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Successfully making sausages, bacon, cured meats, or any other type of charcuterie, requires very specific tools and equipment. Meat grinders are specialized machines designed for the sole purpose of breaking pieces of meat and fat into smaller pieces by forcing them through a metal plate containing several small holes. Not all meat grinders are equal, and several factors differentiate them, including the following:

Power source (electric or manual)

Speed of grinding

Volume of grinding

Size of the grinder

Construction of the grinder

All grinders can be broken down into the same core parts, and understanding what each part does will help you decide which grinder is right for you. These parts are shown in the following figure and include the following:

Body and hopper. The body and hopper is generally one solid piece and houses all of the moving parts (excluding the motor).

Worm (auger). The worm is inserted into the motor through the body. This is the screw-like part that draws meat down the hopper and through the body toward the knife.

The knife is a cutting implement with four blades and looks like a propeller on a plane. The knife fits onto the end of the worm and spins at the same rate. As the meat passes down the body via the worm, it is first cut by the knife as it is forced through the plate.

The plate is a thick, round piece of steel containing several holes. It fits onto the end of the body and holds the worm in position as it spins. The size of the holes on the plate determines how coarse or fine your ground meat will be.

Locking ring. The locking ring holds the plate in place, securing all of the moving parts of your grinder.

For the purposes of this article, I will discuss three types of meat grinders. The size of the grinder you choose will be largely determined by the amount of meat that you plan to grind. This will also determine the size of the grinder you choose.

Manual meat grinders

Manual meat grinders are exactly what you might imagine: grinders that are human powered. The working parts are the same as previously described, but instead of an electric motor to turn the worm and knife, you have a hand crank, as shown.

Manual meat grinders cost less than electric meat grinders because they don’t contain any motorized parts. This is probably how your grandma or grandpa used to make sausage. Manual meat grinders must be clamped onto a hard surface like a table- or countertop. Manual meat grinders are lower in cost and maintenance than their electric workhorse big brothers, which is why they are a great starting point. Manual grinders can also be used anywhere because they do not require electricity.

KitchenAid mixer attachment grinder

Several years ago I bought my wife a KitchenAid mixer for Christmas. In all honesty, I bought it for myself but told my wife it was for her. This was a wonderful upgrade to our kitchen because of all the delightful baked goods we could make without all the excessive manual labor. I’m kind of like Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor: I like more power when it comes to my cooking tools!

If you happen to have a KitchenAid mixer, then you’ll notice that the front of the mixer has a place for attaching add-on equipment. One of the attachments you can purchase from KitchenAid for your mixer is a meat cutter and grinder, pictured here.

Electric meat grinders

As you navigate your own internal decision tree, give yourself a little time when it comes to selecting your meat grinder or commercial grinder. Unless you have compelling reasons for not getting an electric grinder, like budget or access to power, this is where you should really focus your research. Electric meat grinders are the right tool for the job when it comes to grinding meat! They come in all shapes and sizes, which are largely determined by the intended volume of use. As with the KitchenAid attachment and the manual meat grinder, the parts of an electric meat grinder are the same with the exception of the electric motor, as shown.

Sizing and choosing your grinder

Grinder size is determined by the size of the plate that the grinder uses.

Generally speaking, the larger the size of the grinder, the larger the motor, and thus the higher the cost of the grinder or the pulerizer. If you are planning to use your grinder a few times a year to grind less than a few hundred pounds of meat, then you can definitely get by with a number 5 or 8 grinder. For a comparison, the figure illustrates some of the different sizes of grinder plates up to number 32.

One other determining factor when choosing a grinder is the materials from which your grinder is made. Stainless steel is the industry standard because it is durable, easy to clean, and resistant to rust. However, you can save money by going with plastic or aluminum options.

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