Homesteading,  Recipes

First Time Sausage-Making

It took nearly three years, but I FINALLY got around to using the sausage stuffer that Scott gave me for Christmas awhile back! I’ve been wanting to undertake this project for a very long time, and I feel like such a homesteading geek for getting so excited about this! Our first time sausage-making went well, and I’m glad to finally have it under our belts.

The first strand of breakfast sausage!

After I was given the sausage stuffer, a relative stopped by with some ground beef they needed to clear out of their freezer, and I was all set to use that meat for our first sausage-making. However, this was when I was very pregnant with our sixth child, and unfortunately, that freezer died on us and we didn’t notice until it was too late (as in, we got a phone call while at the hospital that the freezer was dead and the meat bad). Needless to say, we didn’t make sausage then. There were a few times I had hoped to do it since then, but the right opportunity never presented itself. Until now.

A big part of raising the pigs for meat was the intention of having breakfast meats: bacon, and sausage. Honestly though, I didn’t give it much thought until we were actually butchering the pigs and I was saving parts for grinding and turning into sausage, or until we were cutting up the pork belly. Suddenly, both became a reality. We debated doing sausage right away after butchering, but frankly, we just weren’t ready. There was too much to be learned on the initial butchering, and I needed to make broth and can meat, and making sausage would have just been one task too many. After a bit of research into safety, we found it would be okay to freeze the meat, and then work it for making sausage at a later date.

The Prep

Looking back at this part of the process, and thinking about the future, I would still probably put off the sausage making for a day or so. However, I would have cut the meat to fit in the grinder, frozen it on sheets, and then broken it up and bagged it for grinding at a later date. I had to thaw out a big bag of large chunks of meat in order to be able to work with it. Had I pre-cubed the meat and made it so I could work with just some of it at a time, I wouldn’t have had to thaw the meat out so much.

Instead, I had to thaw it, cut it up, partially freeze it, then grind it before it was ready to use. I do think I could save myself a little on this step if I were to thaw the meat in cold water in the sink. I would probably be able to do it all without fully thawing the meat. But, note to self, take the time to cut it up before freezing if we won’t be able to make sausage immediately.

The ground pork. We had a perfect natural ratio of meat to fat, so I didn’t have to work any fat into it.

Grinding pork was not my first time using the meat grinder. I know I’ve heard and read and been told that partially frozen meat is the easiest way to grind, but I had never actually done it prior to the other day. Let me tell you, it is a complete game-changer. I read that you could use an ice bath or just keep everything cold in the refrigerator, that chilling the parts for the grinder would make things go through the grinder more smoothly. Nope. No. Just, no. Partially freezing is THE way to go. Nothing gets caught up in the grinder screw or blade or plates. Just as cutting partially frozen meat is much easier than cutting raw, so is grinding.

To partially freeze the meat, we cut everything into strips and chunks, about 1.5″ was the widest we made them. They need to be able to feed into the chute of the grinder. Length doesn’t matter as much, but width does. We spread the meat over some jelly roll pans and stuck them into the freezer. 45-50 minutes seemed to do the trick nicely. Some of the meat will be less firm than others, but I found this worked really well. The edges firm up more than the meat in the center of the pan, even if you are sure not to build too thick of a layer in the middle. I just alternated between the meat from the middle of the pan and meat from the edges, and everything pushed through brilliantly.

I even had a bit of a jam with some fat on a batch that I had frozen for less time (maybe 30 min?), but when I grabbed some of the more solid pieces off the next pan, it cleared the jam from the plate right up. What happens is that if the meat isn’t cold enough, any silver skin or gooier fat heats up enough to separate from the muscle, and it gets stuck on the nipple of the screw. The fat wraps around that end of the screw and won’t let go, and it clogs the plate, causing you to stop and scrape everything off. You’ll end up doing this repeatedly.

