Friday, September 16, 2016

The Sausage Maker Recommends: Butchers & Meat Markets


Let’s face it: Most of us have forsaken the friendly local butcher in favor of convenient chain grocery stores—sacrificing taste and customer experience in the process. The locavore movement is a growing population of eaters that bucks this trend by only consuming locally produced food. In order to stick it to the man (take that, Sam's Club!), we’re highlighting local, free-range butchers around the country that avoid chemicals, deliver quality and care and ensure the humane treatment of their animals.

Ethical dilemmas aside, undue stress in an animal’s environment can alter its pH level and taint the taste of its precious meat. We’re not advocating that you become a card carrying member of PETA, but you’ve got to be concerned about quality if you want your dishes to taste just right.

Frankly, a bland burger, steak or sausage is just the wurst, so here’s our list of eight locavore-approved meat markets that are a cut above their peers.

1.  Red Apron Butcher - Washington, DC

An urban-dwelling foodie’s paradise, Red Apron isn’t your traditional butcher shop.  Founder Nathan Anda has made his mark on DC by building lasting relationships with farmers in the area and selling in small batches. Make sure to get the pork when you visit, because Red Apron is America’s first butcher to source 100% of its pork from Animal Welfare Approved farms.

2.  Golden Gate Meat Company - San Francisco, CA

Voted San Francisco’s best butcher shop by SF Weekly, the GGMC is an old-fashioned meat market operated by the Offenbach family for nearly 40 years. GGMC boasts over a thousand natural and organic products, making it the perfect destination for meat lovers looking for variety. Be sure to check out their free-range Kobe beef—it comes from happy cows.

3.  The Local Pig - Kansas City, MO

A restaurant and butcher shop hybrid, the Local Pig is committed to providing meat lovers in Kansas City with humane, locally sourced fare. While the eatery is renowned for its “Pigwich” sandwich, the main attraction is the healthy selection of choice cuts sold over the counter.

Each Sunday, the Local Pig also offers a sausage making class, where you can learn how to put all your shiny new sausage making toys to use.  

4.  Salt & Time - Austin, TX

Salt & Time is committed to bringing the best meat from Texas ranchers directly to hungry Austinites. They offer a wide assortment of cuts, sausages and ground meats to choose from as well as a monthly butcher’s box if you’d like to try a little of everything. If you’re feeling inspired after eating Salt & Time’s famous burgers in-restaurant, you can mimic them at home with one of our burger kits.    

Butcher & Larder proprietor Rob Levitt
5.  The Butcher & Larder - Chicago, IL

Another butcher-restaurant mash-up, the Butcher & Larder rules the Chicago meat scene and sources its food from Midwestern farms. Take advantage of Rob Levitt and his staff's’ expertise and ask for recommendations—they know protein inside and out.  

Pro tip: The restaurant is BYOB, so make sure to come prepared with a few cold ones.

6.  The St. Paul Meat Shop - St. Paul, MN

With meat sourced from seven nearby farms, the St. Paul Meat Shop practices whole-animal butchery and emphasizes sustainable practices. While the Twin Cities rave about their pastrami sandwiches, make sure to also check out their selection of brats and jerky.

7.  Dispenza’s Meat Market - Ransomville, NY

A family-run slaughterhouse with only four employees, Dispenza’s strives to emulate the charm of traditional meat markets. Just a short drive north of Buffalo, you’ll find specialty meats that aren’t at most grocery stores (jowl, cheek, primal cuts, etc.) alongside their more conventional products. Take family breakfast to new heights by snagging some of Dispenza’s fresh eggs and some thick-cut bacon for home curing.

8.  T-Meadow Farm - Lockport, NY

T-Meadow Farm has a very simple philosophy—they raise their swine “the way the pigs like it”. Using low-impact methods, T-Meadow rotationally grazes their livestock on sprawling pastures and refrains from the use of antibiotics. You can grab a whole cut of their pork at the Elmwood-Bidwell Market on Saturdays and grind the leftovers for safekeeping. If you want your pork cooked to perfection, you can also enjoy it at a handful of local eateries including the Black Sheep, Marble & Rye or Toutant. T-Meadow Farm holds a special place in our hearts for being close to home, and a special place in our stomachs for being downright delicious.

