Basics of Making Sausage

We have been trying to expand our skills at curing meats, making specialty meat products and making sausages especially from wild game. We started with the simplest versions of fresh sausage, then progressed to stuffing natural casings to make sausage links and then started smoking the links. We have made fresh breakfast sausage, sweet Italian sausage, smoked Keilbasa, smoked Andouille, smoked elk sticks and boudain.

Types of Sausages

grinding elk meat with electric grinder

Ground elk using an electric grinder. Notice the fat that has been added.

There are many different types of sausage that require various amounts of time, effort, equipment, knowledge and skill to produce.

The simplest types of sausage are fresh (uncooked) loose sausage like breakfast sausage or sweet Italian sausage and also include slightly more involved uncooked stuffed sausages like bratwurst.

Intermediate types of sausages in terms of difficulty, time and equipment are the uncooked, smoked sausage like Polish keilbasa and smoked Andouille sausage or the cooked, smoked sausage like wieners, frankfurters, bologna, boudain or cotto salami.

The most advanced types of sausages for the DIY home sausage maker include the dry, raw fermented sausages like French saucisson, Spanish chorizo, and Italian Genoa salami and pepperoni and the dry & semi-dry un-fermented sausage like summer sausage.

Food Safety

You have probably heard that making your own sausages can be dangerous. Yes it can, just like making potato salad.

If you allow food to get contaminated and then allow bacteria to grow, it can kill you if you don’t cook it properly. So yes, there are a few safety considerations. But if you can keep your surfaces, utensils, containers and equipment clean. If you can keep the meat clean and cold and if you can carefully measure ingredients, you can safely cure meat and make sausage.

I know a few people that cure their own meats and make sausage, and trust me, none of them are brains surgeons and they haven’t made anyone sick yet.

Every book, every website and every PDF file about curing meats and making sausage should stress food safety. Read more on food safety for curing meats and making sausage for more information.

Simple Rules for Making Fresh Sausage

  1. Keep meat and fat cold. The cold slows the growth of any bacteria. It also makes grinding easier and helps with mixing of the meats and fats. The goal is to have an even mixture, an emulsion of meat and fat (called forcemeat), not just meat coated with melted fat. Any time you are not grinding or seasoning the meat, it should be in the refrigerator or the freezer or in a bowl of ice.
  2. Keep containers cold. This helps keep the meat cold. Put metal bowls and the grinder parts in the freezer prior to use. Put them back in the freezer between batches or when cleaning out the sinew that gets wrapped around the grinder blades.
  3. Cut meat and fats into strips. Many recommend that meat be cut into cubes, but every meat grinder I’ve ever used seems to handle long strips better than cubes. Also, by feeding two strips of meat with one strip of fat, the meat to fat ratio is fairly constant which reduces the mixing later.
  4. Use very cold water or even crushed ice with recipes calling for water.
  5.  More of a hint than a rule, for fine ground sausage, grind first time with the course setting and then grind again with the fine setting.

Good Information about Making Sausages

The most complete source of information about making sausage comes from the Charcuterie book first published in 2005 and revised and updated in 2013. This book has encouraged thousands of home cooks and chefs to try curing their own meats and to make sausage.

Some very good information about making sausage or jerky comes from State Universities and State Agricultural Extension Services. Two Examples:

Simple Fresh Elk or Venison Breakfast Sausage Recipe

Fresh Sausage patties are the simplest to make because they require little time and minimal equipment. Since the sausage is not stuffed into casings, the only equipment you need is a meat grinder and a large pan or bowl. Grind meat and fat, add spices and mix. Make into patties or roll into small links and cook.

hand grinding elk meat

Course ground elk and fat using a hand grinder.

You can make breakfast sausage from any cuts of meat. We have made this basic recipe with variations from elk and venison. When using lean meats, you will need to add between 25 – 40% fat. If you use meat like pork that already has lots of fat, then take that into consideration. The beauty of making your own sausage is that you control everything. If you want lots of fat, add more. If you want less fat, then reduce the amount. Every batch is a test to see what you like best. Take notes so you can replicate the results later.

For fat, we have used beef fat, pork fat and even bacon. Add a few simple herbs and spices like salt, black pepper, sage, rosemary or red pepper and Jimmy Dean “ain’t got nothin’ on you!”

