As ethical hunters, we like to salvage every part of the animals we harvest. We obviously cherish the prime cuts in big game animals, but then there’s the rest – the meat that is a bit tougher, a bit stronger tasting and a bit less desirable. These are the various “extras” we take from the neck, the legs, in between the ribs etc. that we package up, mark as “Trim” and stash in the freezer with big plans of how to later make it into something delicious. Well, I opened the freezer over Christmas and cringed. There were Christmas appetizers, garden vegetables, goose, duck and antelope piled high on every shelf and hanging off the door. I was amazed at how strategically placed everything was. So much that if you moved one item, a few others rolled out at my feet. Is anyone relating to this scenario? It was time to clean out the freezer and execute on some plans for transitioning the bags marked “trim” into something delicious – fresh wild game sausage.
Kerry Coleman (my hunting partner that I have talked about in numerous articles) invited Vanessa Ahing (friend and past MWF program participate), her partner Aaron, my husband Clarke and I out to Crystal City for a day of sausage making 101. Kerry has many years of experience as a butcher from his past career. He is impressive with a knife to say the least, however his passion and expertise really showed when it came down to combining the right mix of spices and meat combinations to make the perfect sausage. We were all new to the sausage making world, so we were eager to learn and even more eager to sample some of Kerry’s secret recipes.
Preparation and Gear
I believe that any successful sausage recipe starts in the field when you are cleaning your animal, extracting all the viable meat, and properly storing it. Taking extra precautions to keep that meat clean (free of any rumen, bile, urine, hair, leaves or dirt), cooled quickly and stored properly to reduce freezer burn is so incredibly important. You never know how much time will pass from the time you harvest that animal to the time you actually get around to making sausage. Unexpected surprises are never fun!
We arrived at Kerry and Marsha’s (Kerry’s wife) loaded with approximately 30lbs of goose and antelope meat. Vanessa was very successful over the last couple years hunting so had about the same amount of whitetail meat. Some of the goose I pulled out of our freezer was from the fall of 2014. I was thankful to see the meat was still in good condition and usable. My antelope trim was also in great condition, extremely clean and well packed. Vanessa’s deer meat was impressive, especially after hearing the story of how she had to work with that deer in her downtown Winnipeg apartment. She hauled the quarters up to her floor in a hockey bag and to keep the quarters cool overnight she opened her apartment windows as wide as they could go in the dead of winter and slept in her down filled sleeping bag. Now that is dedication! You got to love that girl!
Kerry and Marsha’s kitchen is massive. There was lots of space to set up each needed station; a wash station, a cutting and trimming station, the grinding station, the spice mixing station, and last, the incredibly cool sausage stuffing station. I noticed Kerry’s equipment right off the hop. He covered his kitchen table with one of the largest cutting boards I have ever seen, had a series of sharp butchering knives and a weighing scale ready to go. Kerry also had the Cabela’s Commercial-Grade Vertical Stuffer ($350-$550 depending on size, it comes in 11lb, 20lb and 30lb capacities) and the 1 Horse Power (hp) Cabela’s Commercial Grade Grinder ($450 – $850 depending on the amount of horse power you want). Size and horse power needed would depend on the amount of wild game you process. Personally, we might process a max of one big game animal and maybe 15lbs of waterfowl a year (if we are really lucky and shoot straightJ). When the day comes to purchase our own equipment, I would lean towards a ½ or a 1hp electric grinder, this would be more than sufficient for our needs. Apparently there are also a variety of grinder plate sizes available that will give you a bigger or smaller grind for different products like garlic sausage or finer products like bologna. I am sure there is no end to the accessories and options some of these top of the line grinders provide. One specific attachment that Kerry discouraged us to use is a sausage stuffer attachment on the grinder. His words were clear, “Don’t let anybody tell you to stuff sausage off the grinder, it is never good.” Kerry says it like it is. I also read that stuffing sausage with a grinder attachment can cause the sausage to get too hot resulting in a less desirable texture. All that being said this equipment is what works for Kerry and are just some examples of the equipment available. There is no need to invest more than $30.00 – $100.00 on a meat grinder if that is what you comfortable spending. Obviously you get what you pay for. In this price range you are probably looking at manual grinder so be prepared to invest some extra elbow grease and time in replace of money.
The casings reminded me of my University Parasitology class when we removed full grown tapeworms from rat intestines. That sounds delicious doesn’t it? There are a variety of different casings and sizes of casings to choose from. It all depends on personal preference. For example you can use: Fibrous Casings which are made of a specially processed paper and coated with viscose to make them exceptionally strong and less likely to break; Collagen Casings which are consistent in size, durable and take in smoke uniformly if you are trying smoked sausage; and Cellulose (Skinless) Casing which are more elastic and highly permeable so excellent for absorbing smoke and color. They are all available in a variety of diameters from 22mm – 36mm.
We went with 33mm real hog casings for our fresh wild game sausages. Natural casing are available in beef, hog, sheep and other specialty casings. From what I have heard the 32-36mm hog casings are the most popular and easiest to work. Kerry swears by them.
