Grit Blogs > Arrows and Minnows

Making Sausage for the First Time

By Caleb Regan, Managing Editor

Tags: Meat, Processing, Cooking, Smoking, Curing, Sausage,

A photo of the author, Caleb ReganEvery February in recent years, a few months after my deer has been hung and cut up, I’m left thinking of ways to use the non-steak cuts, the portion of the deer normally ground up. My wife’s Venison Meatloaf is unstoppable, Venison Chili is a seasonal favorite, but towards the end of the winter, we’re still inevitably left with around 25 pounds of ground venison.

Evenings when I fend for myself at the dinner table, when Gwen’s away for work, I’ll slip in charcoal-grilled venison burgers, but that’s an admittedly acquired taste that I’ve come to really enjoy and look forward to but would never feed to someone I love. Doe deer burgers are usually pretty tasty to me now, but I remember well eating deer burgers as a young boy and loathing every bite; the deer I have in mind was not exactly processed in optimal conditions, from what I remember.

The desire to find new methods for consuming those extra pounds of ground meat, coupled with my father-in-law’s yearly surplus of awesome-tasting deer snack sticks, made me first get serious about jerky, snack sticks, and making sausage in general. Curing seemed like a cool process, and I wanted to take the plunge.

The three necessities I needed were, in order of importance, a grinder, sausage stuffer, and smokehouse. There are ways to get around the smoker (you could smoke in a normal smoker, or even bake in the oven). But to make 21 mm snack sticks, which I knew I wanted to do, I’d need a manual crank stuffer, and a preferably electric, high-power grinder. And a smokehouse would allow me to slow-smoke the meat like it deserved.

TSM Smokehouse 

Mad Cow Cutlery had all three, and what I ended up with was the TSM Electric #12 Meat Grinder, a 1 hp beauty that gets after it to the tune of 330 pounds per hour; the TSM 5 lbs. Stainless Steel Sausage Stuffer; and the TSM 30-pound Country Style Insulated Smokehouse.

Sausage Making Equipment - TSM Grinder and Stuffer 

Later on, Mad Cow Cutlery sent over a gambrel and an assortment of meat processing supplies, which will play a role in our larger vision of processing lambs, pigs, and eventually, I hope, cattle. We later found a used 30-by-60 stainless steel table at a restaurant depot that we bargained for $175.

It’s the logical next step for us here in the GRIT offices. We’ve done chickens, turkeys, deer, squirrels, pheasant, quail and other small animals, but to process our own livestock is an idea that I know I’ve aspired to do ever since I processed a chicken out at Hank Will’s Prairie Turnip Farm, smoked the bird, and tasted the delicious meat that my own hands had taken from pasture to table.

Also, to depend upon and pay a third party to process and package one of my animals seems to me like I’m missing an important part of the circle. Besides, my forefathers did it; why should I pay someone to do it?

But a foray into sausage making was a meaningful and significant first step. Using 9 pounds of my whitetail doe ground venison, 5 pounds of Hank’s ground Mulefoot pork, and 1 pound of GRIT Publisher Bryan Welch’s ground beef, we made 10 pounds of summer sausage and 5 pounds of snack sticks. The first time around, we opted for LEMs seasoning packets, but I think we’re getting more comfortable with the idea of curing and how this particular smokehouse works, and someday soon we’ll start tinkering and using a custom ingredient set.

Grinding Pork, Beef and Venison 

The Mad Cow equipment performed wonderfully: grinder chewed meat up and mixed it at the same time; the stuffer allowed us to stuff slowly at 21 mm so the casings didn’t break, and the smokehouse smokestack was giving off an aroma (using apple wood) unlike any I’ve smelt before. Cured, smoking sausage is a beautiful thing, a fact proven by my great-great-grandfather and Native Americans all the same.

Stuffing Venison and Pork Snack Sticks 

Next time, we discovered, a little extra pork fat might make the meat a little less dry. It had a great flavor, and even a wonderful texture, but we were reminded that store-bought beef and pork are far different than farm-raised beef and pork, which are significantly leaner. Funny thing, that all those recipes you find just assume you’re using store-bought, fatty pork and beef.

