How to select and prepare meat for Lebanese Kibbeh

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I don’t want to give you the wrong impression. I notice that many—ok, all—of the main course dishes I’ve served up here have involved red meat. It’s not that the Lebanese can’t make a meal without including beef or lamb…Lebanese and other Middle Eastern cuisines are considered so healthy, in fact, because of our extensive use of good fats (olive oil, nuts), grains, fish and vegetables. There’s just this thing we have for the red meat that is akin to a crush that never gets old. The Lebanese dishes made with red meat are so sumptuous that they get a lot of play at the table.

But before you start wandering off, hear me out on the kibbeh this week. Then I promise we are going to hit some other food groups. I want you to dive into the kibbeh because, well, like the za’atar we talked about last week, there really is no dish that represents Lebanese cuisine quite so distinctly as kibbeh. Besides that, it is THE ONE and ONLY dish that I have to be pulled away from the table like some kind of hedonist in order to stop eating (dessert is excluded from this pronouncement). Others must feel the same or its popularity would not be what it is.

Let’s start with the basics. What is kibbeh? A dish made of ground beef or lamb combined with bulghur wheat, pureed onion, and spices. Kibbeh can and should be eaten raw as kibbeh nayeh. Then when you’ve had your fill of that, bake or fry the kibbeh, stuffed with still more meat with onion and spices, to a deep and delectable golden brown.

Once you know how the meat is prepared for the kibbeh nayeh, the idea of eating it raw won’t seem quite so freakish. We don’t have a death wish that includes gorging ourselves on risky foods. Kibbeh is never made from ground meat in the display case at the supermarket. The meat must be ground on clean blades, so the grinding should be done first thing in the morning. Order kibbeh meat the day before you are making it. The meat used for kibbeh has to be free of all fat and gristle, which might lead you to think tenderloin is the optimal cut. But tenderloin is actually too tender for the kibbeh, making it mushy. The better cuts of meat are lean cuts of top round or eye of round. If you can find grass-fed beef or lamb that is raised on a family farm, that’d be ideal. I like to use beef for kibbeh, but lamb is beloved by many for this.

Purchase and grind your meat the same day you are going to eat it. You can grind the meat yourself if you have the equipment. My mother reminded me recently, when I was grinding the meat myself, that she never grinds her own meat for kibbeh. And I reminded her that if you live in a place like Lansing, Michigan, like she does, you can go to the butcher at Goodrich’s and simply say, “I need two pounds of kibbeh meat for tomorrow.” He won’t bat an eye. Quite the opposite: HE’LL give YOU a lesson in kibbeh, as he did with me this week (I’m down-state for this post), covering all facets from the cut (99% lean; all vein, gristle and fat trimmed away) to the grind (some like it ground 3 times, others 5 times; I prefer fewer—3 times—for a firmer texture). When I said I’m Abood, he gave me a litany of every relative, every Lebanese family, every Lebanese restaurant in the greater Lansing community for whom he grinds kibbeh meat. And he spells it kibbie. Probably he’s right.

In other parts of the country, you either grind the meat yourself (which my brother swears by regardless, for the ultimate fresh kibbeh-joy) or you need to do some ‘splaining to the butcher. Tell him (or her) that you are ordering meat to be ground and eaten raw, like tartare. If you feel up to it, this would be a great time to talk to the butcher about kibbeh and what it is. Perhaps we’ll start a kibbeh revolution, and butchers the world over will come to know how to prepare meat for kibbeh like the butchers at Goodrich’s in no time.

If you are grinding the meat yourself, cut the meat into strips about 2 inches wide and 4 inches long. Season with salt and pepper, and freeze the meat for a half hour. This way the meat becomes firm and will pass through the grinder much more easily.

Come back tomorrow and see how to mix, serve, and devour Lebanese kibbeh.

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  1. Maureen, I trained the butcher at our local Publix grocery store, which is found in the Southeast and Florida. But i tell him to use sirloin tip or lamb if reasonably priced, and i go there in the morning when the store opens. I enjoy these emails and the advice. Please tell your Mom hello for me. Gregory

    1. That is great, Gregory, getting Florida butchers educated about kibbeh meat! Mom says hello and how nice to hear from you.

  2. Spreadin’ the love for Goodrich’s! Do you know I left some meat there (I forgot a bag) when Tommy was a wee lad. I realized it after I got home, when Tommy really needed a nap. I could not stomach the idea of loading him back in the car for that short trip down Harrison. I called Goodrich’s. They delivered the meat to me. Right to my front door. Also, that is where Tommy learned to speak Zulu. He has since forgotten the language, but every time we went there, a kind produce man taught him a new word.

  3. Sister, I see you’ve waited until most of your siblings are off in other cities for you to make the kibbeh with Mom this week – shame on you!

    Will you regale your readers with our fruitless attempts to find delicious kibbeh in Chicago?

    I’m homesick for Goodrich’s!