Do you have a favorite meat market or butcher in your area? Tell us about them in the comments below or share them on our Facebook page!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Sausage Maker Guide to Tailgate Food

We’re nearly halfway through August, and while that means prime grilling time is coming to an end, we’re also nearing the kickoff to one of the best times of year for cooking: football season.



Yeah, we know what you’re thinking. Your average tailgate features nothing but domestic beer and brats, which don’t exactly present a challenge for the chef or a surprise for the taste buds. You can surf Pinterest for Super Bowl food ideas, but your table will still mostly consist of chips and dip, grocery store hot dogs and football-shaped desserts. Looking for some game day recipes your guests will actually remember? Roll up your sleeves and get into the kitchen—we’re here to save your tailgate.

The Appetizers

Our favorite pregame appetizers are ones you can carry around the tailgate and munch on throughout the game, without fear of knocking over your plate when things get exciting. We’re especially partial to handheld football snacks, and that doesn’t have to mean store-bought.

Like the convenience of a Slim Jim but wish it could be… better? Try making your own meatier, adult-ier snack sticks. We like ours made from pork, in a slightly larger diameter than your average convenience store size. Think smoky, not tangy, letting your smokehouse do the flavoring or adding it via liquid smoke. The Sausage Maker carries a DIY dried sausage sticks kit that comes with everything you’ll need except the meat—just follow the kit’s instructions and you’ll have plenty to feed a crowd.



If you want an even more finger-friendly food and need something you can sneak past stadium security in your pockets (shh… you didn’t hear it from us), jerky is the way to go. Professional-quality jerky can be made with ground or whole-muscle meat and a good dehydrator, flavored with the seasoning of your choice. Make a few batches with different spices if you’re looking to please lots of varied tastes. We recommend a smoky flavor for classic jerky lovers or something with more of a kick for our Bills Mafia brethren once we reach those winter games.

The Entrée

If you’re set on serving sausages at your tailgate, we salute you. Why, it would be downright blasphemous to discourage you. But variety is the spice of life, after all, and even a brat-loving crowd can get behind something a little more unexpected from time to time. Our bold suggestion for this year’s season opener? Fish ‘n’ chips.



Bringing a deep fryer to a tailgate might sound cumbersome, but you’d be surprised how much easier it can be than even a portable grill. Choose a nice, flaky cod and a good beer batter, plus a bag full of Russets and you’re good to go. If you’ve never brought homemade fries to a party, trust us—that fryer will be on the whole time and your fellow football fans will tell tales of your awesomeness for weeks to come. Get your batters and fryers here and your fry cutter right here.

If you’re going with a heavier meat option like pork or beef, we recommend our Memphis Style Barbecue Rub. It’s one of our most popular, perfect as a dry rub or (insider tip) as a marinade if you just add water.

The Side

Most Super Bowl snacks and recipes aren’t known for their healthfulness, but we know of at least one healthy tailgate food that’s easy to sneak by the meat lovers. A mandolin shredder is yet another handheld, extremely portable tool that makes cole slaw as easy as a couple of swipes. Red and green cabbage, carrots, beets—just about anything can go through the mandolin and make a great topping for fried fish tacos too. Just be careful you don’t take off a finger after a few beers.



Our mouths are already watering in anticipation of football season. Have a favorite recipe we didn’t mention here? Share it with us on Facebook and Pinterest and we might just feature it on our blog! Go Bills!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Ultimate Guide to the Perfect Hot Dog


Independence Day is right around the corner, but you still have time to prep for a day of grilling. This year, we challenge you: Skip the store-bought knock-offs and learn how to make your own hot dogs.

Take it from the experts. Hand-stuffed, homemade hot dogs are worlds away from what your guests are used to. The snap, the flavor, the experience of a classic American hot dog recipe made the old-fashioned way - you'll never go back to Oscar Mayer. Follow the steps below and tell us all about your 4th of July on Facebook and Instagram, or ask your hot dog questions on the Sausage Maker forum!

