@GRMAGAZINE: Join The Daily Grind

photos courtesy Justin Leveque Photography

(Grand Rapids Magazine June 2012 Issue) — Our first article in Grand Rapids Magazine is out! Subscribers will find the newly redesigned issue in their mailboxes very soon, and the rest can find it on news stands shortly thereafter. For our first topic, we decide to tackle the dreaded "pink slime" debate. After you've read the article, read on for a more in-depth examination of our culinary adventure!

After reading so much about pink slime and wood particles in ground beef, we decide to make our own grind at home. It doesn’t hurt that we’ve got the KitchenAid stand mixer and grinder attachment, though some folks use food processors too.

Over the course of two months, we try different versions of fresh grind at home, all with laudable results. Our first foray, as detailed in Grand Rapids Magazine, is equal amounts of sirloin and chuck roast plus a small amount of duck prosciutto tossed in for good luck. (Or good duck maybe? Yes, we are those people who end up with tidbits of interesting meats and other delicacies in our fridge.)

We keep it simple, seasoning the meat with salt and pepper after forming it into large patties. The end result is a substantial meaty burger with solid beefy flavor. Our guests say it’s one of the best burgers they’ve ever had, though you never know if people are just being polite. I don’t judge it to be the best, but I do think it’s an amazing first attempt. Jeremy finds his burger lacking a bit in flavor, though.

Online research shows that in addition to fat content and marbling, different cuts of beef yield different flavors. So for our second attempt, we go with a ratio of two parts chuck roast to one part sirloin to one part brisket. Though I trim most of the meat, we decide to throw in a few slices of bacon to add a little fat and smoke flavor. All the meat is cubed and put in the freezer for about an hour before grinding. Again, we keep the seasonings simple, using only salt and pepper on each side of the pattied meat. The texture of the meat is much the same as before with a substantial mouthfeel—maybe this is what burgers with no fillers are like? This time, however, the meat really shines with luscious rich beefiness. There’s a hint of bacon, but it isn’t overpowering and it’s so much easier to eat than a couple of stiff slabs of bacon on the burger.

We invite a group of friends over for our third attempt. How fabulous are our friends for being human guinea pigs? We decide to try three grinds for the group to vote on. First, we repeat our two parts chuck to one part sirloin and one part brisket, only this time I don’t trim any fat (not even the thick fat cap on the brisket) and we add a small amount of bacon...less than two slices.

For the second grind, we use two parts chuck to one part sirloin. Again, no trimming on the meat and a bit of bacon added in. These patties are seasoned with a tablespoon of toasted onion powder and one tablespoon of roasted garlic powder (both from Williams Sonoma and outstanding flavor boosters, by the way).

For the final concoction, we try two parts chuck to one part brisket. No fat is trimmed and less than two slices of bacon are added to the grind. Add to this a cup of finely minced Vidalia onion, and both red and orange bell peppers, and de-seeded jalapenos, making it more meatloaf than burger. I always enjoy a plain burger with no silly stuff thrown in, but I want to see how some juicy veg will affect the burger’s flavor.

All the burgers receive a quick dusting of pepper and sea salt, then Jeremy gets to grilling. Poor guy has to keep each burger variation separate on the grill so our guests can taste-test and vote for their fave!

I keep the accompaniments relatively simple, to let the meat take center stage. Onion rolls and whole wheat buns are quickly toasted on the grill for a bit of crunch and flavor. I prep a tray with butter lettuce, thick sliced vine-ripe tomatoes, charred onion slices (hold them together with a skewer if you’re worried about neatness, which I never seem to be), and all the usual condiments. We deliberately do not add cheese, wanting to keep everyone’s palate clean, but I bet a good quality cheddar might send these over the moon.

Burgers are done and we cut one patty from each burger variation into seven portions so everyone can try a taste and vote. I’m all set to give the “meatloaf” burger a thumbs down, though it turns out to be my favorite...nice and juicy with tons of flavor. Surprisingly enough, there is no real clear winner. We have three votes for the “plain” burgers, two for meatloaf, and two for the garlic and onion seasoned. Even the plain burger lovers admit to having a tough time choosing.

Of course, none of this is scientific; we measure, season and cook mostly by eye. It’s a fun, delicious adventure and great way to entertain fellow foodie friends. I suspect we will be hosting a couple of burger parties now and then, at the very least to taste test new varieties.

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