There is nothing like homemade sausage. The smell, the texture, and the taste of well-made custom sausage cannot be matched by commercial offerings. Add to that, the satisfaction of doing it yourself…the feeling of empowerment you get, and its an experience that no amount of money can buy.
The only real drawback to making sausage at home is that it is time-consuming, and labor-intensive. And I am not talking just any labor, here. Making sausage is messy, calls for concentration, as well as observing a lot of safety procedures, and can be challenging, especially for beginners. On top of that, you have to find a reasonably-priced source of meat, or kill it yourself. Making sausage requires a lot of manual work, such as dressing the animals, cutting and cubing the meat, clean-up, etc…. and worst of all, mixing by hand. You might think that doesn’t sound so bad, but one of the safety procedures is that the meat must be kept cold at all times, to prevent bacterial action, and to keep the fat from melting, which will ruin the texture. Your hands will get colder than you ever thought possible, short of frostbite.
|Our Favorite Meat Mixer||Brand||Capacity||Features|
|LEM Model 654||LEM||19, 30, 50 Pounds||Stainless steel, rust resistant|
Don’t give up on your dreams of making world-class sausage just yet. To make mixing easier, there are appliances called, strangely enough….meat mixers. But don’t confuse them with meat grinders. Meat mixers do not grind, chop, or alter the meat in any way. All they do is turn and knead meat that has already been ground.
They are simple tools, usually hand-powered, but electric models are available, that mix the meat and spices without you having to stick your bare hands into the meat. This limits bacterial contamination, as well as very cold hands. Meat mixers are also is better for larger quantities. 20 lbs. of sausage is a real job to mix by hand, especially when you add in the time limit of 10 minutes, which is as long as you can handle the meat before it begins to warm to critical levels. If you make 15 pounds or more, at a time (does anybody really make less than this????) , then a meat mixer is definitely something you should consider.
In this article, I will explain what a meat mixer is, and is not, pros and cons of using them, the parts and how they work, how to use and care for them, and a few reviews of some popular models.
I’ve been making sausage for over 40 years, so I feel that I am more than qualified in every aspect of sausage-making, from harvesting the animals, to getting the sausage on the plate. I’ve used meat mixers for several decades, manual and electric, both in my home, and in commercial settings. I will warn you though, I am pretty much old-school on a lot of things, so keep that in mind as you read on. I may be referencing techniques and things some of the younger set may not be familiar with. But keep an open mind as you read, because one reason things are “old-school”, is because they still work most of the time.
So, without further ado, let me help you choose the best meat mixer.
Why Use A Meat Mixer: Pros and Cons
If you can mix sausage meat by hand, you may be asking yourself, “why do I need a meat mixer?” You may not. It depends on how much you usually make at a time, how much time you want to devote to the craft, and how well you can tolerate semi-frozen hands.
If you seldom make more than 15 pounds of sausage at a time, you may not need a mixer. Most mixers do not work well with less than 15 lbs. of meat in them. But I have met very few people who make less than 15 pounds of sausage at a time. Sausage needs time to age, and some types require smoking and/or fermenting. It’s too much work for just a couple of pounds to be feasible. Also, if you just make a few lbs. at a time, the cost goes up. For less than 10 pounds, it is probably cheaper to just buy your sausages at the local grocery store. Small quantities are just not worth the effort required. That’s why when you get sausage spice mixes at places like Cabelas, they only come in quantities for 25 lbs. or more of meat.
Mixing meat by hand takes a lot of time. It also is tiring. For a good comparison, it is possible to make bread by the time-honored (and almost lost art, nowadays) method of hand-kneading. But most people (myself included) use mixers, and some even use bread machines. Why? Because kneading bread is hard work and takes a lot of time. They make machines for that, now…
I know of no one with big enough hands, or enough hand-strength and endurance, to be able to hand-mix 15 pounds or more of meat at one time, within the 10-minute safety limit. Usually, you will hand-mix 5 pound batches at a time, which is plenty. Few mixing bowls are large enough to hold 25 pounds of meat at one time.
Because of the 10-minute time limit, you will most likely be doing it in stages, returning the meat to the cooler after 10 minutes and letting it chill for an hour or so (and warming your hands back up in the meantime…), then starting the process all over. This means that all the work surfaces, equipment, and your hands will need to be re-sterilized before you start again. Hand-mixing 25 pounds of sausage can take several hours, if done properly. A meat mixer, on the other hand, can easily hold all 25 pounds of meat, and you can crank out all the meat at one time, properly-mixed, within the safety time-limits. In fact, you can increase the safety-time out as long as 15 minutes or more, because your hands are not warming the meat, and the mixer holds some of the cold in.
Cold hands are not comfortable at all. There are those that advocate using gloves when hand-mixing meat, but it has never worked for me, because I need to be able to feel what I am doing. Also, insulated gloves cannot be sterilized.
