Deer season is just around the corner, and we couldn’t be more excited for opening day to finally get here. But, before we start stocking the freezer, we need to make some room. Today, we are giving you the steps to making summer sausage. This recipe is a perfect way to clear out the remnants of last year's hunt by making a classic and delicious sausage. These sausages travel well and are the perfect snack to take along on your hunt this fall.
In this article, we will show you how we make an authentic and tangy summer sausage using equipment you can buy and use at home for professional results. We are going to break down the science behind flavoring and detail the spices we use to make our favorite summer sausage. You can always use any of the Bearded Butcher Blend Seasonings when you make sausage at home – we often do – but for this recipe, we want to share with you how and why certain spices are essential to crafting the most delicious and authentic summer sausage ever.
Prepping the Meat
We can’t over-emphasis the importance of keeping your meat cold throughout the process. As the meat warms up, the proteins and fats separate, making the meat gooey, hard to work with, and your sausage will end up crumbly.
Today, we are using venison that we vacuum-sealed and froze last season. Vacuum sealing prevents the meat from losing moisture in the freezer which results in the dreaded freezer burn. We have found vacuum-sealing to be a great way to make sure we use everything we harvest and waste nothing. Amazon has several high-quality and affordable vacuum sealer machines you can put to use at once to ensure your meat stays fresh in the freezer.
The venison we are using today is cubed in fairly large chunks, about the size of a tennis ball. The grinder we will use today is a 1.5 horsepower model, so it’ll have plenty of power to grind these larger chunks. If you are using a .5 hp grinder or a hand grinder, you will want smaller chunks. Remember to keep the meat cold throughout the process.
You have heard it all your life, fat is flavor. That’s absolutely true when making summer sausage too, so we are adding pork fat to our lean venison. We want about a 20 percent fat content which is easy to figure if you weigh your meat before vacuum sealing and storing. We have our venison in five lb. bags and pork fat in 2.5 lb bags. We are going to make 25 lbs of sausage today, so we will add 5 lbs of pork fat. Just mix it in and let the grinder do all the hard work.
Seasoning Summer Sausage
If you follow our blog or watch our videos, you know we absolutely love our Bearded Butcher Seasoning Blends. We use them on everything, including sausage. Because we are going for an authentic summer sausage flavor today, we are going to mix spices ourselves rather than using the blends. This way we can explain the specific spices that go into a summer sausage and discuss why certain spices are in the recipe.
If you don’t want to mix your own seasonings, check out A.C. Legg Old Plantation Seasonings for the best premix summer sausage seasoning. They even include a cure with the seasonings which you will need to make good summer sausage.
The seasonings we are using are pretty straight forward. For 25 lbs of sausage, we mix the following ingredients:
- 7 oz. Salt
- 1 oz. Pepper
- 4 oz. Minced Garlic
- 3 oz. Mustard Powder or Mustard Seed
- 3 oz. Hickory Smoke Powder
Some people think using the hickory smoke powder is cheating, but trust us on this one, this all-natural product really takes wild game to the next level. We will be smoking these sausages today, but don’t skip the smoke flavor.
At this time, these are all the spices we will be putting in. Mix the meat and seasonings evenly, and when you are ready, it’s off to the grinder. You want the seasonings mixed into the meat beforehand so the grinder works the flavors into the meat for you to prevent overhandling.
Grinding it Out
We use a #32 meat grinder with a 1.5 hp motor from MeatYourMaker.com. This thing is a beast and will quickly and easily grind through 25 lbs of venison. Smaller grinders, and even hand grinders, will work, but require more time and effort on your part. We are simply going to run the meat through on a larger size screen, then run it again on a smaller screen. The first screen we use is a 10mm (3/8”) size, then we will switch to a smaller, 4.5mm (1/8-3/16”) size. Remember to keep the meat cold throughout this step. You will know the meat is too warm if it smears, sticks, or gets really tacky.
Mixing it Up
We are using a meat mixer that attaches directly to the drive on our grinder. This is a super convenient way to mix sausage meat, but might not be in everyone's kitchen. If you don’t have access to a meat mixer, you can mix the meat using a meat chopper, but be careful to avoid overworking the meat. Both manual and powered mixers are available, and are not terribly expensive. A meat mixer is a great investment if you plan on making sausage a couple times a year. Just remember that for every minute you go one direction, you will need to go the opposite direction for an equal time. We are going to mix ours for a total of eight minutes.
With the mixer running, we will add in our encapsulated citric acid and the curing agent, along with 32 oz. of very cold water. If you are using 100% wild game without adding some fat, you will need to add more water to keep the meat from being dry.
In this recipe, we are using sodium nitrite to cure. You can also use celery juice for the same effect. What you want is to lower the pH of the meat. This is what preserves the meat and provides a safe shelf stability. Cured sausages are traditionally made in the winter for consumption during summer months, which is where the name comes from.
Once the mixer has worked the curing agent, citric acid, and water into the meat, it’s time for stuffing the sausages.
Sausage Stuffing Tricks
For our summer sausage, we are going to use our all-time favorite sausage casings. These casings are made in Illinois by Viskase and come pre-tied at one end with a string for hanging. These are 2.5” casings that are about 20” long. We will get about two-and-a-half pounds of ground meat into each casing.
