Harvest Kitchen Series: Smoked Venison Sausage
Like most readers, I’m not a master chef — just a guy who loves to hunt, fish, and eat what he harvests. If success afield and family schedule allows, this series will highlight a new game or fish dish each month. I’ll cover all the details from take to table, and everyone will benefit with a collection of easy, everyday meals harvested from nature’s pantry and celebrated in the home kitchen.
After a challenging, hard-fought archery season, I found myself deerless by the opener of the Pennsylvania firearms season. Determined to fill my buck tag, I stationed in a reliable ladder stand overlooking a CRP field that usually produces glimpses of deer transitioning between food and cover, especially in the morning and late afternoon hours.
With 20-mph wind gusts and subfreezing temperatures projected for much of the day, I was hoping for an early morning glimpse rather than a last light glimpse, but by 8:30 a.m., I had only spotted two small does. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t see another deer until after 4 p.m., making for a long, mentally enduring day in the stand.
I don’t mind pulling all-day sits when I know there’s chance for the effort to pay off. But when relentless winds pound you in the face on the corner of a fully exposed field edge for nine hours straight, it begins to test one’s resolve.
I was singing high praises when the sun began to dip and the wind finally died off, springing deer from their beds. As if a switch flipped, multiple does emerged from the timber and tall CRP grass in various locations. Moments later, a respectable 8-point showed up, and I didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger when he turned broadside.
While I butcher all my own deer, I usually pay a processor to make me deer sausage each year. This time, I thought it would be fun to try making some of my own. I reserved 20-lbs. of cubed trim from my buck, which I weighed and bagged in two ten-pound vacuum sealed bags. These went into the freezer until I was ready to make links.
Last winter, a large white pine tree fell on my home, and I found a guy with a mobile mill to turn it into salvageable lumber on site, which was stacked, stickered, and dried for a year beneath a lean-to built with pallets and an old truck cap.
During a slow weekend in February, I used that lumber to build a DIY smokehouse and ordered a small cold smoking unit called a “Smokemiester” online. I picked up some hog casings and cracked pepper sausage blend at a local feed store and 5-lbs of pork trim at a nearby butcher shop to reach the full 25 pounds the seasoning package recommended.
After grinding both the chilled venison and pork, mixing it well by hand, working in the seasoning blend and a little water to bind it all together, I ran it all back through my electric grinder once more. Then, my son and wife helped me stuff the casings (which soaked in water to soften and reduce the salt) with a hand-cranked sausage stuffer while our two year-old daughter supervised.
The links were air dried and chilled in a refrigerator for a few days and then hung in the smokehouse for 12 hours under a slow hickory wood chip smudge. I pulled the links from the smoker late at night and grilled some up the very next day.
The Table Takeaway
The results were good, perhaps even admirable for our first time making sausage. The whole family downed it without complaint, but I found it closer in taste to a fresh sausage or a brat-style sausage, versus the typical Pennsylvania Dutch smoked sausage to which I’m accustomed. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t bad at all – but it definitely wasn’t the same flavor we get from the guy who’s been doing this for at least 30 years.
Perhaps I could’ve smoked it a little longer, and I probably should’ve rinsed the insides of casings prior to soaking, because it turned out just a tad salty, but it was a solid product, a good learning experience, and the sausage won’t go to waste. A little ketchup and horseradish gave the sausage that extra zing I was missing, and the leftovers got sliced into a crockpot stew with garden veggies for later in the week.
I’ll likely try a more flavorful blend for my next batch though. I’m planning to do some spicy sticks and 10-pounds of Polish Kielbasa from the trim I saved from my late-season doe.
It was a decent stepping point to take the plunge into home sausage making. The whole process took time, but it was enjoyable, and there’s a certain satisfaction that comes with self-provision that makes me want to continue trying new things with the game I harvest. I might need a bigger grinder.