Man has been eating sausage since before the ancient Greeks began to record history. And for a good reason, sausage, made correctly, cannot only help to preserve meat but is one of the finest meals you can put on a plate.
A brief history lesson
Sausage making is one of the most efficient outcomes of butchery, and in Ancient times all sorts of “leftover” meats were used to make sausages. The oldest record of sausage making dates back to Mesopotamia, from the third millennium BC. A tablet with cuneiform writing describes a dish containing intestine casings filled with some sort of mixed meat.
In China, in the Northern and Southern Dynasties that ruled between 59n BC and 420 BC, a sausage made from goat and lamb meat seasoned with various herbs was quite a popular dish. Called lup Cheong, this sausage has evolved during the coming centuries, and its modern version is very popular due to its high shelf life. The sausage has a high lactobacilli content, which helps preserve the meat, but it also gives it a sour taste.
Even the Greek poet Homer mentioned sausages in his writings, and he even wrote a comedy about a sausage vendor that is elected leader by the common people. Sausages were popular both among the Greeks and the Romans.
In modern times, the best way to ensure that your sausage is of the highest quality is to make it yourself. It only takes a few tools and techniques to turn out an outstanding product. Sausage can be either loose, like breakfast sausage, or stuffed into casings like Bratwurst, Chorizo, or Andouille.
Cased sausages can be refrigerated and cooked fresh, or they can be cured and or smoked for longer storage.
A note on safety here: cured sausages benefit from using a sodium nitrite preservative known as Instacure #1, also known as pink salt or Prague Powder #1, at a rate of one teaspoon per five pounds of meat. This will prevent the formation of botulism spores in the sausage as it cures.
Making sausage the easy way
To make loose, breakfast-style sausage, simply grind and mix your preferred ratio of lean meat to fat. When making pork or wild game breakfast sausage, a 70/30 ratio of lean meat to pork fat is a great place to start. This yields a finished product that is easily molded into a patty and holds its shape well while cooking.
Leaner mixes make excellent sausage as well but tend to be drier and may crumble as the sausage cooks. As far as meat grinders go, they range from small, tabletop, hand-crank models to electric meat grinders like those from Weston Products or LEM’s.
Attachments to fit KitchenAid style mixers are also available and do a good job of grinding and mixing meat.
Regardless of the style of grinder you use, start by cubing your meat into pieces that will easily fit into the neck of your grinder. Chilling the meat before grinding is always a good idea.
If the meat becomes too warm during the process and begins to gum up the grinder, ice can be added to the mix to cool things back down. Most meat grinders come with multiple plates that allow you to range your grind from coarse to fine.
Start with the coarse plate, mixing your lean to fat in the basic ratio you desire. After running the meat through the coarse plate, add your seasoning and run the meat through the coarse plate again. This double grind gives the correct sausage texture and helps mix the seasoning evenly throughout the sausage.
If you are making hot dog-style sausages or want a finer grind for breakfast sausage, substitute a finer grind plate on the second pass through.
Seasoning can be as simple as a pre-mixed commercial packet or a custom blend of your own choosing. Either way, it pays to stop the sausage-making process after the first batch and fry a sample piece to check for taste before mixing the entire batch. This basic recipe makes a good starting point for customizing your own seasoning blend.
Making fresh sausages
Country Breakfast Sausage
- 2 pounds of ground meat
- 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons black pepper
- 2 teaspoons fresh sage, or 1 teaspoon of dried sage
- 2 teaspoons fresh thyme, or 1 teaspoon of dried thyme
- 1 Tablespoon light brown sugar
- 1 ⁄2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Optional: 1 ⁄2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
After trying the above seasoning blend, experiment with it to tailor it to your liking. Additional pepper, maple syrup, different herbs, chili powder, garlic, just about anything you like can be blended in.
Fresh sausage will keep up to one week in the refrigerator or up to a year in the freezer. The best way to package sausage is with a vacuum sealer, but zip-style freezer bags or meat tubes from a butcher supply company work as well. The secret to preserving flavor is removing as much air as possible from around the sausage before freezing.
To make stuffed casing-style sausages, grind and season your meat in the same fashion as loose, then stuff it into the casing with either a sausage stuffer attachment on your grinder or with a dedicated sausage stuffer. The casings can be twisted into links as they fill, or filled completely and coiled into one large link.
Casings can be natural or synthetic, with natural pork casing being the most popular for fresh sausage. Synthetic casings are used most often in large cured sausages such as summer sausage or salami. Natural casings are edible, while fibrous synthetic casings are not and must be peeled from the sausage before eating.
