Sausage has always been a little intimidating to me. This year I vowed to tackle it head on! I decided to start on the simpler side and make some summer sausage with my dad. Neither one of our wives are huge wild game eaters, especially if its a large steak on a plate. They will however eat brats, breakfast sausage & summer sausages! So definitely worth the effort to learn how to do this at home.
This project started with a roadkill deer I found while out hunting geese on public land. I checked into a sign in station in the morning and when checking out at the same station a few hours later I noticed a deer on the side of the road that was definitely not there when I passed in the morning. I stopped to check it out and it was still warm and not in rigor, so a fresh hit. I called my dad and he said he was interested. I had to get home for another commitment so hit the road but within a span of 30 min or so he called and said he was on the scene and that the sheriff was on the way to write him a tag for the deer! Harvesting fresh roadkill is absolutely something that I am happy to promote. As long as its a fresh animal and not too banged up you are golden. The only precautions that need to be made are watching for broken bones and making sure the internal organs are not ruptured and getting bile & feces on the meat. Luckily this deer seemed be hit on the front shoulder/neck so there were no gut leaks and only one quarter was beyond salvaging. After breaking down the deer my dad froze it until I was able to bring some of the venison in my freezer up to make the sausages.
We decided to run with a kit for the first attempt. Eventually I’d love to develop my own recipe, but thats also super intimidating for me.. We chose to go with Hi Mountain Hunters Blend, it comes with the seasoning, casings and instructions and was a lot easier to make than I anticipated!!
The soonest my dad and I were able to connect was a month and a half later, the opener of Indiana turkey season. Being the gentleman my dad is he offered to grind up all the venison and pork needed to make the sausage while I was off hunting turkey. He chose to use spicy pork sausage as the fat. SPOILER ALERT: it turned out ok, but not the best, it needed more moisture. The public land I was hunting only allows turkey hunting up until 1p, so by early afternoon I’m back at the homestead helping finish up the grinding. I had my dad put the ground venison & pork into my MEAT! lug, which made mixing in the spice super easy! We ground up 24lb of venison and 6 lbs of pork which fit in the lug with a lot of room to space. Mixing by hand was not difficult, but if I ever decide to do this more than a few times a year I may end up investing in a Meat Mixer. Absolutely not necessary, but extremely handy for larger portions or a faster more thorough mixing.
FYI – a good pair of insulated rubber gloves are awesome for mixing up the super cold meat, especially when your hands are covered in nicks & cuts from bushwhacking and overall clumsiness. Lucky for us Indiana gave us a 40° turkey opener, so keeping the meat chilly through the entire process was easy, we just set up shop out in the garage with the door open! A good rule of thumb when making any type of sausage is to keep the equipment an the meat as cold as possible without freezing. All the friction and warming up from the grinding and stuffing can lead to a breeding ground for bacteria if you are not careful and get your meat too warm.
After mixing the seasoning with the ground meat we ran everything through the grinder a second time. This proved to be a little more challenging than we anticipated! Being sticky from the water/seasoning we added and being total newbs at the process we got the feeding tube on our grinder way too full of ground meat and it just got gummed up.. Part of this problem was due to the fact we left a bit too much silver skin on some of the pieces of meat (assuming the grinder would take care of it, but it did not..) The silver skin got wrapped around the blade of the grinder and forced the plate to separate from the blade JUST far enough to plug up the opening and really slow down the process. After a bit of troubleshooting and failed attempt thinking the plate was the source of the problem we got the blade cleaned out and pretty much solved all of our problems!
We also made a bunch of little meatballs and partially froze them to firm up the mix and make feeding the ground meat into the feeding tube of the grinder much easier.The meatballs were probably not necessary had we just taken small little bits of ground meat and dropped into the feeding tube vs trying to cram as much as we could in there and forcing it down with the plunger.. Hindsight is 20/20. We also debated if grinding the meat a second time was even necessary.. To test out the theory we filled a couple of the provided casings with meat that had only had one pass through the grinder.
The stuffing process was the portion of the project I was most nervous about. So many questions about how tight to make the logs, would they split while stuffing? Would they split while cooking? would they shrivel and not be stuffed enough? My only advice here is to just do it. We stuffed until they felt tight and everything turned out great. I felt like the summer sausage casings were super rigid and we had no explosions or splits at any point in the process. The stuffer is much easier with 2 people, however if you clamp it down its super easy solo. Just go slow and its very doable.
After stuffing the sausage casings we let them rest in the refrigerator for 24 hours to cure & meld the flavors a bit. After the resting period we put them on the smoker per Hi Mountains instructions.
A critical step when making summer sausage is to start the smoker out on a lower heat setting to dry out the casings. This will help them keep their shape and and not shrivel up too much. Again we followed the directions provided and all the product came out great! Due to the size of our smoker we did a couple different batches, one with hickory and another with apple. Being completely honest I cannot tell the difference between the 2. All in all I say it turned out great for a first attempt. One thing I would change next time is not using pork sausage as the fat addition. I might go straight pork fat and skip on the meat? The summer sausage has great taste, but is a bit on the dry side. It would be much more enjoyable with a bit more moisture.
The best cheese to pair with the summer sausage my opinion is smoked gouda, its got a nice mellow flavor that pairs great with the venison and is not too overpowering. Another great option is smoked Swiss, its a bit stronger so may overpower the venison, so I’d recommend keeping the slices a bit smaller. Pepper jack is also a strong contender. As for the crackers a nice butter cracker is classic, but if you can find some sort of crisp with cranberries baked in (pictured below) you will not regret it! I’m a huge fan of the fruit/venison combo, plus anything to get me out of the ‘ordinary’ on occasion is a great way to mix things up and not get bored with the same old same old.
So with 30 pounds of finished summer sausage in hand we are definitely needing to preserve some! The MEAT! vacuum sealer took care of preservation with incredible ease. I love the professional look a good vacuum seal gives this homemade product. Plus who can argue with the added protection against freezer burn?? 100% worth the investment, especially if you are going to give some away to friends and family!
I’m super excited to give this another go at some point after we’ve eaten through this haul! Absolutely playing with the recipe a bit next time. Adding some jalapeños for sure.
Also now that I’ve gotten over my ‘fear’ of sausage making I’m ready to jump in to the more challenging side of the craft and start making more products!