Making summer sausage at home is something that I have been doing for many years. This sausage is very flavorful and not too fatty. Smoked summer sausage, the way it has been done traditionally, is to die for. Smoke greatly enhances flavor and increases shelf life of sausage due to it's antibacterial properties. In this article I will talk about how to make summer sausage at home and share my experience.
What is summer sausage?
Summer sausage is an American semi-dry fermented sausage typically made of pork and beef. Summer sausage made of beef alone is also common. In the past this sausage was made during winter time to be eaten during summer when working in the field. This is how the name 'summer sausage' came to be. Properly made summer sausage can be stored without refrigeration for a very long time. Hence, it is often used as a component of food gift baskets along with cheeses and jams.
Summer sausage is typically made of beef and pork, or beef alone. Some recipes make use of beef hearts as well. The ratios of beef to pork vary from 75% beef and 25% pork to 25% beef and 75% pork. It really depends on personal preference. I like more beefy flavor and prefer a 2/3 beef to 1/3 pork ratio.
The taste of summer sausage is very much dependent on freshness and quality of meat. Beef chuck is a very flavorful cut and is commonly used for making summer sausage. Butt is a very good choice for the pork cut. To get the best results, buy your meat fresh and grind it yourself. Alternatively, ask your butcher to grind it for you. You want to grind the meat fairly fine, through a 3/16" (4.5mm) plate.
Summer sausage spices
You will find mustard seed, black pepper and garlic among the most commonly used spices in summer sausage. Many recipes also use coriander, allspice, ginger and other spices. The best summer sausage is the sausage made to your taste, so feel free to experiment with you favorite spices. If possible, grind your spices just before adding them to the ground meat. This will help you get the most flavor out of them.
Curing salt and cultures
As summer sausage is a fermented sausage, a meat culture such as FL-C is used. Bactoferm F-LC meat culture with bio protective properties is used for production of fermented sausages with short or traditional production times. F-LC is recommended for the production of all types of fermented sausages and is known for suppressing growth of Listeria. During fermentation pH of the meat drops to 5.3 which helps inhibit growth of pathogenic bacteria and gives the sausage its tangy taste. FL-C culture can be purchased from the sausagemaker.com or butcher-packer.com.
Summer sausage is fermented and then smoked for hours at temperatures that promote growth of unwanted bacteria. To prevent that, Cure #1 (also known as pink salt) is used. Pink salt also improves flavor, prevents food poisoning, tenderizes meat, and develops the pink color widely known and associated with smoked meats. You can purchase Cure #1 from the online stores mentioned above as well as Amazon: DQ Curing Salt #1 / Pink Salt.
Mixing meat and spices
You want to make sure that the salt and the spices are mixed well with the meat and distributed evenly. One way to ensure even distribution is to mix the seasonings with the pieces of meat before they are ground. I use this method very frequently with great results. Mix the meat until it becomes sticky and keeps together. At this point it is ready for stuffing.
First you will need the casings. The most common casing size used for summer sausage is 60mm in diameter, although 40mm to 120mm casings are also used. You can use beef middles, fibrous or collagen casings. I like to use collagen or fibrous casings for summer sausage and use them most of the time. Beef middles can be purchased from your local butcher, just ask someone who works there. They don't put them on display but will be happy to sell them to you if you ask. Collagen and fibrous sausage casings can be purchased from a variety of places, e.g. your local sausage making supply store, Amazon (Non-Edible Fibrous Casings), thesausagemaker.com, or butcher-packer.com.
Stuffing meat into casings
The most efficient and economical way to stuff the meat into casings is to use a vertical sausage stuffer, such as the LEM Products 5 Pound Sausage Stuffer that I use. These stuffers are not too expensive and do an excellent job. You may also use a sausage stuffer attachment for your meat grinder, but you may be disappointed with the results. Meat grinders are not designed for stuffing sausages and do a very mediocre job at it. I used one once and never wanted to use it again.
A cheaper alternative to a vertical sausage stuffer that would yield better results than a meat grinder attachment would be a manual sausage stuffer like the LEM Manual Sausage Stuffer. These stuffers are great for occasional use. They are hard to use and require good physical strength to operate, but can produce good results after some practice.
Stuff the meat firmly, ensuring that no air pockets remain inside. Getting all the air out is practically impossible and you will see some tiny cavities after your sausage is done. This is not a problem for semi-dry sausages. Just do your best but don't worry if some tiny air pockets remain.
The cooking equipment
Summer sausage is smoked, so you will need a smoker or a grill that is capable of maintaining low temperatures. A dedicated electric sausage smoker would be ideal, like the very popular Masterbuilt 30-Inch Black Electric Digital Smoker. Many people consider this smoker to be the best value for home sausage making needs.
Should you need a looking window to enjoy your food while it's being smoked, you can get an equally popular Masterbuilt 30-Inch Electric Smoker with Window and RF Controller. If you want one of the best looking and performing electric smokers on the market, Cabela's sells the Stainless Steel Pro 100 smoker that gets excellent reviews. It costs about 10 times as much as the basic Masterbuilt though.
Using a propane smoker
I do a lot of low heat and high heat smoking, so I try to compromise and use the Masterbuilt XL propane smoker. It's not that easy to maintain low temperatures with, but if I time my sausage smoking properly and do it on days with lower ambient temperatures it works fine.
