How to Buy an Antique or Vintage Meat Grinder

Blue vegetable grater and meat wolf in an old kitchen
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While today's electric meat and food grinders certainly reduce the time and labor of grinding vegetables, meat, fish or making sausages, to a fraction of the time required with a manual grinder, antique models are anything but obsolete.

Often found at flea markets or garage sales at bargain prices of $5 to $15, many are in mint condition and can be quickly restored and ready to grind. Whether it's the allure of nostalgia with visions of Grandpa hovering over this formidable machinery, or the attraction of a 'price is right' bargain, it's hard to resist the urge to turn the crank to see how smoothly it operates.

Antique grinders are grinding machines that are almost indestructible and were quality crafted more for function than for their good looks. Although referred to as 'meat' grinders, these were also used for other foods such as nuts, onions, and other vegetables, depending on their cutting plate design.

Old grinders were made of cast iron, cast steel, and even aluminum, with precise internal parts that maintained their operating efficiency by being lubricated by the food that was inserted into its funnel. Some models did have bearings incorporated into their designs.

They were built to last, but without proper care, however, these models could rust if not thoroughly dried and it was not uncommon to apply a thin smearing of mineral oil to moving parts, to reduce this risk when the unit was stored.

Today, antique meat grinders are bargain finds, either for antique display purposes or to return these durable food preparation machines to full operating capacity for the remainder of their long lifespan. The Alexanderwerk model is approximately 40 to 50 years old, in excellent condition and ready to go for many more years.

When would you use an old manual grinder? Old grinding machines are terrific for providing the second grinding work area when there is a large amount of meat to process such as wild game, to grind a batch of fish fillets for fish cakes, or to use for various food grinding chores at the bush camp where electricity is lacking. The low-cost investment of a manual model may also fit your budget perfectly and provide you many years of good food grinding operation.

Antique Grinder Buying Tips

For a display model, you'll probably be choosing by appearance and ensuring the attaching mechanism and crank handle are in good shape. But if you want to restore one to operating efficiency, you should make sure of the following:

  • The crank handle should turn smoothly. There should be some 'play' in the grinding unit, but not excessive enough to create a wobble.
  • Make sure there's no rust evident. If there is a small amount of rust, you may be able to remove it with a light cleaning or sanding.
  • That the multi-bladed cutter head is in good condition, and that the auger square-drive end where it attaches, is not worn.
  • There should be at least two grinding plates - one coarse and one fine. Some models have additional plates, pulverizer, or sausage attachments.
  • The lock collar that holds the grinding plate in can be securely hand-fastened.
  • The auger should be in generally good shape with no missing pieces on the flights.
  • The crank handle should be in good condition or could be replaced with a handmade turned wooden handle.
  • Make certain that the unit thumb screw threads are in good shape to allow a secure installment on a stable surface.

When you bring this new purchase home, you should first disassemble it for a good cleaning in hot soapy water. Ensure that you dry it thoroughly. A hair dryer can even help with drying the inside completely. And you're ready to go!

The operation is rather simple. Clamp securely to a sturdy table or counter, insert the auger, cutter head, grinding plate of choice and lock everything in with the collar. I prefer using the coarse (larger holes) grinding plate first and repeating the process with the fine (smaller holes) plate. It may also be necessary to process a third time; this helps to tenderize the meat or fish.

To ease the insertion of the meat or fish, cut it into strips. If the old grinder does not have its original stuffing tube for pushing the food down, you could use a wide wooden spoon for this purpose. For safety reasons, do not under any circumstances, push food down with your fingers. With a little care, your new-to-you grinder should provide many years of grinding services.