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Essential equipment for the butcher

We give suggestions on what to look out for when selecting the
most important pieces of equipment for modern meat
processing in the small to medium-scale butchery.

Mixers used to blend meat and spices or coarse and finely chopped meat generally consist of a rectangular or round bottom vessel through which two parallel shafts operate. Various paddles are mounted on these shafts to mix the meat. The mixer is discharged through tilting by 90 degrees.
If you are looking to develop desirable product colour and texture, select a vacuum mixer, which performs the mixing under vacuum, i.e. with exclusion of oxygen.
     When selecting a meat grinder, look out for the following: superior head design for maximum grinding capacity; oiled metal gears for smooth, quiet operation and long use; a permanently lubricated and air-cooled motor; circuit breaker for safe use; and rubber feet for stability.
     Two types of meat grinder cutting systems are available: the “Enterprise System” and the “Unger System”.
     The Enterprise System is mainly used in smaller meat grinders with orifice diameters up to 98 mm and consists of one star knife, sharpened only on the side facing the disc, and one grinder plate. Hole diameters can vary from 13 mm to 5 mm.
     The Unger System is used in meat grinders with orifice diameters up to 440 mm and consists of the kidney plate, one or two star knives sharpened on both edges, and one or two grinder plates.
For a final particle size above 8 mm the recommended setting is kidney plate – star knife – grinder plate. For a final particle size under 8 mm the recommended setting is kidney plate – star knife – grinder plate (13 mm) – star knife – grinder plate (6 mm to 1 mm).
     Stainless steel plates and blades will usually last up to three times longer than carbon steel. Stainless parts are still not dishwasher safe, though, and can get surface rust since they contain steel.
     If meat “mashes” and doesn’t come through the plates correctly any longer, chances are the blade, plate or both are dull. Also make sure your meat is very cold or partially frozen for a better grind.
When you need to change the cutting blade, it is recommended to also change the plate. If you have a hubless plate with an unused side, you can use a new cutting blade with it.
     If you don’t know the size of your grinder, simply measure the distance across the centre of the grinder plate to determine the diameter. Measuring the plate and not the knife is the correct way to size a meat grinder.

Plates come in the following hole sizes for the following uses:

• 3/32” & 1/8”: Fine grind – polony, Franks, forcemeats, hamburger and biltong
• 5/32” & 3/16”: Medium grind – wors, hamburger, Polish and Italian sausage
• 1/4” & 5/16”: Coarse grind – hamburger, salami, Summer sausage, Pepperoni and Bratwurst
• 3/8”: Coarse grind – First grind, chilli meat and chorizo
• 1/2”: Very Coarse –First grind, chilli meat, stew meat and vegetables
• 3/4”: Very Coarse – First grind or chunky meat.

The bowl cutter has a multi-bladed revolving knife at the rear of the bowl. Most machines have a selected range of knife speeds. While product on small machines has to be removed manually, large machines are equipped with an uploading scraper which discharges product from the bowl into a container via a chute.
     The main advantages of the emulsifier, also called a colloid mill, are obtaining a very finely chopped or emulsified meat mix and the relatively small volume which can be emulsified.
Animal tissues to be emulsified must be pre-mixed with all other raw materials, functional ingredients and seasonings and pre-cut using bowl cutters before the emulsifier is used.
     The emulsifier should be started without any product in it, as little or no heat build-up occurs when the machine is running empty since the two plates are not touching.
     There are two types of machines for the purpose of cutting frozen meat blocks into smaller pieces to make frozen meat suitable for immediate comminuting in grinders and bowl cutters without previous thawing. These work either with knives cutting in a vertical direction (guillotine principle) or using rotating drums with attached sharp knives.
     In the guillotine-type machines a knife head is driven hydraulically and even the hardest frozen products can be cut into small chip-size pieces such as meat cubes or meat strips. Rotary frozen meat cutters operate according to the principle of carving out particles from the frozen meat blocks. The rotary drums can be equipped with knives capable of cutting out large fist-size to small chip-size pieces of frozen meat.
     Filling machines (sausage stuffers) come in three basic types: horn, horizontal and vertical.
Horn stuffers are only available in manual models. This type of sausage filler is usually made of cast iron plated with tin or chrome. However, there are now several stainless steel models available. Horn fillers are generally used by people just starting out making their own sausages or who make only small batches.
     Horizontal stuffers are available in manual and electric motorised models. Horizontal models have a large piston-like cylinder to hold the seasoned ground meat that is mounted horizontally. The stuffer extrudes the meat from the stuffing tube at the end of the cylinder when the crank at the other end of the cylinder is turned on, or the electric motor is switched on.
     Vertical stuffers come in manual and electric models and are the most popular. There are models for both beginners and professionals. Similar to the horizontal models, vertical sausage stuffers have a large piston-like cylinder to hold the seasoned ground meat, but the stuffing cylinder is mounted vertically.
Some electric sausage stuffers are available with a foot switch to turn on and off the sausage stuffer.
Before starting, wipe the stuffer tube with a paper towel soaked with a little vegetable oil to make taking the sausage casings on and off easier.
     Another useful tip is to use butcher twine or a hog ring when closing off the end of the casing before starting stuffing– never tie a knot in the casing itself, as this will waste a length of the casing. Using a sausage pricker, poke some holes in the end of the casing so that any of the air trapped inside can escape.
     Ice is often needed in meat processing. Water, added in the form of ice, is an important ingredient in order to enhance protein solution and to keep the temperature of the meat batter low. In an ice flaker, ice flakes are continuously produced from potable water.
     The band saw is probably the first piece of equipment anyone thinks of when picturing a butcher shop. When selecting a band saw, the following must be ensured:

• high, accurate cutting yields through high blade speeds and increased motor power;
• clean cuts without bone chips or splinters;
• quick blade changes;
• enhanced safety; and
• ease of cleaning.

Most commercial model band saws use a 16 mm (5/8”) wide blade with thickness of 0.5 mm (.020”) or 0.56 mm (.022”), and with 3 TPI (Teeth Per Inch) for a high-speed saw (at blade speed of 900+ metres per minute or faster) and 4 TPI for regular blade speed. A band saw with a small diameter wheel (250 mm or 10”, or less) needs a thinner blade like a 0.5 mm (.020”).

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