Every 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Bottom Photos (5): courtesy Karen Keb
Caleb Reganand 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 Google+.