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Making Sausages Isn't Hard. All You Have to Do Is Follow a Few Rules.


It's said that those who love sausages or the law should never watch either being made. I'd argue that the opposite is really true: Those who truly love either should know as much about those processes as possible.

And with sausages, that sometimes means taking casings into your own hands. Making your own sausage is neither as hard nor as messy as it might seem and, though some special equipment comes in quite handy, it's not too expensive or even necessary if you just want to make sausage patties. In fact, I found making sausage to be much less complicated than I had expected.

In an odd way, that's due in large part to the shrinking nature of the modern meat market. Although recipes used to be quite specific about the types of pork fat to be used in making different sausages--hard fat, which is higher in saturated fat and, as a result, firmer at room temperature than soft fat, is best for dried or aged sausage; soft fat is best for fresh sausage--today you'll have to go to some length to find any pork fat at all, aside from cured salt pork.

At first, that seemed to be a major stumbling block. Experts tend to agree that the best sausages contain between 15% and 25% fat. Short of trimming the pork myself, then weighing the respective portions of lean and fat, I was stumped as to how to arrive at that mixture.

It turned out not to be a problem at all. All you really need to know is one cut, two words: pork butt.

That's the front shoulder of the pig, actually, and by nature, it fits that perfect fat profile, averaging about 20% fat, mostly the softer unsaturated kinds. Better yet, it's cheap and almost always available.

One fancy market that sold sausage casings didn't carry pork butt, only the trimmed loin, a far leaner and more expensive part. At around 7% fat, that plainly wouldn't do. I had to go someplace less expensive to find the more plebeian but correctly fatty cut.

Once your butt is in hand, sausage making is mostly a mechanical process. Grind the meat, season it as you like, stuff it into casings and cook away.

Some special equipment really helps in doing this. You should at least try to find a meat grinder. They're pretty scarce these days. I had no luck in several so-called gourmet stores but found that in antique and junk stores, hand-cranked models sometimes turn up for around $20.

If you have a food processor, you can use that as a grinder by cutting the meat into half-inch cubes, then pulsing the machine quickly on and off until you have the right texture. Grind in small batches to keep an even consistency and don't over-process or you'll wind up with paste.

Failing either of those, some cooks recommend a half-moon shaped rolling chopper, the ones called mezzaluna in Italian and hachoir in French.

If you have a reasonably effective meat grinder, you can come up with quite a range of final textures. Run the meat once through the chopper with the biggest holes and you get something like coarse hamburger. Run it twice through the chopper with the smallest holes and the result is that familiar fine, almost smooth, bratwurst texture.

Those variations affect more than appearance. The more coarsely the meat is ground, the more air pockets are in the sausage. And when the fat melts during the cooking process, those air pockets are where it ends up. That means a coarsely chopped sausage will be juicier than a finely chopped one, in addition to being perceptibly chewier.

The meat will chop better if it is chilled almost to the point of freezing before you run it through the grinder. A second chilling also helps after you've seasoned the ground meat. This not only gives the flavors time to mix, it also helps keep the meat from overheating and smearing during the mechanical process of running through the sausage stuffer.


If you don't have a sausage stuffer, any fresh sausage can be served as a patty. A KitchenAid stand mixer has a very slick sausage stuffer that attaches to the meat grinder. These are commonly available at cookware stores in many department stores and from catalogs (see Cookstuff, H9).

Most stuffing machines are pretty basic. The problem is that their instructions are even more so. For a technophobe, it's not a lot of help to have an instruction sheet that reads: "Carefully stuff sausages," even if it does say it in six languages. Could we possibly be a little more specific?

Looking through several sausage cookbooks filled in the blanks.

The first thing you have to do is make sure the meat market gives you the right size sausage casings to fit your stuffer. Mine didn't, and after much wrestling, I discovered that the small casings are just barely big enough to squeeze one end over the large nozzle of my KitchenAid. No matter how much you work, they will go no farther.

The next problem was that the casings kept ripping, even when they were the right size. That was easily solved by liberally greasing the nozzle with shortening. After that, the casings slid right on and off with nary a squeak.

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