Table 1. Fat to Meat Ratio for 10 Pounds of Breakfast Sausage

Meat (lbs) Fat (lbs) Fat (%)
   6.0    4.0   40 %
   6.5    3.5   35 %
   7.0    3.0   30 %
   7.5    2.5   25 %

Use the simple rules for making fresh sausage (above) and the ingredients list below as a guide, but experiment with different types and amounts of ingredients until you find your favorite breakfast sausage. To make a 10 lb batch, start with the meat and fat from Table 1 for the desired fat percentage.

To 10 lbs of meat and fat mixture add:

  • 8 – 10 teaspoons salt (use less salt if using bacon or fat back)
  • 2 – 3 teaspoons black pepper
  • 2 – 3 teaspoons coriander
  • 2 – 3 teaspoons thyme
  • ¼ – 2 teaspoons red pepper (to suit your spice tolerance)
  • 3½ – 5 tablespoons rubbed sage (2½ – 3 tsp dried sage)

Feel free to leave one or more ingredients out or consider adding other ingredients like parsley, garlic, onion, rosemary, nutmeg or even roasted red peppers.

Since fresh sausage is not cured, it must be cooked immediately or refrigerated or frozen. It should be consumed within a week after being refrigerated or thawed. But trust me keeping a supply on hand will be the problem.

Simple Fresh Elk or Venison Sweet Italian Sausage Recipe

Again, use the simple rules for making fresh sausage (above) and the following list of ingredients as a guide. To make a 10 lb batch of sweet Italian sausage, start with 7 lbs of meat and 3 lbs of fat.

Ingredients list:

  • 7 lbs lean meat and 3 lbs fat (30% fat)
  • 8 – 10 teaspoons salt
  • 3 – 5 tablespoons sugar (brown or white)
  • 4 – 5 tablespoons cracked fennel seeds
  • 2 – 2½ teaspoons oregano
  • 2 – 3 teaspoons black pepper
  • ½ cup fresh chopped parsley
  • ½ cup chilled white wine or ice water

Herbs and spices can be added to meat before it is ground or mixed into the white wine or water and poured evenly over the mixture after the meat is ground. Mix well until fat and spices are evenly distributed. If the mixture is not extremely cold, put back into the freezer and finish mixing after it is cold. As options, add ½ teaspoon of nutmeg and/or 10 – 12 cloves of garlic or 2-4 teaspoons of rubbed sage to the seasoning mixture.

stuffing sausage with electric grinder

Stuffing sausage into casings with an electric grinder.

This mixture could be stuffed into casings to make links, but can also be cooked loose. Use in place of or in combination with ground meat or roll into meatballs.  To make spicy Italian sausage, just add some paprika and/or red pepper.

Since the meat grinder or meat mincer was not invented until the 1800s. All sausage making prior to that was made by finely chopping meat and fat. So it is possible to make sausage without a grinder, but you will have to cut meat and fat into small pieces with a knife. Just remember to keep everything cold.

Want to try making corned elk or elk pastrami? (read post)

Comments

  1. Jerry Y. says:

    I’ve been making sausage and curing meat since the early 80’s, my very first attempt was duck sausage which did’t turn out as well as I hoped but it sparked an interest since then I make home cured hams, have made everything from jerky to dry cured pepperoni, I enjoy making my own products and sharing them with family and friends! I enjoyed you article and look forward to any other articles on this subject.

    • Thanks for the comment Jerry.
      I wish you were my neighbor. Nothing like looking over someone’s shoulder and to learn a thing or two from a master. Anyone that has made their own dry cured pepperoni is a master in my book. I think it’s important for people to keep these DIY skills alive.

      We are making elk hotdogs for our Memorial Day cookout. We also like sharing with friends and family and I look forward to the surprise on their faces after they’ve had a taste. Yes, we did it ourselves!

    • I’d like to make and then smoke some sausage this weekend and the recipe we have includes curing salt. Is it OK to mix sausage, prepare links and then freeze or must it be smoked right away?

      • Aldina: To make sure I understand correctly. You want to mix your sausage (meat, spices & curing salt, stuff them into casings, form the links and then freeze them to smoke later. Since you are using curing salts, it should be safe. The mix could also sit in the fridge for a few days without the need to freeze it. If you do freeze the sausage, make sure they are completely thawed before smoking them. Otherwise they may not cook completely in the middle.

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