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Musings on homemade sausage

foodlovergeneral asked me about homemade sausage and to avoid the possible wrath of a Chow police shakedown (off-topic), I thought I'd post here.

As I mentioned, homemade sausage isn't a mysterious, I-can-never-do-that type of activity. Armed with a $40 hand-crank grinder and stuffer tube, its a relatively easy task. In fact, many people skip the grind-and-stuff: they just season ground meat and make 'sausage' patties.

You can try this too. Buy 2lb ground pork, spread on work surface, sprinkle 1.5TBL salt, 1TBL black pepper, 3 TBL fennel seeds, mix well and you have 'sweet' Italian sausage. Want 'hot' Italian sausage? Add a TSP of cayenne and 2TBL crushed chile, mix. Cook a bit of it and adjust seasonings accordingly.
Form into patties, cover, and fridge overnite, letting the meat 'cure'. Cook or freeze next day.

Want breakfast sausage? Buy 2lbs pork and add something like this (I grabbed this from allrecipes.com)
2 teaspoons dried sage
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 pinch ground cloves
Form into patties, cover, and fridge overnite, letting the meat 'cure'. Cook or freeze next day.

Want Merguez? Start with ground lamb and add (from charcuterista)
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
3/4 cup roasted red pepper, diced
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 tablespoon spanish paprika
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, minced
Form into patties, cover, and fridge overnite, letting the meat 'cure'. Cook or freeze next day.

Well you get the idea; sausageis basically seasoned ground meat. The type of meat and seasonings determines the kind of sausage (hot Italian is my favorite).

Grinding your own meat gets you control of what goes in (lean/fat, gristle/no gristle, pig lips&ass/no pig lips&ass, etc etc) and consistency (coarse and chunky, or fine and smooth).
Lotsa people think grinding your own will save BIG bucks. In my experience, making my own sausage winds up to be the same price as store bought. Why do it then? Well, I enjoy it for one thing. That, plus I get EXACTLY what I want. Most store-bought hot Italian sausage ain't hot. I can make mine as wicked as I want. Most store bought sausage is >50% fat (this is what makes them yummy). I can control the amount of fat - I also make italian chicken sausage when I get on the health kick band wagon

Unfortunately, Mrs. Porker is getting a bit uppity and wants to go Xmas shopping. I'll continue this later. (not quite sure where its going anyway {;-/)
Oh yeah, as foodlovergeneral asked, I'll eventually get to air-dried sausage - I'll probably have to post a health warning or something, as many people get kind of squeamish when talking about home-curing.
See you later!

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  1. Do keep going, porker, it's very interesting!

    1. Thank you, Porker! I am really interested to hear about home curing. That is something that, even more than making my own sausages, seems way out in the magical realms of Yeah, Never Gonna Happen, Even Though It Would Be Awesome If It Did.

      Also, you know what? It never occured to me to do the patty thing if I lacked a stuffer. I think that'll be the way I go. Now I just need to find a banger recipe. One of my pet peeves about this city is the amount of Italian sausage - damnit, I don't want spicy sausages ALL the time! You must love it. :)

      What do you cure at home? Ham? Bacon?

      1. So looking forward to further sausage musings from you, porker. Your time in doing this is appreciated.

        1. porker, do you make jerky & dried sausage too? Those 2 items are always SO expensive & it sure would be nice to learn how to do this at home. Have tried the jerky in the oven & was underwhelmed at the results, just some leathery stuff that tasted like Worcestershire sauce, not my idea of what jerky should be. I just posted a thread about dried salami, etc. & someone mentioned a book to buy, don't have the title handy, but I guess this book is the one to get since a couple other posters mentioned it tool Just curious, why are the Chow police out to get you?

          1. Musings, Installment II (hehe)
            ok, before Mrs Porker has me doing chores on this sunny afternoon...

            I'm by far no expert. I dabble in charcuterie and just want to de-mystify it a bit. I regularly make fresh and dried sausage. I make pretty good ham and my bacon is OK, but still too salty for my likes - a work in progress. I also make jerky, but my version is leathery as well (I like it - hehe). I do beef but much prefer moose, but alas, my supply isn't as bountiful as it once was...
            I also do lonza once in awhile - air-cured pork-loin in a jumbo casing.
            I'd like to air-dry a whole pig leg - a la proscuitto - sometime, but haven't quite got around to that yet. To me, this would be the pinnacle of charcuterie!

            I would suggest a few books
            "Charcuterie" by Ruhlman is excellent.
            http://www.amazon.com/Charcuterie-Cra...
            he has a website/blog as well
            http://ruhlman.com/
            One of my go-to bibles is "Great Sausage Recipes and Meat Curing" by Kutas
            http://www.sausagemaker.com/71200grea...
            I bought this book years ago, used, for like $2. It might seem dated, but its a wealth of info. The Sausagemaker link also has good stuff to peruse, from seasonings to machinery to books.

