Venison sausage is one of those “must-haves” if you frequently dine on venison. In most hunting circles, just mentioning venison sausage gives a nostalgic feeling of waking up to a venison sausage breakfast at the hunting camp after an enjoyable weekend of hunting. Every hunter should have in their skill set the ability to make his own sausage. It is really very simple. Many people believe that it is too time-consuming or that they would rather leave that to the processor, but each of us are individuals with a variety of tastes and with just a little knowledge, you can make your own sausage to your particular liking with little effort and a super tasty reward.
Through the years of speaking on the subject of “eating wild,” I get to meet resourceful farmers, hunters, gardeners, and wildlife enthusiasts. In the past few years, I have noticed that more and more of them are beginning to process their own deer and therefore, are looking for tools and recipes to make their processing easier. You can order almost all of the necessary tools right off the internet. Equipment may be as minimal as a manual meat grinder, depending upon whether you want to make breakfast sausage, link sausage, smoked sausage, or cured sausage.
First, you need a meat grinder. You can use your stand-mixer with the meat grinder attachments, a manual grinder, or you can go all out and buy an electric meat grinder. My family of nine usually harvests about 13 deer per year, therefore we process quite a lot of venison. Our investment in a meat grinder has certainly brought a tremendous return. If you are going to be processing more than a deer or two a year, I suggest that you buy at least a ½ horsepower grinder. They are faster and much quieter than the lower horsepower grinders.
If you are going to make links, you will need casings. There are all kinds of casings out there, but I find that natural hog or sheep casing are the best for the money. Nothing is quite like using a natural casing. The natural casings “snap” when you bite into them and help to create a beautiful color to the sausage.
You don’t have to have a sausage-stuffer and I didn’t for a long time, but I do think it is easier and more convenient. Sometimes using only the grinder attachment causes the sausage to get too hot, resulting in a sub-par texture. They can be expensive, but if you are planning on making sausage often, the investment is worth it.
If you plan on smoking your sausage, you will obviously need a smoker. You can purchase these at your local sporting goods store or make one yourself. This winter I am planning on building a smokehouse to cold-smoke my sausage, but for now, I am completely satisfied hot-smoking.
Dry sausages such as summer sausage, pepperoni and salami are cold smoked and require temperatures below 110 degrees for anywhere from 15 to 48 hours or longer for desired flavor and dryness. Cold smoking allows total smoke penetration inside the meat and has a very long shelf life. Using curing salts, drying, and cold smoking meats are a very effective and tasty way to preserve meats.
Hot-smoking relies on a humidity and heat balance to get that great smoky flavor. Placing a liquid filled pan (I like to use apple juice) inside of a small smoker and wetting wood chips an hour before smoking will help regulate the temperature inside. I prefer using a propane smoker, in that I am able to control the temperature to a greater degree than with an electric smoker, and the propane smoker reaches temperature faster. Hot-smoking dries out the surface of the meat creating a barrier for smoke penetration, but allowing enough smoke flavor to create great sausage in a relatively short amount of time. Hot smoked meats should be kept in the refrigerator and if not consumed fairly quickly, they should be frozen.
If smoking links, allow them to dry for an hour or two before putting them in the smoker. Smoke the links for about 3 hours, maybe longer if they have not reached an internal temperature of 150-160 degrees. I usually remove the wood chips after the first hour and a-half and continue to maintain the temperature in the smoker until the desired internal temperature is reached. You can remove the sausage from the smoker and finish them in a 200 degree oven if this works better for you. Allow them to cool before freezing.
Making Good Sausage
Good sausage is a result of fresh ingredients and proper balance. Venison is quite lean and needs a little fat, liquid, salt, and herbs and spices to create a great sausage. Once you have the right balance of ingredients, the sky’s the limit. I like to use pork, beef, or lamb along with my venison in sausages, but this is not necessary. I do recommend using fat back if you aren’t going to use multiple meats as venison can be a little dry by itself. Here are a few basic sausage making steps that will give you a leg-up on sausage-making and help you enhance the venison sausage recipes below.
- Everything that you are going to be using to make your sausage, such as bowls, feeder for the grinder, stuffer, meat, and fat needs to be cold-very cold. If your ingredients get warm, your sausage mixture is going to get mushy. I suggest putting all your equipment, venison, and fat in the freezer for about an hour before using them.
- Before removing your ingredients from the freezer, make certain that you have all your spices ready to go into your mixture. You are going to need to work fast so that your meat remains cold.
