Sausage making is a creative outlet for chefs that takes ordinary ingredients and transforms them into the extraordinary. Sausages have a long history in the culinary world dating back to ancient Greece and China times. They are a cost effective way of using excess trim from meat fabrication in a professional kitchen.
Bratwurst, Italian sausage, Mexican chorizo, and breakfast links are all types of fresh sausages that are made by grinding meats with salt and seasonings and stuffing in casings or used in bulk form. These types of sausages are typically made with a campagne (country style) or straight forcemeat.
Frankfurters, hot dogs, bologna, and mortadella are examples of emulsion sausages. They are typically prepared with a 5/4/3 forcemeat that contains salt, seasonings, and nitrites such as Prague Powder #1. They are often whipped and emulsified with non-fat dry milk powder. These sausages are usually stuffed, cooked, and sometimes smoked prior to final cooking. Mousseline forcemeats are also used for the preparation of some fish or seafood sausages and usually require the addition of a panada.
Dry & Semi-Dry Sausages
Dry and semi-dry sausages use a fermentation process to produce a characteristically tangy taste and chewy texture. These sausages use salt, nitrates such as Prague Powder #2, spices, sugar or dextrose, and sometimes lactic acid bacteria (LAB) starters. Semi-dry sausages are fully cooked and often smoked, and dry sausages require extended time to age but require no cooking.
- Semi-dry sausages including summer sausage, Lebanon bologna, and thuringer uses the quick method of fully cooking in water in a smokehouse which partially dries the product. It is the quickest, most efficient way to produce fermented sausages.
- Dry sausages, including Soppressata and Genoa salami, are fermented and dried under a carefully controlled process for weeks or months and lose about 30% of their original weight because of moisture loss. These products keep for years requiring no refrigeration.
High standards of food safety must be maintained at all times. A separate area of the kitchen designated for sausage prep is a good idea to prevent problems with cross contamination and food borne illnesses especially when preparing dry sausages that require no cooking. When preparing dry cred sausages the use of pH strips is recommended to ensure the safe preparation of them.
Food temperatures go hand in hand with sanitation. Chilling the equipment such as grinders and mixing bowls, partially freezing the meats before grinding, and adding ice to the forcemeats, and mixing ingredients over ice all helps the process. Temperature is crucial in creating the correct consistently of the forcemeat. Remember that in all cases emulsions are sensitive to temperature and will the colder they are the better the mix.
Meat – Pork is the most popular type of meat used for sausage production. Other meats that are used include beef, lamb, veal, chicken, venison, duck and even fish and seafood. Best cuts of meat are usually from the shoulder, pork butts, beef chuck, and the neck area. Make sure the meats are free of sinew and gristle which can make the sausage tough and jam up the grinder when grinding meats.
Fat – Pork fat back is considered the best for sausage production. Jowl fat is equal if not superior to fat back and pork belly can also be used. The pork shoulder butt has an almost perfect lean to fat ratio for many sausage recipes. Other fats used include lamb or beet fat.
Salt – Essential in sausage production especially for dry-cured and smoked sausages as a flavor enhancer it also limits bacterial growth. Salt is important because it extracts myofibril proteins in meat needed to bind and emulsify fat. Kosher salt is recommended and should always be measured by weight. Generally, the concentration of salt is 2.5-3.5% of the weight of the ground meat before any ingredients are added.
Curing Salts – Used in the production of various types of sausages, pink salt or tinted curing mix (TCM), also goes by various names including Prague Powder and Insta Cure. Curing salts aid in the prevention of food borne bacteria like botulism. They also add color to the product.
Lactic Acid Bacteria (LAB) - Dry sausages and for other foods including cheeses, yogurt, beer, and sourdough bread all are the result of bacterial fermentation. The lactic bacteria used in salami making are salt tolerant and produce lactic acid from the glucose (dextrose) in the meatwhich has the effect of lowering the pH, raising the acidity level, and eliminating harmful bacteria.
Starter Cultures – Starter cultures eliminate the guesswork of determining if enough LAB are present in the meat thereby producing more consistent results. Starter cultures are commercially available from a variety of sources and include patented formulas like Bactoferm™ F-LCthat are capable of acidification as well as preventing the growth of food borne illnesses like Listeria.
