Fresh Bulk Sausage - Fresh Sausage Links - Natural Casings - Hog Casings - Sheep Casings - Link Sausage - Stuffing Sausage Links
Sausage Making Tips
Fresh Bulk Sausage
Bulk sausage is almost always the catalyst which ignites a person’s interest in this amazing craft. Bulk fresh sausage is little more than seasoned ground meat minus either a natural or artificial casing. Making such a product is as simple as mixing together a measured amount of salt, herbs, spices, water and a measured amount of ground meat. The ensuing sausage batter can be used bulk style or formed into sausage patties. When you make your own sausage with your own meat and your own ingredients the end product is a healthy, nutritious, alternative minus the added sugar, sodium and fillers used in a number of prepackaged bulk sausage products.
Bulk sausage is an amazingly versatile product, and depending on which kind you make, can be formed into delicious breakfast sausage patties, meatballs for spaghetti sauce or crumbled and cooked in omelets, meat sauces, pasta dishes or soups. Hot or sweet Italian sausage makes a fantastic pizza topping, but it’s also good when it’s added to your favorite meatloaf. Bulk sausage can be substituted in any recipe that calls for ground meat. Whether you start with a fresh sausage recipe or a prepackaged seasoning, the procedure is the same.
Sprinkle specific herbs and spices, or the contents of a commercial seasoning packet evenly over a specified amount of ground meat, add water as instructed and mix well. Bulk sausage is ready to eat when the interior of the sausage turns gray and the juices run clear (or the internal temperature of the sausage reaches 160°F (70°C).
Natural casings are best described as an outer covering or skin used to enclose a mixture of salt, spices, herbs and a measured amount of seasoned ground meat. The sum of its parts is termed a sausage. I haven’t tried anything artificial or otherwise that matches the appearance of this food fare wrapped tightly in an all natural casing.
Natural casings are organic and they infuse their own natural flavor into the mixture of meat and spices enhancing the overall flavor of the end product. Natural casings also expand and shrink with the product and remain tightly wrapped around the sausage throughout the cooking cycle, hence the distinctive “pop” you get when you chomp down on a grilled hot dog stuffed into a natural sausage casing.
Some people flush each strand of natural hog and sheep casing with lukewarm water prior to stuffing it with seasoned sausage meat. This overrated procedure is mega time consuming and not really necessary since the natural casings available from today’s suppliers have already been scrubbed clean and pre flushed.
I prefer to select the hog or sheep casings I expect to use and place them in a large non-corrosive container nearly full of fresh cold water. Vigorously slosh the casings up and down in the water several times to remove as much of the salt from the casings as possible. Discard the salty water, replace it with fresh water, and then allow the casings to soak one to two days in the refrigerator.
Remove the casings from the refrigerator and put them into a small container of warm water. After two-three minutes slide one of the casing strands onto the sausage funnel. Casings prepared this way are soft and pliable.
Hog casings are derived from the digestive tract of pigs, more specifically the small intestine, and no doubt the most widely used natural casing among home sausage makers. Hog casings are used to make Italian sausage, German sausage, bratwurst, kielbasa, frankfurters, pepperoni and a variety of other fresh and smoked sausages.
Quality hog casings are sold to the consumer by the hank (bundle) which includes a specific number of casing strands, deslimed, cleaned, and heavily salted. A hank of quality hog casing is measured at 300 feet of nearly equal size strands. A hank may include as many as 20 individual strands, each one measuring nearly 18 feet in length. A low-grade hank typically has a greater number of short strands which are more likely to tear during the stuffing process.
Hog casings are sorted and graded according to the average diameter, which is measured in millimeters (mm), the actual capacity (or the amount of sausage meat a hank will hold) depends on the average size of the casing strands that make up the hank. For example, a standard hank of 30-32mm hog casing has a capacity of 105-130 lbs., whereas a hank of 36-38mm hog casings will hold 145-165 lbs. of ground sausage meat.
Sheep casings are derived from the natural submucosal layer of sheep or goat intestine. They are almost always used in the making of pork sausage links, franks, brown & serve, snack sticks, cocktail wieners, etc. Although there’s a huge consensus of home-based sausage makers who prefer sheep casings over collagen casings, I have my own opinion on this matter. No one loves the taste of pork sausage sizzling within a bona-fide sheep casing better than myself, but I’m not fond of the self-inflicted stress one incurs while trying to stuff these squirmy little suckers with meat batter.
Though sheep casings are difficult to work with because of their small size, they do have certain advantages. One such example is their exceptional resilience, which allows for effective expansion when the casing is filled with seasoned meat, and later during the twisting and linking process, when elasticity helps to prevent the casing from tearing apart. Another advantage of sheep casings is their capacity to shrink snugly around the meat as it cooks and still remain tender and juicy inside and out.
It’s not surprising that those individuals who enjoy making bulk sausage become enthusiastic about advancing to the next level of this intriguing craft. As a long-time sausage maker, I know first hand that nothing is more self-gratifying to a novice sausage maker than a backyard grill laden with plump, sizzling-hot links, exuding a subtle flavoring of spices and fresh meat, carefully crafted with his or her own hands.
Producing a good sausage link is all about the balance of fresh meat and fat, salty and spicy, sweet and bitter, as well as the freshness of the ingredients that make up the sum of its parts. In addition, knowing the base amount of salt used in a given recipe allows
you to adjust it to fit your perception of saltiness. Understanding the ratio of lean-to-fat used to make a specific type of fresh sausage is important as well because you alone get to adjust the fat to fit your perception of leanness. Knowing the proper amount of water is also necessary because it reacts with the meat and salt to bind it all together.
Ratio Of Lean-To-Fat
Fresh sausage should contain enough fat to ensure a succulent bite, but it must also have enough flesh to satisfy your appetite for meat. I suggest you experiment with a lean-to-fat ratio until you find a combination that suits your palate. The amount of fat in a particular sausage formula can have a decided effect on the quality of the finished product. A 70/30 ratio of lean-to-fat, for instance, will produce a juicy sausage link that spits and sputters beneath the broiler. An 80/20 ratio of lean-to-fat, on the other hand, produces a moderately juicy sausage with much less sputtering.
Stuffing Sausage Links
(1) Unravel the casings and separate the individual strands. Save out what you need and repackage the rest.
(2) Submerge casings in a bowl of warm water (softens the mucosa and lubricates the inside of the casing).
(3) After soaking, select a strand of casing from the bowl, open one end and stretch it over the sausage spout.
(4) To help prevent air bubbles, keep the end of the sausage funnel buried into the meat as you fill the casing
(5) A natural sausage casing expands as it's filled with meat. Too tight and it’s likely to burst during linking.
(6) Squeeze the casing together with your forefinger and thumb to begin your first link; twist 3 or 4 turns.
(7) Squeeze casing together a second time, twist 3 or 4 turns in opposite direction and so on and so forth.
(8) To prevent foodborne illness, fresh sausage links should be cooked to 160 °F before consumption.