  4. My best friend growing up was Lebanese. I came to appreciate and develop a taste for this wonderful food. He used to make Kibbeh Nayeh and I love it to this day. I enjoy your site and hope to recognize some nostalgic aromas while walking down the street in H.S.

  5. Great recipe, great story! I was the lucky kibbeh taster in my family. It was a Sunday ritual at my grandma Haddad’s house, and I inherited her cutting board and meat grinder! My sainted mother (Mildred Haddad Miller told me that she baby-sat for your dad and your uncle Fred. Said they were little devils.

    1. Bruce, you are a lucky man to have that board and grinder!! And what a great memory about your mom babysitting!! Those little devils gave her trouble!! With all of your kibbeh tasting, your palate must be perfect. Thank you for sharing—

  6. This was a great read! Thank you, a lot of people always criticize eating raw meat but my family has been doing it for years. My mom is half Lebanese and we always have family reunions with my Lebanese side of the family. A tradition is always having raw kibbeh with Syrian bread. It is delicious and my family makes it the old fashion way, so it is great to read about your story! Thank you again!

  7. I would be in heaven if I could just walk into the butcher shop and order ground lamb for kibbeh. That is why I don’t make it because of the long process of preparing the meat!

  8. I live in a small town. Kroger grinds the meat for making kibbie. It is usually good but I think depending on the time that the butcher takes to trim everything, that is what determines the quality of the meat. I ordered twice in one week, and 2 different people prepared the kibbie meat. The second batch was – well – there is only one word – nasty. Maybe 2 words – yuk! It had strings and small bits of fat both of which resulted in my opinion from a terrible “trim” job.
    I do not own a meat grinder and am wondering if I can make kibbie meat using my Cuisinart and if so, use the metal blade or the grater or what?
    If I have to purchase a grinder, I will probably get a hand grinder like my Sitti had!
    Thank you for your response.
    Georgia Wilson

    1. Hi Georgia–you can grind using the food processor! Cut the well-trimmed meat into 1-inch cubes and freeze, with the cubes separated out on a sheet pan, for 30 minutes. Fill the processor, fitted with the metal blade, halfway with meat. Pulse for about three minutes, checking to be sure the meat is still cold and add an ice cube if it warms. Also check as you go for consistency, until the meat is finely ground (no chunky bits) but not mushy. Let us know how it goes!

  9. just discovered this wonderful blog and this great post,,,I havent had kibbeh in awhile as I can never find good fresh lamb in florida.. I do want to try this with beef but for baking..kebeh bil saniyeh style..what cut of beef do u recommend for i get a tender finished dish? thankk you in advance

  10. Can you make Kibbie a couple of days ahead of time and refrigerate it before you cook it and serve it? I have so much to prepare for a dinner party and I thought of making up the Kibbie on Wednesday, refrigerate it and cook it and serve it on a Saturday.

    Thanks for your help.

    1. Hi Ruth–yes, you can make the kibbeh ahead. You might consider freezing it as it bakes very well directly from the freezer. But it will be fine refrigerated (I wouldn’t go longer than Weds. to Saturday though), since the kibbeh is cooked through so thoroughly.

  11. Excellent information I am a wrapper in a meat market and a customer came in today and asked for Kibbe meet. Nobody except for the market manager knew what it was. having read this article now I understand and in the future know to take extra caution to make sure the grinder is cleaned properly prior to grinding.

  12. Gregory Jarous GA
    Do you know if that butcher still works at that Publix? Also, which location? I live in Southeast Florida and would love to know for I’m making my first Lebanese dish this weekend. I’m originally from Michigan where there was a Labanese restaurant in every town. Thanks

    1. Gosh, it’s been five years and I don’t know that the same butcher is there. Our kibbeh making in Florida has been with meat we grind ourselves in recent years. I’m sorry about that–but you could grind your own and it will be great!

  13. Maureen – What meat grinder would you recommend to purchase and do you have a preferred vendor ? Do not prefer to use a food processor. – because of the risk of too mushy. Thanks, Mary

    1. Hi Mary–if you have a KitchenAid mixer, I’d recommend the grinder attachment, which is simple to use. Other grinders I’ve seen family members use are the old-school style, that are heavy and clamp on the counter’s edge! But I wouldn’t go for that. Consider the Maverick Mince Master 575-Watt Meat Grinder.

  14. As a child growing up in a Lebanese house hold i remember very well going to the neighborhood grocery store, Baz’s. Mother would go in to shop and i would just wander about. Mr. Baz would cut a chunk of lamb off and wrap it in the very very thin syrian bread and give it to me to eat. Mother was greek but made the very best kibbee, it is said. On the day she bought a leg of lamb we had laha mishwey. My spelling. I was five before i learned to eat a fried egg with a fork having always used syrian bread without getting my fingers dirty.

  15. Just wish I could see some images of how to best trim and section a lamb thigh for raw kibbeh

    1. Oh gosh that’s a great suggestion Lynn. Lamb leg is no easy trim job for kibbeh! Thanks for your note and idea for future here.