Snack Sticks Hang in the Smokehouse 

I have to admit, I felt a great tinge of confidence and pride when Hank brought the finished product in a day after we made it, we split a piece, and an hour later we were still feeling fine in the belly and were still upright working on the magazine. We’d successfully cured our first batch of sausage. 

Cured and Smoked Snack Sticks 

Bottom Photos (5): courtesy Karen Keb

Caleb Regan and his wife, Gwen, live in rural Douglas County, Kansas, where they enjoy hunting, fishing, and raising and growing as much of their own food as they can. Caleb can’t imagine a better scenario than getting to work on a rural lifestyle magazine as a profession, and then living that same lifestyle right in the heartland of America. Connect with him on .

aaron chism
1/16/2013 4:58:07 PM

I am just starting to get in to making my own sausage. I have close to 50 lbs or more of Elk and Venison, and was looking for a few pointers in the seasoning department. I was given a packet of "basic" seasoning from a local grocer, but do you have anything specific you like to use? Thank you.

suzanne cox
8/24/2011 10:52:27 AM

We're going to try our hand this weekend on butchering our own lamb at home. The plan is to make some sausage while we're at it. Could you recommend any paticular books or reading material on recipes or processes that work best? We're starting small with a kitchen aid meat grinder and sausage stuffer. Hoping to get a large grinder and slicer next year. Got a smoke house in the planning to. Just so much to do and not enough time! But we've got sheep, chicken, turkey, and pigs and are looking for some cattle. Our goal is to produce all of our own meat for our family and most of our veggies. We've had a slaughterhouse do our processing before, but you are right, it just seems kind of wrong to us. We would rather do the whole process ourselves from birth to freezer.

muck boot diva
7/20/2011 10:18:00 AM

Now THIS is something I am interested in! We will have Rabbits and Sheep on the farm when we go full time -- Geese too. I am big on sausage. You can do anything with it. I have to show this to the MWM (Man with Muscles) and see what he thinks! MBD

jason schwarz
4/27/2011 8:13:29 AM

Congratulations! I have been curing and smoking meat for a little over twenty years...and still love it. It truly is an art and science. Until recently I generally used prepackaged mixes and fixed quantities of meat, usually multiples of five pound batches. Everything I knew about curing and smoking had been handed down to me from previous generations. Then, around 2009, I started to read a little more about the subject. I started with "Meat Smoking and Smokehouse Design" by Stanley Marianski and his sons. This book really explains the curing process. The authors dispell the myths surrounding nitrate and nitrite, and teach you how to safely use both of these necessary ingredients (depending on what kind of sausage you are making). Their new book, "Home Production of Quality Meats and Sausages" is my new curing and smoking bible. If you want to mix your own seasonings, brines, etc., purchase this book and keep it close to your meat grinder. I also recommend "Great Sausage Recipes and Meat Curing" by Rytek Kutas, and "Charcuterie" by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polycyn. Good luck! P.S. You called it, sausage needs some fat, even if you have to add a little. It is a binder and enhances the flavor of the seasonings. I have found sausages that are too lean loose flavor faster, especially if you have to freeze some of the surplus, which, in a nonrestuarant setting, is almost a necessity...unless you really gobble it down or make small batches more frequently.

nebraska dave
4/25/2011 8:59:27 AM

Caleb, congratulations on making your first deer sausage. You folks there at Grit just get to have all the fun testing stuff don't you? That's the cutest little smoke house I've ever seen. I helped with the processing of two sheep last month on my friend's farm. I really think that those folks that eat meat should at least help process an animal once to be able to appreciate what sacrifice the animal gives for us to live. Yes, there probably would be a lot more vegetarians but plants are alive as well. They sacrifice their life so that we can live. It might not be the same life as an animal but it's life as they know it. So what's the difference? Even nuts and berries have the life force in them before being roasted or jellified. So there is really hardly anything that we eat they doesn't have a sacrificed life force attached to it. Yeah I know, some folks wonder about what goes through this brain of mine. Have a great sausage day.