By Tom Claycomb
“Why make my own sausage?” you may ask. Here’s how I’d answer: If you shoot an animal and take it to the processor, your hunt is over. Processing it yourself will add another dimension to the experience.
Today I hope to encourage you to begin along that road, to start experimenting and to try to eventually make a batch of delicious sausage on your own.
We’ll start by answering a hard question. You hear a lot of bad news about nitrites in our food, so why would we add them to our sausage? Well, the purpose of nitrites is to preserve meat, which was of extreme importance years ago before refrigeration. It still is if you throw a roll of sausage in your pack for an all-day hike. Nitrites also allow you to smoke at low temps; without which bacteria counts would sky rocket. When you cold-smoke you’re only hitting a temp of something like 87- to 91 degrees—perfect incubation temps for salmonella.
Moving along, these days in my sausage-making seminars I’m often asked if sausage was better in past years. My answer? No way. In the old days they were limited to the local spices: Italian sausage. Where do you think that it originated? Bologna? Bologna, Italy. Frankfurters? Frankfurter, Germany. Now, we have all the spices of the world at our fingertips. We can make any kind of sausage that we want. Also, in decades past they smoked with whatever wood they had in their locale. Now we can get mesquite, hickory, alder, apple and whatever else without much extra effort.
As to specific meats, I’ve made sausage from antelope, deer, elk, bear, moose, pork, beef and even chicken. The big thing is not to use soured or freezer-burned meat. A little soured meat can spoil the whole batch.
I also recommend you make your sausage somewhere around 75-80% lean. Too much fat and it will be too greasy; and if it is too lean, it will taste dry. Pork adds immensely to the flavor and helps moisten your lean game. As my contribution to being healthier, I now use some fatter pork cuts instead of pure fat. That way I’m also adding some good pork meat.
What spices do you need to use? This will be determined by what kind of sausage you want to make. There are a ton of different varieties. Then on top of that, there are multiple recipes for every type of sausage. I like to mix my own spices, but to start I’d recommend that you use a pre-made package. You can get these at most outdoor stores.
For the grinding use an 1/8-inch plate. If you’re grinding by hand, you’ll want to use a coarse plate first and finish with your 1/8-inch plate to ease in the grinding process. Meat grinds best if it’s slightly icy and not warm and sloppy.
You must mix the spices uniformly. You can mix them with the fat, and then mix the fat and the meat together and grind; or you can mix the spices with water and pour over the meat before you fine-grind it.
So now we have the spices, meat and fat all blended together. Run it through the 1/8-inch plate. You now have your batch. Make a small patty and fry it up and see how it tastes. If it’s bland, add salt, sage, pepper, cayenne pepper and so forth to taste. Fix it now or forever hold your peace.
When making links I like to use natural casings. I don’t think collagen casings are as permeable to smoke. Additionally, soak your natural casings in warm water. Then put one end on thefaucet and flush out the preserving salt or it will ruin your sausage. To stuff your sausage put a horn on the end of your grinder. Wet the casings and slide them on the horn. Tie a knot and turn on the grinder to force sausage into the casings. Twist the link every foot so it can be cut into links later.
Finally, let’s talk about smoking. The real sausage makers will do a cold-smoke. This will be in the 90-degree range and the smoke will flavor and dry out the sausage. However, I wouldn’t recommend cold-smoking until you have someone train you or you read up on it. Utilizing a hot-smoke, you’ll want to make sure that your sausage hits the proper internal temperature to ensure that you have killed all the bacteria.
According to the USDA Appendix A guidelines, salmonella dies at 158 degrees instantaneously, at a constant temp of 145 for four minutes, at 140 for 12 minutes and descending from there. So even in a hot-smoke, your sausage doesn’t have to hit 158 degrees, as long as you smoke at the proper duration for your temperature. If hot-smoking, though, you don’t want to overcook it. Likewise, USDA guidelines state that trichinosis dies at 145 degrees, though 160 degrees is recommended. Trichinosis inpork can also be killed by freezing, but freezing will not kill all strains in bear meat. Curing can also kill most but not all Trichinella larvae. So the safest means of eliminating trichinosis is by proper cooking. (Don’t cold-smoke bear sausage, and don’t make bear or cougar jerky, as both can have trichinosis.)
Last, sometimes your sausage will have a red ring around the outside, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not been thoroughly cooked. The smoke itself can cause this ring to appear, as can the nitrites. Rawness, of course is the third possibility, so it’s critical that you use a calibrated thermometer to check the internal temperature of your meat when smoking. (To quickly calibrate a thermometer, fill a glass with ice and then water. Swirl it around and then insert your thermometer. It should read 32 degrees. If it doesn’t, adjust.
These are just the basics, of course—I’ve personally taught sausage-making seminars and have made a lot of sausage, but I still consider myself a rookie. There’s always more to learn. My advice to you is to start off by making small batches. Experiment with different spices, and remember, after you’ve mixed your batch, fry a little patty and taste. If it’s not flavored to your satisfaction, add more spices before you stuff it. Most important, just get out there and give it a try. Like me, you will find that making your own sausage adds a whole new element to your
Author Tom Claycomb hunts and fishes from Alaska to Louisiana and writes regular columns for newspapers in Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Nevada and Colorado. He also teaches outdoors seminars for Cabela’s, Bass Pro Shops and Sportsman’s Warehouse.