Ingredients for 20-lb recipe:
8 lbs pork butt (shoulder)
12 lbs lean beef chuck 
4 level tsp Insta Cure #1 (use only if smoking) 
8 Tbsp paprika
12 Tbsp ground mustard
2 tsp ground black pepper
2 tsp ground white pepper 
2 tsp ground celery seeds
2 Tbsp mace
2 tsp garlic powder
8 Tbsp salt
4 s ice water
small collagen casings (fresh if not smoking, smoked if planning on smoking)

Machines/tools:
meat grinder w/ 3/16" plate or 1/4" plate and sharp chopping knife
sausage stuffer w/ ½" tube 
food processor
spice mill/spice grinder/unused coffee grinder
smokehouse (optional) 
butcher paper or food-safe container 
Step 1: Preparation

Getting everything ready and in place is almost half the work. Make a checklist similar to ours. The pork-to-beef ratio is entirely up to you; our 3:2 beef is taken directly from a tried-and-true recipe from Great Sausage Recipes & Meat Curing. Paprika gives the final product a nice reddish tint, so if you don't want that, just leave the paprika out entirely. If you find the lightly bitter taste of mace objectionable, the 2 Tbsp can be substituted with 2 oz (10 Tbsp) of ground coriander (a slightly less bitter spice). We kept the recipe entirely intact, paprika and mace included. The mace mixes in very well and is largely unidentifiable in the hot dog, and the paprika gives it color (not a terrible thing for a dull-looking dog, right?).

Both the beef and pork should be very lean (the dry milk/soy protein will do most of the
Trim the gland from your pork butt for best results.
binding instead of the fat). Cut everything that looks fatty or that you may not want to eat, like the gland in the pork butt (if there is one). The beef chuck (your choice of cut) shouldn't have much baggage to deal with aside from a little defatting. Cool the trimmed meat in a fridge or cooler to await the grinding phase.

One more thing to do before beginning your wiener experiment: Cleaning all the tools and machines before using them is vital. We want to make hot dogs that won't make people sick, and efficient cleaning will give us a leg up on that. Clean the grinder parts thoroughly, plus the stuffer, food processor, knives and everything that will come into contact with the meats.

Step 2: Grinding & Mixing

The meat should be removed from the cooler when it gets to just about freezing (mid 30s°F is perfect). Cut the meat into pieces to fit your grinder’s hopper. We’re using our ¾ HP #8 electric meat grinder, but any grinder will do. The grinding plate should have very fine holes, 3/16” plate or ¼” plate. Grind the pork and beef together into a food lug and mix together well. We had an unused coffee grinder that we used to grind up some seeded spices. Sprinkle the ground ingredients over the meat and mix everything together thoroughly. Latex gloves are helpful here because it's cleaner - without them, you can contaminate everything you touch and washing off the meat isn’t the easiest thing to do. After about five minutes of mixing, the meat should begin to change consistency, becoming clumpy and sticky, and turning a light grayish color (if using the paprika, it won't get very gray). Put meat in butcher paper in a cooler and clean the grinder before the little meat shrapnel hardens.

Tips on cleaning your grinder: Grinding hardened, leftover bread works great for cleaning the plate’s holes. When sufficiently cleaned, spraying plates, knife, auger and even the grinder itself with silicone lubricant will prevent future rusting. Place the small parts in a plastic bag with some uncooked rice to absorb excess moisture and store.

Step 3: Processing

Now we'll further break down the meat into a paste-like consistency using a food processor. We won't name what brand we used for emulsifying the meat because ours was a messy fiasco. If you plan on going through the processing stage we highly recommend you buy a food processor that has a reputation of handling emulsification, or call the manufacturer to find out. The meat got into places it shouldn't have, halfway through the machine started giving off a slightly burned smell and when we finished, the motor gave out an exhausted smoky sigh. If this experiment is enjoyable for you and you plan on doing this again, then doing a little research and purchasing a quality food processor is a good idea.