We did a bunch of grinding in one day of both pork and venison. After testing the pork and getting 3 clogs in the first 10 minutes, I decided I’d have to do the partial freezing. There was such a massive difference in how things went after freezing, so we froze all of the venison and the pork that we intended to grind.

Finding a Recipe

After sorting that out, we needed to figure out seasonings. We had a few seasoning mixes on hand, but I wasn’t too excited about any of them. Who wants to add dextrose, artificial flavor, or MSG to your home-grown pork?! Not me! I’m sure we’ll end up using the few packets we have, but we wanted to try something with the spices we had on hand. So after grinding the meat, we tested out a few different small-batch recipes. I made a pound of each, and everybody got to try some of the recipes.

We tested 4 recipes. The first three were ones we found online, and the 4th was a variation on the first to see if we liked certain tweaks. The tweaks were good, but we then tweaked that a little to get the version we wanted to mix first.

Recipe number one was from Grow a Good Life. I’m not a big fan of spicy, so we left the red pepper flakes out, and I think I put in less cayenne pepper than the recipe called for. I could still feel my lips tingling from the little bit of cayenne, so I figured we’d leave it out altogether if we made it again. Overall, we really liked it.

My brother-in-law was here butchering deer with us, and we were taste-testing sausage for lunch. He said that it could use a little more salt. I wanted to know what it would taste like with maple syrup instead, so we took note and tried these variations later, which I’ll get to in a bit.

Next we tested the Country Breakfast Sausage from The Real Simple Good Life. This was also a really good recipe, but personally, I didn’t like it quite as much as the first. I think it would have impressed more if it had been our first recipe instead of a sweet sausage. I do like that it’s Whole30 compliant, so if I’d try doing another Whole 30, I could have this in the freezer and eat these without worrying about all kinds of additives. Our only complaint on this one was that it was a little saltier than we’d have liked. This led us to decide that between the first and second recipes using 1/2tsp. and 1tsp. salt per pound (respectively), that 3/4 tsp. was probably the right amount of salt per pound.

I love maple sausage, and I figured that since we make our own maple syrup, that this might be a recipe we’d want to try. I found a copycat Jimmy Dean’s sausage recipe and decided to try that. I was just really disappointed in this one. It wasn’t bad, and if it were served to me, I wouldn’t complain or refuse to eat it. But it just didn’t have the right balance of flavors. Maybe it’s because we skipped the optional MSG? I think probably nailed the recipe in terms of copying the formula, but compared to the other two, it just fell short.

Scott and my brother-in-law said this one was too sweet and too salty. Personally, I felt like it didn’t have enough flavor, as in spices. It could have probably benefited from a bit of rosemary or a pinch of nutmeg. Just a little something to give it some oomph. But I couldn’t pick out what it was missing.

There were two other recipes that we wanted to try but didn’t. One from Real Tree sounds delicious, and we could have skipped the mixed variety of meats, but I didn’t want to try to do the math to pare down the recipe to just one pound for testing. And the one we found from Spending with Pennies is very similar to some of the others, but with added fennel, which we didn’t have on hand at the moment. I may test these when I do the next grind.

Mixing the spices… brown sugar, sage, rosemary, thyme, nutmeg, salt, pepper, and a bit of cayenne.

Finally, we tested a variation on the first recipe for recipe number 4. We swapped brown sugar for maple syrup, left out both the cayenne and red pepper flakes, and we upped the salt content to 3/4 tsp. per pound. We did like it, but it wasn’t quite as satisfying where the sugar was concerned. Scott and I both agreed the brown sugar was better for the flavor it added. Personally, I just felt like I wasn’t tasting the maple syrup, though I could detect the extra stickiness from the sugar content. And even though I don’t want spicy breakfast sausage, I realized that just a tiny bit of cayenne would have probably brought it to the next level. The salt, however, was perfect.