Natural pork casings are shipped in a salted state and must be hydrated before use. This is accomplished by soaking the casing in cold water for thirty minutes, doing a water change then soaking for another thirty minutes. At this point, the casing can be rinsed. After rinsing, open one end and pour in clean water. Push the water through the length of the casing, squeezing to eliminate most of the water as you go, and it is ready to use.
Before loading the casing onto the stuffer tube, drizzle some vegetable oil onto a paper towel and wipe down the outside of the tube. This lubricates the casing and helps it to flow freely off the stuffer tube as it fills. Filling the casing works best as a two-person job. The first person works the stuffer while the second holds the casing and either twists the individual links or coils the long sausage as the casing fills.
This method works with a variety of sausages.
Try the following recipes when making sausage at home for a nice sampling of fresh sausage.
- 5 lbs ground pork, fine grind on the second pass
- 1 cup crushed ice
- 4 teaspoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 tablespoon ground sage
- 1 1⁄2 teaspoons paprika
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
- 1 Tablespoon dry mustard
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 4 teaspoon salt
Mix all ingredients and stuff into 35mm natural hog casings. Run approximately 12 inches of sausage, pinch at six inches, and twist. Continue to end of the casing.
- 6 lbs ground pork
- 3 1/3 Tablespoons finely minced garlic, fresh is best
- 2 Tablespoons salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon cayenne
- 1 teaspoon ancho chili powder
- 1⁄8 teaspoon mace
- 1⁄8 teaspoon allspice
- 1⁄2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 1⁄2 tablespoon paprika
- 1⁄4 teaspoon sage
- 3-tbsp liquid smoke, or smoke the sausage for three hours at 200 degrees after stuffing
- 1 cup cold red wine
Mix all ingredients and stuff into 35mm natural hog casing, coiling sausage as it fills.
Mexican Style Spicy Chorizo
- 5 lbs ground pork
- 1 cup cold red wine
- 3 heaping tablespoons paprika
- 1⁄3 cup crushed chili peppers
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 Tablespoon cumin
- 3 medium onions, finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1 Tablespoon garlic powder
- 2 Tablespoons salt
Mix ingredients and stuff into 35mm natural hog casing, pinch, and twist into 10 to 12-inch links.
Making cured sausages
Summer sausage is a great way to use leftover venison trimmings. Try mixing the lean venison with pork butt in a 60/40 ratio. Summer sausage is a cured sausage and requires Instacure #1 to guard against botulism while curing.
Commercial summer sausage kits abound and can be found in most sporting goods stores, butcher shops, and some groceries. These kits come with the proper amount of seasonings, cure, and synthetic casings to do anywhere from ten to twenty-five pounds of summer sausage. Simply follow the mixing instructions on the kit of choice and stuff with a large tube into the supplied casings.
Summer sausage is either slowly cooked or, preferably, smoked at low temperatures. The best smoker for making sausage is an electric model with the ability to start the temp as low as 100 degrees. The standby wood for smoking sausage is hickory, but a small amount of apple, cherry, or pecan lends a nice flavor as well. More on meat smoking secrets here:
Using a remote thermometer allows you to monitor the internal temperature of the sausage without opening the smoker door as often. Hang the sausage in the smoker and start the smoker at 100 degrees. Maintain this temperature until the internal temp of the sausage is at 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
At this point, raise the smoker temperature to 130 degrees and run until the sausage reaches an internal temperature of 110 degrees. At this point, you are ready to finish cooking and browning your sausage.
Raise the smoker temperature to 160 degrees and leave the sausage in until it hits an internal temperature of at least 152 degrees. Your sausage is now safely cooked. Remove it from the smoker and submerge in an ice water bath to stop the cooking process.
Remove from the ice water and hang at room temperature until the internal thermometer reads 70 to 75 degrees. Once you are at this point, the sausage gets refrigerated overnight to continue to set to the correct texture.
Any sausage that is not going to be eaten immediately can be vacuum-sealed or tightly wrapped in foil or freezer paper and frozen. If cooking your sausage in the oven, follow the same temperature and time guidelines.
Making sausage at home is an easy and safe process as long as you keep good hygiene and follow the meats’ proper mix ratio. You can experiment with various ingredients for seasoning your sausages, but remember to always taste the mix before filling the casings.
I recommend making sausage at home since you can preserve sausages in various ways, and you will make sure there’s always some in your freezer when you get meat cravings.
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