            And finally, the Chow police aren't necessarily out to get me. Just that if I posted a recipe on another board, they'd say it was off-topic and would likely split it. (I used to get angry when they'd remove a post of mine, now its more like a rite of passage...hehe

            )

            OK Ok where were we?
            Oh yeah sausage!
            I'll re-count what my old Italian friend taught me and go from there (Sadly this man passed away a few years ago - I think of him everytime I do sausage). As I said, I'm not an expert, this is mostly just stuff that was shown to me and things I learned along the way...

            Carmine was the man's name and he said the salt was the most critical element in sausage making. Too much and your sausage is too salty. Not enough and your sausage won't "cure" properly.
            A word on curing. Salting was one way to preserve meat before refrigeration. This salting (regular table salt NaCl, or curing salts, sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate) will "cure" meats, help kill bacteria, and add a margin of safety. If you make fresh sausage, to be fully cooked before eating, you don't necessarily have to use salt. But, salting does give sausage a "cure" flavor or tang. It also changes the cooked color - your pork sausage or ham will be a rosy color rather than the gray color of non-cured pork.

            With this said, I cure with regular salt for all sausages I make. I use 15 grams per kilogram of meat. In general 1 level tablespoon is 10g, so I use 3 tablespoons per 2kg of ground meat. I know its a math thing, plus its the metric system (1kg=2.2lbs), but a little cyphering goes a long way!
            But then, I may be getting ahead of myself...

            Like I said, you can go out and buy ground meat, season, and stuff. But I prefer to grind my own, so I go to a somewhat local Italian grocery and buy a hind leg of pork. Some people like to use shoulder (the front leg), but I find theres way too much gristle, silverskin, etc etc. The back leg muscaluture is "cleaner".
            I carefully skin it (save the skin (in the fridge) to make a skin sausage, cotechino. Trust me, its good stuff!) then carve the meat from the bone.
            This is what really separates commercial sausage from home-grown. The store-bought will grind EVERYTHING: veins, silverskin, tendon, blood, good fat, bad fat, everything. Technically, this isn't necessarily bad, but 2 things: 1. I don't like that stuff, 2. for air-dried, the sausage has to start with only good stuff - good meat.
            As you carve the meat, discard the silverskin, tendon, any bloodied meat. Save the fat. Not the spongy, bubbly type of intramuscular stuff (discard), but the sub-cutenaeous lard-like fat. This is an integral part of fresh sausage (I add it later when grinding, but leave it out of the sausage destined to be air-dried).
            As you carve it out, its a good idea to place the pieces in the fridge, keeping it cold. Once deboned, cut the meat and fat into maybe 2 inch strips to fit into the grinder.
            Set up your grinder and grind away, adding piece by piece of meat, and occasionally a piece of fat. It kind of takes two people to do this - one to feed the machine, one to crank.
            Usually, I will grind once with a coarse die, then a second time with a finer die (Mrs Porker prefers a fine grind-sausage)

            OK, so now you have all the meat ground (or you bought it already ground). Weigh it and figure your salt content (lets say you have 15lb of ground meat. Divide by 2.2 to get kilos (6.8kg) then divide by 2kg (3.4) to get the amount of 3TBL salt (3.4*3TBL=10.2)
            So you need 11 level TBL salt. Measure this out. Spread meat over work surface and sprinkle salt evenly.

            Heres where my friend always got less technical...
            Add your fennel seed, black pepper, cayenne, and crushed chili. For 15lb meat, I'd use 2 handfulls fennel, 1 handful black pepper, 2 handfull crush chili, 1 handfull cayenne. Mix well by hand. Form a patty, fry, taste test. Adjust seasonings to your liking.
            Keep meat in fridge until you're ready to stuff.

            Remove blade and die from the grinder, replace with stuffing tube.
            Clean your casings.
            Word on casings...
            I buy mine in that same Italian market as the meat. One pack (about $6-$7) is good for one leg and they come salted. Before stuffing, place them in a bowl of tepid water, unwrangle, and cut in about 3-4 foot lengths. Run your tap with slow cold water and place the end of a piece of casing over the spigot like a hose). The cold water will fill the casing, run through, and remove the salt. After a minute or so, take off spigot and place in another bowl of clean water.
            Continue until all casings are cleaned.

            So now you have the grinder in the stuffing mode, the meat ground and seasoned, and the casings ready to go. Finally, cut some kitchen string into 6" lengths (this to close the sausage ends).

            Clean your work table, form the meat into baseball size balls. Place an entire casing over the tube (the sexual innuendos will start to come into play here!). I like to spray the tube with PAM, making it well lubed for the casings.
            You need 2 people again: one to feed the grinder with the meat balls and crank, the other to guide the sausage as it comes off the tube.
            Start the stuffing and when a bit of meat comes out, tie the end of the casing with a string. Now the stuffer can crank and feed while the sausage person guides the casing onto the table. Once the casing is full, tie off with another string.
            Twist the casing into links, place in a bowl, and fridge over night.
            Next day, you can cut the links, place in storage bags and freeze.

