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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Making Sausage - Part 1

One of the great ways to stretch your food dollars, and to preserve as much of your bounty as possible, is to turn the "ugly" scraps of meat and fat into sausage. It is embodiment of the ideal that, "Nothing goes to waste".

There are 4 steps that lead you to sausage: Casing preparation, meat preparation, stuffing, and linking. I'm making an uncooked sausage here, so I won't get into smoking or curing.

I'm in the process of producing an Emergency Preparedness DVD (or series). The following images are from the sausage chapter (hence the URL reference on the images).

This post will cover casing and meat preparations.

What are the "skins" that encase sausages? In most instances, they are animal intestines and are referred to as 'casings'. For smaller sausages like hot dogs or breakfast sausages, you generally use sheep. For mid-sized sausages like bratwurst or Italian sausage, you will generally use pork. For the large sausages, such as bologna or salami, you use beef intestines.

You can also purchase edible collagen casings. I find them somewhat difficult to work with, and they seem to break apart too easily if you pan fry or grill the sausage. As I understand it, they are great for sausages you will be hanging to smoke or otherwise cure, as they are supposed to be stronger (at least until direct heat is applied).

You can purchase the casings online or at a local butcher shop. I get mine (and much of my equipment) from and have never had an issue with any of their products.

Generally, you purchase a "hank" of casings.  This used to be 100 yards, total, of casings.  Now, most sites tell you how many pounds the hank will hold, since a smaller casing will hold fewer pounds of sausage per foot.  I have found that with hog casings (which hold about 1 pound in two feet of casing), I usually get 12-15 individual casings that are each 15-20 feet long.  Generally enough to stuff 100+ pounds of sausage.

Don't worry, you don't need to make 100 pounds all at once!  The natural casings come to you in one of two ways:  In a brine solution, or packed in purified salt.  Personally, I prefer the purified salt.  It seems to make the casings tougher and less likely to break (very rare) while they're being stuffed.

This image is of (I'm guessing) 4 or 5 casings left from a hank I bought 2 years ago.  The white stuff is not ice (freezing will ruin natural casings), it is salt.  After you pull out the number of casings you need for your current batch, you add more salt to the casings (I use kosher salt - no additives), cover the tub, and put it into the fridge. 

The casings will supposedly last forever this way.   As I noted, these are two years old, and are in perfect condition.

You then need to rinse out the casings.  While they have been cleaned at the hog factory, considering their past function, I give them some additional cleaning.  I place the individual casing in a bowl, open one end and fill it with some water.  I flush the interior of each casing 3 or 4 times.

You will notice that as soon as water hits the casings, they get very soft and slippery.  Straight out of the salt, they are almost like a loose leather.

Once you've cleaned the casings, you need to leach the remaining salt out of them.  Take your casings and put them into a bowl of clean, fresh, cool water for about an hour.  I usually change the water after 30 minutes.

If you're using more than one casing, I strongly suggest you keep them in separate water bowls.  They tend to bind and knot up otherwise.

While your casings are soaking, it's time to prepare the meat.  Figure out what style you want to make, go to the Internet and pluck a recipe.  When starting, go with "fresh" or "raw" sausages like Italian, bratwurst, breakfast or the like.  Get your technique down pat before you move on to cured or smoked sausages.

I have found that pork butt or shoulder are the best choices for sausage.  They are cheap and naturally have the correct proportion of meat-to-fat.  You want about a 70/30 mix.  Don't get all health conscious and reduce the fat levels - you need it to make the sausage moist and juicy.

I made 10 pounds of sausage, so I purchased two shoulders each weighing 5.5 and 6 pounds, respectively.  You have to account for weight loss from any bones in the meat, plus skin.  If present, remove the skin, but cut off any of the fat that's on it (fat back).

You then want to cut out the bone, and cut the meat and fat into pieces that will fit into your grinder - about 1 inch in size.

Do not add any bone or sinew.  The sinew will gum up your grinder.

Before you start grinding, add all of your spices and water to the chunked meat.  Mix this all up as best as you can with your hands.  Doing this before you grind will help to ensure that all of your spices are well distributed in your sausage.

Start grinding!  Each sausage type usually calls for different "fineness" to the grind.  If it calls for a very fine grind, first put the meat through a rough grind, swap grinding plates, and put it through a second time.

I use a Kitchen Aid mixer attachment for my Family Grain Mill sausage grinder.  If we have no power, I'm able to do my grinding manually with the Family Grain Mill base.

Mix the meat one more time.  Take a small portion, make a patty and cook it up to test for proper seasoning.  Adjust as necessary.

Tommorow:  Stuffing and Linking

Accept The Challenge

Besides being healthy and delicious (and knowing the EXACT contents) homemade sausage is a great food budget extender.  I rarely buy ground meat any more.  Whatever cut of meat is on sale - beef or pork - will get turned into ground meat, vacuum sealed in two-pound packs, and get's popped into the freezer.

Also, if you have shot wild game, producing sausage out of the scraps of meat that remain after trimming out your kill make sure that nothing goes to waste.

Copyright 2009 Bison Risk Management Associates. All rights reserved. You are encouraged to repost this information so long as it is credited to Bison Risk Management Associates.


Andrea said...

I think this is the reason my husband is so determined that I get a new Kitchenaid for Christmas. He's dying for a meat grinder and sausage stuffer, but methinks the old mixer is about to give up the ghost.

Chief Instructor said...

I like the Kitchen Aid grinder attachment but am not crazy about the stuffing attachment. It's better than a blank, but it takes two people to stuff sausage. If you're going to get into making your own sausage, take a look at the stuffer in tomorrow's post.

Linwood said...

You have done it very well. Love to eat those sausages. Work of a fine meat grinder.