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stuffing homemade sausage into casingMake Your Own Homemade Sausage 
by staff writer

Sausage has been around for thousands of years because it allows for efficient use of meats and scraps, especially parts that otherwise may not be as appetizing. Chopped or ground meat is mixed with herbs, spices, and other curatives, and then stuffed into casings. Different types of sausage have developed over the years, and many are very closely associated with the region from which they came; examples include Polish Sausage, German Bratwurst, and Spanish Chorizo (but not Vienna Sausages!).

With proper curing, many types of sausage can be stored with little or no refrigeration, which was (and in some parts of the world, continues to be) of great importance. As with many other products, the convenience of buying any variety from the grocery store has almost made the process of mixing, stuffing, and curing sausage a lost art. Still, making your own sausage can be an easy and rewarding project.

There are many varieties of sausage and they could be divided into many sub-categories, but for the sake of simplicity I divide them into two categories: fresh and cured. Breakfast, Italian, and Polish sausages, along with bratwurst, are popular examples of fresh sausage. Fresh sausage is chopped, ground, and mixed with spices and seasonings. The ingredients contribute to the flavor, but do not necessarily extend the shelf life of the product. After mixing, fresh sausage can be frozen for long term storage, but should be consumed within a few days if kept refrigerated.

Summer sausage, hot dogs, and salami are popular types of cured sausage. Cured sausage is prepared differently to lengthen shelf life, or contains components that aid in the longer term storage of the final product. Smoking, fermenting, drying, and cooking are some of the ways that prepared sausage can be cured. Salt, sodium nitrates, and sodium nitrites are chemical additives that can also be used to cure meats. Proper curing is extremely important to prevent botulism, a disease caused by a toxin released by a food-borne pathogen. The toxin is tasteless and extremely harmful if eaten, and cannot be destroyed by heating, but the bacteria that produces it can be. Modern preparation techniques make today’s sausage extremely safe -- and delicious.

Both fresh and cured sausage can be smoked to enhance the flavor of the meat and to aid in preservation. Smoking works to preserve meat in two ways. The contained heat of the smoking chamber helps to dehydrate the product by driving excess moisture out. The smoke also contains natural chemicals that help to preserve the meat. There have been reports that smoked meats contain small amounts of substances that may increase the risk of cancer. It is my belief that when consumed in reasonable quantities, this very small risk is acceptable, but if this is a concern for you, consider researching it further. Besides the preservation benefits, nothing tastes better to me than something that has been smoked.

Homemade Sausage One of the best things about making sausage is the ease and availability of the necessary equipment. To make breakfast sausage, you don’t anything other than a bowl and a spoon to mix ground pork with the desired seasonings. When sausage isn’t stuffed into a casing, it is referred to as bulk sausage, but there is no other difference. If you are grinding your own meat, you can use a food processor, an electric grinder, or a manual grinder. Most grinders also come with a stuffing tube that allows the grinder to quickly transform into a sausage stuffer.

The selection of natural or artificial casings depends on your tastes and the type of sausage you are making. Casings should be sized appropriately to the sausage type, and cooking and curing methods must be taken into consideration. If you are going to smoke your sausage, then you need to go with a natural casing so the smoke can penetrate to the meat. If you try to smoke a sausage in a plastic casing, at best you will have a discolored casing; at worst, the casing will melt and dump your sausage to the smoker floor.

To make the best sausage, it is recommended that you thoroughly grind your sausage to improve the cohesion of the product. Roughly chopped meats and meats with too little fat content can be crumbly when no longer confined by their casing. Keep the meat mixture very cold to prevent bacterial growth, and to keep the meats and fats from becoming a soggy paste. Start by following recipes exactly and make very small batches. It is easier to mix and stuff small batches, and if you don’t like the end result you won’t be stuck with as much unpalatable sausage. After you have made a few batches and begun to learn which seasonings and flavors you like, experiment with the quantities and ingredients.

Here is a recipe idea for simple breakfast sausage made with ground pork and regular kitchen utensils. Remember, this is fresh sausage so it needs to be kept cold while mixing and should be eaten within a few days, or frozen for longer storage.

Homemade Breakfast Sausage Recipe

1 lb ground pork
2 tsp salt
1 tsp sage
¼ tsp thyme
¼ tsp black pepper
1 tbsp water

Note: Work with the pork immediately after it has been removed from the refrigerator and return it to the refrigerator or freezer as quickly as possible when mixing is complete.

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Form a small patty and fry if you would like to test the flavor of the sausage. The sausage will improve after it sets in the refrigerator for a few hours, but this will give you a good idea of the general taste. When satisfied with the taste, form into patties and separate them with waxed paper or clear plastic wrap. Sausage can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, or it can be immediately frozen and kept for several months.

To learn more, check out our review of the new book 'The Complete Book of Butchering, Smoking, Curing, and Sausage Making'.