Meat: Beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton and poultry are all suitable for use in sausage. If you slaughter your own animals, meat off of the head, trimmings off of the skeleton and less popular cuts can be saved for sausage. If you purchase meat ingredients for making sausages, inexpensive cuts such as beef short ribs, chuck cuts, round cuts, and pork shoulder cuts can be used. Tenderness won't be a problem since we're producing a ground product. Whatever the source, use only raw meat ingredients that are fresh and wholesome. High quality sausages can be made only if the starting raw materials are of high quality.
Venison and other game meat may be substituted for all or part of the lean meats in sausage recipes. Because game is often slaughtered in the field under less sanitary conditions, it is especially important to be aware of the wholesomeness and condition of this type of meat. Generously trim away evidence of spoilage (discoloration, off-odors, stickiness, slime, etc.). Some people remove all of the trimmable fat from venison, as this fat can contribute to the development of rancid off-flavors.
Salt: Salt is the most important non-meat ingredient in sausages. Salt enhances the flavor of the sausages, and aids in preserving them against microbial spoilage (although the low, present day salt levels exert less of a preservative effect that the higher levels of the past). Salt also "solubilizes" and extracts the muscle protein on the surface of meat particles. This semi-fluid protein film coagulates during heating, binding the meat particles together and producing a firm sausage texture. Most sausage formulations contain 1 to 3% salt. Salt levels can be adjusted to suit your tastes. "Lite" salt, a blend of sodium chloride and potassium chloride, can be used to reduce the amount of sodium in the product (be aware that excessively high levels of potassium chloride can import a bitter flavor to the product).
Nitrites and Nitrates: The purpose of these "curing" ingredients is: (1) To inhibit the growth of certain microorganisms (including the one that causes botulism); (2) To develop the typical pink color of cured meats; and (3) To enhance the flavor of the product. Nitrite is the specific active ingredient which carries out the functions listed above. When nitrate is used, it must be first converted to nitrite by microorganisms present in the meat. Potassium nitrate (saltpeter) was the salt historically used for curing. However, sodium nitrite has largely replaced the use of nitrate today.
Caution must be used in adding nitrite to the sausage batter since overdoses of this ingredient can be toxic to humans. Because of the safety concern in using nitrite, it is not readily available in pure form. In addition, since nitrite is added at a very low level (1/4 ounce per 100 pounds of meat) it would be difficult to accurately weigh out the desired amount on commonly available scales. Therefore, for safety and accuracy salt blends already containing nitrite at the proper level are best used by home sausage makers when the recipe calls for nitrite or nitrate addition. Mortons "Tender Quick Salt" is an example of such a blend, containing a very small amount of nitrite and nitrate. It is available in many grocery stores. When this blend is used as the salt source for products which call for nitrite or nitrate, these curing ingredients will automatically be added to the batter at a safe and proper level.
Most commercial meat processors obtain their nitrite in the form of a "curing salt." This is usually a blend of 6% sodium nitrite and 94% salt (colored pink by some manufactures to clearly distinguish it from salt or sugar). At this dilution rate processors add 4 ounces of the curing salt to 100 pounds of meat (0.4 ounces or 11 grams per 10 lbs. of meat) to achieve the proper level of nitrite addition (156 parts per million).
Cooked sausages can be made without adding nitrite if desired. Such
sausages will be brown in color (rather than pink), and more susceptible
to flavor changes and microbial spoilage. It is best to store them in the
Prague Powder #1 (Curing Salt)is a proportionate measure of salt and nitrite regulated by the FDA and USDA and is necessary to help prevent food poisoning. Use 4 oz. of curing salt per 100 lbs. of sausage meat or jerky meat.
Prague Powder #2 is a cure for dry meats, containing sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite.
Spices: Much of the distinguishing flavors of different varieties of sausage is due to the type and quantity of spices in the recipe. Home sausage makers will usually use ground or whole natural spices in their products. The commercial meat processing industry today also uses spice extracts (extracts from natural spices which contain the characteristic flavors) in place of some natural spices. When these extracts are used, they are listed as "flavorings" on the product label.
