Introduction to Sausage Making – 3 – Buying meats – Handling & Measurements

Continuing our series on Sausage making

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Recipes: commercial breakfast sausage spice mix  –   simple (very simple) spicy chorizo breakfast sausage.

From Chuckwagon’s 2015 “Project B,” Section 3

Choosing The Right Cuts For Sausage

I am amazed at the number of people who believe that sausage is made from odds and ends and left over scrap pieces trimmed from less desirable cuts of a cow, pig, or other animal. Worse, some believe they can add scraps of sinew, gristle, silverskin, and tendons because “it will all be ground up anyway and no one will know the difference”. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The old master, Rytek Kutas used to say, “If you use junk meat, you’ll have junk sausage”. As home-hobbyists and amateur sausage-makers, we all have choices at our disposal – whether or not to use the finest cuts and best spices, additives, and prep products in our sausages. Please use only first-class materials in your sausage to avoid disappointment. The choice will also pay off when other people judge your ability to make superior meat products.

Unless you butcher your own livestock, it is probably best to purchase untrimmed Boston butts from a reputable grocery-meat cutter or specialty meat supplier for making all around, well-balanced pork sausage containing about 25 – 30% fat. If you use beef, chuck, rump, or round, are good choices for high-quality beef sausage. Do you need fat inside a good sausage? Absolutely, but use pork fat. That’s where the flavor is! Fat also adds the creamy moisture needed for the correct “mouthfeel” and “chewability”. Add it when it is very cold or nearly frozen so it does not “smear” into the meat and smear the inside of sausage casings. The USDA limits fat to 30% although we’ve found that about 25% fat makes a pretty good product. Some specific types of sausages may require more or less fat in their recipes. For instance, the “fresh” type pork breakfast sage sausage, of which we are all so fond, may legally contain up to a whopping 50% fat legally! If you are like me, I’ll pass on that much fat packed into a sausage by a large meat corporation. I’ll make my own, thank you – with only about 20% fat.

Does pork blend well with beef? Completely! Sausage products include all sorts of ground meat, in proportions and varieties usually mixed with spices. Before carving up ten pounds of pork (two five-pound butts), you may want to prove your recipe by making only a few pounds initially. Tip: Cook and taste a small patty before adding more spice.

Here is an important point that most beginners seem to be obligated to learn for themselves for some reason: Beginners tend to use too many varieties of spices as well as excessive quantities of spice, trying to improve grandpa’s old time secret recipes, only to discover their own hodgepodge doesn’t taste anything at all as had been anticipated. Nor is there a constant flow of neighbors knocking at the door with hopes of getting their mitts on the stuff. The truth is, beginners using too much spice, or too many types of spices, trying to improve a recipe, usually toss out ten or more pounds of otherwise great pork, not to mention the loss of labor and time spent grinding and stuffing the meat. The best sausage recipes are very simple and often contain only a sprinkling of spices. Many sausage makers use only salt and pepper for seasoning. Others use only salt, pepper, and one other “signature” spice such as marjoram in Polish Sausage, fennel in Italian Sausage, sage in English Sausage, etc.

A Little History

What with the banning of pork by several rather prominent religions (notably the Halal standards of Islam and the Kosher standards of Judaism), you may wonder what all the fuss is. After all, in much of the world, pork is a significant source of protein. (Okay, you poultry guys in back- –  we’ll get to you later.)

Here’s a snippet from the University of Durham (United Kingdom)via provocatively titled “Pigs Force Re-think on Human History.”

Scientists from the University of Oxford’s Henry Wellcome Ancient Biomolecules Centre and the University of Durham and have traced DNA from wild boar and domestic pigs revealing 5 brand new regions of domestication and a fascinating insight into early farming practices.

Their work, the largest ever study of its kind, is highlighted in the latest edition of one of the world’s most prestigious research journals, Science (11 March) It reports that, in addition to new centres of domestication, and contrary to popular belief, European domestic pigs derive from wild boar native to Europe and not from wild boar indigenous to the Near East.

By analysing the DNA of nearly 700 pigs, geneticists and archaeologists have found common genetic fingerprints between domestic pigs and wild boar, but these shared fingerprints are found in a wide variety of geographical locations and not just in the Near East.