We can't let the meat get too warm, and when it is being processed it will of course warm up very quickly. So, keep ice water close by. Add small amounts of water to the concoction to keep the temperature down and make it easier on the processor, and be careful not to overdo it with the water (avoid pooling). it's best to handle this phase fairly speedily. You can wipe the paste off the side walls with a spatula or fingers (fingers worked better for us - careful, blades sharp), and put the splattered meat back into the center. We did about 2-3 lbs of the meat at a time and after each pasty bunch, we placed it in butcher paper (use any food-safe container/material) and in the fridge. And so on with the next batch, til the fridge is filled with our pulpy meat.

Note: The food processor we purchased was not cheap (about $100) and we still had problems with it. To skip the risk, you can emulsify by regrinding the meat two times with a 3/16" or ¼" plate (smaller the better) in your grinder. The consistency may not be as pasty, but it will taste just as good and may save you a stress headache.


Step 4: Stuffing

Now for one of the most fun (yet tricky) parts of the process: stuffing the meat into casings. We used 24-26mm sheep casings, which, when stuffed, are little over a plump 1" in diameter. The ¾" diameter stuffing tube is a bit of a stretch, so we used the ½" diameter instead. The stuffer is our TSM 5 lb capacity model. If you plan on smoking your hot dogs, remember to link in even numbers. For example, two sets of 12 links or three sets of eight links. It is much easier to hang an even number of links, it will prevent one side from pulling the other down and if they are equal-length links, they're less likely to touch the smoke diffuser in your smokehouse. One more note on smoking before we begin: If you're smoking the hotdogs and you prefer to use collagen casings instead of natural, make sure you use smoked and not fresh collagen casings. The directions below reference natural casings specifically.

The casings come in bundles called hanks. Each hank can be very long and untying them can be quite a chore. What we like to do is find a loose one and keep pulling it till it's stuck. Then place the entire knotted bundle on a clean surface and start working on it. If you have roughly five feet, it's long enough. Cut it and place it in a small container with warm water. Move on to the next casing and do the same. Be absolutely sure to flush the casings thoroughly. When you untangle a casing, open one end and, with the faucet lightly open, fill the casing at least half with water. When the "water-sausage" fills about half the casing, gently push the water through the end (always watching for knots; it would be a shame to burst a casing before it sees any meat). Remove any water left in the unused casings, mix liberally with purified salt, repack tightly in a plastic bag and place in the back of the fridge for storage. When loading the casings on the tube, always err on the side of putting on more. Casings are relatively cheap, they have incredibly long shelf life and our single plastic bags have about 100 yards of casing. So if there's a little bit left on the tube after the meat is gone, it's better to just throw it away.

A quick note on inserting casings on the tube: Try your best to put the casings on straight and not turn them either way. When you notice the casing beginning to tighten in front due to twisting, do not force it onto the tube or try to untwist it by turning the part that's already on the tube. Those twists will exit just as they entered and your hot dogs will be turned around. If it is less than halfway up the tube, take the whole thing off and unwind it. If you have a lot of casing already on, hold what's on the tube and (you may need an extra hand) untwist it with the other end. Getting the tube and casing thoroughly wet will prevent casings from getting stubborn when applying, so have warm water handy.

Now that we have the casings on, leave about an inch of casing hanging off the tube. Start cranking and once the meat starts pushing its way out of the tube, pinch shut the casing a little to get a nice shape going right at the start. If you have someone with you, have them help you get a coil going so it doesn't snake its way off the edge of your table. At the end of any long, stuffed casing, be sure to leave an inch or two empty. Now start at one end, move down the sausage to where you want the first dog to end, gently with forefinger and thumb massage away some of the meat in that part and turn the new dog clockwise, making a link. You should use that one (or something its length) as a model for the rest, or just eyeball it. Remember, each new link needs to be turned the opposite direction than the one before it, so the next one should be turned counter-clockwise and so on. Burst casings are just as likely to occur during the linking phase as the stuffing phase, so be careful when linking. If you have any burst ones, just empty them and fry them up for a little teaser of what's ahead in the finished product. If you're giving them a light smudge in a smoker later, don't forget to prick out the air-pockets. Of course, we have utensils specific to each task. For this, we use the sausage pricker, but you can use anything from a toothpick to a sterilized sewing needle.



