I spent most of Sunday afternoon making a couple batches of sausage from some bear meat that’s been sitting in the freezer just waiting for a special use. Though I’ve been making sausage from game meat for probably a dozen years, I still feel like a neophyte as I’m always learning something new. That’s what’s great about charcuterie (which is just a fancy word for processing and preserving meat). Here are a few great tips I’ve learned along the way, but I’d like to hear your experiences as well.
List your best sausage-making tip below by 5 p.m. (MST) on Friday, Aug. 17, and I’ll pick one winner to receive a Summer Sausage Kit from Hi-Mountain Seasoning.
1. Buy The Best Equipment You Can Afford
I know this gets preached a lot in all facets of the outdoors, but it applies to food processing, too, and is especially true when it comes to grinders: A cheap one can get clogged with sinew or, worse, fail right in the middle of a batch of sausage. A heavy-duty grinder will power through big, tough jobs. If your meat consistently comes out smeared, rather than ground in distinct form, it’s time for either a new grinder or, at the minimum, a new blade. Sharp knives and a quality stuffer will make life a lot easier as well.
2. You Get Out What You Put In
Sausage has a reputation of being the depository of all the random pieces and parts leftover from butchering, but that shouldn’t include bloodshot meat or otherwise poor-quality cuttings. The same goes for spices where the fresher the better should be the rule. If you want your sausage to taste like dust and grass clippings, go ahead and use those dried herbs that have been sitting in your cupboard for years. Otherwise buy new for a better end product.
3. Chill Out
I suffered through dry, crumbly sausage for years until I started keeping my meat and my grinder ice cold. That means placing both in the freezer for 30 to 45 minutes before grinding. (Okay, so you don’t have to put the whole grinder in the freezer, but do put the tray, blades, grinding plate, auger, and head unit in there.) Keeping everything cold keeps the meat and fat from separating or “breaking” during the sausage-making process. It also helps to grind everything in a metal bowl set in another bowl or tub of ice.
4. Take a Taste Test
Before you stuff your sausages, make a small patty from the meat and fry it in a pan. This will provide an idea of what the final product will taste like and give you the opportunity to fix any flavors before it’s too late. Just be sure to mix the new spices in thoroughly.
5. Study Up
Kind of like Rule No. 2, the more you know about making sausage, the more enjoyable the process and the final product. There are lots of resources on the Internet, but the best information I’ve found is in the wonderful book Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn. Pick up a copy, and I promise it will take you and your sausage to the next level.