Today is a long one so buckle up. I’ll take you through how my family has been making sausages for years and why we do the things that we do. Usually we pick a long weekend in January (when the weather is the coldest here in Ontario) and spend 3 pálinka-heavy days making a year's supply of sausages, pepperettes, back bacon, jerky, etc. It is a long process, but the steps are simple. Know that I have done this with 1 turkey breast and been done in 10 minutes, from cutting to stuffing the sausage, but I’ve also done 100’s of pounds of pork and venison that took many days to finish. So really, it’s up to you what you want to do and how long it will take! Also know that the more you do this, the easier and faster it will become. It just takes some practice, just like everything else.
My Dad is a firm believer in knowing where your food comes from. It’s part of the reason hunting and fishing is such an important part of his life. A lot of times, pre-made sausages come with a lot of fillers and other items you don’t really want in a sausage. Our family has always bought pork shoulders and done all of the carving and separating ourselves. It takes deboning an entire pork shoulder to really understand that there are parts of it that you just don’t want in your sausage. So having said all of that- I would recommend using pork shoulder as your cut if you’re planning on making sausages and cutting it up yourself. I also totally understand that not everybody has the skills or the time to do this. You could speak with your butcher and request whatever meat to fat ratio you would like pre-ground or pre-separated. That’s what butchers are for!
Regarding equipment for sausage making- my Dad has an incredibly intense professional setup. He has an industrial meat grinder and stuffer as well as a commercial grade vacuum sealer, all from Nella. Since the pandemic, Brad and I have made sausages at home, just the two of us without all the fancy equipment. For Christmas last year, in anticipation of a 2-person sausage weekend, I asked for the Meat Grinder Kitchenaid mixer attachment and it has been absolute perfection for our purposes. You can get the hard plastic set for around $70.00 CAD, but there is also a slightly more heavy duty stainless steel set (a bit pricier) if you plan on using it for more than just one weekend a year, which I do. You don’t need the big fancy equipment to be able to do this yourself, although, it obviously can’t hurt.
I’m not really going to take you through how to butcher the meat for this- I know what I’m doing, but I’m certainly no expert. There are so many youtube videos out there you could watch. Having said that, if this is something you really want to see from me, I will make it happen. Let me know!
The very first thing I do, even before I start cutting up the meat, is rinse the sausage casings. If you’re using natural sausage casings they MUST be rinsed. They are covered in salt and they also need to be softened. Untangle a few meters of casings and put them in a bowl of warm water with half a lemon. The lemon helps neutralize some of the pork scent and flavour in the casings. I like to put one of the end pieces of each length of casing on the side of the bowl so I can easily fish it out when I need it. It is also very important to rinse the inside of your casing. For the same reasons above, and so you can cut out any areas that are ripped. It’s always a not-so-nice surprise when you’re filling your sausages and you get to a part of the casing that has a 6” rip in it. Anyways- to rinse the inside, open the end of one end of the sausage, fill some water into the casing (like you’re filling a water balloon) and just see-saw back and forth and let the water run through your casing. I do this in about 2 foot segments until I've worked my way all the way through. Then either return it to a clean bowl of warm water and lemon, or load it onto your stuffing attachment and get ready to stuff!
It is very important when you’re carving up the meat to separate all of your meat and fat. We always strive for extremely clean meat (with no tendons or extra fat on them), regardless of the type of meat we’re using, which is part of the reason the process takes so long. There is also such a thing as good fat and bad fat. Bad fat will be kinda slimy and you’re not going to like touching it. Good fat is hard and thick and is usually right under the skin. If you ever do this yourself, you will know exactly the difference between the two when you see it. We separate meat from fat because it gives you full control over how much fat is going into your sausage. All sausages need fat, but you can easily see sometimes in grocery stores with pre-ground pork that they have left way too much fat in there. This is all personal preference though and some people like that. There’s a reason they offer regular, lean and extra lean ground meat! Choose your own adventure!
Okay so let’s pretend you have carved and separated all of your meat and good fat and everything is diced into about 1” cubes and your casings are rinsed. Put all your meat and your good fat into a large bowl or tub (depending on how much you’re doing) and add all of your spices. I’ve included my favourite Hot Italian Sausage Spice recipe at the end of this post! We spice the meat before putting it through the grinder because as it’s being ground it’s mixing with the meat and it makes the final mix easier. You can do it after the meat is ground, we’ve certainly done it that way as well, but this is a time saver and I think the meat is ultimately better mixed this way.
Once it’s ground, give it another quick mix to ensure everything is evenly combined. Before you do anything else, you deserve a nice little snack. Fry up some sausage patties in a little bit of oil and just make sure the meat is flavoured the way you like it. This is the time to adjust any seasoning in the mixture if you think it needs it. If you’ve tried it, loved it and everything is all good, you’re ready to stuff your sausages! YAY!!!!! Switch your attachments on your meat grinder so you now have the stuffing attachment on. Put on one length of casing and slowly fill it with your ground meat. I always place a sheet pan under the area where the sausage will be formed and put about half a cup of water on it. If you’re working with meters of casings, your sausages are going to need to rest somewhere and you don’t want to risk moving them around on a super dry surface because there’s a chance they could dry and stick onto the pan and rip. When filling your sausages, slow and steady is best and it’s best to do this with two people. One person controls the speed at which the meat is being fed through the stuffer and the other person guides and creates the sausage ‘links’. If you go too quickly, your casings could get caught and explode or you could end up with unevenly stuffed sausages. TIP: As the sausage comes out, try and begin creating the links yourself by pinching and twisting. They don’t have to be perfect as they come out, but you have to make sure you’ve accounted for the pinching and twisting area otherwise when you go to form the links later, there could be no room for the meat to expand and you could risk exploding the sausage.
After you’ve made all of your sausages, I suggest packing them into individual vacuum sealed bags and sealing and freezing them. I usually cut them into individual sausages at the spot where I've twisted them and vacuum seal them into pre-portioned bags. Think about how many sausages you would eat in one sitting, and add that many sausages per bag. For us, it’s 3. I also like to use our sausages for cottage weekends with friends, so in that case I’ll do packs of 5 for less waste.
There’s also the question of what to do with the excess meat if you’ve run out of casings. Brad and I will typically leave about half of our meat unstuffed and portion the ground meat into their own vacuum sealed bags for use later just as a delish flavored sausage meat, without the casings! So easy for meat sauces and pizzas where you were already planning on removing the meat from the casings.
When we make sausages with my whole family, a huge portion of them are smoked by our Uncle Joe. This process after stuffing is a little bit different. We hang these sausages to dry in a very cold spot (usually my Dad’s garage) for 2-3 days and poke holes in all of them so that all of the trapped air can escape and so they don’t spoil. Once they’ve adequately dried, they head to the smoker for a few days until they’re smoked to perfection. I’m not super familiar with this process as we usually leave that part up to my Dad and Uncle Joe, but if this is something that interests you guys, I’ll do a full video on this too. Again- just let me know! There is nothing like a good smoked Hungarian sausage.
If you have any questions, as always, please feel free to reach out to me! I am always happy to help!
Hot Italian Pork Sausage Recipe
10 lbs. Pork
1 cup Red Wine
2 cups Chopped Parsley
30g Garlic Cloves
18g Ground Pepper
20g Crushed Red Pepper Flakes (honestly, I do more)
42g Paprika (Hungarian, obviously)