Fresh sausage making is my favorite category of wild game cookery, as it turns low-grade cuts of meat into high-grade food. My favorite sausages are fresh, meaning not cured or dried-and stuffed into hog middle casings.
I like to view fresh sausages as a sort of blank slate since you can flavor them in so many different ways. This recipe makes a basic sausage mixture to which you can add whatever flavorings you like. I’ve got three styles here: a classic Italian sausage, a bratwurst-style sausage, and one that uses Vietnamese inspired ingredients for a slightly more original taste.
For all of these sausages, I use a mixture of 80 percent lean game meat and 20 percent pork fatback. This makes a sausage that is lean without being dry. Some guys use up to 40 percent fat, but that’s excessive and entirely unnecessary. Other guys go leaner, but then you risk having a strangely textured and dry sausage that doesn’t hold together well.
For the following sausages, I prefer natural hog casings with diameters between 32 and 35 millimeters.
Basic Meat Mixture
8 pounds lean game meat (deer, elk, caribou, etc.), cut into 1-inch cubes
2 pounds pork fatback, cut into inch cubes
4 tbsp fennel seeds
3 tbsp kosher salt
3 tbsp minced garlic
1/2-1-1/2 cups iced red wine
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 heaping tbsp freshly ground black pepper
3-4 tbsp red pepper flakes (optional; makes a spicy sausage)
2 tbsp ground white pepper
3 tbsp kosher salt
1 tbsp ground ginger
1 tbsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2-1-1/2 cups ice water
2 tsp ground cloves
Vietnamese Style Seasoning
1/2 cup grated fresh ginger
1/2 cup lime juice
6 tbsp fish sauce
1 medium carrot, finely grated
4 serrano peppers or other hot fresh chiles, minced (about 3 tbsp)
5 tbsp minced garlic
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp kosher salt
1/2 -1-1/2 cups ice water
1 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro (add after grinding)
1/2 cup finely chopped basil or mint (add after grinding)
1/2 bunch scallions, thinly sliced (add after grinding)
When I make sausage or grind meat, I work out of the freezer in order to make sure that everything is super cold. Another option is to work out of a cooler filled with ice. The meat is easier to work with when it’s on the verge of freezing, and it’s much safer. If your meat is so cold that your hands get an arthritic ache when mixing it, you’re doing it right.
- Combine the meat and fat from the basic recipe. Then add whichever style seasoning you choose to the cubed meat mixture. Toss to combine.
- With a bowl placed at the output of the grinder, run the combined mixture of meat, fat, and seasonings through a 1/4-inch grinder plate.
- For a coarser sausage, pass the blend through that same plate again. For a finer-grained sausage (recommended for tougher meat) pass the sausage mixture through a 3/16-inch grinder plate.
- If making the Vietnamese-style sausage, add the chopped herbs and scallions and mix well.
- Remove a golf-ball-sized sample of the mixture and refrigerate the rest. In a hot skillet, cook up the sample to be sure you like the seasoning. Adjust the seasoning of the larger batch as needed. At this point, the sausage mixture can be used (or wrapped and frozen) as bulk sausage. Or you can proceed to stuff the sausages into casings.
- Plan on using about 20 feet of 32-35 millimeter natural hog casings for 10 pounds of sausage. Start by soaking the hog casings in lukewarm water then set them to soak in clean water at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes. When the casing is pliable and clean, rinse the inside of the casing by fitting an end over the faucet in your sink and running water through the entire length of the casing.
- Fill the hopper of your sausage stuffer with meat and lit the tube with a length of the washed and rinsed casing. Tie the end of the casing in a simple granny knot, so that the knot is tight against the end of the tube of casing.
- Working slowly, stuff the sausage into the casings. Be careful to avoid overstuffing the casings, and don’t allow air to build up inside the casings.
- When you are finished with a length of casing, tie off the end with a granny knot.
- Twist the sausage into links measuring 5-6 inches long. There are several ways to do this, but the following is easy and works quite well. For the first sausage, measure the desired length of your link and press with a finger to form a crease. Spin this link about eight times. Then measure ahead another 5-6 inch and press a crease there. Spin this link about eight times. Then move ahead to the next sausage.
- When done twisting links, cut the center of each twist. Refrigerate or freeze immediately.
- Preheat your grill for direct heat on medium-high. If using charcoal, make a slightly cooler section of the grill so that you can remove the sausages from the heat if they are cooking too quickly.
- Lightly brush the sausages with oil and set them on the grill. Grill them gently, reducing the heat if necessary; high heat will cause the casings to burst.
- Cook them all the way through, until they reach 150° internally.
Serve immediately with crusty bread and grilled veggies on the side. Invite some friends over. These sausages go great with beer.