Hunters don’t make their own sausage for many reasons, but top of the list is probably because they don’t have the equipment or patience, and having a venison processor make summer sausage is expensive; a 5-pounder made locally will typically run $20, considerably more than an all-beef one would cost retail. But summer sausage requires no special equipment and little patience.
Prior to hitting the kitchen, sodium nitrate, summer sausage seasoning and casings need to be acquired. These items are not hard to find over the net, or they can be found locally at Rebel Butcher Supply in Pearl, Mississippi, costing about $8 for enough products to make 100 pounds of summer sausage. Sodium nitrate is controversial in online fora where everything is controversial, but it’s as likely to make you sick as the 4 cigars smoked over a lifetime of weddings/birth announcements are to give you lung cancer. If sodium nitrate is not used—in addition to a botulism concern—the finished product will look like over-cooked hamburger, slightly grey, with tones of brown. Sausage should be pink, and a sodium nitrate cure imparts this hue. Many online recipes eschew casings and nitrate, that’s fine, just call it dried meatloaf instead of sausage and don’t post pictures. I admit the seasoning is a compromise to someone who likes to source and mix, but if traditional summer sausage is desired, you’ll spin a lot of wheels and money to put together the seasoning. Rebel makes it up on site, and I am sure there are reliable online sources as well.
If using processed venison, be aware this method uses a 1:1 ratio of venison to pork butt. Check with the processor about this ratio; most will use 2:3 pork to venison if not instructed otherwise. This will work, but may want to increase the beef later if this is the case. Mix 4 lbs. of the venison/pork with 2 lbs. of 73% ground beef. Dissolve slightly less than a teaspoon of sodium nitrate and a tablespoon of salt (I use kosher salt that has been smoked) in a few tablespoons of water. Mix well with the meat, and pack tightly in a gallon zip top bag. I never would have thought to dissolve the cure in water, but it is the only way to distribute it thoroughly into the meat. This needs to sit up (cure) in the fridge for at least 3 days. I have been told by everyone I know that cures meat not to second guess the amount of cure—one grain too much and the batch is ruined—and this I believe. I’m also told by seasoned veterans that 5 days is optimal on the wait; but that wears on the patience (maybe this should be discussed during the safety meeting). At the end of the cure, put the meat in a cold bowl, and mix in the summer sausage seasoning. How much will depend on the way the seasoning is bought. I kept it simple as it was so cheap and bought enough to do 100 lbs. so the math was easy.
The casings are synthetic, so do not soak or salt them as you would with natural casings. Prick the casings with a needle; pricking allows moisture to escape as well as a little of that fat you don’t want causing a ring around the sausage. This method makes 3 sausages, in 3″ diameter casings; not much is lost so I guess they are close to 2 pounds apiece. Just ball the meat up and drop it in the casing. Scour the pantry and find a hot sauce, vinegar, or other similarly shaped bottle, that perfectly slides into the casing, and use it as a plunger to eradicate any gaps in the meat stuffing. It’s self-explanatory once the process is begun how to not let this happen, but if you had a proper safety meeting prior to beginning this process, it will be understood that it can’t be put into print without eliciting distracting juvenile laughter, so let’s move on to cooking.
The seasoning in this method is enough to deter me from smoking (other than the safety meeting). I add a little smoked salt to mine, and a lot of others use liquid smoke, but I can’t recommend smoking this sausage in the traditional sense–too many competing flavors. Place the links on a cooling rack, over a baking sheet at 200F for about 4 hours. I turn the sausage (to prevent flat spots) at the half way point, and also mop off the liquid that sweats out. Set the timer on the oven, and let it die to cool before taking out the sausage. Then put it in the fridge for a few days before slicing.
Dan Vimes is a 1989 graduate of the Mississippi School of Math and Science. He then entered Rensselaer Polytechic Institute in Troy, New York on a full academic scholarship, but was asked to leave after the first semester related to an on campus deer-hunting incident that involved a crossbow. Currently residing in Pelahatchie in a 35′ Airstream, he raises guinea pigs for reptile breeders and grows hemp used in religious ceremonies. You can contribute to Dan’s legal fund by emailing the administrator of this site.