Spices can be a significant source of bacterial contamination to sausages. Processors, if desired, can buy spices which have been sterilized by exposure to ethylene oxide gas or irradiation. Buy the best spice you can, for maximum flavor and greatest purity. Spices can loose volatile flavor components during storage. Store in covered containers and avoid long periods at high temperatures (i.e. above 80°F). Spices which are over one year old may have lost some of their flavor, particularly if they were not stored well.
Sugars: A variety of sugar sources can be used to impart sweetness and flavor to sausages. These include sucrose (table sugar), brown sugar, dextrose, and corn syrup. Sugars also react with proteins during heating to produce browning which enhances flavor and appearance.
Ascorbic Acid: Ascorbic acid (vitamin C) or sodium ascorbate speed the development of the pink cured color in sausages containing nitrite. Sodium erythorbate is chemically similar to ascorbate and is also used for this purpose. These "cure accelerators" are an optional ingredient for home sausage makers. When used, sausages can be heated and smoked immediately after stuffing. If ascorbate or erthythorbate are not used, the batter or stuffed sausages should be held overnight (refrigerated) before smoking and heating, to allow time for good cured color development. These ingredients are used at the rate of 7/8 oz. per 100 pounds of meat.
Binders and Extenders: These are miscellaneous ingredients which may improve flavor, help the sausages better retain fat and moisture (binders), or lower the cost of the sausage recipe (extenders). The best known of these ingredients include non-fat dried milk, cereal flours, and soy protein products. These products can be incorporated to suit your taste. In most commercial products they are restricted to less than 3.5% of the product weight.
Water: Government regulations permit various levels of added water to be retained in many finished sausage products. This varies from 3% in fresh sausages such as bratwurst, to as much as 25% in low-fat cooked sausages, such as hot dogs or bologna. From a practical standpoint, 3% water could be added to fresh sausages if desired, and 10 to 15% to cooked sausages (remember some of that water will be lost from the product during cooking). Water aids the salt in "solubilizing" meat proteins (by forming a brine), helps the mixing of the batter and contributes to the juiciness of the final product.
Starter Culture: This is an inoculum of lactic acid bacteria which converts added sugar to lactic acid, producing the tangy flavor in fermented sausages. Many sausage processors mix a starter culture into the batter of summer sausage, snack sticks, etc. prior to the stuffing step, to insure later production of lactic acid in the sausage. Historically, processors relied upon chance inoculation by bacteria normally present in meat. However, if insufficient numbers of naturally-occurring lactic acid bacteria are present, little tang may develop in the sausage. Starter cultures come in frozen or freeze-dried forms, and are available from suppliers which serve the meat industry. Although most starter cultures will ferment common table sugar (sucrose), the simple sugar dextrose is the choice of most sausage makers to include in their fermented sausage recipe.
In order to get a successful fermentation and acid production, the stuffed sausages must be held at temperatures favorable for bacteria growth (80-100oF) for 10 to 15 hours to allow the starter culture bacteria to grow and ferment the sugar to lactic acid. Without an effective starter culture in the batter to rapidly produce acid, these abusive fermentation temperatures can pose a microbiological safety risk.
Encapsulated acids: In recent years some processors have acidified their sausage by adding encapsulated citric or encapsulated lactic acid to the batter, rather than using a starter culture. Encapsulated acids are small beads of acid surrounded by a lipid coat. These acids are gently blended into the batter near the end of final mixing (do not grind after mixing – don't want to disrupt the lipid coat). The sausage can then immediately be cooked, and when the batter temperature reaches 137°F, the lipid coat melts releasing the acid. Direct addition of acid must be done in this encapsulated form because direct addition of non-protected acid to the batter during mixing would cause the meat proteins to coagulate while still in the mixer, ruining product texture.
Encapsulated acids would be the easiest way for home meat processors to get a tangy flavor into their summer sausage, if they desired it. Consult local processors to see if they use this product, or can offer a source of these acids. Usual addition level of encapsulated acid is 6 to 10 ounces per 100 pounds of meat (depending on level of acid tang desired).
Note: While most summer sausages today are fermented or acidified, this is not a requirement for these products. Some summer sausages are just made just as cooked sausages with summer sausage seasoning. Such sausages will not have an acid tang, but that is desired by some consumers.