If you’ve been deer hunting for a number of years, you’ve likely had your fair share of venison summer sausage. Usually stuffed into five-pound sleeves of dark colored collagen casing and served in slices alongside beer, cheese and crackers, this cured meat staple is ubiquitous in deer camp kitchens across North America.
Frequently prepared in butcher shops and small-scale wild game processing plants, the roots of summer sausage can be traced back to pre-industrial Germany where it was developed – alongside a host of other charcuterie techniques – to extended the shelf life of precious protein. Hence the German name somerwurst, which translates to English as summer sausage.
Making summer sausage at home can save you money and allows you to tailor the ingredient list to fit a flavor profile that aligns with your palate.
Like any form of charcuterie, summer sausage making is a craft that requires patience and precision, but the rewarding results ensure that every second of the process is time well spent.
Venison Summer Sausage
- 4 lbs. ground venison
- 3 lbs. ground pork back fat
- 1 tbs ground mustard seed
- 1 tbs coarsely ground black pepper
- 1 tbs salt
- 1 tbs sugar
- 1 tbs granulated garlic
- 1 tbs Marjoram
- 1 tbs crushed coriander
- 1 ½ tsp Insta Cure
- One 12 oz bottle of ice cold amber ale
- Optional:20 large jalapeno peppers
- Run venison and pork back fat through a grinder with a medium die. Remember, it’s always best to grind meat when it’s kept very cold.
- Add spices, cure and cold beer to the meat and mix thoroughly. If using a standard stand mixer, mix the meat-spice mixture in two batches taking care to distribute spices and beer evenly throughout each individual batch.
- If mixing by hand, use a tub large enough to contain the entire meat mixture, or batch, without it becoming overly crowded. And remember, properly mixing sausage by hand is a labor-intensive process, so if you’re not worn out by the time you’ve finished, it probably isn’t mixed thoroughly enough.
- Once the sausage is mixed, place it in a bowl, cover with a kitchen towel and set it in the refrigerator to cure for 24-48 hours.
Note: Some recipes suggest pulling your sausage mix out halfway through the curing process and mixing again to ensure thorough distribution of the Insta Cure. This step is more important for those mixing their summer sausage by hand.
Optional: If you want to add some heat to your sausage, consider throwing some fire-roasted jalapeños into the mix. Use about 20 large jalapeños for a 7 lb. batch, slice them in halves down the middle, deseed, douse in olive oil and char under your oven’s broiler until the skin begins to darken and blister. Throw the roasted peppers into a food processor then add them to your sausage mixture at the same time you mix in the spices and beer. You also can add finely diced chunks of cheese to the mix.
- Once the meat mixture has cured in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours, it’s time to stuff your summer sausage. I use 1 lb. sleeves of “hard collagen casings.” It’s not uncommon to see much larger sleeves that can hold up to 5 lbs. of sausage. Whichever size you choose, make sure to soak the casings for at least an hour beforehand. This rehydrates the collagen, making it easier to work with.
- In the absence of a proper sausage stuffer and a big enough stuffing tube attachment for my grinder, I actually stuff the casing by hand, but either of the aforementioned tools would make the process significantly more efficient.
- Once stuffed, use butcher twine to tie the end of the casings off.
- Once the sausage is stuffed, it’s time to add some smoke. You can use a wood pellet grill like a Traeger, an electric smoker or a handmade smoke house in your backyard. The important thing is to hot smoke the summer sausage around 180-220 degrees Fahrenheit to an internal temp of about 160 degrees. Go any hotter than 220 degrees and you risk rendering the pork fat out of the sausage. When this happens, the fat will tend to accumulate between the casing and the meat instead of remaining evenly incorporated throughout the finished sausage.
- When you’ve hit the desired internal temp – some sausage makers are content with an internal temp as low as 140 degrees while others will not pull the sausage from the smoker until it hits 165 degrees – immediately submerge the sausage in a tub of ice water. This will halt the cooking process, encouraging the pork fat to set up while it’s still evenly distributed throughout the finished sausage.
- After the sausage soaks in ice water for 20-30 minutes, hang it up to dry in a cool, dry place for a few hours. After this step, the sausage is complete and ready to serve. It can be kept in the refrigerator, or, thanks to the curing process, at ambient temperature where it will keep for several months. I can’t guarantee, however, that a batch this size will last longer than a few weeks without being eaten.
Photos by Author