Sugar - Essential to the process of making fermented dry cured sausages is the presence of sugar in the form of glucose (often called dextrose). Glucose is a sugar that contains carbon hydrogen and oxygen atoms. LAB convert glucose to lactic acid which lowers the pH in the meat mixture thus inhibiting the growth of less desirable bacteria. Meat muscles contain some sugars that are not easily converted in the initial phases of the curing process so other sugars are often added.
Spices & Herbs – Dried spices and herbs are common in sausage making. Be sure that they are fresh and have a pleasant aroma. Grinding whole herbs and spices will provide a better flavor. Fresh herbs can be used but if substituting for dry herbs they will need to be increased by at least three times. Taste-testing the sausage mixture is recommended for taste as well as texture.
Ice/Cold Water – Used to add moisture and to keep the mixture cold.
Secondary Binders & Emulsifiers - Non-fat dried milk , panada, rice, potatoes, eggs, and soy protein are all types of binders, emulsifiers that can also act as fillers in sausage production.
Garnishes – Folded into a forcemeat to add complementing or contrasting flavors and textures, garnishes include fresh herbs, whole spices including peppercorns or fennel seed, diced vegetables, smoked meats, nuts, fruits, truffles, and cheese. Vegetables should be blanched or fully cooked when added to forcemeat. Nuts can be toasted for enhanced texture and flavor. Test the mixture for taste and texture.
The standard for sausage preparation is a 2:1 lean to fat ratio (65-70% lean meat to 30-35% fat). Some ratios are as high as a 1:1 lean to fat ratio (50% lean meat to 50% fat) or lower at a 4:1 lean to fat ratio (80% lean meat to 20% fat).
Natural – Made from the intestines of pork, lamb or beef these casing have a characteristic “snap” yet a tender bite that makes eating sausages so enjoyable. The sizes vary depending on the type of animal with lamb having the smallest diameter casing and beef having the largest. Casing sizes are further divided by whether they are found in the animal from the small or large intestine, or from the bung or bladder of the animal.
Hog casings are divided into small intestines, middle intestines (middles), hog bung (end) and sewed bungs in which two casings are sewn together and allow for a larger diameter. Beef are divided into rounds, middles and bungs.
- Natural pork sausage casings are packed in salt and sold in bundles called “hank” (100 yd. /91 m), in tubes, and tubs. They are also sold as “shorts’ which are 39-78 in. / 1-2 meters in length.
- Soak the casings for at least 30 minutes up to 2 days to remove salt and excess odor. Rinse and flush the casings in clear running water after soaking to remove any residual salt. Repack extra casings in kosher salt and store refrigerated or frozen.
Caul Fat-A thin, netted membrane that surrounds the internal organs of animals, such as hogs, cows, and sheep, used similar to a sausage casing for wrapping ground meats, roasts, pates and terrines.
Artificial Sausage Casings
Collagen – Made from beef or pig hides, bones and tendons and also derived from poultry and fish. Permeable to smoke and moisture, the uniform shape and low cost make this a good option for sausage manufacturing. Collagen casings are edible although some thicker casings used for salamis are meant to be removed before consuming.
Cellulose - Produced from polysaccharide found in wood, straw and cotton, these non-edible casings are made for producing skinless or smoked sausages with automated equipment.
Fibrous – For the production of dried or smoked meats because they are permeable for smoke penetration and moisture evaporation. This type of casing is used for sausages that are peeled before serving.
Plastic Casings - Used in commercial production of ham, bologna and salami, plastic casings provide a strong barrier to oxygen and moisture that maximize the shelf life of the sausages.
Prepping Sausage Casings
- Rinse the casings while they are still tied together being careful not to tangle them.
- Place them on a properly sanitized table or in a sink and separate the casings individually being careful not to knot them.
- Open one end of the casing and slide it on the end of a sink faucet. Gently run some water into the casing to flush it out
- Place flushed casings in a container of fresh water until ready for use.
Procedure for Fresh Sausages
Mise en place
- Trim meats of all excess sinew and gristle; this will help create a better texture and it will avoid problems of jamming during the grinding phase.
- Weigh the meat and fat.