Prior to starting the sausage making process, you will want to soak your casings in water to remove the salt they were stored in and to soften them up. You can keep natural casings forever if you have leftovers. The best methods to store them is in a zip lock, air tight bag filled with coarse salt (pickling salt) and keep them in the refrigerator until you are ready to make more sausages again.
Let’s Get to Making Fresh Wild Game Sausages!
The art of sausage making starts with washing your wild game and trimming off all the fat, hard gristle areas, any silver skin (silver coloured sinew seen on goose breasts) or any areas of the meat that look off coloured (freezer burnt or tainted areas). These tough, fatty areas will have a strong gamey taste that will hinder the flavor and texture of the sausages.
Mixing the proper percentages of pork and beef with the wild game is where I think the real art of sausage making comes into play. Fortunately, we had an expert that has tested and trialed enough sausage in his day to have this mixture down to a science. Otherwise it would be a lot of testing and experimenting. Just remember that venison and most other game meat is very lean compared to beef or farm raised animals. We add high fat content meat so the sausages do not turn out dry. For all of the goose, antelope and deer sausages we made that day, we used a 25% wild game, 25% beef and 50% pork mixture. I really like the texture of this mixture. They are not too dry but not at all mushy. It is a really good combination.
Now comes the fun part! We ground up the wild game, beef and pork together in the grinder. In a large bowl we added our spice mixtures, plenty of water, rolled up our sleeves and dove in – blending the meat and flavor together with our hands. This allows you to assess the consistency of the mixture to know whether or not it needs more water. Hard to explain in text, but you want the sausage content to effortlessly squeeze between your fingers…then you know you have the right consistency and the mixture is ready to transition into the sausage stuffer.
The sausage stuffer was my favorite. It made me giggle like a school girl. We packed the sausage content into the stuffer, greased the horn, gracefully slid the hog casing onto the horn and pack enough casing on the horn to get through the 10lb’s of sausage filling in the stuffer. While gently cupping the horn to control the casing, we started cranking! It blew my mind how quick and effortless this was! Literally with this stuffer you can stuff 10lbs of sausage in about 20 seconds! I loved it! Kerry then proceeded to teach us how to link the sausage. I won’t attempt to explain this as it pretty much took us all day to master the technique. I must have told Kerry to slow down 100 times. He has one gear while sausage linking and that gear is fast! The man could do it in his sleep.
Wait, I lied. My favorite part actually wasn’t the sausage stuffer phase. My favorite part was when the sausages broke and the contents went straight to the frying pan for sampling! I recommend this stage because it is fun and delicious. However, I also recommend sampling because you can ensure you are happy with the product before proceeding to make another 50lbs of sausage. By sampling, if you are not happy with the flavor or texture, you can make adjustments to your pork/beef/wild game mixture or add/ease off on various spices.
Recipes and Spice Combinations
We ended up with a variety of different goose, antelope and deer sausage flavors that day: Maple Antelope and Deer breakfast sausages; Italian Goose and Deer sausage; Bratwurst deer sausage; Sage, Thyme and Cheese Antelope and Deer sausage; and a handful of extremely spicy Italian Deer sausage that were thrown into the mix. Vanessa called this her Russian Roulette…I feel sorry for the poor soul that gets these ones for breakfast.
Kerry invented his own spice concoctions that he shared with us. He doesn’t give them out freely and would kill me if I published these recipes. I think they are how he keeps his friends close. Ha! I’m kidding. Honestly any sage and thyme recipes are no fail recipes that can be eaten as regular sausage but also really good as breakfast sausage. I found the sage really complimented the antelope flavor. For anyone that does not care for the wild game taste, these spices are strong enough to overpower any natural game flavours. Italian sausage is less powerful but still full of flavor. I prefer this as I still like be able to taste the natural flavours of the meat. The maple breakfast sausage recipe I purchased from Canadian Compound here in Winnipeg. This is a wholesale sausage supply store conveniently located 30 seconds away from the MWF office. It is fully stocked with every kind of spice you can dream of in larger containers and about a 1/3 of the price you would pay at a grocery store. They also have pre-mixed recipes. So you can buy any flavor of sausage from Teriyaki and Italian to Maple or Country style breakfast in a convenient pre-mixed package for around $14.00. Pretty inexpensive if you think about all the spice you would have to purchase to create that flavor. They also sell sausage making supplies like freezer paper, casings and equipment. This store is definitely worth checking out if you an avid sausage maker or looking to get into the hobby.
There are endless recipes on the internet that you can use and alter to create a taste that is best suited for your taste buds. I am obviously still an amateur sausage maker, but I look forward to trying more recipes and experimenting with different meat combinations. It was quite the opportunity to learn from an experienced butcher, I feel a bit spoiled as he taught us so many tips and tricks of the trade that would have taken us years of sausage making to figure out. I bet we didn’t scratch the surface of Kerry’s knowledge in this profession. We divided the meat 50/50 so everyone went home with a nice variety wild game flavours. It is nice to see the freezer selves full of edible and fresh wild game sausage vs bags of miscellaneous trim that I had no idea what to do with. Big thank you goes out to the Coleman residence for your hospitality, I hope we can make this day a yearly tradition.