With Mississippi’s whitetail deer season all but concluded and lots of meat in the freezer for the year ahead, many hunters may be looking for innovative ways to prepare and consume the provender they’ve stacked away. Just because it’s in the freezer now does not mean it can’t be thawed, processed and frozen again, and gray February weekends are an ideal time to work out new recipes in the kitchen.
Home sausage- and jerky-making kits are an outstanding opportunity to turn both ground and whole muscle cuts into portable, healthy snacks that can be enjoyed any time. Kits typically include a sausage- stuffing gun with a variety of nozzles, a supply of sausage casings, seasonings and cure. Smaller seasoning and cure re-supply packs are available in a broad variety of flavors. Products in the Hi Mountain Seasoning line, in particular, are a great place to begin. The Big Shot Jerky & Sausage Gun is a very well made piece of equipment, and the seasoning mixes they offer are outstanding.
Basic recipes for different varieties of sausages are included with the seasoning packs of course, but these are simply starting points. With the ability to make batches in any size, home processors are free to experiment with as much and as many different herbs, spices and additional ingredients as their imagination allows. From shredded cheeses to chopped peppers to bacon or any other added meat cut thin and fine, the kitchen craftsman’s complete toolkit is available to use.
Recipes for both ground and whole- muscle meat products call for seasoning and cure to be applied by weight, so a kitchen scale is very handy in this step. For sausage and for ground, Slim Jim-style jerky, simply weigh the amount of thawed ground meat you’ll be using, measure and add the seasoning, cure and requisite amount of water as directed and mix thoroughly.
Making the sausage
Since the cure tends to act as a binder, after five minutes or so of mixing, go right ahead and fill sausage casings or extrude the snack sticks onto cookie sheets as you prefer. Generally these mixtures don’t absolutely have to be used with sausage casings, but they can be easier to handle that way. The filled casings or extruded strips are then to be refrigerated overnight to allow the seasonings and cure to work to their best effect.
Alternately, the cure component can be omitted from the process entirely if so desired. The resulting products will simply need to be handled as you would any fresh meat product. This also offers the advantage of not having to extrude or fill casings immediately, and the mixture can be refrigerated overnight in a covered bowl or other bulk container.
Smoking lamp is lit
The next day, the slow cooking or smoking process can begin. Homemade sausages and jerky products do very well on a carefully tended smoker, but it’s not at all mandatory they be cooked this way. A regular kitchen oven works very well, and it’s hard to find a finishing step more convenient than that.
For whole-muscle jerky, the process is much the same. Seasonings and cure are prescribed by the weight of the meat being processed, so weigh the meat after it’s been trimmed and cut into strips for accuracy. Once seasoned, the meat is best left to marinate in a refrigerator overnight.
For all products being prepared for ready-to-eat snacks, it’s critical they be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees, so a digital meat thermometer is important.
Standard snack stick cooking directions from the Hi Mountain Seasoning line call for them to be cooked, in an oven or a smoker, at 200 degrees for two hours, but the 165-degree internal temperature is the most critical element. Reaching a precise temperature on the low range of an oven or smoker’s range of operation may well require adjusting temperatures on the fly. In either case, don’t over cook or over smoke. If your smoker is having trouble getting the jerky’s internal temperature up to the mark, take it off and finish it in the oven.