Homemade sausages were a traditional peasant food — a way to make efficient use of all parts of slaughtered animals.
Sausages come in two varieties: fresh and cured. Both are possible to make yourself, but curing sausage at home requires some special ingredients and conditions.
The initial steps of sausage-making include grinding chunks of meat and fat, and mixing in flavoring and preserving agents, such as herbs and salt. Next, form the sausages into patties or stuff them into casings — the final step in making most fresh sausages. At this stage, you can choose to smoke or dry the sausage. (To learn more about curing sausages, we recommend Home Sausage Making by Susan Mahnke Peery and Charles G. Reavis.)
Here’s how to make fresh, homemade sausage.
Scale. Most sausage recipes call for specific weights. The meat needs to be weighed after being cut and trimmed at home, so buy a little more meat than you’ll need. If you’re processing meat from your own animals, you’ll definitely need a scale.
Meat grinder. All meat grinders include chopping discs. Manual hand grinders require elbow grease to operate. Electric meat grinders range from an attachment for your stand mixer to commercial grinders — worth the extra cost ($50 to $100) if you foresee making a lot of homemade sausage.
Casings. Sausage casings, sometimes called sausage “skins,” may be natural or synthetic. (Natural casings are usually sold packed in salt, and will last one to two years if kept refrigerated.) Natural hog casings are made from the cleaned intestines of hogs, and their diameters typically range from 1 1⁄4 to 2 inches. Sheep casings are the smallest in diameter, and beef casings are the largest, with diameters up to 4 inches. Synthetic casings are usually collagen or plastic, such as those used for summer sausage, or fibrous, such as the muslin used on many salamis. Some are edible; some are not.
Some grocery stores carry sausage casings (ask the meat department, especially if the store sells sausages made on-site), or they can be ordered. Casings don’t cost much — roughly 25 cents per foot, or less if purchased in large quantities.
Your recipe should tell you how many feet of a certain diameter of casing you’ll need, but you can vary this according to whatever kind of casing you have. Make sausages bigger or smaller, shorter or longer, to suit your preferences.
Sausage stuffer. The gadget that stuffs sausage into casings can be a plastic funnel or an attachment for your stand mixer. If you will make a lot of sausage, sausage-stuffer machines will make your life easier.
Twine. Butcher’s twine is helpful in sealing sausage ends between links. You can also order hog rings. Sometimes you can tie a knot in the casing, or twist one sausage one way and the next one the other — nothing fancy required.
Sausage Making Ingredients
Meat. Pork is the most common sausage meat and is often combined with other meats. Beef, chicken, lamb, veal and venison are also popular. Game and seafood find their way into sausages, too.
Most people make sausage with inexpensive cuts of meat, saving the pricier cuts for stand-alone dishes. According to Home Sausage Making, the following cuts are ideal:
Pork: shoulder, Boston butts and hams, sometimes rib and loin roasts (when prices are good).
Beef and veal: chuck shoulders and rumps.
Wild game: scraps from carcasses, to which fat must be added.
Poultry and seafood: all scraps and extra pieces, such as the small chunks regularly trimmed by butchers from chicken breasts.
Fat. Do not eliminate the fat. It helps bind all of the ingredients together. Fat also absorbs and transmits flavors from herbs and spices, and contributes to a nice mouthfeel. The proportion of fat in a sausage recipe can be as high as 30 percent, but you’ll need at least 10 percent to get the right texture. If using mostly lean meat, you may wish to add moisture from other ingredients, such as vegetables. Don’t worry about the math for fresh sausages; you’ll be able to feel whether the ingredients come together nicely.
Preservatives. Modern sausage recipes may be lighter in sodium than old-fashioned recipes are, but salt is still an important ingredient in sausages that are not meant to be aged. If you intend to eat your sausages fresh, adjust the salt to your liking. To prevent botulism, aged sausages require special curing salts.
