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)

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:, 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!