Use a couple C-clamps on the base of your sausage stuffer so that when you are cranking the handle, the stuffer is good and stable. The casings have been soaking in warm water for about 30 minutes, so they are all ready. When you soak casings, make sure to get the inside and outside.
The trick to getting a good sausage is to make sure there are no air pockets in the stuffed sausage. Our sausage stuffer is a 15 lb. version from MeatYourMaker.com. It has an air release valve handy for keeping air out of the sausage. When you put the casing on the tube, slide the whole length on before starting to crank the stuffer. Hold the casing firmly with your thumb and forefinger at the end of the tube to prevent air bubbles. Air pockets will make your finished sausage look weird, but can also make an opportunity for green mold to grow, which is bad for your health.
When you have a few inches left at the end of the casing, turn the crank of the stuffer the opposite direction a couple turns. Turning the crank backward takes the pressure off the tube and prevents meat from shooting out when you remove the stuffed sausage. We use butcher’s twine to tie off our sausage simply because it’s cheap, easily available, and works great. You can use hog rings, clamps, or whatever tie-off you prefer.
Kicking Up the Flavor of Traditional Summer Sausage
Okay, remember at the beginning we said we were making a traditional summer sausage. Well, that’s what we have just done. But, if you want to take the ordinary and make it extraordinary, you can add a few “top secret” ingredients to set your sausage apart.
For our second batch of summer sausages we are making today, the secret ingredients are high-temperature cheddar cheese and dried jalapenos. You should try out some of the different flavors of high-temp cheese and find your favorite. They are all really excellent, high-quality products we love to use. You can also use fresh peppers, and you should also experiment with different types. Try out a Caribbean Hot Pepper, ghost chilies, or even bell pepper for a mild take on summer sausage. Of course, some red chili flakes don’t hurt either when you are trying to get a little extra heat in there.
We are going to fold these ingredients in by hand rather than get the mixer dirty again. Be careful to avoid overworking the meat. Overworked ground meat is tough, dry, and not very palatable.
Into the Smoker
We are going to smoke our summer sausage in our favorite smoker, the Traeger 885. We use this smoker for nearly everything, and if you watch our videos, you’ll see tons of great meal ideas on there using our Traeger.
The temperature we are starting at is 165 degrees. We will smoke the sausages for about two hours, then increase the temp to 185 for another two hours or so. We may need to go to a higher temp or leave the sausage on for a while longer to get the internal temperature to a perfect 155 degrees on the remote probe. Slowly stepping the temp up to around 205 is the best way to get a good, even cook and smoke.
If you aren’t using a barbeque temperature probe yet, order one. Seriously, these things change the grilling, smoking, and roasting experience more than almost any other device. A temperature probe lets you get the meat to the perfect temp without overcooking. Ours includes an app, so we can monitor the temperature of our smoker from the comfort of home. A remote temperature probe takes a lot of stress out of the process and helps get consistent results.
Cooling it Down
When the sausage comes out of the smoker, get it into an ice bath immediately. You want to drop the temperature by about half. Cooling the sausage in an ice bath halts the cooking process and sets the casings. Leave the sausages in the bath for 10-15 minutes to get the temp down.
Once the sausages are out of the bath, place them in the refrigerator overnight.
Some Notes on Tools
We know that many people watch our videos and see the equipment we use in our professional butcher shop, but you should know that professional grade, industrial processing equipment isn’t needed. You can get the same high-quality meat grinders, mixers, and sausage stuffers just like the ones we used today from MeatYourMaker.com. Having the right equipment is a bit of an initial investment, but trust us, the finished product is well worth it. In the long run, the money you save making your own will outweigh the expense. One thing you can’t put a price on is the experience of grinding, flavoring, and smoking sausage with your family and friends.
The best thing about having your own equipment to make sausage is that you know exactly what is going in. It’s a particularly great feeling to make sausage from an animal you harvested yourself, and then share with friends and family.
Summer Sausage Recipe
- 20 lbs. Cubed venison
- 5 lbs. Pork fat
- 7 oz. Salt
- 1 oz. Pepper
- 4 oz. Minced Garlic
- 3 oz. Mustard Powder or Mustard Seed
- 3 oz. Hickory Smoke Powder
- 1 oz. #813 Pink Salt
- 1.5 oz. Encapsulated Citric Acid
Steps for making Sausage
- Mix cold venison and pork fat by hand. Add in salt, pepper, garlic, mustard seed or powder, and hickory smoke powder. Mix thoroughly to coat.
- Grind mixture using 10mm plate, then regrind using 4.5mm plate. Place ground meat in a mixer and add pink salt. Mix 1 minute each direction for 8 minutes. Add citric acid near the end of the mix.
- Soak casings in warm water ensuring inside and outside of the casing get wet. Load casing on sausage stuffer and stuff them making sure to prevent air pockets. Tie the ends of the casings.
- Place sausages in the prepared smoker at 165 degrees for two hours, then increase temperature to 185 degrees for two hours. Finally, increase temperature to 205 degrees until internal temperature reaches 155 degrees.
- Remove sausages from the smoker and immediately place in an ice bath for 10-15 minutes until internal temperature has reached 80 degrees. Place cold sausages in the refrigerator overnight.