Extra flavors. Breadcrumbs, fruits, herbs, maple syrup, nuts, sugar, vegetables and wine are some common ingredients in sausage recipes. If you’re making homemade sausages to eat fresh, you’re free to experiment with these ingredients. Like soups, sausages are better the day after they’re made because the flavors will have had plenty of time to meld.
Photos By Tim Nauman: (In descending order) 1. Trim the sausage meat and season it to taste before grinding. 2. If the casings are packed in salt, rinse them with cool running water before use. 3. Tie a small knot at one end of the casing before you begin to fill with ground meat. 4. Create links by pinching the sausage at the length you desire.
How to Make Sausage at Home, Step-by-Step
The following instructions are for use with the sausage-making attachments on stand mixers, such as the classic KitchenAid, and assume the use of natural casings. If you have another kind of grinder and stuffer, follow the manufacturer’s instructions, which will be similar to these. If you come across a used, heavy-duty, cast-iron or stainless-steel grinder or stuffer at a flea market or from a family member, you would be wise to get a sausage-making book to learn how to use it. Or, consult the manufacturer to see whether an instruction booklet is still available.
For appealing flavor combinations, see the online version of this article at 4 Homemade Sausage Recipes.
1. Roughly an hour before you plan to stuff sausages, bone the meat. Cut meat and fat into 1-inch cubes. Lay the pieces in one layer on a baking sheet, and set the pan in the freezer. Sausage-making is easiest with cold meat, but it doesn’t need to chill for more than about 45 minutes.
2. If your casings have been packed in salt, rinse them thoroughly, taking care to flush water all the way through the tubes. Set aside. If the casings have been packed in brine, leave them be.
3. Prepare any additional ingredients. All ingredients, such as small bits of apples and garlic, should be finely chopped, or they could tear holes in the casings. Allow cooked ingredients to cool before adding them to the meat.
4. Remove the meat from the freezer in small batches and grind. Usually you need to grease the grinder parts before use. You can pour in a bit of oil, or send a chunk of fat through first.
5. Mix seasonings into the ground meat by hand, aiming for even distribution. Some recipes call for a second grinding after the seasonings have been added.
6. Put the meat into the freezer briefly to chill again, reserving one small patty for testing. This is a good time to wash all of your grinder parts. Cook the test patty in a frying pan over medium heat, then give it a taste. Remove the rest of the mixture from the freezer and, if needed, adjust seasonings. When tasting, keep in mind that some sausage ingredients, especially seeds, need time to absorb moisture before they will add their full flavors to the mixture.
7. Attach the funnel to your sausage stuffer. Carefully slide one open end of a sausage casing over the funnel, and push it onto the stuffer until it reaches the other open end. Tie a small knot in this end, being gentle to avoid tearing. For your first batch of sausage, try snipping off just a couple of feet at a time.
8. Turn on the stuffer, and put the ground meat into the hopper. Avoid large air pockets in the mix. Use low speed until you get the hang of it. Stuff the casing as evenly and as fully as possible. Use one hand to hold the stuffed portion as it begins to move away from the funnel. You probably won’t have to guide the casing off the funnel. Having a second person around is helpful the first time you make sausage — one person to push the meat through, one to catch the filled casings.
9. If you see air pockets develop in the stuffed sausage, simply prick them with a pin or the tip of a knife so they don’t bulge and pop when cooking.
10. When the casing runs out, turn off the motor. Pull just enough meat out of the end so that you can tie the casing into a knot. Lay the sausage on a pan while you work on the remaining mixture.
11. To form sausage links, pinch the stuffed casing into desired lengths beginning at one end, and twist each link a few times. Cut the casing in the middle of your twisted section, between the two links. This should be sufficient to seal the ends. Or use butcher’s twine to tie two knots before you cut between them.
12. Refrigerate the sausages for at least an hour before cooking to help the flavors commingle. You can also freeze the sausages for up to six months.
Want more sausage recipes? Read 4 Homemade Sausage Recipes.
Photo By Tim Nauman: A selection of grilled homemade sausages served with several types of mustard will please family and friends.