The kitchen is the heart of our family. My dad would spend the weekends making vats of marinara sauce and in the late summer my mom would be canning blueberry jam. Back when apples were cheap we’d make gallons of applesauce with the food mill and mix in low-bush cranberries for color. Most of my childhood memories are centered around cooking.
One staple in our family is sausage. I remember waking up early on Saturday morning to the loud humming of my dad’s homemade motorized sausage grinder. I was thrilled to stuff hog intestines with meat — I was the best sausage stuffer in the family thanks to my deft, friendship bracelet-making hands.
My dad owns one of the most popular sausage-making sites on the Internet, sausagemania.com (yes, that is really the name). People from all over the world come to his site for his detailed recipes and tutorials.
When we decided to make 100 pounds of Italian and breakfast sausage this morning at 7:30 I thought it would be the perfect time to make my own tutorial for my little DIY audience.
Sausage making 101
- Meat grinder (this is optional as you can always buy ground meat, but when you grind it yourself you know exactly what’s going into your sausage).
- Sharp butcher’s knife for cutting pork butts/shoulder
- Sausage stuffer
- Natural casings – 29-33 mm hog casing is what we use
- Baker’s twine
- Pastry brush
Some notes before we start:
If grinding your own meat, you’ll need to chop up 2-3-inch chunks of pork shoulder (a.k.a. pork butt and Boston blade). The sausage needs at least 20% fat: with too little fat, sauage will not slice but will crumble like dry breadcrumbs and taste like cotton. So avoid lean (but pricey) cuts, like loin, and go for the cheaper cuts.
Casings come hanked (like a big skein of yarn) or tubed, and are either wet-packed or dry-packed in salt. Hanked casings are a real pain — they get knotted up with one another, they need flushing and are hard to run up onto the stuffing horn. So get dry-packed tubed casings.
Use fresh spices, either from the bulk spice section at your supermarket, a local spice and tea store, or online. One of the best, most comprehensive spice sources is Spicebarn.com.
- 10 pounds of ground pork, at least 20% fat
- 1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon coarse salt
- 2.5 tablespoons ground black pepper
- 2.5 tablespoons wild fennel seeds
- 1/4 cup + 1 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
- 10 cloves minced garlic
- 3 tablespoons hot pepper flakes (optional)
- olive oil for stuffing purposes
First, soak your casings in hot water for 30 minutes prior to stuffing them. Don’t remove them from their plastic holders yet or they will get all tangled up.
Chop up the pork butt with a sharp knife and feed it through your meat grinder using at 3/16″ plate. If meat isn’t fatty enough, add chunks of solid pork fat intermittently as you grind the meat so it’s evenly incorporated.
Mix the ground meat thoroughly to ensure fat is distributed throughout.
Next, add your spices and herbs and mix until well incorporated. Add 1 cup of water to make it easier to mix and stuff the sausages.
Mixing sausage is great for an upper body workout! It’s very important to keep mixing and mixing until there are no hidden pockets of spices left: you don’t want one of your guests chomping down on a sausage filled with nothing but garlic or pepper!
Next, make a small patty and fry it up so you can test for flavor. Adjust flavors to taste.
Prepare your casings for stuffing. Remove them from their plastic holders and run hot water through the casings to open them up and lubricate them, which makes them much easier to stuff.
Now it’s time to stuff! Clamp the stuffer base to the table. Fill the stuffer’s cylinder with sausage mix, taking care to tamp the mix down all around to avoid air pockets, which can cause little explosions of air into the casing as you stuff.
Once the stuffer is filled and in place, lubricate the stuffing horn with oil and run a casing up onto it. Keep your baker’s twine nearby in case of blow outs. You’ll use it to tie off any broken parts of the casing. Crank the sausage stuffer a little bit to remove any air that was left in the stuffing horn. Tie a knot in the casing and begin stuffing!
Stuffing takes a little finesse. You don’t want to stuff too quickly as it will blow out the casing when you try to twist the sausages, but you don’t want to stuff too slowly as that will result in flaccid sausage (gross, I know; sorry). The goal is to let just enough casing come off to produce a decently firm sausage that can be subsequently twisted without causing a burst.
Underfilled casings can be resurrected to a degree by making small links, while overfilled casing can be salvaged by making longer links.
If you get any blowouts while stuffing, immediately stop and tie off below the ruptured area using your bakers twine. Tie off the end of the casing as you did in the beginning and resume stuffing.
Once stuffing is done, it’s time to twist the sausage into links. This is a critical step, requiring some experience. If the casing is limply filled (a major shortcoming for novices), make short links, as the twisting action will firm up each link (the more you twist, the plumper the link). If the casing is tight, make longer links to avoid increasing the pressure in the casing and causing a burst link.
Choose a link size and gently (and slowly) pinch the casing. Then twist the link you’ve just make toward you, say 4 or 5 twists. When you pinch the next link, twist away from you, so that the first link does not unravel. So it’s Toward and Away, Toward and Away, until the last link. Then cut the links free in quantities of four or five for packing. Don’t worry, the “pinches” hold just fine after cutting.
Your finished sausages are ready for packing. If you have a vacuum packer, use it. If you don’t, wrap the links tightly, first in plastic wrap and then in freezer paper. Note: if you have a chamber-type vacuum packer, such as the VacMaster shown here, chill the sausages thoroughly before packing. Otherwise the air still trapped in the sausages will get sucked out by the vacuum, taking the sausage mix with it, like toothpaste coming out of the tube! If you have a suction-type packer, this will not be a problem.
Now freeze your sausages so you can fry them up all year long! For a more detailed tutorial, please visit my dad’s site, Sausagemania.com.