If you're smoking, skip to Step 6. If you're not, read on.

Step 5: Parboil, Grill & Eat

If you are not smoking the product, there's no need to use the Insta Cure #1. The product will need to be partially boiled to precook the meat; afterwards they can be simply reheated on a grill, boiled or pan-fried. To parboil, place the dogs in a pot of cold water and gradually bring up the water's temperature. Do not exceed 180°F water temperature or you'll risk breaking the casings. If you have a meat thermometer, the dogs should be at or over 152°F to be considered cooked. If no thermometer, about 15-20 minutes on simmer should be all right. You should eat one or two soon after they are cooked to get an idea of how they will taste. We recommend you eat one plain and the next with your favorite condiments (being Buffalo folks, we eat ours with ketchup, Weber's mustard, Broadway Market horseradish and relish... mmm). Try a few pan-fried with some vegetable oil. The outside nicely caramelizes in the oil, which is delicious. You can save them for two weeks in the refrigerator, or, for preserving longer than two weeks, freeze. And enjoy!

Step 6: Smoking, Steaming

The smoking phase is entirely optional, and for hot dogs we can't imagine you would want it to taste very smoky or have a dark smudge, but to each his own. First, be sure when hanging the links that they don't touch each other or the walls. The smoke will not get into those contact points. You should have a temperature probe inside the sausage that's biggest and furthest away from the heating element for a clear internal meat temperature and a separate inside smoker temperature. When they are set to go, you must dry the wieners by setting the smoker to 120°F with the smoke diffuser atop the heating element and dampers wide open for about an hour, or until the dogs' casings are dry to the touch (no smoke!). We don't recommend smoking any longer than three hours. By wetting the sawdust more than normal, the smoke will not be as forceful. After casings are done drying, set to 130°F, bring up the temperature 10°F every hour until you get to 160°F (damper open halfway the whole time). Smoke to your liking. After smoking, you can go straight to steam.

We steam in our smoker by placing a large bowl of freshly boiled water onto the heating element (remove diffuser entirely) and setting the temperature all the way up. This will bring the meat temperature past 152°F fairly quickly. When steam cooking in your smoker, remember to prevent any steam from escaping (especially from the chimney/damper) by sealing cracks with either towels or other means. If steaming is not an option, no worries - only patience. Set the temp to about 165°F, making sure it doesn't go over 170°F inside the smoker for any period of time because any fat that is inside will melt and drip down along with moisture. Our dogs have very little fat so the dripping may not be terribly dangerous, but this higher temperature will also cause your dogs to shrivel, and nobody likes a wrinkly shriveled dog! Once the internal meat temperature is at least 152°F in a few dogs, they are done. Take them out, and give them a cold shower under the sink until the internal temp goes down to about 110°F. We always cut off a little sausage right after smoking/steaming is done and before cold showering for a victory snack. You can hang them at room temperature until they are sufficiently dried and reach your desired bloom. Finally, they should be put in a cooler until their internal reaches about 50°F.

It is a bit of work, but it shouldn't seem like a chore. If you do this once, you won't soon forget how it's done, and the next time it will be done quicker and the final product will only get better. Personalize the recipe, make some tweaks and call it your own.

Step 7: ENJOY!

We made this batch for a 4th of July party, but anytime is the perfect time for some good ol' fashioned American hot dogs. We wouldn't dream of giving any grilling advice to you folks since most people we know take great pride in their BBQ wisdom. We hope you have as great a time making these tasty dogs as you surely will eating them with friends and family! Be sure to let us know about your experience in the comments below, on our forum or on Facebook.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Announcing the Sausage Maker Forum!


If there's one thing we've learned in our decades of serving sausage makers and DIY foodies of all stripes, it's that our customers love talking about their craft. Trading recipes, asking for tips, complimenting each other's innovative smokehouse setups--we're proud to have been involved in building a community of food lovers who take pride in their cooking and take the extra time to share.