So, the cons of using a meat mixer are:
◆ They can cost more than $100.00, and some commercial models can be over $1000.00
◆ They do require cleaning, proper care, and need to be sterilized before each use.
◆ They are not small units, so they will need a good-sized storage area.
The pros of using a meat mixer are:
◆ It can handle a lot more meat at one time than you can by hand.
◆ You limit the danger of microbe contamination from your hands.
◆ They are much less messy to use than hand-mixing.
◆ They crank very easily, so it saves wear and tear on your hands.
◆ The handle doesn’t make your hands cold.
A few times of trying to hand-mix 25 pounds or more of sausage will make you appreciate meat mixers a whole lot more.
What’s Inside a Meat Mixer
A meat mixer is not a complicated piece of machinery. As you can see from the above picture, it is pretty straight-forward. A manual model will have a hand-crank in place of the electric motor on the right side. The model I used as a reference for the painting was a dual mixing paddle job. Some just have one mixing paddle. I have not noticed much of a difference in performance between single, and double panel models. I’ve never really noticed much of a difference in performance between manual and electric models, other than having to operate one manually. Whichever model you decide on, other than the electric motor, the parts are all basically the same.
- Mixing Paddle
- Tension Spring
- Crank Retaining Shaft
- Crank Handle
- Crank Shaft
- Support Legs
- Paddle Retaining Collar
- Paddle Locking Collar
Some models may have a few extra parts, due to proprietary designs, but these parts are common to all meat mixers. Most can be easily replaced if needed.
The lid just sets on top, and is there mostly to keep things from falling into the meat, but it also traps cool air, keeping your meat cool longer. The mixing paddle, or paddles, are designed to move the meat around so that the spices and liquids get evenly and completely mixed into the meat. They do not grind or chop, at all. The bushings are necessary so that the shafts for the paddle and the crank can spin easily. The tension springs allow the paddles to absorb some shock if they hit piece of bone, and also helps to keep them from getting clogged up with fat. The body holds the meat, spices, liquids, and the paddles. The crank retaining shaft and bushing attaches the crank to the paddles and allow it to spin. The handle and crank shaft allow you to spin the paddles. The support legs keep the body up off of the work surface so that air can circulate underneath. This helps keep the meat cooler, for a longer period of time. The legs also provide extra clearance for the crank so that a longer crank-shaft can be used, providing much more leverage, and making spinning the paddle easier. The paddle retaining collar, locking collar, and the other bushing anchor the paddle shaft at the other end of the body, and allow it to spin. Electric meat mixers will have a small electric motor in place of the crank assembly.
The names I use for the parts may differ from what is in your Owners Manual, but what’s in a name? Manufacturers use their own part names, and the part numbers are more important to them than what you call the part. So use this a a general guideline, and consult your manual for more detailed information.
That’s all there is to a meat mixer. Like most good machines, they are simple, and reliable. Remember, more parts = more things that can go wrong, as a rule.
General Use and Maintenance of Meat Mixers
Using a meat mixer is not complicated. There are just a few things you need to keep in mind. The most important thing is sanitation, and food safety. Your unit should be clean and sterile at all times. The meat must be kept cool at all times. As far as safety, this is really all you have to worry about. There are no sharp blades to cut yourself on. I suppose you could hurt yourself if you stuck your hand inside the unit while cranking it…unlikely, but it has probably been done. A little common sense goes a long way.
There are 1000s of sausage recipes, so it is not possible to cover every single situation in one article, but there are some general Dos, and Don’ts. No matter how good your mixer and grinder is, it will not compensate for a lack of talent and skill. They only work as good as the operator. So pay attention to what you are doing, use proper techniques and procedures, and only the best ingredients.
The starting point is your meat, whether you killed it, or bought it. Just about any kind of meat can be used for sausage and ground meat, but it must be prepared correctly before grinding. If you harvested it, be sure to properly field dress it and keep it cool at all times. Discard the meat immediately around the entry wound, because it will be bruised, and contaminated. It should be butchered properly. All the tendons, ligaments, sinew, bones, and connective tissues need to be removed. This is not hard to learn, but if you don’t know how, or or not willing to spend the time to learn, you are better off letting a processor or butcher do it for you.
Cube the meat and chill before grinding. The meat needs to be ice-cold, or even semi frozen before you start. Also, place your grinder in the freezer as well. A cold grinder is more sanitary and will not warm the meat up. The main reason for keeping the meat cold is that fat begins to break-down and separate from meat as it approaches room temperatures, also known as ‘breaking’. This is undesirable and results in dry, tasteless, flaky sausage. Never leave your meat out of the cooler for more than 10 minutes, even while grinding or mixing. If there is a delay while grinding of mixing, return the meat to the cooler, then re-wash and re-sterilize everything before starting up again.
