Making your own food products at home is a very satisfying process and gives you a feeling of accomplishment. Recently, we have delved into making dry sausages, and let us tell you, it isn’t even close to what you find in the store!
The flavors are so much better, the textures are precisely how we like them, and, it is even more cost-effective! Furthermore, you know exactly what goes into them and they don’t have to contain any super artificial ingredients!
Best of all, the equipment you need is extremely accessible these days, making it very easy to start a new fulfilling hobby immediately.
So, how do you make dry sausage at home? Well, in a nutshell, once the ingredients are combined with curing salt and a starter culture, it is stuffed in a casing and allowed to incubate. Then, the sausage is dried for several weeks until it loses 35% of its weight. Once ready, it’s allowed to equalize and is stored in the pantry or fridge.
Believe us when we say, it is easier than you may think. You just need to constantly monitor its progress. It’s like growing a plant! Constant care and attention are needed.
So, today we will dive deep into everything you possibly need to know about dry curing sausage at home!
What Is Dried Sausage?
Before diving deep into how these sausages are made, it is important to understand exactly what they are and how they are made.
This will better help you understand the risks involved with drying it at home and why certain steps are crucial.
So, first things first, what is a sausage? The general definition of sausage refers to a type of meat product that consists of ground meat, salt, and spices. This meat mixture is often stuffed into a casing before being sold.
Now, sometimes people want to preserve their freshly made sausage. This can be done in a few different ways including curing, smoking, freezing, or drying. Now, each of these has its own pros and cons.
Drying is, in our opinion, one of the most flavorful preserving techniques you can use. While the moisture content of the sausage is reduced, it helps the flavors develop and become more concentrated.
Here’s where it gets interesting. Dry sausages are cured sausage that has first been fermented, then dried. Furthermore, they can also be smoked before the drying process begins, which adds even more flavor!
Some popular examples of dry sausage include droë wors, salami, sucuk, and smoked langjäger.
Some Interesting Facts About The Ingredients
Arguably one of the most important elements of sausage is the casing. Traditionally, a casing was a cleaned intestinal tube of an animal.
This casing is very thin and almost clear. It also gets salted to help sterilize it and add more flavor to the sausages.
Luckily today that isn’t your only option! You can now easily find sausages made with collagen, cellulose, or plastic. All that being said, some types of sausages don’t require a casing and are essentially pressed into a log.
When it comes to the type of meat used, technically you can use any type of ground meat that you’d like. The most common types include pork and beef.
But, you can also use poultry, lamb, and game meat. You also have the option to grind the meat to different textures, which will affect the final outcome of the sausage.
Fat is also regularly included in the meat mixture to help add flavor, moisture, and a good mouthfeel. And, finally, spices!
If you have ever had sausage, you know that these products are heavily spices. This is to help keep the flavor in them once they have been dried.
Risks To Drying Sausage At Home
There is only one major risk to drying sausage at home, but it is a pretty big one. The biggest risk is the development of harmful bacteria on the meat. And as you know, harmful bacteria can develop extremely easily!
Bacteria need four key elements to survive and thrive: moisture, oxygen, food source, and heat.
Moisture and a food source naturally provide them with energy to reproduce. The food source is usually the sugars and nutrients inside food.
Then, oxygen is obviously essential to all living things. This is why most food is stored in an airtight container. It helps remove the oxygen source and essentially, slows the growth of the bacteria.
And finally, the temperature factor. Bacterial growths are optimal between 40-140°F. Below that and the bacterial growth starts stagnating.
This is why a freezer preserves food for several months! Its environment is too harsh for any bacteria to survive. And, above that range, the bacteria are killed.
So, a lot of factors to consider! And, if you don’t take the utmost care when drying sausage at home, you will cause it to spoil almost instantly. This may cause food poisoning, and in some cases, even death!
Why Risk It Then?
Well, what food product isn’t made without a bit of risk? And, in the case of drying sausage, there is one simple solution to all of the above-mentioned problems; curing salts. These salts shouldn’t be confused with regular table salt.
This salt contains sodium nitrate/sodium nitrite. These elements help repel and kill bacteria, preventing spoilage.
These salts will give you the window of opportunity needed to safely dry your sausage and create an inhospitable environment for bacterial growth.
Choosing Your Curing Salts
Which curing salt you use will depend mainly on how long you are drying your meat. Sodium nitrate is better for long-term drying of about 6 weeks or more. This is because it eventually converts to sodium nitrite.
Sodium nitrite is better suited for short-term drying.
Sodium nitrite is used to cure bacon, pastrami, and corned beef. All of these meats cure for less than 1 month. Sodium nitrate (long-term curing salt) is used for Parma ham, bresaola, dry-cured salami, and Lonza.
When using these salts, you can use about 2 tablespoons (30 grams) of curing salt for every 2.2 pounds (1kg) of meat.
The curing salt should be extremely well and evenly dispersed throughout the ground meat and added before the drying process starts.