Some of the kids were taste-testing, too. I think everybody but Adam liked everything. Adam said the last version we made tasted like soap. He didn’t taste the first batch we made, so I’m not sure if he would have thought that with that one, too? I do think that the herbs came through stronger without the brown sugar, and I think he wasn’t liking the rosemary or nutmeg (or maybe the combo of those spices?). He did, however like the Country Breakfast Sausage. So, to keep everyone satisfied, I decide that our first time sausage-making would be with a variation on the first recipe, but our second would be the country breakfast sausage.

Casing Basics

In order to make the sausage, we had to do two things. First, weigh the remaining ground pork from our test run and make a batch of seasoning large enough for the amount of meat we’d be using, and second, we needed to get casings.

We took an evening run to Fleet Farm to pick up casings as our next step. I wanted to do small casings, but we also wanted to do natural casings. We ended up purchasing one natural hog casing (a good size for bratwurst making), and we picked up a small, cured collagen casing, the right size for breakfast links. We could have picked up a natural sheep casing, but it was almost the same price as the two other casings that we ended up getting.

The collagen casing on the left is what we used this time. We’ll try hog casings next time. These ones are larger, but there are smaller sheep casings we can purchase if we feel it’s worth the money.

As of right now, I can’t tell you much about the differences between the two, but I will tell you what I do know. Natural casings generally come from the small intestines of animals, mainly pigs and sheep. Different animals have small intestines that are different diameters, so a sheep’s intestine is smaller than that of a pig. Collagen casings are composite casings made up of collagen that comes from a layer of beef hide. It’s still a “natural” product, but not as natural as an intestine.

In the long-run, we’d like to use natural casings whenever possible, but for right now, we’ll test out both, just so we can get our feet in the door with this particular skill. I mean, if we don’t want to add MSG or dextrose, we’d probably want to use the intestines over a composite product.

For the very first sausage-making, we used the collagen casing. It was all about the size and cost. If the smaller natural casings hadn’t been significantly more expensive than the other casings, we would have bought that. And since I wanted to make breakfast sausage first, that’s why we went with the smaller diameter.

Even though we’d never used the sausage stuffer before, I made sure to wash everything thoroughly. We prepped the stuffer, and then I mixed the seasoning mix into the meat. Once the meat was properly mixed, we filled the canister of the sausage stuffer.

Stuffing the Sausage

The stuffing went much better than anticipated. It took about three small chunks of casing to get they rhythm right. I had anticipate being able to put the whole length of casing onto the extruding tube, but I didn’t realize you’d only be able to put so much on in one shot. It seemed that 3 feet fit best, but I ended up making a variety of lengths of stuffed casing, ranging from about 2 feet to 5.

Filling the chamber with pork. The first time I put casing on the extruder, I couldn’t get it on tightly, but after that, I was able to get much more onto the tube.

I listened to the advice from the Real Tree post about not filling the casings too full, and we only had one rupture during the stuffing because we let things get a little too tight. We used a 19mm collagen casing. I don’t have a sausage pricker, so we just used a sterilized needle to poke the casing and help remove air pockets. The tension releases a bit after pricking, and everything fills into place.

Once the sausage was stuffed, it was time to twist the sausage into links. Again, I followed the directions on Real Tree’s post, and it worked well. I was able to tie off the ends on themselves. I kept both ends of the casing open during twisting, which also helped prevent rupture.

The initial stuffing. I left far too small of a tail, and had to squeeze some of the meat out of the casing in order to be able to tie it off.

On the next batch of sausage, I think I will leave about 6″ of casing unstuffed on either end. The sausage pushes towards the ends if you start twisting from the middle, and if you leave too little a tail, it will ooze out of the ends of the casing as you get towards the end of the twisting. I was leaving 4″ but that seemed to be not quite enough.

This was by far, the longest sausage I was able to make. You can see the excess on the ends. I didn’t have to trim off as much as you’d think. The twisting really pushes the meat out towards the end quite a bit.

We debated a bit about how much was just right. Scott wanted to fill the casing more, and I less. We were both off, and the sweet spot was just in between what we both attempted. The links ended up around 4-5″ in length.

