Making homemade venison sausage: It's easy and fun
It’s hard to beat the enticing aroma of homemade venison bratwurst or venison Italian sausage sizzling on the grill. Throw a few sliced peppers and onions in the mix, douse your grilled bun with some brown mustard, and prepare your taste buds for a sensory extravaganza.
I’m often surprised at the number of hunters I talk with who’ve never tried making sausage – or even had a butcher make some – from their annual supply of wholesome venison.
Most butchers and deer processors will make sausage, if asked, but if you have a spare afternoon or evening, you can make a batch or two of your own and flavor it to your specific taste. It’s a pretty simple process.
The cuts of venison you’d normally grind into burger are perfect for making sausage.
There’s not much you need, but it will take a bit of a financial investment. For starters, you’ll need a meat grinder and a sausage press. Many electric grinders double as sausage presses, as do some hand models.
(Hand grinders start at about $50; electric grinders and sausage presses start at about $100 each.)
I know a group of guys who hunt together and gather each year after the season for a day of sausage-making. They each pitched in a few bucks and bought a decent meat grinder and press and make a variety of their own venison sausage each winter.
After gathering the needed “tools,” you’ll have to decide which type of sausage you plan to make – brats, Italian, Polish, summer, pepperoni, breakfast, sticks, etc. Each will require its own seasoning, and often its own method of cooking. Summer sausage and hunter sticks, for instance, often are smoked, while Italian and Polish sausage often are not.
Once you’ve decided what types of sausage you want to make, it’s time to assemble the spices and cure. Here’s where you can be a little creative. Standard seasoning packages are available at most sporting goods stores and grocery stores. There also are plenty of recipes available in cookbooks and online if you want to make your own seasoning. Some folks like to start with packaged ingredients from the store, then add a little of their favorite seasonings. The idea is to decide what flavors and types of sausage you prefer, then customize them to your own liking. Be sure to write down the measurements as you experiment so you can duplicate the recipe once you have the desired taste.
Cold, nearly frozen meat works best for grinding and mixing. Some folks like to put their holding bowls inside a larger bowl filled with ice to keep the meat cold while they’re working with it.
Depending on your recipe, you’ll want to mix in some pork or beef with your venison, since there’s no fat in venison – the fat on a deer is actually a waxy substance called tallow. It depends on the recipe you choose to follow, but some people like to mix the meat 50/50 and some go as high as 75 percent pork and 25 percent venison. Again, it’s a personal preference. Generally, the less beef or pork used, the drier the sausage.
To start, debone all of the meat you plan to use. Since you’re mixing two different types of meat, it helps to chunk the meat into 1- to 2-inch pieces, then mix the pieces together thoroughly. Begin grinding with a coarse blade and keep in mind that you want to mix the meat as well as possible while feeding it into the grinder.
Once all the meat has been ground once, add the cure and spices and mix thoroughly.
This is where you can again be a little creative and add flavor to your sausage. For instance, I like to add pineapple to a batch or brats now and then for a sweet, “Hawaiian” twist. A cup or two of your favorite barbecue sauce also will add a distinctive flavor. Have some fun and experiment. It’s also a good idea to stop here and cook up a small portion of sausage to see if the taste fits. You can always add a little more flavoring or spice if the flavor isn’t quite what you want. Be sure to refrigerate the meat while you cook up a sample.
Once you’ve added the spices and flavors to your liking and mixed the meat thoroughly, grind the mixture again, using the fine blade this time.
Now it’s time to stuff the sausage into the casings, make patties, or prepare packages of ground sausage, which is great for sauces and soups.
Casings are included in most sausage-making kits, but also may be purchased individually at butcher shops and online. There are two basic types: hog casings and callogen casings. The hog casings are a little tougher to work with, but hold the sausage much tighter. Try each and decide which is right for you.
Stuffing the sausage takes a little practice, but after a few minutes you’ll get the hang of it and have a method worked out.
If you’re using hog casings, be sure they’re wet before trying to thread them onto the sausage stuffer.
Leave an inch or so at the end of the casing to tie off.
If an air bubble appears in the sausage while stuffing, take a clean, sterilized pin or toothpick and pop the bubble. You can twist off the ends of each individual sausage as they form, or leave extra room in the casing and make the desired twists at the end of the process.
Once the sausages are stuffed, it helps to hang them or lay them on a tray on paper towels for an hour, then refrigerate them overnight.
In the morning, the sausages can be packaged and frozen, dried on low heat in the oven, smoked, or pre-cooked for long-term storage and easy heating later.
It’s a relatively simple process to make your own venison sausage, and the outcome will have you planning your next batch while you eat.