Dr Keith Dobney, from the department of archaeology at Durham said, ‘Many archaeologists have assumed the pig was domesticated in no more than two areas of the world, the Near East and the Far East, but our findings turn this theory on its head. Our study shows that domestication also occurred independently in central Europe, Italy, Northern India, South East Asia and maybe even Island South East Asia. The spread of farming into these areas during the Neolithic seems to have kick-started local independent domestication of wild boar.’

Greger Larson, from the Ancient Biomolecules Centre said: ‘Our data show domestication was not as rare as previously thought and that the question now is not “where were pigs domesticated?”, but rather “where were they not domesticated?” This forces us to reconsider our assumptions about early human history and the beginnings of domestication.’

Archaeological evidence suggests the pig was first domesticated 9,000 years ago in Eastern Turkey. Prior to this, wild boar were important prey animals for early hunter-gatherers across Eurasia. Domestication of pigs, and other animals, resulted in a shift away from hunting to farming and signaled the start of the agricultural revolution.

Sanliurfa, simply known as Urfa or Al-Ruha (Kurdish), in ancient times Edessa, is a city with 561,465 inhabitants in south-eastern Turkey, and the capital of Sanliurfa province. (Currently there are an additional estimated 500,000 Syrian refugees living in the area.) It is a city with a primarily Arabic and Kurdish population. Urfa is situated on a plain about eighty kilometers east of the Euphrates River.

Şanlı means “great, glorious, dignified” in Turkish, and Urfa was officially renamed Şanlıurfa (Urfa the Glorious) by the Turkish Grand National Assembly in 1984, in recognition of the local resistance in the Turkish War of Independence. The history of Şanlıurfa is recorded from the 4th century BC, but may date back at least to 9000 BC. The city was one of several in the upper Euphrates-Tigris basin, the fertile crescent, where agriculture began. According to Jewish and Muslim tradition, Urfa is Ur Kasdim, the hometown of Abraham.

Beloved Spouse and I visited Urfa in late 2015, just before some of the Syrian madness was spreading into Turkey. The city, like all of Turkey, is beautiful, the food is excellent, and the people (except for a very few extremists) are friendly. The grotto and spring, said to be where Abraham was born and sheltered, are visited by many tourists, mostly from the Middle East, but had the crowds had abated by November.

There is a hill north of Sanliurfa called Goebekli Tepe (amusingly, “Potbelly Hill”). There, in 1996, a German archaeology team began excavating an ancient site which has been carbon dated to 9000 BC. We visited it, walking among the excavated portion, looking around at many more un-excavated ruins. In Wikipedia:

Archeology Mag Goebekli Tepe“The tell (a low, truncated cone with a flat top and sloping sides) includes two phases of ritual use dating back to the 10th – 8th millennium BCE. During the first phase, pre-pottery Neolithic A (PPNA), circles of massive T-shaped stone pillars were erected. More than 200 pillars in about 20 circles are currently known through geophysical surveys. Each pillar has a height of up Goebekli Tepe 20151117_015120_LLSto 6 m (20 ft) and a weight of up to 20 tons. They are fitted into sockets that were hewn out of the bedrock. In the second phase, Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB), the erected pillars are smaller and stood in rectangular rooms with floors of polished limestone. The site was abandoned after the PPNB-period. Younger structures date to classical times.”

 I can’t do it justice- –  please refer to an excellent article in Archeology magazine, for details. The circles of ancient T-shaped megaliths are awe-inspiring. They date back to a time when humans were transitioning from pre-pottery Neolithic hunter-gatherers to a more settled farming existence.They had only stone tools, yet they carved these amazing monoliths. The magazine’s photographs, like the one on the left, are better than mine on the right, but I have to insert both of these- –  evidence of stone pillars with boar carvings, no doubt produced by sausage makers (kinda-sorta) of 11,000 years ago. “That’s my theory, and I’m sticking to it.”


We realize that we’re fighting an uphill battle on this, but puh-leeze, please use weights instead of volumes wherever possible. If, for example, I were to give you a teaspoon of leaf cilantro and a teaspoon of black pepper, which one would you have more of? Answer: both are one teaspoon, but the cilantro weighs 1/3 of a gram whereas the pepper weighs between 2.1 and 3 grams.

That’s because this is called a bulk density, and has units of grams per teaspoon. The bulk density is a function of both the material itself and the size of its particles. Think of a snowball. One made with really cold, dry snow is mostly air, and weighs about what an ice cube weighs, but can vary all over the map. A snowball made with wet snow (less air, more water) weighs far more, and can knock you out if you get hit in the head, which has happened to me on more than one occasion. (No snide remarks, now, CW!)