- Measure the seasonings and other ingredients.
- Ideal temperature for grinding meats is between 28˚F.-2˚C and 30˚F/-1˚C
- Partially freeze meat for better grinding and to maintain safe temperatures
Forcemeats for sausage making have various types of textures ranging from a coarse, rustic style to a fine emulsion. Depending on the type of forcemeat, progressive grinding should be used if a fine grind is desired. Further processing can be done in a bowl chopper or food processor. The meat should be extruded cleanly and the meat and fat should have a clear distinct appearance and not look mushy. If the meat is properly cleaned of sinew, and is cut to the correct size for the grinder being used, the worm will pull the meat and fat through easily without much exertion of pressure.
Primary Bind Mixing
After grinding the next phase is called the primary bind and usually is done from 30 seconds to 2 minutes in a mixer fitted with a paddle or in a food processor. This step helps the forcemeat hold together and also blends the meats, fats, seasonings and other ingredients into a homogenous mixture. Always check temperatures with a thermometer and process the mixture over a bowl of ice or add ice to the forcemeat. If needed, chill the forcemeat after grinding and before the mixing stage to maintain safe food temperatures. Chill the mixture after mixing to maintain a temperature of to 32°-35°F/0°-2°C
Make a small patty and sauté it for taste and texture. Alternately, poach a small quenelle. Adjust seasoning as needed.
Stuffing the Sausages
Stuff the sausages in desired casings making sure not to over stuff to avoid bursting.
Procedure for Emulsion Sausages
Mise en place
- Trim the meats of excess gristle and sinew
- Weigh the meat and fat but keep each separate
- Measure the seasonings and other ingredients
- Cure the meat
- Grind meats and fat separately through a grinder to achieve a fine texture.
- Combine meat with ice and process in a bowl chopper or food processor to a temperature of 30˚F/-1˚C
- Add the fat to the meat and continue to process to a temperature of 40˚F/4˚C
- Add the nonfat dry milk and continue to process to 58˚F/10˚C to allow the fat to emulsify fully with the meat.
Stuffing the Sausages
- Stuff the sausages as desired. Remove any air bubbles with a needle. Hang the sausages for 12-24 hours in a cooler to form a pellicle.
- Smoking & Cooking
- Emulsion sausages can be cold smoked at 40-70˚F/4-21˚C before fully cooking using a moist heat method.
procedure for Dry-Cure Sausages
- Dry sausages require tracking pH levels, humidity, temperature, and the length of the drying phase. Keeping detailed records is important.
Mise en place
- Trim the meats of excess gristle and sinew
- Weigh the meat and fat but keep each separate
- Measure the seasonings, curing agents, and other ingredients
- Partially freeze fats and meat
Progressive Grinding & Curing Phase
- Grind fat in a meat grinder to the desired texture and keep separate from the meat. Place fat in freezer to keep cold.
- Combine meats with salt and curing salts. Grind meats to achieve the desired texture.
- Combine meats and fat in a mixing bowl. Keep cold.
- Dissolve cultures in distilled water and add to the meat.
- Mix with a paddle attachment for 1 minute.
Stuffing the Sausage Casings
- Stuff the sausages into casings
- Prick with a sterilized needle to remove air pockets and facilitate drying
- Tie off in desired lengths
The incubation phase occurs within the first 12-24 hours and helps the beneficial bacteria grow producing lactic acids that keep the unfavorable from multiplying.
- Cover and let sit at a temperature 85˚F/30˚Cfor at least 12 hours
- Humidity level should be at 75-85%
- ph level should be between4.5-5.0
The drying phase is done under using a temperature, humidity, and light controlled environment. The temperature during this phase is generally 55-65°F with a relative humidity of 70-80%. Sunlight damages the product and can result in excessive or uneven drying. Some airflow is good too. Using an old reach-in cooler fitted with a pan of salted water for humidity provides a good environment. Sausages can lose 30% of their weight or more in the drying process. Moisture levels should be monitored with pH strips.
- 6-8 days – small sheep casings
- 30 days - pork casings
- 60 days - beef bung sausages
Dry sausages will acquire a white powdery mold. This is acceptable and edible. Green or fuzzy molds are indications of spoilage.