The fat content is extremely important. Only pork has the correct fat content by itself for making good sausage. All other meats will need added fat. Fat adds flavor, but also keeps the texture soft and juicy. Lean sausage is nasty. Good sources of fat are beef tallow, pork fat, bacon, and hog jowl (fatback). The correct mix for any ground meat is 25% fat. 33% is not too much, so don’t worry about too much fat. Just worry about not enough. If you have a thing about fat in your diet, then don’t eat sausage…it is not a health food. Stick to tofu and veggie burgers.
After grinding your meat, return it to the fridge for a bit to re-chill while you are cleaning the grinder and setting up the mixer. Your mixer should be cleaned, and sterilized with at least a 10% solution of chlorine bleach and water before using. Wash your hands well, and do not use any utensils you used during the grinding process without washing and re-sanitizing them. This includes the work surface as well. It doesn’t hurt to put on a clean apron (you should always wear an apron in the kitchen…).
Sausage contains meat, fat, spices, liquids, and some type of curing agent, such as salt, Fermento, nitrates, or other enzymes. When you are ready, place all of your meat, seasonings, liquids and curing agents in the mixer, put on the lid, and just start cranking. It may take a little effort at first, but the meat will loosen up as you go, and cranking will get easier. Reverse the direction of your cranking every few minutes for a few turns to keep meat from getting clogged in the paddles. After a few minutes, your sausage should be ready to stuff into casings, or bagged up for smoking, fermenting, or freezing. The mixed meat can be removed by hand, but if your unit is small enough, you can simply invert it over a tub, or tray, give it a crank or two, and the meat will just drop out.
Your mixer needs to be completely disassembled and each part washed and sterilized completely after each use. It’s best to store it in the box it came in, or at least have a cover for it to keep dust, debris, bugs, and vermin out of it.
If you follow these guidelines, not only will you have great sausage every time, but your mixer will last for a few generations…
The Best Meat Mixer: LEM Products Model 654 Review
- Dimensions: 11″ x 11″ x 8 x 3/4″
- Weight: 14.3 lbs
- Capacity: 20 lbs
- Construction: Stainless steel body, and paddles. The rest is plastic, aluminum and wood.
- Warranty: 1-year
- Average New Price: < $140.00
The LEM Model 654 was a surprise. With it’s 20-lb capacity, it was the smallest unit I could find. This is good news for those who may not want to make larger quantities. If you do decide to make more, you can just make it in stages. The smaller size make storage and cleaning easier.
LEM is one of the top names in grinders and other meat processing equipment. I consider the 654 to be of restaurant quality except for the size. I was able to get a 654 for testing from a local outdoor store.
The 654 was very easy to assemble out of the box, and all the parts fit together perfectly. The instructions were clear and concise. The construction was excellent quality, with no tool marks, sloppy welds, or mismatched fittings. The acrylic lid fit snugly, and the plastic knobs all tightened well with no slippage. The wooden handle on the crank felt great in my hand, and the crank spun smoothly.
I made 100 lbs of sausage, from various animals I had in the freezer, in 5 batches. I was worried that the light weight would cause the unit to move around when cranked, but when you load it with meat, the weight goes up to around 35 pounds, and it is very stabile. Just in case, I put a damp towel on the counter and set the unit on it, to avoid the mixer sliding around. It was a stable as the Rock of Gibraltar. The 654 can also be permanently mounted to a counter, if desired. There are several other mounting options possible.
The only drawback, although not much of one, was that the mixer did not do well with less than 10 pounds of meat in it. There just wasn’t enough meat for the paddles to grab on to. But realistically, is anyone going to ever make less than 10 lbs of ground meat at a time? Other than that, the meat mixed perfectly in just a few minutes, and the paddle never bound up, not even once. The unit is so light that it was easy to just invert it, give the handle a crank, and the all meat just drops out. In 5 batches, the unit never had a single hitch.
Disassembly and clean-up was a snap. It stored easily back into it’s box, although it will need to stay disassembled to fit. This isn’t much of an issue, because I would have to disassemble it to clean it again before the next use, anyway.
I would recommend this unit unconditionally to anyone wanting to make their own ground meat. This unit sells from the local store for just $125.00 + tax…a bargain in anyone’s book.
I did not review any other models because I felt it would be a waste of time. No other unit could offer anything else, except a larger capacity. The small size is actually a plus, especially when making an untried recipe. You can make a small batch to test, then adjust the recipe, if needed, before making a large batch…something not possible with larger units. This model is my favorite meat mixer. I highly recommend it.
Wrapping Up: Last Words on Meat Mixers
There are a lot of different models of meat mixers available and it may seem confusing at first, but they all do the same thing, and they are not all that much different from each other. The main differences are going to be in, size, construction, and materials. Stick with stainless steel as much as possible, and you shouldn’t have any trouble. Stay with name brands, and be sure you can get service and parts, should you ever need to.
Now you know just about everything there is about consumer-grade meat mixers. All you need now is some experience.