October 02, 2023
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Amazing sausage is nothing short of artistry. But creating something marvelous and drool-inducing requires time and a dedication to one’s craft. Both in terms of method and ingredients, minor tweaks can yield major differences. Want to learn how the sausage is actually made? Read on how to discover how that pile of quackers and honkers in your freezer can rival any sausage Johnsonville can put on the shelf.
What Waterfowl to Use
Any duck or goose brought to hand is fair game. For divers, mergansers, and sea ducks, you may wish to skin; while with all other species, you can pluck and keep the skin and fat on for extra flavor.
Loose Versus Stuffed Sausage Links
Loose sausage is any type of sausage that doesn’t get stuffed into a sausage casing. Examples include breakfast patties, meatballs, the sausage in stuffed peppers, etc. Loose sausage is the easiest and quickest to make. All you really need is a grinder and you can turn birds into delicious spaghetti with meatballs, for example.
Sausage links involve using a sausage stuffer or press to stuff either synthetic or natural casings. Natural casings, such as hog or lamb, offer deeper flavor and richness; while synthetic casings are less expensive and, for most people, are easier and quicker to use. Whatever casing you choose, follow the instructions on the package before using. I am a big fan of LEM’s Pre-Tubed Natural Hog Casings, as I have ham hands and getting casings onto stuffer tube is just as difficult as tying flies for me. These pre-tubed options have a plastic chute you just slide on and pull out and you’re good to go.
When stuffing, take your time and error on the side of slightly under-stuffing, as you can always direct meat through casing. Over-stuffing increases chance for blowing a casing, which happens even to the pros, so don’t get upset. Go slow, practice, have fun.
Make sure to have a sausage pricker on hand to pop air bubbles. Air bubbles can cause a sausage to burst when cooked. When making your links, remember to rotate the direction you turn each link so not to undo previous link. Hang your links for a few hours in a cool, shaded spot with ample airflow so they can bloom (color tone changes, skins tighten and dry). After a short bloom, I prefer to leave my sausages uncovered in the fridge overnight with ample airflow. In my head, like a good soup, a good sausage requires time for all flavors to mingle.
A grinder is mandatory. Even a $30 hand-operated one would suffice, but you’ll get more mileage and have an easier time with higher-end electric models. I would also argue a dry-goods scale is also mandatory so you can precisely measure out spices.
If you’re wanting to make sausage links, you’ll need a stuffer or press. If you got a lot of birds and can afford a bigger sausage stuffer, go bigger, such as a 15-pound stuffer. Better to do a big batch versus reloading between rounds of 5 pounds.
A mixer may benefit larger batches. A mixer will aid in spice distribution as well as protein extraction (more on that later) without adding the heat of your hands to your meat mix.
If freezing some, get a quality sealer. An external will suck out air and is cheaper, though a chamber vac will slap on a far tighter seal more consistently. Tip: If using a chamber vac, freeze sausages on their own before sealing. The pressure of a chamber vac may squish your sausages if not frozen (or at least partially frozen).
Amount and Type of Fat
Fat from the back of a pig is what you want (often called fatback). You can get from a butcher. Fatback has a higher melting point, is less likely to smear, and, overall, offers a fairly neutral flavor that won’t interfere with how a wild duck and/or goose sausage should taste. You can indeed include the fat from your birds but I would not count that amount in the “fat” portion of your recipe (it is softer and will function, more or less, as meat would during binding).
Different recipes call for different levels of fat. My recommendation, in order to retain juiciness and for purposes of texture: Don’t go below 25% (of total meat) for fatback. For some bratwursts, I’ve gone as high as 40%.
How Many Times to Grind
Trying to trim all meat of sinew, tendons, and any fascia, all of which can potentially clog your grinding die and get stuck in your blades. Start with a coarse die and spice your meat before putting through the grinder. With a coarse die, you also have a lower chance of getting a pellet stuck. After the initial coarse-die grind, you can grind again on coarse or switch to a fine die. Some sausages call for a bit of “bite” in terms of texture, so just a once-through-coarse-die grind is optimal as you may wish for a bit for chunk in your sausage. For me, I prefer a more uniform texture and will always grind twice, sometimes with a fine die both times.
At the end of your second grinding session (or first, if you are only doing one), you may wish to drop in a piece of bread or two. Doing so will help push remainder of meat through and, ideally, leave less meat on the blades. Once you start to see mush, you’re at the end.
The Science of Protein Extraction
Protein extraction is what causes meat and fat to bind together. All you need to remember here is to keep your meat COLD. Much above 36 degrees Fahrenheit and you risk protein extraction failing, meaning when you cook your sausage, fat will leak out and you’ll be left with dry, crumbly sausage. With stuffed sausage links, you’ll notice this has occurred if the sausage if wrinkly and appears like you didn’t stuff fully (when you know you did). That look is the result of fat melting and seeping out.
To maintain cold temps, ahead of sausage making, consider freezing any melt components to your gear (e.g., grinder chute). Perhaps you may wish to work with partially frozen meat. Adding ice-cold beer or water or wine (no more than 1 cup per 5 pounds) aids with protein extraction. If you’re ever worried meat is getting too warm, stop what you are doing, add meat to a freezer, and start again when meat is cold, cold, cold.
How to Know Your Sausage Is Properly Mixed
It is tacky, tacky. When you take a golf-ball-sized piece, it should not immediately fall off when help upside-down in your palm. You should be able to pick up the mix in one large mass. It should still be cold. When I hand-mix a 3-pound batch—between adding ingredients and mixing, pausing because my hands and elbows ache from how cold the meat is—the process takes about 4-5 minutes. Be careful not to overmix, as fat will start to smear.
Metric Makes for Better Sausage
The imperial system of measuring, what God intended us to use, simply isn’t as precise as the business of grams. Amazing sausage is the result of tweaking, taking notes, and a dedication to precision. Recipes often will call for applying percentages and weighing ingredients versus filling a tablespoon to the brim. Bottom line: If you make something incredible, you want to be able to replicate it time and again. “Happy accidents” really shouldn’t be a thing in the sausage world.
An example of math: Recipe calls for 1.8% of kosher salt to total meat. Move the decimal point left twice and multiply: .018 x 1360 grams (3 pounds) = 24.48 grams of kosher salt
Binders as a “Plan B”
Binders in the form of soy protein concentrate, carrot fiber (c-bind), non-fat dry milk, carrageenan gum, and maltodextrin help retain moisture and aid in protein extraction. Generally speaking, you add a binder after you’ve mixed in your ice-cold liquids. Even if you overmix or overcook your sausage, a binding agent will help minimize the adverse effect of your error(s).
Varieties of Sausage
There’s a wide, wide world of different varieties of sausage. Allegedly in the US alone, there are 200 kinds. If you get bit by the sausage bug, you can definitely geek out, try different variations with different fowl species, work with different casings, perhaps different beers or wine during mixing. The possibilities are endless, but executing correctly starts with the basics listed in this article. Below is a tasty bratwurst recipe. If you aren’t one for blueberries, perhaps substitute high-temp cheese of some sort, or just exclude the line item entirely.
Fresh Herb and Blueberry Waterfowl Sausage
Use any type of waterfowl – duck or goose – for this recipe. If you're not a fan of blueberries, consider replacing them with a high-temperature cheese of your choice or simply omitting that ingredient altogether.
- 952 grams duck or geese meat (70% of total meat)
- 408 grams pork back fat (30% of total meat)
- 3% frozen blueberries = 41 grams
- 1.8% kosher salt = 24.5 grams
Get the Full Recipe: Herb and Blueberry Waterfowl Sausage