With all the chatter going on, we thought it was high time to provide our customers and friends with a sausage making forum where you can ask questions and get answers from folks with plenty of experimentation under their belts. Whether you're a beginner hobbyist or a commercial chef with years of expertise, we hope our forum will be a go-to resource for your next cooking adventure.

Bookmark this link: http://thesausagemaker.boards.net, sign up and introduce yourself! The Sausage Maker staff will be available to provide our own knowledge, and we can't wait to see what other genius ideas the sausage making boards turn out.

As always, happy smoking!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Sausages of the World: Boerewors


Howzit, bru!

Welcome to the first installment of our ongoing series on sausages of the world! In each post, we'll learn about the history and cooking of a particular type of sausage, enjoyed by our meat-loving brethren in some corner of the globe. For this first outing, we're focusing on boerewors, a traditional South African sausage that's also eaten in Zimbabwe and other parts of Africa.

Traditional boerewors is stuffed and presented in a long coil shape.
History of Boerewors

If you're like us, your first question probably involves the boerewors pronunciation. It's easy: Just say "BOO-ruh-vorse." Boerewors is an Afrikaans word that literally means "farmer's sausage."

As with most South African cuisine (and the Afrikaans language), the flavors and ingredients in boerewors were influenced by centuries of colonization and immigration. In the mid-17th century, two members of the Dutch East India Company were shipwrecked for several months at what would become the Cape Colony, later known as the Republic of South Africa. When they finally returned to the Netherlands, these sailors recommended the area as a kind of warehouse where East India Company ships could restock their provisions. The Cape's unique location and ensuing political struggles over the next few hundred years led to South Africa's unfortunate history of extreme segregation and racism. The country still suffers from widespread poverty and the lingering effects of apartheid, but its highly diverse population and turbulent history have led to one of the most interesting national cuisines in the world.

Boerewors is partially derived from a traditional Dutch sausage called verse worst. The flavor of boerewors is somewhat different, though, due to variations in spices. It is cooked by braaing, or grilling outdoors.

The Sausage Maker does not recommend using a log as a heat source.
Boerewors Ingredients

Officially, boerewors contains at least 90 percent meat and not more than 30 percent fat. The majority of the meat used is beef, with some lamb and/or pork mixed in. Traditional seasonings include dark vinegar as well as coriander, black pepper, nutmeg, cloves and salt, making for a deep, rich sausage that reminds us of the flavors of the holidays (for a slight variation on these seasonings, try our Farmer's Pork Sausage blend). Boerewors is often served with pap, a grits-like porridge made with maize. Some people prefer their sausage in a boerie roll, a South African-style hot dog with tomatoes and relish.

Boerewors Recipe

Your exact measurements will depend on the amount of sausage you plan to make, but we've approximated the proportions you'll need for an authentic-tasting boerewors.

Ingredients:
90% meat including beef and pork/lamb
30% belly fat for richness and texture
Malt vinegar
Cloves
Nutmeg
Coriander seeds
Salt
Ground black pepper
Natural sausage casings

Instructions:
1. Cube your meat and fat to prepare them for the grinder.
2. Mix all spices together and sprinkle them over the cubed meat/fat, being sure to incorporate them fully for an even flavor.
3. Run your spiced meat/fat mixture through the grinder. Don't pack it too tightly!
4. Add the malt vinegar and stir thoroughly.
5. Add the mixture to your sausage stuffer and feed it into your natural casings in one long, evenly stuffed coil.
6. For authenticity, cook and serve the boerewors in this coil shape rather than twisting the sausage into links or making several small sausages (unless you're serving boerie rolls). Enjoy!

Do you have a favorite boerewors recipe? Share it with us in the comments or on our Facebook page!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Sausage Casings 101: Casings FAQ

It's time to wrap up our series on sausage casings with a few FAQs. Below you'll find solutions to some common problems our customers run into when they're stuffing casings for the first time, or when they're trying out a new kind of casing. Think of it as a troubleshooting guide from the experts.