How Starter Cultures Works
Another fantastic method often used to help prevent the growth of bacteria (similar to curing slat) is the use of a starter bacteria. What this bacterium does is feed on the sugars and produce lactic acid.
This process that occurs is basically fermentation. When the bacterium produced lactic acid, the pH of the sausage lowers. This makes it nearly impossible for bacteria to grow.
The starter culture is mixed with the curing salts and provides extra assurance. You can use about 2 ounces (28.3 grams) per 10 pounds (4.535 kg) of meat.
Additionally, you should add about 3 ounces (85 grams) of dextrose sugars (which helps feed the starter culture).
As with the curing salts, this mixture should be added before the drying process starts and should be very well distributed throughout the meat.
How Is Dried Sausage Made?
Okay, now we get to the very interesting part. There is generally only one way to make sausage, but each step basically has a ton of variables.
How these steps are done is what determines the type of sausage you are making and the end result of the product.
For example, if you dry for 6 weeks instead of 1, you will have a different product. But, the drying process takes place after certain steps no matter what!
To break it down, dry sausage is made as follows; the ingredients are combined with curing salt and culture starters. Then, the meat is stuffed into a casing and the bacteria are incubated.
Once properly incubated, the sausage is allowed to dry while being constantly monitored. Once it has reduced in weight by 30-35%, the sausage is safe to eat and can be equalized in a fridge.
Now, let’s discuss each step in more detail!
1. Ingredients Are Processed And Combined
First, you obviously need to decide what type of dry sausage you will be making. Now, you can of course follow a recipe, or you can develop your own recipe.
All that sausage contains is ground meat, fat, spices, and other flavorings. Once you have chosen and measured out your ingredients, you can start processing them.
The Ground Meat
Now, as we have mentioned before, you can choose any type of meat that you want. You can process it in 2 ways: chopping it with a knife or grinding it with a meat grinder.
Chopping meat with a knife will give you a much coarser texture. When grinding it with a meat grinder, it can create a completely smooth meat mixture that virtually has a smooth consistency.
There isn’t a right or wrong to this. It is entirely up to what you are making and personal preference.
Sausage should always have fat. Otherwise, it will just be extremely dry. Fat adds moisture and flavor to your sausage. The fat can also either be chopped or ground into a fine paste.
Fat is usually added in percentages. So, for example, your recipe may call for 30% fat added.
This will help you especially when you are developing your own recipe. The fat can be ground or chopped alongside the meat to help it get distributed throughout the mixture.
We highly recommend only using ground spices and ground herbs. There are few things in life worse than biting into a whole clove or peppercorn. It simply isn’t pleasant!
Usually, specific types of sausages have specific spices they include. But, as always, you can experiment with flavors as much as you’d like.
Often other ingredients are added to the sausage mixture. This can include chopped onions, bell peppers, garlic, dried fruit, and nuts.
This is a fantastic way to add some texture back into a completely finely ground sausage and add more flavor.
The one thing to keep in mind with ingredients like these (nuts for example) is that they don’t last especially long, and neither do they preserve well. So, some may actually reduce the shelf life of your dry sausage.
Combining The Ingredients
Once the ingredients have been processed, you can combine them in a bowl and mix them. Wear gloves while “squishing” the ingredients together. This technique helps evenly spread all of the ingredients.
2. Curing Salt And Starter Cultures Are Added
Next, you will add your curing salt and starter culture. Adding curing salt is easy. Literally, just add the correct amount directly into the mixture and mix it in.
You can use about 2 tablespoons (30 grams) of curing salt for every 2.2 pounds (1kg) of meat.
For the starter culture, you can simply follow the instructions on the packaging. They usually tell you how much to use and how to use it.
Often, the starter culture is gently mixed with distilled water and allowed to sit a bit before being added to the meat mixture. And, remember, you may need to add additional dextrose sugar.
Now, while neither curing salt nor starter cultures are essential for making dry sausages, we highly recommend doing so. Especially if you are new to the process. They will help you a lot!
Then, you can further mix the ingredients together while wearing gloves. You can’t really overmix the ingredients. Just make sure they are well distributed. Especially the ones that will help preserve them.
3. Casings Are Stuffed
You will most likely need a stuffer to stuff your sausage casings. If the casing is natural (made from the intestine) you can flush it with clean running water and allow it to drain.
Next, load the stuffing tube with the casing and fill the stuffer with your sausage mixture. Pull back a few inches of the casing and pinch the end.
This will help prevent the meat from falling out of the casing. Finally, crack the stuffer so that the meat is pushed into the casing.
Leave a few inches of the unstuffed casing at the end so that you can pinch that side as well. Next, you can twist the sausage into links if needed.
Now, if you are using artificial casings, make sure to read up about your specific product before using them. And, some sausages don’t even need a casing and simply need to be wrapped in plastic or netting to form a log.
