32 Sausage Making Tips to Save You Grief

The following material was developed by Barry "Chuckwagon" Bryner.

1. Always use good meat to make good sausage. If you toss junky meat into the hopper, you’ll have junky sausage to contend with. Good Boston Butt (pork shoulder) is the first choice for sausage making. Incidentally, have you ever wondered why pork shoulder is called “Boston butt”? Meat cutters in the eighteenth century seaport Boston, Massachusetts, packed cuts of pork shoulder into wooden casks called “butts” to be placed aboard ships…

uhhh…. which brings up the question, “ Do folks in Boston know their shoulders from their butts?

2. The meat MUST be kept as cold as possible throughout the entire mincing, mixing, and stuffing process. Place the grinder blade and plate into the freezer 20 minutes ahead of time. If the plate and knife heat up, it can affect the mixture in all sorts of ways. Don't be afraid to add a little softened crushed ice chips now and then. Never try to grind hard-frozen ice cubes with your grinder.

3. Work with small batches of meat at a time and never miss an opportunity to refrigerate the meat at any time during the process.

4. Always cut the meat into chunks about an inch in size before they go into the grinder. This prevents sinew from wrapping around the auger, binding it down. When this happens, the meat is usually pushed through the die and is torn rather than being cleanly incised.

5. Freeze fat before putting it into the grinder to prevent “smearing”. Meat should be nearly frozen to prevent “mushing”.

6. Freezing ruptures meat cells as ice crystals expand. When the meat is thawed, it exudes a mixture of proteins, minerals, blood, water, collagen, and other meat juices we view as simply blood. This liquid should be saved and added to the sausage. Quick freezing produces less rupturing of meat cells.

7. Avoid using beef fat in sausage as well as the fat of wild game. Beef fat is yellow and the taste is inferior to that of pork fat. Also, avoid the fat of sheep or goats unless specified in a particular ethnic sausage.

8. The most important reason for not stuffing casings as the meat leaves the grinder, is that minced meat needs to develop myocin and actin, (proteins) that makes a sticky "meat paste". This is done either by hand or by using a mixer, but must be done in order to have proper texture in sausage. An investment in a vertical, geared, stuffer will keep you sane and made short work of stuffing casings.

9. The texture of sausage may be improved by freezing the fat then cutting it into larger dice by hand, rather than passing it through a grinder. The frozen fat is then folded gently by hand, into the primary bind.

10. Sausage must contain salt for a variety of reasons. Never reduce the amount of salt in a sausage recipe without professional advice. How much salt is needed in sausage? About 2% in fresh type sausage or 2 grams per 100 grams of meat. However, 2% used in fresh sausage, is simply not high enough for safety in a fermented “dry-cured” sausage requiring up to 3%. Dry-cured sausages without starter cultures (called “traditional” sausage), require even more… anywhere from 3 to 3.5%. Four to five per cent salt is unpalatable.

11. Follow recipe directions precisely. Observe established rules in method, procedure, and technique. You cannot make your own rules in sausagemaking and expect them to work. In other words, you cannot “fudge” on established, time-honored, and proven sausagemaking regulations. The inexorable rules in place in the sausagemaking world today are the summation of knowledge throughout centuries of world history. Most people who substitute ingredients, alter the technique, or alter the recipe, have a disaster for an end product. Nearly all of these people will blame the recipe.

12. Good sausage contains 20 to 25% fat. Fat lubricates the meat and gives it flavor. It also serves as a binder and although the content may be lowered, without it, a sausage’s texture becomes almost unpalatable.

13. Make sure the grinder blade is not on backwards. It must be pressed up against the plate with just a little pressure. You should be able to adjust the pressure as you detect just the slightest bit of resistance on the machine.

14. Never attempt to sharpen the flat side (plate side) of the blade. The contact surfaces must remain flat within a few thousandths of an inch. (Think of the two “flat contact sides” of a scissors. A cutler never touches them. He does however, grind the beveled edges to sharpen them.

15. After grinding, add the cure mixed in a little water for even distribution. Mix the spices and cure into the meat and continue mixing until the myosin develops a sticky meat paste.

16. Always use sterilized (prepared) spices in sausage. Non-sterile fresh spices and herbs from your garden may contain various bacteria from the soil and can spoil a batch of sausage within hours.

17. The purchase of an electronic scale is a solid investment you’ll never regret. Use it for precisely measuring salt, cures, and ingredients of all types.

18. To get the last bit of sausage out of the grinder, put a slice of bread down the hopper and continue grinding until the meat has cleared the plate.