A finished strand. The ends aren’t tied. I left a few untied because I had stuffed the casing a little too full.

Scott did a trial run of cooking the stuffed sausage. The recipe was perfect, but the casing was much chewier than we had anticipated. I’m wondering if freezing will do away with a bit of that chew, or if cooking a little longer may. It wasn’t bad at all, certainly edible, and we could always remove the casing at mealtime if we decide we don’t really like it. We’ll try the natural casing on the next recipe, and we’ll have to see how the collagen casing cooks up after freezing. If we decide we really don’t like the collagen casing, we won’t use any more this year, and next year we’ll go with all natural casings.

Scott, working the casing onto the extruder before his first attempt at stuffing.

After everything was twisted, I packaged the links into vacuum sealed bags and put them back into the freezer until we’re ready to use them!

We made about 9.5lbs. of sausage, but we cooked around half a pound up before packaging to test the casing and the recipe, and we shared a bit with my parent, who were there while we were working on this.

Our Recipe

(Adapted from Grow a Good Life)

  • 10lbs. ground pork (roughly 75/25 meat/fat)
  • 10 TBSP. brown sugar
  • 7.5 tsp. salt
  • 5 tsp. pepper
  • 5 tsp. ground sage
  • 5 tsp. ground thyme
  • 2.5 tsp. ground rosemary
  • 1 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne
  • 1 cup ice cold water

Mix all seasonings together well, then mix into cold water. Mix into ground pork. Stuff meat into stuffer, and put a few feet of casing onto the extruder. Leave a 6″ tail, and begin cranking steadily. The meat will naturally push the casing forward. This can be done with one person, but it might help to have a second set of hands for the first time. Use one hand to pinch the beginning tail shut while cranking slowly to start. Once you get a good pressure going, use one hand to gently maintain the speed of the casing while cranking with the other hand. Do this until you have about 6″ of casing remaining on the extruder, and then slowly back- crank to release the pressure, and remove the rest of the casing from the extruder. Hold the ends of the sausage, and bring them together. Find the center of the sausage and twist a few times. Fold the sausage in half, twisting two sections together, and thread one of the “legs” through between the two new links. Continue this until you have all sections tied. I made roughly 4″ links.

I don’t know if natural casings would hold a twist better, but the collagen casings didn’t seem to have a good way to single-twist that would stay twisted, which is why I did a double-strand. I think I will get these partially thawed before cooking, and then cut the links. I still have some research to do to better understand this process, but for a first attempt, I’m happy!

What We’ve Learned

Sausage-making was one area of butchering that I was not really prepared for. There were things we couldn’t be prepared for because we simply lacked experience. I didn’t know what recipes we’d use, I didn’t know what casings I’d need, and I didn’t know how much it would have helped to pre-cut the meat for grinding.

In fact, if I HAD known all of that, I would have had my spice mix ready to go before butchering day arrived. And once I was ready to butcher, I would have prepped the meat for grinding after I had everything else processed, and worked on sausage-making while I had meat canning. But, you don’t know what you don’t know until you do know!

Throughout this next year, I want to be keeping track of our favorite methods of preparation, our favorite spice mixes and marinade recipes, and store it all with our butchering supplies. And before butchering day ever arrives, I’d like to have all of my spices ready to go, along with whatever casings we’ll use. In fact, we may just well decide to save the casings next year at butchering time. Who knows, maybe we’ll even have a smoke-house, and step up our homesteading game another level!

All the finished sausage! This is a little over 9lbs. of sausage.

I will probably do the rest of the sausage soon. I’d like to do another batch of breakfast sausage, a batch of bratwursts, and I’d like to try an Italian sausage of some kind so we’ve got our own pizza toppings. I believe I’ve got enough pork on hand to do each of those things. If I still have some left, I may try making chorizo, too.

Do you have a favorite sausage mix recipe? If so, please share! We’d love to try it.

Love and Blessings~ Danielle

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