Which brings us to a second point- –  use consistent measurements throughout. I bet we spent the entire sophomore year of engineering school converting from one unit to another. Most of those of us who survived to graduate learned to convert everything into metric units, which are all factors of ten of one another, then converted back to whatever cockeyed system of units that our clients wanted.

You may remember this news item from mid-1999- –

September 30, 1999

(CNN) — NASA lost a $125 million Mars orbiter because one engineering team used metric units while another used English units for a key spacecraft operation, according to a review finding released Thursday.

For that reason, information failed to transfer between the Mars Climate Orbiter spacecraft team at Lockheed Martin in Colorado and the mission navigation team in California. Lockheed Martin built the spacecraft.

My own personal experience came during a polyester plant startup in Millhaven, Ontario. The glycol recovery unit was designed to use 50 psig steam. The the rest of the plant was designed to run on 50 psia steam. (To convert from “gauge” pressure to “absolute” pressure, add 14.7 pounds per square inch, which is atmospheric pressure. ) We couldn’t just boost the pressure, we had to hurriedly install a pressure letdown station, including a “de-superheater,” from the 250 psig header- –  engineering gobbledygook for “loss of efficiency.”

…but we could do it, and do it rapidly, because we were there and caught the error in time. NASA couldn’t be there in Mars orbit, so the spacecraft went sailing on by, into the void, irrecoverable, lost. You, too, will inevitably ruin a few batches of sausage if you aren’t careful. Convert everything into the same units, and double-check them. Think, too, whether your recipe makes sense. Misprints happen.


Commercial Breakfast Sausage Spice Mix Simple (very simple) Spicy Chorizo Breakfast Sausage

Here’s a chance to do some simple unit conversions. We’ll scale a commercial spice mix so we can make a pound of ground pork into a little over a pound of breakfast sausage. We’ll also see how to make “links,” just in case you like ‘em that way, only without using a stuffer to fill casing.

Commercial Breakfast Sausage Spice Mix

The local “Country Store” near where we used to live in North Carolina made sausage that the locals just raved over. Not being a native, and therefore not to be trusted, trust me to be tacky and ask, “What do you use for your spicing?” The young butcher hemmed and hawed and nodded toward the older butcher. The older guy gave me one of those “You ain’t from around here, are ya, Son?” looks, but I was about his age, and headed his refusal off with “Our friends here really like it, and we were just passin’ through and wanted to make some when we get home. Yours is really good.”

Flattery being what it is, he grinned and pointed to a shelf behind me. “Try that thar,” he said. “That’s what WE use.”

And here it is, available by mail order- – AC Leggs Pork Sausage Seasoning Blend No. 7 (8 oz. shipping weight), described as

“…a mild pork sausage seasoning that contains red pepper, sage and black pepper. Stuff in sheep casings for piggie links, use 32-35mm hog casings for the big links or rope sausage, or pack in bulk bags for patties, pan sausage, etc. One bag seasons 25 pounds of sausage. Blended of Salt, Red Pepper, Sage, Sugar, Black Pepper. All natural spices. Contains no MSG, wheat or dairy products. Price: $3.38”

The brand is not important. Lots of places sell spice blends for all sorts of sausage types. This one came from but other blends can be bought over the internet or in sporting goods stores like Bass Pro, Cabela’s, Academy, Butcher & Packer, SausageMaker… (The ones by LEM and by Sausage Maker are particularly good.)

…piece of cake, making sausages this way. Weigh the bag, or read the net weight off the label. Divide by how much the bag will make, which in this case is 25 pounds. The result is the amount per pound that you need. Weigh it out, mix it in by hand (using clean hands or, preferably, clean gloves), and continue mixing for a minute or two until you can feel the mix stiffen up. (We prefer putting in some extra red pepper flakes.) Then, divide it up into six or eight roughly-equal portions. To form patties, take a glob, place it on a sheet of waxed paper, and press it down, then around the edges, just like you would make a small burger patty.

…prefer sausage links? Normally you would use a stuffer to fill sausage casing, but you don’t have to. Instead, try squishing a portion into a sausage-shaped link, rolling it on the waxed paper, and pressing the ends back toward the middle. The meat mince is tacky enough that it will hold together.