19. If you use wine in sausage, be sure it is not a fruity sweet wine, and then limit the amount used. More is not better; too much wine makes the texture crumbly because it denatures the proteins, including the very important binders actin and myocin. Please use only “dry” wine. The best way to add it is using an atomizing "spritzer" to spray it in while it is very cold during the mixing step.

20. Always preheat the empty smokehouse, add the sausage, then raise the temperature gradually - only a few degrees at a time at twenty or thirty minute intervals over several hours. I have yet to meet a sausage maker who didn’t ruin his first batch by cooking it too quickly. If the fat “breaks” (melts) and grease runs out onto the bottom of the smoker, you may as well toss the batch and start again. Cooked too quickly or too much, it is impossible to salvage.

21. Trichinella Spiralis is destroyed at 138°F. (59°C.). Prep-cooked sausages such as “brown n’ serve” are often cooked to the temperature of 148°F. (64°C.) for later heating to a final serving temperature of around 155°F. (68°C.). Sausages smoke-cooked to this temperature are guarded against most spoilage and pathogenic bacteria including salmonella, listeria monocytogenes, and toxoplasma - responsible for 1,500 deaths annually. However, it is critical that internal meat temperatures above 168° F. (76° C.) in "smoked-cooked sausages" be avoided as fat starts breaking (melting) at this point and will melt in pockets inside the sausage, eventually running out of the sausage. If this occurs, the sausage's texture will invariably replicate sawdust! You may as well throw it out and start again from scratch. And don't feed it to your dog! He deserves better. During prep-cooking, always heat and smoke sausages “low n’ slow

22. Always use non-iodized salt in sausage making. Iodized salt leaves a metallic taste behind.

23. After grinding, add the cure - mixed into a little water or cold stock - for even distribution throughout the meat.

24. Having ground meat for sausage, we must remember the simple task of developing a “sticky meat paste” that sausage makers refer to as the “primary bind”. Cold meat (just above the freezing point) must be mixed and kneaded well enough to develop the proteins myosin and actin. As this occurs, the mass will become sticky and develop soft peaks when pulled apart. The proper development of myosin and actin is critical for good texture in the finished product, although the meat should never be overly-mixed, as this may result in the sausage becoming "rubbery" in texture.

25. It is a good idea to develop the primary bind before vinegar, tomato, or any highly acidic food are added. In chorizo, blend in vinegar, but do not over-develop the mixture. Too much vinegar in the recipe will denature proteins and create other problems.

26. If you are making a “semi-dry cured” sausage that requires prep-cooking to an internal temperature of 150˚ F. (66˚C.), be aware that cooking in an oven with slightly lower heat, will cause a sausage to dry out more as it cooks longer.

27. If you have used vacuum sealing bags, you’ve probably experienced smashing sausages that have lost their shape. A simple solution is to place them into a deep freezer an hour before placing them into vacuum sealed plastic bags for longer storage. The quicker the meat is frozen, the smaller the ice crystals will be which will rupture meat cells affecting the texture of the sausage.

28. If your emulsified hot dogs and sausages are tough or rubbery in texture, you may be over-extracting the actomyosin myofibrillar proteins. In other words, you may be mixing the sausage a little too much, especially with the addition of salt or water. This elasticity may also be perceived as toughness or stiffness in texture. Most often an “insufficient amount of water” is bound to receive the blame for this elasticity or toughness when it is not.

29. Grind fresh black pepper just before it goes into the sausage. Use a coarse “butcher’s grind” for fresher aroma and better taste. Store bought pre-ground pepper has lost its taste. Leave it on the shelf and grind your own peppercorns for great tasting sausage.

30. Collagen casings cannot be linked by twisting them. They must be tied off using string, or simply cut to length using scissors if using smaller diameter casings like those for breakfast sausages.

31. Avoid air pockets in sausages by firmly packing the meat into the stuffer using your fist. Make certain the pressure relief valve is working properly. Trapped air pockets in casings are pierced deeply with a needle in several places immediately following stuffing.

32. Moisten hardwood sawdust well ahead of burning time, and do not soak it to the point it is dripping wet. Turn the hot plate to high until smoldering begins, then turn the heat down until it only produces constant but very little smoke. Moistened wood is not as acrid. Smoke penetrates meat much faster at higher temperatures. A case in point may be a sausage perfectly smoked at 120° F (50° C) for 4 hours. The same sausage may acquire a bitter, over-smoked flavor if smoked at 250° F (120° C) for the same length of time.