Our recent visit to the Fort Worth Stockshow got me to thinking about something....
Yep. I need to make some sausage.
I like making sausage and smoking meat for several reasons. You know exactly what goes into it, you can make it exactly the way you want it, and there's always something primally satisfying about cooking with fire - or in this case fire and smoke. Sausage making fills all those bills. You can't get too much more in touch with your inner carnivore than grinding up an animal, stuffing it into its own intestines, and cooking it over a fire outside :)
The process of modern sausage making that I describe here is a little more streamlined, for convenience sake, but the bones of the whole process are pretty much the same. For instance, I bought my meat and casings. There's absolutely no reason that I couldn't use meat from an animal that I killed myself as well as the intestines of that animal for the sausage. It would just involve a bit more work.I used a mixture of Pork and Beef for this batch of sausage. The pork was in the form of a 9 lb pork butt roast (bone in). I cut the meat off the bone and into small chunks. After boning I guess I had about 8 lbs of meat or so. I put the chunks of pork into a large bowl and mixed it by hand with 3 lbs of lean hamburger.
You need to season the meat before you grind it so that the seasonings are well distributed in the sausage. You're going to test a bit of the meat before you stuff it into the casings, so you'll have a chance to adjust the seasonings. Its way easier to fix "too little" than it is to fix "too much" - so take it easy. You can always add more if its bland when you test it. My seasoning mix for this batch was as follows:
3 tbls kosher salt
2 tbls black pepper
2 tbls sugar
2 tsps sage
1/4 cup cure
A word here about cures. If you don't use an effective cure when you smoke sausage you run the risk of developing botulism in the finished product. Not a good thing. There are many cures you can buy commercially. There are cures you can formulate yourself. Educate yourself and understand what you're doing if you do the latter.
I use a commercial cure (usually tenderquick), because its easier. I didn't have any on hand for this batch, but I did have some cure that came in a sausage making "kit", so I used the amount recommended in the instructions for the kit.
I mixed the dry ingredients above with a cup of cold water to make a slurry. Then I poured the slurry over the meat chunks and mixed it by hand until well distributed.
As an "extra touch" for this batch I decided to included garlic. But not just garlic powder... no. I roasted 5 complete heads of garlic which I mashed up and mixed in with the seasoned meat. YUM!!
I put the bowl of meat in the freezer for a bit. You don't want the meat frozen solid, but stiffening it up a bit in the freezer makes it grind a lot easier.
While I was waiting for the meat, I had to deal with the casings. One of the "odds and ends" I picked up at Cabella's when we stopped there on the way home last weekend was a package of hog casings.
"Natural" casings come in two main sizes. Sheep casings which are suitable for breakfast link sausage and hot dogs, and Hog casings which are larger. I wanted to make brat sized sausages so I got the Hog casings. They come in a package packed in salt, so you need to rinse and clean them per package directions. After you cleaned and flushed them, you'll want to let them sit in some water for 30 minutes or so to make sure they are rehydrated. I've found that warm water is better since this wakes up some of the latent fat and makes them easier to handle when stuffing.
When your meat is ready to go, you need to grind it.
Thats how my meat looked before grinding.
I have a hand cranked grinder that I can use if we are off grid for some reason - but in general I use a home sized electric grinder. Its not the big industrial beast that my Dad has... but it will do the job for small batches that I usually make. I grind using about a medium plate.
Once your meat is ground, make a patty out of some of the meat and fry it up. This is your one chance to adjust the seasonings. If you like the taste, proceed. If you don't, adjust the seasonings by mixing in more of whatever it needs.
This is the sausage after we stuffed it. I say we at this point, rather than I, because there's no way in hell I could perform the stuffing operation with my set up by myself. A manual stuffing horn is slow, but manageable by a single operator. An electric stuffer moves too fast. My Mrs. is good enough to jump in and help with the stuffing when needed. The stuffed sausages are left in the refrigerator overnight to dry out a bit. Make sure the rack they are on allows air to circulate around the links.
My smoker is a side firebox iron smoker. It has a vertical smoke chamber that I really like. I removed most of the racks except the top one. I use S hooks from the hardware store to hang the sausage from. My wood this time was a mixture of dry hickory for heat, and water soaked mesquite for smoke. I like to keep the smoke chamber temp between 100 and 150 for the first hour. For the second hour I let the temp come up to around 160 or 170.
Before I lit the fire, I set up my meat thermometer. I have a digital thermometer that has a probe with a long lead. I thread the lead through the smokestack and insert the probe into one of the links. The digital readout is outside the smoke chamber, so I can monitor the meat without opening the door. I usually smoke sausages for 2 hours or so.
You can kind of see the thermometer probe on the right side of the pic. I took this pic after smoking the meat for two hours. Sometimes two hours in the smoker is enough to cook them completely. Sometimes its not. It depends on how hot the smoke chamber is during the 2 hours of smoking. This batch was only up to 130 degrees internal temp after two hours - so they still had a little way to go before they are done. When this happens I finish cooking the sausage inside the house by baking in a 275 oven until I get an internal temp of the sausage of 155.
Yes, you could just leave the sausage in the smoker until its done. It would be just fine. However, I've found that anything more than 2 hours in the smoke doesn't make it taste any better (to me). It's at its peak, for my personal tastes. At this point I'd rather just get the meat inside and finish cooking it faster in the oven.The final step is very important: Immediately after the sausages are "done", dump them into a container of ice water to cool them down. IMMEDIATELY! If you just let them cool on their own they will often shrivel up. They'll taste fine, but they'll look like crap. Cooling them in water cools the inside more rapidly and allows them to stay plumper. The sausages can then be dried off with paper towels. Keep the sausages in the fridge, and freeze any that you aren't going to eat within a few days.
Our first meal from this batch: I sauted onions in a little olive oil until tender, and then tossed them with sliced smoked sausages in the pan until the sausage was heated up. I topped the mixture after plating with some diced tomato and a touch of fresh grated mozzarella cheese..... I didn't take a picture, 'cuz I ate it too fast :)