            I can write instructions all day, but the stuffing is where practice comes into play. You don't want the meat stuffed too loose, nor too tight. You also don't want any air in the casings; continually add the balls of meat into the grinder, avoiding air getting in.
            Twisting into links also takes a bit of practice.

            OK, the Mrs is getting that look again.
            I'll continue later with the nuances of air-drying, maybe touch on making a ham (its easier than sausage!), and the somewhat touchy subject of nitrates and nitrites (in my opinion, critical in home-curing). Also how to make cotechino from the skin.
            Mrs Porker is making a spaghetti sauce now with homemade sausage and cotechino in it!

            8 Replies
            1. re: porker

              Mr porker, yes yes, please tell us more....we are all gathered 'round the keyboard with ears glued to the pooter, waiting for another tidbit in the oh so wonderful world of charcuterie. But my dear sir, I am wondering if this process can be done on a smaller scale without a bunch of equipment & 2 people. I had visions of secretly slipping into my little chamber (kitchen) & waving my magic twanger (whatever that is) & emerging with some wonderful goodies to give to friends & family. Your process sounds like a butcher shop layout, although I would love to do it on that scale, but alas, I am grounded in reality & a tiny kitchen. Is there hope for us starving souls that dream of smoky links laying there next to a nice bottle of vino & some tangy cheese & some homemade crackers (recipe from the CH folks). Speaking of cheese, have you made any cheese to go with your delights? Please forgive me for that question, mere mortals can only dream. In the mean time, I shall follow every post & keep notes (and dream). Thank you.

              1. re: cstout

                Howdy cstout,
                I'll post a pic or two of my "butcher shop layout" - a hand cranked grinder bolted to a 28" by 32" table. Thats it.
                My friend used a grinder like this
                http://www.amazon.com/Meat-Grinder-Sa...
                and attached it to his small kitchen table (it wasn't his true kitchen, but rather a small room in the basement he referred to as the cantina
                )Me?
                I bought a slighly sturdier one like this
                http://www.amazon.com/Manual-Grinder-...
                modified a small table by adding an arborite top and drilled holes to bolt the grinder.

                You could do it low tech: buy the meat pre-ground (as mentioned) and stuff the casings with a funnel and wooden spoon. I guess one can become proficient, but the bunch of equipment needed for the grinder set-up (doubles as a stuffer) is not too much, I think.

                Doing it solo is also possible, but trickier.

                I never attempted cheese making. I used to make wine, but the end result was never good enough.

                1. re: porker

                  Looky here porker, I am NOT going back to a wooden spoon & funnel, I did that in a past life, not a good thing. Anyway, I get the drift, but I know that it is pretty hard work grinding that cold meat by hand. That handle gets harder & harder to turn after awhile. Yes, buying the meat preground is an idea, but that is cheating. Well, I guess I will shut up & listen. There always has to be someone to pipe up & put in a useless two cents worth & I am usually the one to do it. I promise I won't get out of hand again. Carry on dear Sir.

                  1. re: cstout

                    I don't think that manual grinding should be that much of an issue. Apart from stating that it's part of an exercise regimen, there is always an abundance of "unskilled labor" generally available in most families who can be press-ganged into turning the grinder handle (I believe some people refer to them as children).

                    1. re: wattacetti

                      wattacetti, I have no children, but I agree it is good excerise, if your arthritis is not acting up. Anyhow, I am going to get the old grinder out of the barn & see what I can do.

                    2. re: cstout

                      Please get outta hand, I like comments from the peanut gallery!
                      It is somewhat difficult cranking that handle, especially when you do the skin. Being the genius that I am, I figured an electric grinder would solve all my problems. Knowing this, wifey bought a $100 grinder for me about 3 christmas' ago. It was broken on boxing day (plastic gears don't hold up to grinding skin...). It was returned, money back.
                      Months later I bought another one for $130 with metal gears. Broke the first time I used it. Apparentyl the Chinese-steel collar holding the die in place wasn't meant to hold back a missed bone fragment...
                      So If I get the hankering for another electric, it'll be an industrial type, something like this
                      http://www.ebay.com/itm/NEW-MEAT-GRIN...
                      The problem is I'm a cheap-bastard genius. I can't justify spending hundreds of dollars for a machine when I have a perfectly good $40 hand-crank...

                2. re: porker

                  I do a little of my own sausagemaking as well, and I second the recommendation for the Ruhlmann book - it's pretty incredible. I don't have a place where I can air-cure meat in a controlled environment, so I only make fresh sausage currently, but I can't wait for the day when I have a nice cool basement for air curing!!!!

                  1. re: porker

                    I make lots of fresh sausages as well and third [or is it fourth] the recommendation for Ruhlman/Polyce's Charcuterie as a wonderful place to start. New book called Salumi will be out this fall.

                    Just one tip to add to porkers wonderful messages... make a small patty and cook it up before stuffing or making the whole batch into patties. By tasting, you can adjust the seasonings to exactly your tastes. And that is one of the points of making your own. You can make it JUST the way you like it.