meat tastes much, much better. I wouldn't bother with a meat grinder at home because the professional ones at the store has more settings for how finely ground the meat should be. And it's not like they ask a fee to grind the meat, so why bother?

By SarahGen — On Jul 26, 2014

When I was a child, my father had a hand cranked meat grinder that he used to make ground beef for hamburgers and sausages. It was fairly easy to use and sometimes he would let me and my brother crank it too, so we could see how it worked. But I remember that the grinder was terribly difficult to clean. Almost the entire thing had to be taken apart and cleaned thoroughly with a brush and dish washing liquid. Otherwise, small bits of meat would remain inside the grinder and in the little holes.

We eventually stopped using this type of grinder because of the issues with cleaning and worries about hygiene. My dad just had the butcher do it for him from the cut of meat that he would select.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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