4. Record Sausage Specifications
Many people skip this step, but it is actually crucial. Have you ever wondered why charcuterie items have those paper labels at the ends?
It’s because the label contains information about that specific product! This will inevitably help you determine when your sausage has been correctly or fully dried.
You can include the date that the sausage was made and the starting weight of the sausage.
5. Incubate Sausage
This step scared us a bit when we first heard about it. But, incubating your sausage is crucial to help activate the beneficial starter cultures. This step must be done before hanging!
These bacteria should be allowed to produce enough lactic acid so the pH of the sausage drops. Once the pH has dropped, the sausage can be safely dried as bacteria will find it nearly impossible to grow there.
To incubate a sausage, you can do so in a curing chamber or an oven. The temperature can be set between 80-126°F. Just make sure the meat is hanging properly and not touching the surfaces.
Now, your recipe should state precisely at what temperature you need to incubate the sausage and for how long. This varies quite a lot depending on the sausage you are making and even the starter culture you are using.
6. Dry Sausage
Finally, we get to the drying stage of the process! The drying works best if done in a chamber. The chamber creates accurate temperatures and a safe environment for the bacteria to dry for weeks!
You can set the temperature and humidity according to the type of sausage you are making. For example, set it to 55°F at 70% humidity.
When drying any sausage, it is important to keep it away from direct light, drafts, and excess moisture. Which is why a chamber works so well!
Low humidity will dry out the casing too much. A dry casing prevents moisture inside of the sausage from escaping and the meat from drying.
7. Monitor Sausage Over-Drying Period
We recommend checking the chambers’ temperature and humidity setting at least twice a day for the entire drying period. If one thing changed, it could change the entire outcome of the sausage.
Now, you will see mold growth! It is entirely natural and normal! And no, there is no way to stop or reduce it. Both beneficial and harmful mold will grow on your sausage while it is dry curing.
Good mold is often white and looks like chalk. This mold helps retain some moisture in the sausage and helps prevent the casing from becoming hard and inedible.
The fuzzy mold that is green, blue, or black is bad mold! Even white fuzzy mold isn’t great.
You should immediately (gently) wipe the mold off of the sausage with a towel dipped in vinegar. This will kill all bacteria and the growth process will start again.
If the same type of bad mold keeps re-appearing, toss the sausage and sanitize the entire chamber. Somewhere there is hidden bad mold that will always take over the good ones.
8. Check When The Dry Sausage Is Ready
Because you never heat and cook the sausage, the best way to determine when it has safely and fully cured and dried, you have to weigh it. A good rule of thumb is that at least 30-35% of the weight should be reduced.
You can dry the meat longer if you want to, but at this point, it is safe to consume.
9. Equalize The Sausage
What this means is basically that the dried sausage is allowed tor est. Usually, it can be vacuum-sealed. But, if it has a hard casing, it isn’t necessary.
Then, allow the sausage to rest in a fridge for about 2 weeks. This will allow the moisture to be evenly distributed throughout the sausage and create an evenly textures and flavored product.
Tips For Making Sausages
- When processing the ingredients together, we highly recommend working with cold equipment. This will help reduce the temperature of the meat and help keep it away from the temperature danger zone. You should also use chilled meat and fat. You can even place the head of your grinder in the freezer to cool!
- Spray the nozzle of your stuffer tube with non-stick cooking spray or rub it with some cooking oil. It will help the casing slide onto the nozzle better.
- If you see any air pockets in your stuffed sausage, prick them with a needle to help release the air. Remember, oxygen helps feed bacteria.
- If you cannot incubate the sausage in the oven or in an incubator, you can do the following. Hang the sausage in a pantry or cupboard away from any drafts and direct light. Make sure the area is warm and has high humidity. The best temperature range for this would be between 80-90°F.
- Now, if you don’t have a dry curing chamber you can make one at home. All you would need is an old empty fridge or freezer, a humidifier, temperature control, and humidity control. This may sound all fancy, but it is unfortunately essential to making good dry-cured sausages at home. There are a ton of videos and tutorials on making these chambers at home!
Now that we’ve gone over how you can dry sausage at home, let’s take a look at a few related questions on the subject!
How long is dry sausage good for?
This will to a certain extent depend on how much moisture has been removed. The more moisture the sausage has, the shorter the shelf life will be.
Generally, the dry sausage will last about 6 weeks in the pantry. But, once opened, it will only stay good for about 3 weeks in the fridge.
If you want to smoke dried sausage, when do you smoke it?
Smoking happens before the drying period starts. You can smoke the meat for about 45 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 160°F. Then, continue the drying process as per usual.
How can you tell if a dried sausage has gone bad?
Consistent bad mold growth during the drying period is a sign that something is very wrong. You should immediately toss the sausage if the bad mold (fuzzy green, black, or blue mold) keeps returning.
Other signs are a foul smell. And of course, if you taste any strange flavors, there is a good chance the meat has gone off.
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