Last year our friend Levi showed me how to make sausage so this year Davis and I thought we would give it a shot on our own using the sausage stuffer that Janet bought me for my first father’s day.
Fortunately for us, Levi lent us his heavy duty grinder and mixing tub which definitely saved us some time and effort.
Step one was pulling 55 pounds of elk and whitetail deer trim and pork fat from the freezer to thaw.
Click on images to enlarge.
Next we ground up the whole shooting match and mixed it up to ensure an even distribution of fat. We like to have about 20% fat content in our sausages and you don’t want that fat to come from the venison as it’s not very desirable so we buy fat for mixing from a local butcher. We like to grind the meat in a semi-frozen state to ensure that it remains very cold throughout the whole process.
Once the meat is ground we weigh out the amount we need for each type of sausage and mix in the appropriate spices. For larger batches we used Levi’s big mixing bin coupled with his heavy duty grinder, smaller batches need to be done by hand which is very cold on the hands and labour intensive.
We made 20 lbs of “The undisputed King of Venison Sausage” from lets-make-sausage.com, 15 lbs of bratwurst (5 lbs with sautéd leeks), 5 lbs of maple sage breakfast sausage, and 12 lbs of jalapeno cheddar smokies.
Once the sausage is mixed it’s on to stuffing which is where technique comes in to play. It’s a real team effort between the guy turning the crank and controlling the speed of the extrusion and the guy handling the casings who is trying to ensure the casings are well filled without air pockets and also without being over-filled. We like to use natural hog casings for a number of reasons. As we started we had a few blow outs due to over-filling but we quickly settled into a good rhythm.
From here the sausages are twisted into links. This can be as simple as adding twists every so often or more elaborate to create linked up sausage links which can be easier for hanging. We achieved our objective but without the same level of technique a more experienced sausage maker might have. We also had a few sausages explode when twisting into links because they were over-filled. Another lesson learned.
From there the fresh sausages are vacuum sealed and frozen and the sausages destined for the smoker get hung around 4°C for eight hours or so to air dry. It’s important the sausages be dry when they go into the smoker or the smoke won’t adhere evenly.
Once the sausages are dry they are put into the smoker at 160-165°F. We applied ~3 hours of apple smoke to both the King sausages and the smokies. That was one hour more smoked than I put on the King sausage last year. Once the sausages have had enough smoke, they are either kept in the smoker (without smoke) or placed in the oven to bring them up to temperature. The target is 152F but we took them to 160°F to account for any variability between sausages. Unfortunately, our first run in the smoker which was the King sausage, the sausages were touching too much which resulted in portions not getting smoked properly which we then had to shuffle around and re-smoke. This could have been avoided through better spacing or better linking and also a visual check halfway through. The second run was a batch of jalapeno cheddar smokies and they were really nicely linked up in groups of four that allowed for very even smoke application. Another lesson learned.
Finishing the sausages in the convection oven is faster but means there is more to clean so it’s probably best to finish in the smoker if you can. Levi likes to finish in boiling water which also works well but we wanted to try something different this year.
Once the sausages are done they are put into an ice water bath to cool down. This prevents the casings from shrinking and getting wrinkly, it’s probably also good for food safety.
Once the sausages are cool (120°F or less) they are removed from the ice bath and allowed to air dry for 2-3 hours at room temperature. This step is called blooming and it promotes the development of a nice rich colour. In the picture below, the sausages on the bottom right have had about 1.5 hours more time to bloom and you can really see the difference that time makes.
Finally the smoked sausages are vacuum sealed and put into the freezer.
Even with my brother Davis’ help, and Janet single-handedly taking care of the twins for the whole weekend we still ended up taking two 12 hours days to complete the process. Some of that was due to inexperience, some to complications encountered along the way but the end result was absolutely worth it. Everything turned out really well, as expected, and the jalapeno cheddar smokies which we have never made before might be the best of the bunch!