People don’t make their own sausage for many reasons. Top of the list is because they don’t have the equipment or patience. 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, and can usually be found locally. You’ll spend 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. Just buy it.
This method uses a 1:1 ratio of beef (or venison) to pork butt. Check with the processor about this ratio; most will use 2:3 pork to beef if not instructed otherwise. This will work, but may want to increase the beef later if this is the case. If using venison, 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.
The mixture 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.
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 cool before taking out the sausage. Refrigerate for a few days before slicing.
(Dan Vimes is a 1989 graduate of the Mississippi School of Math and Science. Vimes entered Rensselaer Polytechic Institute in Troy, New York on a full academic scholarship, but was asked to leave in his first semester after an on-campus incident involving a crossbow. Currently residing in a 35′ Airstream, in Pelahatchie, Dan raises guinea pigs for reptile breeders and grows hemp for religious ceremonies. Contribute to Dan’s legal fund via this site.)