- Remove only your meat from the freezer and cut meat and fat into 1-inch cubes. Mix with your dry ingredients, cover, and place back into the freezer along with any liquid that is to go into the recipe back into the freezer for 30 minutes.
- After your sausage mixture has chilled, remove equipment, and ingredients from the freezer and set up your workstation.
- If you’re making link sausage, soak your casings in warm water to remove the salt and to soften them. I like to use 32-36 mm casings. If you aren’t making link sausage, ignore this step.
- Add the liquid to your chilled sausage mixture and blend with your hands. Attach the 3/8-inch plate (course or largest die) to the grinder and begin feeding the mixture. By using this plate, you have less chance of your sausage becoming mushy. If your mixture feels warm, place it back into the freezer for a few minutes while you attach the stuffer to the grinder and clean up a bit. If you are not stuffing your sausage, freeze as if you were freezing ground venison or prepare patties, freeze on a cookie sheet, place wax paper between the patties, and place in a freezer bag. Give them a night in the refrigerator if you are planning on eating them fresh; the flavors will then have been infused into the meat.
- Place a casing onto the stuffing tube leaving about 5 to 6 inches off the end of the tub to tie off; air will fill some of that casing. Feed the mixture into the stuffer. Allow the sausage come out in one long coil trying to keep the sausage casing consistent in size as it continues to come out of the tube. Remember to leave about 8 inches extra casing after the last of the sausage is stuffed. Tie off the casing in a knot.
- If desired, every 5 inches or so, pinch off what will become the links. Roll the link a few times and repeat until you get to the end of the sausage. Tie off the other end. Arrange the links on a wire or cooling sheets where air can move around them. Allow the sausage to dry for about an hour. If you are smoking them, place them in the smoker, but if you are freezing them, refrigerate overnight then dry and package them for the freezer. If you are going to eat them, they will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Italian Venison Sausage
One of my very favorite link sausages to make is Italian sausage. It is a wonderful sausage to smoke, grill, or fry. I personally like Italian sausage fried with onions and bell peppers. It’s great on a bun or on top of greens, grits, or mashed potatoes, it’s very versatile. Oftentimes, I will remove the casing and add it to my pizza or spaghetti sauce.
If you try any venison sausage recipes, this one is a must. I like to smoke mine before cooking. It seems to add an earthy element to the sausage that I can’t get any other way. When in a fix, marinade your sausage in a dark beer. I like cooking with Guinness beer. If you don’t want to use beer, you can brush a very small amount of liquid smoke over the sausage links before grilling, baking, or frying them.
- 2 ½- pounds ground venison
- 2 ½- pounds ground pork
- 2- Tablespoons Kosher salt
- 1- Teaspoon sugar
- 1 ½- Tablespoons fennel seeds, cracked
- 1- Teaspoon coriander 3/8- cup cold water
- 1 ½- Tablespoon cayenne pepper
- 1- Teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped
If you have never made sausage before, breakfast sausage is a great place to start. You can use any mixture of spices that you like. Traditionally breakfast sausage consists of sage, rosemary, thyme, nutmeg, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. I have created a simple recipe that my family loves with very few ingredients. I often make link sausage with this recipe and save some of the mixture back for a few servings of breakfast sausage as well. You can freeze this mixture as you would ground venison and bring it out for your favorite Italian dish, use in soups, and meatballs.
Stacy’s Breakfast Sausage
- 4- Pounds of venison scraps (you could use any part of the deer for this recipe), run through the largest holes of the meat grinder.
- 2- Pounds of lean bacon run through the same grinder. Have your butcher run it through his grinder if you do not have one of your own.
- 1- Tablespoon salt
- ½- Tablespoon pepper
- ½- Tablespoon red pepper flakes
- ½- Cup dry white wine
- 2- Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- In a large bowl, mix venison and bacon with your hands until blended. Add salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and white wine. Chill for about 30 minutes.
- Form sausage into 4 ounce patties. Do not over-handle the mix as this can affect the texture of the sausage.
- Heat olive oil in 10-12’’ cast iron skillet. Add sausage patties and cook over low heat, turning frequently, until light brown on all sides. Cook in batches. Serve warm with homemade biscuits.
Making sausage is becoming a lost art that should be found once again. Enjoy the process of trial and error in producing your favorite sausage recipe. Try new herbs, spices, and different liquids; you may be surprised at the wonderful flavors that you will bring to the table. The one way that you can make the most of your harvest is to create tasty venison sausage, feed it to your family and neighbors, and enjoy the smiles you bring to their faces.
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