Recipes often recommend partially freezing meat to make it easier to cut or grind. But how long does it take for meat to partially freeze for processing? We've done all the grinding to bring you the answer to this question.
Before grinding, you'll want to cut it into manageable cubes and throw it in the freezer to firm up. Keep it in the freezer for 45 to 60 minutes, or until 28° Fahrenheit. This should be long enough for the meat to harden without forming any ice crystals that would damage the texture.
For the best results, you should also freeze your meat grinder before grinding. You can store the auger, blade, plates, and tray in the freezer so they'll stay cold and ready to go.
For slicing, chill meat in the freezer for 1.5 to 2 hours in an airtight bag, preferably vacuum sealed.
In this article, we'll take a closer look at this tasty topic. We'll see how to get your meat to grind, slice, and chop-ready, and we'll also see how to safely freeze (and even refreeze) meat when necessary. We'll even see how to clean up your meat grinder safely and effectively. Read on to learn more!
How to Chill Meat Before Grinding
Whether you're grinding up meat for sausages, burgers, or chili, it is important to keep the meat and the meat grinder cold.
With the meat grinder, that's as simple as storing all of the parts that will touch the meat in the freezer. That way, they'll be as cold as possible when it comes time to get to grinding.
When chilling the meat itself, it requires a little more finesse. You want the meat to be cold enough to stay firm, but not so cold that it starts to form ice crystals. Ice crystals would damage the structure of the meat, which leads to an unpleasant, soft texture.
This is why you should store the meat in the freezer for 45 to 60 minutes after cutting it into cubes, but before grinding it. It should be around 28° Fahrenheit. This will allow you to reach maximum firmness without compromising the texture.
Of course, every freezer is different, so you may need to adjust the time for yours. Also, make sure you cover your meat with plastic wrap while it chills in the freezer.
And, if you don't want to wait a full 45 minutes, some suggest that 20 minutes in the freezer is enough time. This should work for small batches of meat, but for larger batches, you may need to throw them back in the freezer to prevent them from warming up.
Why Chill Meat Before Grinding
You may well wonder what the point is in all of this chilling. We promise the reason has nothing to do with out-of-date traditions or folksy superstitions. It comes down to texture.
We've probably used the word "firm" a hundred times or so to describe the texture of properly chilled meat. This firmness is key to getting a good, clean grind.
Grinding meat is, essentially, cutting it into fine, even pieces. This is easier to accomplish with chilled meat of that firmness.
Meat that hasn't been chilled is soft, sticky, and prone to spreading and smearing. If forced through a meat grinder in this state will emerge from the grinder as more of a paste than as ground meat. This may make for fine cat food, but not for sausages or burgers.
How Long to Chill Meat Before Slicing
We've seen that meat is easier to grind when it's chilled, and the same logic applies to slicing meat too. However, there are some differences between the processes, which is why meat needs more time chilling in the freezer before slicing, generally 1.5 to 2 hours.
Why do you need to chill meat longer before slicing it? Well, one reason is the size of the pre-chilled meat.
You don't cut up the meat into cubes before chilling it when slicing meat like you do with grinding. This means that the same volume of meat will have less surface area, which is why it takes longer to chill.
Another factor that plays a part is the thinness of the cut. Some dishes, such as Sichuan hot pots or Korean barbecue, call for very thin slices of meat — finer, even, than the cuts made by a meat grinder.
To pull off these paper-thin slices, you'll want the meat to be extra cold and firm and your knife to be extra sharp.
Can You Freeze Meat and Grind It Later?
We recommend only partially freezing fresh meat before grinding it. This is the best way to keep the texture and flavor of the meat fresh.
However, some people, such as hunters, find themselves with more meat than they can eat before it spoils. In this situation, you may want to freeze the meat first for storage, then grind it later.
It is possible to do so, though you may find some qualities of the meat suffer. For the best results, freeze the meat in a vacuum-sealed bag. Store it as long as you want, but for the best texture and flavor, you should use it within four months.
Once you are ready to grind the meat, only partially thaw the portion of the meat you will grind. Let it thaw in the refrigerator until it is just soft enough to cut into cubes and grind.
Can You Unfreeze Meat, Grind It, Then Refreeze It?
While it's not ideal, there may be situations where you want to freeze meat, then unfreeze it, then grind it, and then freeze it again. We generally advise against this because each freezing and thawing cycle creates more potential loss for the quality of the meat.
That being said, it is possible to do so, as long as a few criteria are met.
- Only refreeze meat that has been properly stored. This means that it has been kept in the refrigerator as it thawed and spent no more than two hours at room temperature or one hour in a room more than 90° Fahrenheit.
- Don't refreeze meat that has been thawed for more than three or four days.
You will have the best results if you refreeze the ground meat in a vacuum-sealed back as soon as it is ground, while still partially frozen.
The best way to get an air-tight seal is with a specialized vacuum sealer, like the one below from Nesco. You will absolutely notice a difference in quality when properly sealing meat before freezing it.
Once ready to use the frozen ground meat, thaw it overnight in the refrigerator. Use thawed, ground meat within two or three days.
Should You Chill Meat Before Chopping?
So far, we've looked at how to chill meat for slicing and grinding, but what about chopping?
In a side-by-side comparison for Serious Eats, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt found that chopped beef actually made a better burger than ground beef. This is great news for those who love a tasty burger but don't want to invest in another piece of kitchen equipment.
One tip he offers is to still keep the meat cold as you cut it. Because of this, you'll want to use your biggest, heaviest knife, a cleaver if you have it. This will make it easier to cut the meat into tiny cubes while still keeping it cold and firm.
By chopping with a knife, you end up with a good mix of tiny pieces of meat that crisp up nicely when cooked as well as larger pieces that still have a nice steak-like chew to them.
It should be noted that this method is slower than using a meat grinder. However, it is much faster and easier to clean up a knife and a cutting board than to disassemble and clean a meat grinder.
How to Clean a Meat Grinder
Once you've ground up your partially-frozen meat, it's important that you clean your meat grinder right away.
The meat grinder will be easier to clean when it and any residual meat inside are still cold. As they warm up, the proteins and fats will go from being solid to greasy, soft, and sticky.
The first step to cleaning out the grinder is to process a couple of pieces of bread through the grinder. By grinding two or three slices of bread from a soft sandwich loaf, you will remove most of the excess meat left behind.
Then you'll need to disassemble your meat grinder and soak the individual parts in soapy water. Of course, if you have an electric meat grinder, don't soak any of the electrical components.
After the components have soaked for 15 minutes, carefully hand wash them with a sponge and a bottle brush.
Next, dry all of the parts with a dishcloth as much as possible. Let them sit and air dry for at least an hour. Don't reassemble your meat grinder if there's any possibility it's still wet.
Once completely dry, reassemble it and put it back in the freezer so it will be nice and cold for your next grind!
If you want to get a great grind or a slender slice, your best bet is to partially freeze the meat first. Cold meat is sturdier, so it won't be as prone to spreading or smearing as you work it with a grinder or a blade.
Now you know the ins and outs of this issue as well as related topics about freezing meat before and after grinding, chopping up tasty burgers, and cleaning up your meat grinder.
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