Of course, if you have any remaining questions about your casings or stuffing techniques, feel free to contact us! We're excited to help you try new things and explore all the different types of casings we offer. Read on for more info!


Our easy tips will make you an expert in no time!

Why does my casing burst or split during stuffing?

1.) The casing may have been overstuffed. When making links, you should only stuff sausage about 3/4 full. You know the sausage is being overstuffed when you press gently with your thumb and there is no indentation left, which means there is high pressure/tension pushing back. There should be some give and indent left if pressed.

OR

2.) Casing is dry or has lost elasticity. If you're using natural casings, after rinsing the salt off, be sure to allow the casings to soak in warm/tepid water for at least 15-20 minutes prior to stuffing. If not enough water is absorbed, there will be less elasticity (or "give") when the sausages are being stuffed. Strand or flat collagen casings may burst when under pressure or if they have been dried due to less than ideal storage conditions. Keeping collagen casings in vacuum-sealed or zipper-sealed bag with the air removed will greatly increase shelf life and prevent stuffing bursts due to material integrity. 

OR

3.) Casings are stored improperly. Natural casings should never be frozen. Although they are packed in salt, they are considerably moist, so when they are frozen the water inside them will turn to ice and expand, which will cause small tears. These small tears, although usually imperceptible to the eye, will diminish the integrity and elasticity of the casing material and will inevitably cause bursts. Always store natural casings under refrigeration temperatures (36-40F).

Why did my casing wrinkle during smoking or cooking?

1.) The casing was under-stuffed. If the sausages are loosely stuffed, there is more casing material than is needed for adhering. So when casings naturally shrink and adhere to meat, if there is excess, it may cause wrinkling to appear.

OR

2.) Sausage was not cooled fast enough after cooking. Typically, right after cooking, sausage should be rapidly cooled under cold water to a meat temperature of 110F (but less is even better). This rapid cooling, usually no longer than 5 minutes under cold water, prevents the casings from shriveling/wrinkling in the cold, dry air that it is exposed to when removed from heat source. 

OR

3.) If you're smoking sausage (or cooking in low/slow smoker) for prolonged periods of time (over 8 hours), the moisture from the meat escaping through the casing and into the air will become evident by wrinkling casings. This can be prevented by either smoking sausage with a bowl/pan of water inside (but away from heat source) or by cutting down on time exposed to air/smoke in the smoker. Often smoking is done in the first 3-4 hrs. At this point sausage may be taken inside and finished in an oven, or temperatures should be increased in the smokehouse to 170F in order to reduce cooking time.

Why did the casing separate from the meat?

1.) The casing was not properly soaked. This is especially true for flat collagen and fibrous casings. Collagen, being a natural but semi-dehydrated product, needs moisture to reactivate the "meat-clinginess" of the proteins in the material. They should be soaked for 3-5 minutes. Longer than this may cause it to be over-soaked, less durable and more prone to breakage under high pressure. Fibrous casings, being made of mostly vegetable protein, do not have as strong meat-clinginess, so they need to be soaked for about 15-20 minutes in order to adhere much better, and stay adhered.

OR

2.) Casing was understuffed. Simply put, if the sausage was stuffed so loosely that there is space between the meat and casing, then the lack of contact will appear as separation, or what we call air pockets. If you see air pockets and the sausage is well-stuffed, be sure to prick them out using a sterile sewing needle or sausage pricker.

OR

3.) The temperature in the smokehouse was too high during smoking/cooking. This is a common cause of separation due to moisture being released from meat during long/high-temperature smoking or cooking. Fat is a vital component of sausage and it can/will melt under high temperatures; when this happens, it could cause air pockets to appear where there weren't any before. Keeping temperatures low and smoking times to the recommended duration will help minimize this effect.

Why are my casings tough?