Many people have had great results achieving low temperatures after modifying their propane smokers with needle valves, like the Bayou Classic Brass Control Valve. If you don't feel comfortable installing a needle valve into the gas line yourself, you can buy a pre-made gas assembly, like the Bayou Classic M5HPR-1 10 PSI Hose, Regulator, Valve Assembly. You need to make sure that the regulator on the assembly you are buying matches the specs of your burner. Needle Valves for Gassers is a good resource for more information on this.
Other cooking equipment
Not too long ago I became a proud owner of the Big Green Egg and have successfully used it for smoking sausages at low heat. It's not too hard to start this grill at about 110F and maintain that temperature for about 1-2 hours. Eventually, the temperature will be begin to creep up but that's exactly what you want anyway. You just have to control the air flow such that the temperature does not rise too quickly.
If you are a DIY type, you can look into building a low temperature sausage smoker. Stanley Marianski has an excellent book called Meat Smoking And Smokehouse Design that talks about different smoker designs that you can build at home.
If none of the above works for you, don't give up. You can cook your summer sausage in the kitchen oven. You won't get the same mind-blowing smoky flavor and the color, but it's still better than nothing. Just make sure to cook the sausage at low temperatures. This is very important.
Stanley Marianski in his Home Production of Quality Meats and Sausages book mentions that once the temperature of the meat reaches about 100F all fat tissues become liquid. This is true regardless of the kind of meat. Once melted, the fat can move around the connective tissues, but still is not able to get out. There is very little fat loss between 150 - 190F or even up to the boiling point of water of 212F.
At temperatures over that mark, the fat starts to leak out quite rapidly. There is a significant fat loss at temperatures over 248F. Sausages cooked at temperatures higher than 190F will exhibit dry, crumbly texture. The higher the cooking temperature, the poorer the results will be.
When cooking your summer sausage in a smoker or on the grill, smoke at 110F – 130F until the desired color is achieved, then gradually increase the temperature to 150-175F and then all the way to 190F. When cooking in the oven, start cooking the sausage at the lowest setting (usually around 170F) and slowly increase to 190F, until the internal temperature of the sausage reaches the target temperature.
- 700 g beef chuck (about 1.54 lbs)
- 300 g pork butt (about 0.66 lbs)
- 23 g salt (about 4 tsp)
- 2.5 g Cure #1 (about 1/2 tsp)
- 10 g dextrose (or glucose; about 2 tsp)
- 5 g sugar - 5.0 g (about 1 tsp)
- 3 g black pepper (ground, about 1½ tsp)
- 2 g coriander (ground, about 1 tsp)
- 4 g whole mustard seeds (about 1 1/2 tsp)
- 2 g allspice (about 1 tsp)
- 3.5 g garlic (about 1 clove)
- 0.24 g F-LC culture (use scale)
- Grind pork and beef through 3/16” plate (5 mm).
- Mix all ingredients with ground meat.
- Stuff into beef middles or fibrous casings about 60 mm in diameter.
- Ferment at 86F (30C) and 85-90% humidity for 24 hours.
- Place the sausage in the smoker and smoke at 110F and 70% humidity for 6 hours. Gradually increase smoke temperature until internal meat temperature reaches 140F.
- For a drier sausage, dry for 3 days at 60-70F and 65-75% humidity or until desired weight loss is achieved.
- Store sausages at 50-59F and 75-80% humidity.
An alternative way to make summer sausage
The recipe above is for traditional Summer Sausage. It calls for a 24-hour fermentation that requires a temperature/humidity controller, as well as a heating pad or something similar. I typically ferment sausages by putting them in a large cooler partially covered with Saran wrap. Water released from the sausage will ensure RH of about 90-95%, which is perfect for fermentation. A heating pad will help keep the temperature at 86F. Both the temperature of 86F and the high humidity are critical for proper fermentation.
If creating those conditions is a challenge, here is another recipe that I have been using to make summer sausage. It makes a great tasting product. This recipe has been adapted from Great Sausage Recipes and Meat Curing by Rytek Kutas. To give the sausage that coveted tang typically produced by the process of fermentation, the recipe uses a product called Fermento, available online from the Sausage Maker or Amazon.
Semi-Dry Cured Ukrainian Summer Sausage (without fermentation)
- 7 1/2 lbs lean beef
- 2 1/2 lbs pork butts
- 5 Tbsp salt
- 2 tsp Cure #1
- 1 Tbsp paprika
- 1 Tbsp whole pepper
- 2 small garlic cloves, pressed
- 1 tsp marjoram
- 4 Tbsp corn syrup solids (I normally skip this ingredient)
- 6 Tbsp powdered dextrose
- 3/4 cup Fermento
- Grind pork through a 1/4" grinder plate and beef through a 3/8" grinder plate.
- Add the remaining ingredients and mix until all ingredients are evenly distributed.
- Stuff the meat into 38-40 mm or 40-43 mm pork or beef casings. The casings should be filled 15-18" long, leaving at least 3-4" on each end for tying.
- Hang the sausages on a stick at room temperature of 65-70F for 3 hours.The sausages will have the surface dry and ready for smoking by that time. If still wet, let them dry for another hour or so.
- Put the sausages in the smoker preheated to 165F and apply heavy smoke for 2 hours.
- Continue cooking until the the internal sausage temperature reaches 152F. You may need to gradually raise the smoker temperature above 165F to achieve that.
- Remove the sausages from the smoker and hang at room temperature (60F - 70F) overnight to cool.
- Apply dense cold smoke for another 12 hours until reddish-brown color is achieved.
- Air dry the sausages at 50-60F and RH of 70-75% until about 15% weight loss is achieved. The sausage is ready to eat at this point.
This post was updated on January 26, 2019