Marketers have no shortage of cooking gizmo and gimmicks—juicers and boilers, choppers and graters—designed for some very specific task, but destined to wind up on a shelf. Men who cook tend to resist this and pare their tools down to the few that satisfy a slew of needs: a sharp knife, an all-purpose skillet, a trusty grill. If there's one implement we can suggest adding to your arsenal it's a meat grinder.
First of all, it frees you from the tyranny of supermarket ground meat. When you grind your own you're free to choose not only the cut of meat and its percentage of fat (more fat means more flavor), but you control how chunky or fine the beef comes out. And talk about fresh, there's nothing
like using meat right off the grinder with none of the gaminess that comes with store-bought ground meat. For that matter, your burgers don't have to be beef at all any more, but any combination of cuts (pork, lamb,
turkey, chicken, veal). And it's not just burger cravers who profit from a good grinder. You can mill vegetables, dried fruit (especially cranberry), grains as fillers and precooked meat for hashes or as salad toppings.
The Holy Grail for grinder owners is to make sausage. Again, gather your own choice ingredients, grind them, season them to taste and then grind again to mingle the flavors. A third pass through the mechanism serves to extrude meat into the casing that you place around the outlet. Tie the sausages off and you can grill that night.
As the machines aren't very complicated—it's essentially a turn-screw forcing food through a cutting plate—you can go old school and buy one with a hand crank or choose the ease of a model with an electric motor. You'll want a variety of cutting plates to allow more opportunity for fine-tuning and a machine that breaks down easily for cleaning. We like the Megaforce 3000 (pictured, $180) from STX International for its combination of power (3,000 watts), fan cooling, versatility (three speeds) and durability (all-metal machine components).