Naturally... natural casings can sometimes be tough. Rinsing and flushing help make a casing tender, and you can read more about proper preparation for natural casings in a previous blog post. However, here are some more suggestions from our sausage specialists:

1.) Casings are past their prime. Natural casings that have been sitting in the refrigerator for over 6 months can become stiff. After rinsing, let them soak for 20 minutes in warm water to rehydrate and tenderize. If they are questionable: When in doubt, throw it out! Casings are not expensive and certainly not worth making anyone we care about ill. Keeping collagen casings in vacuum-sealed or zipper-sealed bag with the air removed will prevent them from drying out to the point of them losing their ability to rehydrate. If they are pliable then they are still okay, but if extra stiff then they will likely crack/break/burst. 

OR

2.) When smoking sausage, do not put a stuffed sausage from the refrigerator into a hot smokehouse. The sausage should sit at room temperature for a couple of hours and then be put into a warm, pre-heated (appr. 130F) smokehouse, gradually increasing the temperature until the desired smoking temperature is reached. Too much heat (over 180F) and/or leaving in the smoker too long (>8 hrs) will almost guarantee that the casings will be tough.

OR

3.) You may have skipped the tenderizing cold shower after cooking. Sausage, especially when smoked, needs to be treated to a rapid cooling/hydrating period, best done under cold running water. This actually tenderizes the casings as well as bringing the meat temperature down to prevent it from continuing to cook. 

Never put a sausage into boiling water. Instead, start cooking in cold water, bringing the temperature up gradually. The water should be brought to a simmer until the sausage is fully cooked.

We hope you've enjoyed and benefited from our series on sausage casings! As always, we encourage you to explore our huge selection of casings and other sausage making supplies on our website, and feel free to contact us with questions!

Monday, March 14, 2016

Sausage Casings 101: Fibrous Casings

It's that time again! In part three of our series on sausage casings, we're taking a look at fibrous casings, which come in tons of varieties to fit your specific sausage plans. If you're craving pepperoni, liverwurst or any other sausage that requires tight stuffing, fibrous casings might be the right choice for you.

While fibrous casings are inedible, they're still traditionally used to make several specific types of sausage. When you're shopping fibrous casings at the Sausage Maker online store, you'll find usage and recipe suggestions within our product descriptions. Be sure to choose the right diameter for the amount of meat you'll be stuffing, and choose a dark-colored casing if you want to lend a classic smoked look to your finished product.


Read below for our tips on making the most of your fibrous casings, plus a few dos and don'ts for beginners.
Mahogany Fibrous Summer Sausage Casings, $15.99 at the Sausage Maker

What are fibrous casings made of?

Fibrous casings are made with plant fiber in the form of cellulose, non-meat glycerin, added moisture and food oil running lengthwise, which gives them added strength. 

Are fibrous casings edible?

No, these casings are not edible, although they do peel easily when cooked.

What are fibrous casings generally used for?

Fibrous casings are most commonly used for making pepperonis, summer sausage, beef sticks, bologna, cooked salamis, liverwurst, etc. They are much more durable against tight stuffing, which makes them ideal for stuffing fine ground or emulsified sausages tightly.  

How do I prepare these fibrous casings for use?

Soak fibrous casings in tap water for 20-30 minutes. Make sure that the water gets inside the casing as well as covering the outside. Water can be cool, tepid or room temperature. 

Which casings should I use—plain or protein-lined (A.K.A. “meat cling”)?

So-called "protein-lined" casings have a protein coating applied to the inside of the casing. If you are making a dry cured product such as pepperoni or hard salami, you would use the protein-lined casings. These casings will shrink as the meat is shrinking, which will result in a better-looking product. 

When would I use the mahogany-colored or other designer casings?

Brown, red and mahogany casings can be used when you want to give a smoky or colored appearance without using a smoker. Often these recipes use liquid smoke to impart a smoky flavor to the meat. Other designer casings (i.e. string-effect) are simply printed for making a unique-looking final product. 

Do these casings let the smoke penetrate?

Yes, fibrous casings are porous and allow the smoke to penetrate into the meat. However, they are not as porous/permeable as collagen casings or natural casings (which are the most permeable).

Ready to experiment with fibrous casings? Check out the selection in our store and visit our blog again soon for the conclusion of our sausage casings series, when we'll talk troubleshooting. Happy cooking!