Whichever form you made, fry them up. …great with eggs.

………………..Ground Meat Recipe

  • 1 lb ground pork butt
  • Sausage spices, as directed on the package.

 Simple (very simple) Spicy Chorizo Breakfast Sausage

I tease Chuckwagon that I named this recipe after him. Hmmm… he teases me that he named it after me. Maybe we deserve each other.  …and this sausage. At any rate, here’s my take on Mexican-style chorizo.

For years, I bemoaned the fact that commercially-available Mexican-style chorizo has WAY too much fat in it. I started off trying to make a low fat chorizo. This is a fool’s errand, as it turns out- –  sausages should have 20% to 30% fat content or else there will be no taste. Exceed that, though, and you run afoul of people’s sensitivities as well as the FDA guidelines.

So here’s what you do: make up a batch of Chorizo (Mexican) and divide it up into 2 ounce or so portions. Then, for every two eggs, take a 2-ounce splat, scatter it and fry it up, then pull the pan off the burner. Crack two eggs in on top, scramble it all about, and put it back on the burner. Cook as you would regular eggs.  In Spanish, scrambled eggs are “huevos revueltos,” which have come to be known in my family as “revolting eggs.” …but don’t you believe it. Try this recipe, put it into warmed tortillas, add a little salt and pepper and salsa, and everyone’s tune changes for the better.

………………..Grind/stuff recipe………………………………..Ground Meat recipehuevos revueltos con chorizo

  • ………….1 kg…….(85.41%)pork butt (ground)………………………….……..1 lb
  • (4 tsp) 23.5 gm (2.01%) salt (non-iodized)…………………..(1-¾ tsp) 10 gm
  •  (8-½ tsp) 21.1 gm (1.81%) chile ancho…………………………(4 tsp) 23.2 gm
  • (4-½  tsp) 11.5 gm (0.98%) chile-pasilla……………………….(2 tsp) 5.2 gm
  • (1/8 tsp) 0.18 gm (0.02%) cloves (ground)…………………..(pinch) 0.1 gm
  • (1/3 tsp) 0.62 gm (0.05%) coriander (ground seed)…….(1/8 tsp) 0.3 gm
  • (1/8 tsp) 0.35 gm (0.03%) cumin (ground)…………………..(pinch) 0.2 gm
  • (7 tsp) 17.6 gm (1.50%) garlic (fresh or powdered)……..(3 tsp) 8.0 gm
  • (1/4 tsp) 0.35 gm (0.03%) oregano………………………………(pinch) 0.2 gm
  • (3-¼ tsp) 6.88 gm (0.59%) paprika sweet…………………….(1-½ tsp) 3.13 gm
  • (1/3 tsp) 0.66 gm (0.06%) pepper (black)……………………(1/8 tsp) 0.30 gm
  • (88. ml) 88 gm (7.52%) vinegar (6% acid)…………………….(40 ml) 40 gm

The seemingly large amount of chilis isn’t that hot. Ancho chilis are dried, fairly mild, and furnish more color than heat.  The pasillas are a bit more warm if used in excess, but not here. In fact, feel free to add more of either one. (A shot of sriracha, which is based on red jalapeños, works great.)

If you read further on our website, you’ll find that Chuckwagon recommends against using vinegar or wine in sausage minces because the acid hinders protein binding. However, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain,” as they say famously in “The Wizard of Oz.” Vinegar is important, here, as a flavor component. It is my theory that the Spaniards who came to the New World tried to duplicate what they had at home in the way of chorizo flavor. Spanish chorizos are fermented, and have a bit of a tangy taste due to the fermentation product, lactic acid. I suggest that you hold off on adding the vinegar until you mix everything else in and achieve primary bind. THEN add the vinegar and mix it in, but sparingly. You’ll still have some binding, that way.   …but no matter, as you’ll be scattering and frying it , anyway.

I like to divide my batch into 2-ounce globs and pack them two-at-a-time in plastic “snack-size” plastic bags. You can actually roll a 4-ounce bag into sausage shape, and store three or four of them in a larger quart-size freezer bag. Store ‘em for a day in the refrigerator to let all the ingredients meld, then freeze ‘em that way. Pull a 4-ounce bag out as you need it, about one ounce per egg. Scatter, scramble, and eat in tortillas as described above.

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