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Somewhere between art and science, lies the skill of making dried sausages. The process can be quite simple if you wish, but you may also take it to a significantly higher level if you enjoy the process.
Why do we even dry sausages? Well, the primary reason is to preserve the meat that hasn’t been cooked, but if you’ve ever tried dried meat you are probably aware that it’s one of the best snacks that we enjoy on our dining tables.
Finally, everything that is homemade, from brewing your own beer to fermenting your dairy products, or drying your own sausages is extremely rewarding. What household is not proud of their own handmade products?
The beauty is in the fact that there will likely never be two same, generic products, neither between two households nor within the same one, as it’s impossible to hit the same taste every time.
Drying your own sausages means that you will carefully select your preferred type of meat, it will be free of any unwanted conservancy, and you get to pick and scale the rest of the ingredients.
In this article, we assume that you already know how to make sausages and that they are already prepared, sitting in your fridge, waiting for you to finish reading this tutorial to start drying them. Therefore, buckle up, we are going to teach you everything we know about drying sausages.
Curing Salts: Health Risk Prevention
When it comes to drying your own sausages, we have to be honest: there are certain health risks in case the drying process did not fully finish, or if you didn’t follow through with the procedure precisely. In such a scenario there is a certain danger of getting food poisoning as the meat may get infected by a certain type of bug called Clostridium botulinum which infests the central part of the sausage where there is no oxygen.
The reason why it is important to protect yourself from this bug is that it causes sickness and in certain severe cases it can even cause death.
However, despite the fact that this may sound terrifying, don’t give up on drying your sausages at home just yet, as there is a way to prevent this from happening: enter curing salts.
There is a slight difference between curing salts and regular table salt in their chemical structure. The curing salts usually contain high levels of sodium nitrite or sodium nitrate (around 0.2%), known for their bacteria repellent properties. When you are preparing your sausages for drying, make sure not to overdo it with curing salts. This too is not the best option for your health if consumed in overly large amounts.
The two types of salts are usually better to be used for different purposes. For example, the sodium nitrate usually converts to sodium nitrite after a period of time, so it’s better to use it if you plan on making a long meat-drying session. Sodium nitrite, on the other hand, is more appropriate for shorter projects.
To be sure that you use an optimal amount of curing salt, keep in mind that you should put no more than 2 tablespoons per every 2.2 pounds of meat.
Prepping for the Drying
Before you even start with the curing salts, you need to prepare the meat for drying. This means going through a series of pretty straightforward steps.
First, cut the meat into pieces. Don’t make them too small, but also not too big, as you will want to be able to store them somewhere afterward, so align the chunk size to the future storage place.
Then, remove excess fat. This means you shouldn’t remove all fat, as around 20% of the fat should remain, however, anything above that is not necessary and many people don’t like it in their dried meat.
The meat should also be cold because otherwise, it will clog the grinder. If you notice that it’s getting stuck, you can use cooking spray to make it pass more easily.
Once your sausage is ground, mix it with spices and seasoning. There are no rules here on what you’ll use and how much. Most people go according to their taste.
If you’re not sure what kind of spices to use, here are some of the most common ones:
- Sea salt (however, you’ll be using curing salt, so watch out, you don’t want to make your sausages too salty);
- Anis, etc.
During the seasoning process, you should add the curing salts.
The Drying of the Sausages
The first thing to think about before the drying process begins is the room temperature at which you are drying the meat. The ideal temperature for making dried sausages is around 60 degrees Fahrenheit. So, a bit chilly, but not cold.
The next thing you need to optimize is the humidity. It needs to be between 65% and 75%, as anything lower than 60% may cause the sausage to dry really fast on the outside, leaving the inside completely undried. If the humidity of the room where you plan to dry the sausages is too low, you can enhance it in a simple way, by putting a bowl of water below the sausages. If you want to go more high-tech and have better control over humidity levels, you can use a humidifier and set it to around 70%.
How Do I Know That the Sausage Is Done?
Since the length of the meat drying process can somewhat vary depending on the meat itself and the conditions, the best way to rest assured that your meat has dried properly is to measure it.
If the sausage has lost around 30% of its initial weight, it’s most likely done.
Another detail that can tell you about how close you are to finishing the meat-drying is the formation of dry white mold on the outer layer. While in most cases mold is not something you want to see on your food, this type of mold is not only harmless but good.
If you see the black or green mold of your sausage, well, this means that something has gone wrong in the process and you should immediately get rid of that meat. If there is only a tiny bit of the black and/or green mold, you can also scrape it off with a piece of cloth that you have previously dipped in salty water.
Pro Tip: Alternative Way to Do Curing
While using curing salts to prevent the development of unwanted parasites inside of your sausage is the simplest and probably the best possible option, there is an alternative.
You can also use a starter culture (the same stuff you’d use for fermenting your dairy products). It’s recommended to use Bactoferm (LS-25). Add 2 ounces of Bactoferm to your salt mix to every 10 pounds of meat along with three ounces of dextrose.
The starter culture will then feed on the sugar and produce lactic acid, and this will then lower the pH value of the sausage and prevent the development of unwanted bacteria.
You should add this bacteria to the meat before the meat starts to dry. Also, you should first dissolve it in plain water. You should keep the starter culture in a warm and humid place for at least 24 hours, as this is the only way for the chemical process to begin.
Once you’ve added the starter to your sausage mix, put on a pair of latex gloves and start mixing. The seasoning should be as evenly spread as possible for the best flavor.
Adding the starter culture and letting it produce lactic acid will also add a bit of acidic taste to the sausage later, which is something that many people like.
Finally, put the sausage inside a casing (that you’ve previously soaked in water), by attaching the casing to the machine for stuffing, and closing the casing by making a knot on the opposite end. If you don’t have a sausage stuffing machine, you will find it quite hard to prepare the sausage for drying. Once you got the casing filled, you can tie it off and put it to dry.
The preparation of the meat in the sense of mincing and seasoning can be done in any way you like. You can leave more or less fat, you can mince it into smaller or leave some pieces larger, and of course, add spices according to your taste.
Curing salt is a must-do in order to prevent the development of unwanted bacteria, however, using a starter culture is also a good idea.
Remember: 30% of weight loss along with the appearance of white mold is a good sign that your sausage has been properly dried.
Making your own homemade sausages is rewarding and you can rest assured that these will always taste much better than the store-bought ones. However, you need to be careful, as meat drying can be dangerous.
If you follow these guidelines very closely, you will make wonderful safe-to-eat sausages, free of any unwanted bacteria.