It was an ambitious project, in many ways an overly ambitious project: 25 pounds of pig, 4 willing friends and a well-stocked home kitchen. But after having made fifteen pounds of fresh sausage and enjoying the fruits of our labor, we felt the satisfaction of an excellent meal well earned. The coming days would lead me into producing another 3 pounds of stuffed sausage (it was much easier the second time) and another 5 pounds of fresh sausage. This post will walk through the process of making fresh sausage, plus some tips learned through our experience.
With the exception of about 2 lbs. of ground beef, all of the sausage was made from pork and fat from the half-pig I purchased. The pig was locally raised on a small farm around the corner from us and the pork is the best we’ve ever had. Everything from the taste to the marbling to the smell of the raw meat exceeds my wildest expectations. (The bar was set very high, as we have been eating the amazing pork carefully raised by Skagit River Ranch.)
Getting Everything Together
For making sausage, having the right equipment and knowing what you intend to make is essential. If you get to step 4 of the recipe and find the meat has to chill in the fridge for 24 hours, you are going to be disappointed. We started simple – three types of fresh sausage with only basic ingredients: garlic sausage, sweet Italian, and a holiday Kielbasa. Later I made a fresh variation on Knackwurst. The book Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing served as our bible for the process, and I strongly recommend anyone serious about making sausage pick up a copy. (We had three copies spread out on the table of this sausage making party, but one will do.)
- A good kitchen scale (spices are measured in grams)
- A standing mixer
- A meat grinder (the Kitchen Aid mixer attachment works fine)
- A sausage stuffer
- Room in your freezer
There are many types of sausage stuffers. I used a Grizzly 5lb Vertical Stuffer. Given the importance of keeping the meat cold (you can freeze the cylinder) and the necessity of modifying the speed of stuffing, I can’t imagine the Kitchen Aid stuffing kit would work at all.
Make sure your meat is defrosted, spices available, and casings are soaked in water in the fridge.
Preparing the Meat and Fat
The simplest part of the process was preparing the meat and fat. In order to do this we cut pork back fat and pork shoulder into about 0.75 inch dice. Toss in a large bowl with the dry spices and put it back in the fridge. Give the spices and salt plenty of time to work on the meat – at least 30 minutes.
Once the meat has had a chance to chill and absorb the flavorings, run it through the grinder. This is typically done with a fine plate – if using an older grinder make sure it has the cutter blade. Grinding is a slower process, and trying to rush it will end up heating the fat which gums up the grinding and ends up slowing you down. For a five pound batch you will want to work in smaller batches keeping the meat refrigerated. Even though the Kitchen Aid grinder is mostly plastic, sticking it in the freezer for about 30 minutes before using helped considerably – we also chilled the mixing bowl we were grinding into in the freezer.
After the grinding, the ground meat was stuck into the fridge again to chill. Any liquids you may need should also be chilled near ice cold temperature. If the recipe calls for wine, its best to use a decent bottle. Our garlic sausage had a cup of a very nice local Pinot Noir from Bainbridge Island Vineyards and Winery, and it moved what could have been a plain sausage into a culinary treat. (Bainbridge Island Vineyards and Winery grow all of their own grapes locally – many winery’s don’t, so you should check carefully when drinking what you think is a local wine!)
Mix the meat until it gets tacky. The book describes it as “almost hairy” in a appearance. You are aiming for a well-worked meat that will have good bind. (On a related note, if your meatballs often fall apart its probably this same situation – you need to work the meat until its sticks to itself well.)
This is a good time to cook a small bit of sausage and taste it (medium heat to 150 degrees). The first batch we made was missing the salt. By tasting it we were able to correct this before getting further along.
And then – back in the fridge.
The next step is stuffing the sausages. If you are making loose sausage, you can stop now. We used natural casings that came in a saline solution, so rinsing and soaking was easy. If you have casing packed in salt, you should have rinsed and soaked long before this step.
Select the right size stuffing tube (sometimes called a horn), for your casings. (We ended up with a smaller size than I thought I purchased.) “Loading the horn” or sliding the casing onto the tube seemed like the hardest part of the whole process, but after having done it a few times here is some advice that will make it easier:
- Wet the tub to help get the process start
- Sliding the casing on an empty tube is much harder than a full tube. If the tube is full of meat, a small bubble of air will form right aft the tip of the tube. This bubble helps untwist the casing as it slides on.
- Form neat, accordion like pleats as you slide the casing on. You can slide the casing back as far as necessary, but when you start stuffing you’ll need to slide it forward.
- If the casing tears, relax. Simply cut it and stuff that much sausage and then reload the tube.
- Leave a few inches hanging off the end
Once you have the casing on the tube, you can start stuffing. This is best done with two people – go slowly. One person should hold the casing and provide a little resistance to it coming off the tube to make sure the casing is stuffed sufficiently – you don’t want a bunch of gaps of air in there. At the same time, it is important to avoid overstuffing here – although it looks like a more satisfactory sausage, it will explode when its tied off. The best advice here is to be patient and coil as you go. If the sausage does break, its easy enough to stop stuff for a moment, pull off some extra casing and simply start again.
When you have a long coil of sausage, it’s time to tie the sausage off. For this process, simple twist every other sausage in the same direction a few times. You want to work the ends with your fingers so there is no meat in the twisting area. This turned out to be the time when the sausage was most likely to burst open. After a try or two, you’ll have an intuitive feel for how much sausage is too much in the casing.
A Few Notes
- Leave plenty of time if its your first time. Afterwards you can do the whole process in under 90 minutes for a five pound batch.
- Keep everything cold. Really cold – it helps at almost every step of the process in subtle ways.
- Even though it’s sausage, quality ingredients still make all the difference.
- There is no going back. Once you taste this stuff its going to be impossible to return to eating most store bought sausage (unless maybe you’re lucky enough to have a butcher like Avril Bleh and Sons).
Fresh Garlic Sausage
5 lbs. pork shoulder
1.5 oz. kosher salt
1 tbsp. coarsely ground black pepper
3 tbsp. minced garlic
1 cup Pinot Noir (or other red wine)
Special thanks to Guido and Laurel for the photography and all who helped with this big project.