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Originally published June 28, 2013 at 12:30 PM | Page modified July 1, 2013 at 3:48 PM

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What a grind, what a hamburger! says Nancy Leson

You, too, can make the perfect fresh patty at home

Seattle Times food writer

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MY STANDING mixer owes me nothing. After nearly 25 years of regular use, it's paid for itself many times over. Which is why, a few years back, I didn't mind dropping $50 on a KitchenAid grinder attachment.

That's when I started grinding beef for burgers.

I won't tell you I did it for fear of E. coli, disgust over pink slime or because I wanted to make certain I knew what, precisely, was in my ground beef (all perfectly good reasons to grind your own).

I did it for the freshness factor. Buy fresh, grind fresh.

Add to that, keep it fresh, says Scott Staples, chef/owner of Seattle restaurants Zoë, Quinn's Pub and Uneeda Burger.

Whether you're grinding at home or professionally, he says, the No. 1 rule is "cold, cold, cold!" From your meat to your grinding implements to the bowl you use to catch the grind, "Everything has to be super-cold or freezing."

To that end, cut the meat into 1-inch cubes and freeze it for about 15 minutes till firm, then nest two stainless-steel bowls, putting ice in the bottom one to keep the temp down.

Staples' second rule: Keep your blades sharp (for that, he gives the nod to the pro's pro, Nella Cutlery in SoDo). "What it does is keep the meat from smearing — that's the technical term."

Disregard the rules and the grinding will be "bruising and breaking all the molecules" in the beef, causing swift oxidation (read: browning).

Sound complicated? It's not. And the greatest benefit to grinding your own is that you get to decide what to grind.

Staples suggests a mix of three parts chuck to one part short rib, ground twice: once through the coarse die (the round with the larger holes) and next through the fine.

Twice may be nice, but third time's the charm, says Ellery Heer, longtime manager at Don & Joe's Meats in Pike Place Market.

Chuck may be the classic choice for burgers, but at the shop, he says, the lean ground beef is "pure shank" while the "regular" ground offers a fat content of 20 to 22 percent (ideal for juicy burgers). It consists of fresh trim, culled in-house from a variety of cuts including New York steaks and rib-eyes. But for do-it-yourselfers it's wasted money. "It won't add more flavor, and you don't need to worry about the meat being tender, because the grinding process tenderizes it."

Want to up the flavor ante at home? Use lamb! Or take Heer's advice and grind your beef with spicy Mexican chorizo. "Have you ever tried a bacon burger with the bacon ground in it?" he asks. "That's great!" A couple thick slices per pound of beef will do.

Once through the grinder is enough for Russell Flint, owner of Rain Shadow Meats at Melrose Market and in Pioneer Square. "I like to be able to see what's in there." His preference: 100 percent grass-fed chuck. "It tastes like beef, not like hamburger."

A longtime butcher and former chef at Boat Street Cafe, Flint says grass-fed or no, the best burgers are minimally seasoned (with salt and pepper) and minimally handled.

Once you've got your beef ground, do as Flint does:

"I flatten them out pretty good with my hand to about the size of the bun, making the center thinner than the outside," by pressing with his thumb. Torque up the grill "till it's superhot, or use a superhot pan, and cook 3 to 4 minutes each side."

Nancy Leson is The Seattle Times' food writer. Reach her at nleson@seattletimes.com. Ken Lambert is a Times staff photographer.

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