One thing every meat smoking enthusiast should try is making their own smoked sausage. It is a chance to create something completely unique using a blend of meat, flavors, smoke, and heat that you completely control.
Smoked sausage is flavored ground meat that is enclosed in a casing, then preserved by smoking. It's an ancient method used to stockpile food. Raw meat is smoked so it can be eaten later, rather than letting it spoil.
Not all sausages are smoked sausages. Some sausages are traditionally made fresh and then refrigerated or cooked immediately, like Italian sausage. Others are cured with salt and then dried, like salami.
Smoked sausage is a popular preparation in many cultures, and goes by different names. Often sausages are named for the region where they originated, or on their language of origin.
A full list of names for smoked sausage would run into the hundreds, but here are some of the most common types you'll see in stores and restaurants.
Andouille is a pork sausage traditional to Northern France. In the United States, it is associated with Louisiana Cajun food. Andouille is more coarsely ground than many other sausages.
Bratwurst is used as a blanket name for German-style sausage. The meat used (beef, veal, or pork) is finely-ground, giving bratwurst a smooth texture.
Chorizo is a spiced pork sausage traditionally made in Spain and Portugal, but it is also very popular in Latin America. Chile peppers give chorizo its distinctive red color and spicy flavor.
Kielbasa (which means "sausage" in Polish) is a blanket term for Polish-style sausage, especially sausage sold in U-shaped links.
Simple, right? What makes sausage special is the basic process stays the same, but the choices you make can give you hundreds of different types of sausage.
Pork is the most commonly used meat for smoked sausage. Ground pork has a higher fat content than most ground meats.
Most sausage experts say that 25 to 35% is the sweet spot for making homemade sausage, with 20% fat as the minimum and 50% as the maximum. If you don't have enough fat, the sausage will be tough and lack flavor. Too much fat, and you'll have a slimy, unpleasant mouth feel. Ultimately, it's about personal preference.
You can buy ground pork at the store and add small bits of raw bacon if you feel you need additional fat.
If you plan to grind your own meat for sausage, the ideal cuts of meat for homemade sausage are pork butt or pork shoulder. These cuts are widely available, have the proper meat to fat ratio, and aren't very expensive. Pork is the most common sausage meat ingredient because of the high fat content of some cuts.
At a butcher, you may be able to find specialty cuts that are primarily for sausage making like pork heads and pork back. But if you just want to grab something at the store and get started, pork butt or shoulder is your best bet.
You may be wondering: How do I measure what percentage of fat is in my meat? There's no easy answer. A butcher may be able to give you a good idea, but mainly you'll learn from trial and error.
The best spices for smoked sausage are the ground spices that you like the best. Truly, there are no wrong answers when it comes to putting spice in sausage as long as you grind them first -- no one wants to chomp into a whole peppercorn.
You might take a cue from the more popular types of sausages, and mimic those spices to start.
Louisiana-style andouille sausage is usually seasoned with garlic, pepper, onion, and Cajun spices like paprika and oregano.
There are different types of bratwurst, but common seasonings include caraway seed, marjoram, nutmeg, and garlic.
Chorizo is usually flavored with smoked paprika (or another type of pepper) and garlic.
Kielbasa is usually made with a heavy touch of garlic.
You need a special tool or attachment to grind meat for sausage. A dedicated meat grinder will give you the best results. Some stand mixers have a meat grinder attachment that you can use.
You'll need to cut the meat into chunks before grinding. The size of the chunks depends on the size of your meat grinder. Fewer chunks is best, but not if they don't fit in your grinder.
Once you've cut the chunks, put them in the freezer for 15 minutes or more, depending on their size. Partly frozen meat grinds better. The warmer the meat, the less clean the grind will be. Since the grinding process heats the meat slightly, even refrigerated meat can get too warm.
Using a special appliance called a sausage stuffer is the best method of putting sausage in casings before smoking it. You can buy mechanical, high-volume sausage stuffers for $100 or more. For a smaller investment, you can buy hand stuffers that fill casings one at a time for closer to $20.
You may also be able to buy a sausage stuffing attachment for a stand mixer.
Homemade sausage should be smoked at 225 degrees Fahrenheit for 1 to 2 hours, until the internal temperature reaches 155 degrees Fahrenheit.
Homemade smoked sausage can be stored in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days.
If you don't have the time or inclination to make your own meat mixture and smoke your own sausage, enjoy links of someone else's labor by buying smoked sausage at a farmers market, local butcher, or supermarket.
Nearly all sausage labeled as smoked sausage is precooked, and it’s safe to eat right out of the package. But you should double check before you do so.
A precooked smoked sausage will take 5 to 10 minutes to heat up on a grill set to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. The total length of time will depend on how thick the sausage is. If you want the sausage to cook more quickly you can cut it in half lengthwise, or into round slices.
Always transfer precooked sausages directly from the refrigerator to the grill. If you let them sit out at room temperature, dangerous bacteria can form.
Smoked sausage does double-duty in any savory dish -- adding a hint of smoke that amps up the savory flavor, and serving as the main protein.
Think about some of your favorite dinner dishes. Could you replace the main protein with smoked sausage? Or add a bit of smoked sausage for additional flavor? You might make your favorite even better.
Some delicious ways to use or make smoked sausage.
A Cleveland classic made with Käsekrainer; a cheese-stuffed sausage smoked over apple wood.
Cook time: 10 minutes
2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 whole shredded green cabbage
1/2 whole purple cabbage, shredded
2 whole shredded carrots
4 whole Olympia Provisions Käsekrainer
1/2 cup Traeger Sweet & Heat BBQ Sauce
4 whole hot dog buns
A set-it-and-forget-it breakfast dish that's ideal for camping or a lazy weekend at home.
Cook time: 50 minutes
2 pounds hot sausage links
2 pounds fingerling potatoes
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
4 tablespoons butter
A New Orleans homestyle classic -- smoked andouille sausage is an absolute must for authentic flavor.
Cook time: 3 hours
1 pound andouille sausage, cut in 2-inch slices
1 pound of red potatoes
1/2 cup butter
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
1 red bell pepper, coarsely chopped
1 cup thinly sliced celery
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 (48-ounce) container chicken broth
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 pound of small red potatoes
Salt and pepper
This recipe for classic summer sausage uses game meats accented by the flavor of apple smoke.
Cook time: 4 hours
1/2 pound of ground wild boar
1/2 pound of ground wild bison or venison
1 tablespoon Morton Tender Quick Home Meat Cure
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Perfect for game day with the unbeatable flavor of ground, homemade mustard.
Cook time: 1 hour
1/2 cup brown and yellow mustard seeds
1 cup cold beer
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
4 hot dog buns
Sauerkraut, for serving