You’ve likely heard the old saying, “Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made.” Given the way Congress is behaving these days, however, we think comparing the two is just unfair. For one, you can make sausages pretty easily at home, whereas making laws at home may result in handcuffs. For help understanding how to make sausage, we’ve reached out to Sam W. Edwards III, President of S. Wallace Edwards & Sons. Based in Surry, Virginia, the Edwards family has been selling all-American meat products for almost 90 years. In other words, Mr. Edwards knows what he’s talking about.
Finding a Meat Grinder
A meat grinder and stuffing horn may be the only pieces of equipment you’ll need to buy for sausage making; you probably have everything else in your kitchen already. “You can find meat grinders at your local feed and grain store,” says Sam Edwards. “Of course, you could go online anywhere and find decent grinders, either the manual kind or electric ones that are pretty nice and aren’t too expensive.” If you have an electric mixer, you can find a reasonably priced attachment that will grind meat (pictured).
Theoretically, you can make sausages out of any type of meat that you want — if you’re a hunter, for example, you might consider turning your quarry into delicious sausages. That said, you can never go wrong with pork sausage. As for the proper pork cut, Edwards recommends Boston butt (also known as pork butt). This cut is actually located on the hog’s shoulder, so stop snickering. Bacon trimmings, which come from pork belly, are also good for sausages.
“Our lean-fat mixture is targeted to 72 to 75% lean,” says Edwards. “For a 250 pound batch, for instance, we’d use 150 pounds of butts to 100 pounds of bacon trimmings, which will get you to about 72% fat.” Since you probably won’t be making 250 pounds of sausage, just keep the 3:2 butt-to-trimmings ratio in mind. Though you can probably get what you need from a grocery store meat butcher, you’re better off visiting a bonafide butcher.
Once you bring home the bacon (literally), you’ll need to freeze it until you can make your sausages. The trick is to cut the meat into pieces, wrap it in plastic and aluminum foil, and freeze it quickly. “A lot of people make the mistake of taking a 5 lb. glob of meat and sticking it in a freezer where there’s no airflow, and it takes about 4 or 5 days for the meat to freeze,” says Edwards. “It’s better to put it in a freezer with the temperature at zero or colder.” This is assuming that you don’t have the time to grind the meat right away — ideally you would make your sausage as soon as you get home.
Grinding a big slab o’ meat won’t produce the results you’re looking for. First, you should cube the meat into ping pong ball-sized pieces. Edwards recommends grinding the meat cold — somewhere between 33 and 39 degrees. You can either add seasoning to the ping pong ball-sized meat, or wait until after the first grind to add the seasoning, then send the seasoned meat through the grinder again when you’re ready for casing.
Seasoning is essential for truly delicious sausages. “We don’t use any artificial ingredients, no MSG,” says Edwards. “We like black pepper, red pepper, white pepper, salt, and the key ingredient for us is real sage.” Other tasty ingredients to consider are garlic, sugar, oregano, and chili powder.
If you need to follow a recipe, you’ll find a whole lot online. Otherwise, you can just let your creativity run wild, then occasionally cook up a small patty of seasoned meat to test the taste. Edwards uses about 5.5 pounds of seasoning to 250 pounds of meat. Since you probably won’t be making that much sausage, just go for a meat-seasoning ratio of about 1:50. Be sure to knead the meat until the seasoning is well distributed throughout.
If you’re into simplicity, you can just slap your meat into patties and be done with it. If you want to make link sausages, however, you’ll need some casings. “Sausage casings are relatively easy to find,” says Edwards, “Of course, you can find just about anything online. In the good ol’ days, you would go down to the local grocery store, feed and grain store, or your local butcher and get hog casings, sheep casings, or beef casings, depending on the flavor profile you’re looking for. I like pork casings that are about 34 to 37mm in diameter.”
All you have to do is slide the casing onto the horn, put the seasoned meat in the grinder, and start grinding. “As the grinder pushes the sausage through the horn, you need to keep a little bit of pressure on the casing with your hand,” says Edwards. “You should also tie off the end to make sure the meat doesn’t squirt off the end of the sausage casing.” Take your time with it, and be careful not to overstuff the casing. While it’s possible to perform the grinding and casing by yourself, this is a good excuse to enlist a buddy’s help. In fact, you might invite several buddies and throw a “sausage fest.” Er . . . on second thought, maybe not.
After casing the meat, squeeze and twist it into links of your desired length. Gently puncture the casing of each link to help relieve pressure and prevent bursting. Ideally, you would cook and eat the sausage right away; that said, your doctor probably wouldn’t like you eating 20 sausages at once. “Sausages have a shelf life in the neighborhood of 4 or 5 days refrigerated, assuming your refrigerator is about 37, 40 degrees,” says Edwards. “If you’re not going to eat the sausage within the first 2-3 days, I suggest wrapping it in saran wrap first, then foil, and putting it in the freezer in two-serving batches.”
Making sausages at home is fun, easy, and a great way to impress your friends. It’s hard to beat fresh-made sausage in the morning. Or the afternoon. Or the evening. Or at 3am. Sausages are always good, and knowing how to make sausage yourself is a glorious power. Wield it responsibly.
Are you looking to try some high-quality, professionally made sausages? S. Wallace Edwards & Sons sells sausages, ham, bacon, and many other meat products at their online store.