I seem to state a lot of absolutes when I write on APP. I love this. I love that…so on, and so forth. Of course, one reason I talk about so many things I like is because I refuse to talk about things I don’t. Some posts might require a balanced approach depending on the topic, but more often than not I put fingers to keys to extol the things that move me. You do not see a whole lot of posts about strawberries for one simple reason. I don’t like them.
While my likes are easy to count, one specific food rises above the rest. It is just about a perfect food. It’s easy to grill, it’s portable, it can be eaten without utensils, and it can be as varied and interesting as you like. It’s the sausage.
Even though I’ve grilled my fair share of sausages through the years, it has only been the last few months I’ve started making and stuffing my own. I’ve talked about this forever, but the largest stumbling block to my sausage making journey has been one elusive tool: the vertical sausage stuffer. No more talk, Daddy has a new toy.
I’m not going to talk about specific recipes here, but rather what my takeaway has been thus far and more importantly, words of encouragement if you are on your own sausage journey. Maybe I should re-write that last sentence...oh well, you know what I mean.
The Meat Grind
Whatever you do, be sure to use fresh ingredients and grind the meat yourself. I’ve ground a lot of meat over the years, and for sausage it is just as important to grind fresh meat at home. Sure, a professional meat grinder would be nice, but my meat grinder attachment for my Kitchen stand mixer, along with an after market cutting blade knife works fantastic. In a short matter of time, I can make easy headway through five pounds of diced pork shoulder.
When making sausage, it is imperative the meat is kept cold to keep the fat and protein from “breaking.” Every bite should be juicy and flavorful, not dry and crumbly. Keeping meat cold before, during, and after the grind ensures this. Prior to grinding, leave the diced pork in the freezer until it is almost frozen. Then, grind the meat into a bowl set on a bowl of ice. Finally, return the meat to the fridge until ready to stuff. The key? Keep it cold.
In order to ensure an evenly mixed sausage in terms of taste and texture, the meat, fat, and seasonings need to be bound together. While it can done by hand, a stand mixer with a paddle attachment makes short work of it.
While I have made bulk sausage before (i.e. sausage without casings), it is the actual stuffing process that had alluded me. While Kitchen Aid makes a stuffing attachment, it is not ideal to go right from the grind to stuff, as we have talked about so far. Certainly a cheaper, hand-stuffer can work, but ideally, a vertical stuffer is the best solution. Hopefully, you will not be like me and wait six years to buy one.
Stuffing is easy but takes some work. After the casings are soaked in water and then rinsed, slide them onto the tube of the filled stuffer. With on hand on the casing as the sausage leaves the tube, crank the stuffer down to continue to extrude the sausage. This is the part I’m still trying to get perfect. The key is to completely fill the casings, but not overfill them, so the casings over expand.
Once the casing is filled, measure off into 6-inch lengths (for most types of sausage) and twist in the opposite direction to secure. The readers on the sill are totally optional.
Grill or Smoke
I like my sausages both smoked and grilled. However, no matter the method, obtaining the proper finished temperature is key and for pork sausage, that’s 150 F with an instant-read thermometer.
For sausage on the grill, start out over direct medium-low heat, 275-300 F for a few minutes a side, and then move to indirect medium-low heat to finish. About 15 minutes total.
For smoked sausage, like Andouille, I used the smoking rack on my Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker to hot smoke. Hot smoking, versus cold smoking, is smoking at a temperature around 180 F. Since the finished temperature of the sausage is 150 F, the hot smoke is a very slow gradual cook.
Another key to smoking sausage is to hang the sausage to dry prior to the smoke. The dire casings help develop pellicle, which is a tacky surface for the smoke to adhere.
While all of my sausages have turned out good, I think it could use a little work before I call them great. These andouille were good, but they don’t look award winning. That said, the preparation of the process, much like my most recent pâtés, is straightforward. I just need to fine tune it.
When it comes to sausage, combinations of flavors know no limits. As summer, marches on, I'm looking forward to more stuffing and more experimentation. While it takes an investment of time and money, making sausage is immensely more rewarding than picking up a packet at the grocery store.
Thinking of giving it a shot, don't take my word for it. For a more definite guide, I recommend Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn's Charcuterie. The book, among other things, is my sausage bible. Now, what should I stuff this weekend?