Meat Selection

Meat for sausages is either pork, or a combination of pork with beef, veal or poultry. People living in off beaten track areas, (ie: Central Alaska) might use wild game meats like moose, bear, elk, reindeer, or rabbit to make sausages. The extremely religious will only use beef or lamb.  However, it is still recommended to mix these lean meats with pork to achieve better texture and flavor. When it comes to sausages, pork is king. The fat makes sausage tender and juicy, no fat, and the meat is dry. Try to fry a hamburger that is 95/5 (5 % fat) and one that is 80/20 (20 % fat), and you will see the difference. If you use a cut that is too lean, your sausage will definitevely be healthier and cleaner, but you will miss out on the taste. Venison is very lean meat, definitely healthy, but then why does every recipe beg for pork fat? To make it taste good . Not enough fat makes it dry and hard to bite. Sausage needs about 25 – 30 % of fat in it and pork butts lend themselves as excellent choices. The pork butt (sometimes called Boston butt) is a great all around choice. It has an ideal fat to lean meat ratio for sausage making. Another added bonus is its bone is extremely easy to remove.

It might come as a surprise but the main ingredient in meat is water 40 – 75%. The fat content varies widely – 1 – 40 %, younger animals have less fat . Veal meat is considered the leanest, and pork the fattest although some cuts like pork loin or ham are very lean. Bear in mind that pork fat is unsaturated fat (good cholesterol) and pork lard (melted fatback) is much healthier than butter which is saturated fat (bad cholesterol).

To make the very fine textured sausages known as hot dogs or wieners, a great deal of poultry is used. However, the technology used in their production requires bowl cutters to emulsify the meat. A food processor with some cold water might help produce the level of emulsification acceptable for production. Grinding the meat a few times, each time through a plate with smaller holes, will also leave a finely ground product.

The age of the animal is an important factor in meat quality, but it’s not the only one. The older the hog, the fatter it is. The type of food it consumed, and even how much time it spent in open air also contribute to its final taste. The fame of some of the best hams in the world depends not only how they are made but on what pigs ate most of their lives: Original American Smithfield Ham – peanuts, Spanish Serrano – oak acorns, Italian Parma – chestnuts and whey (from the parmesan cheese making process).

There are many sausage recipes that require that beef is added to pork. Some are made entirely of beef. Beef when finely ground has excellent water binding qualities. Beef like pork needs some fat to taste juicy and to have good flavor. Beef is tougher (the animal is older), its meat and blood are darker and the fat is of little use in sausages. Beef liver is ill suited for making liver sausages but up to 50 % of it can be mixed with pork liver. Pork liver is fine, veal liver is excellent. For blood sausages pork blood is also preferred to beef blood as it is much lighter in color. Beef has excellent binding qualities; a fine grind can hold up to 30 % of water. That means all the natural juices will be entirely contained within. About 10 – 20 % of beef is added to pork to make certain types of sausages (ie, Hunter’ sausage), but nothing stops you from going 100 % beef (Thuringer, Pastrami), using lamb and beef (Merquez), or pork and veal (Bockwurst). In Muslim areas, lamb and beef will be used, whereas in Christian parts pork, beef, veal, and lamb are the meats of choice.

When it comes to selecting pork meat for sausages, the majority of books and recipes mention the same word : "use a pork butt". Sure, it has the right lean meat to fat ratio of 70/30 and the sasuage will be fine. What about a guy with a big family who buys the whole hog - there are two pork butts totalling 15 lbs in weight and he certainly can make some sausages but what about the remaining 250 lbs of the meat ? He should have nothing left, some of it will be eaten right away : ribs, chops, loins and the rest can be processed to make all kinds of fresh and cooked smoked products like hams, butts, Canadian Bacon, smoked bacons, back fat, blood sausage, liverwurst, headcheese and dozens of different sausages.

Then comes a second advice: "Good cuts of meat make good sausages. Trim out all all gristle, sinew, and excess fat but blood clots,". save those trimmings for later. Emulsified sausages (hot dog, bologna), headcheeses and liver sausages need lower class of meat (sinews, tendons, gristle, skins, deboned meat) that is very rich in collagen. This meat when emulsified (made into a paste) will hold a lot of water, will bind fat and once when heated will form a natural gelatin which is crucial when making headcheeses. For those applications pork skin or pork hocks are superior to any lean meat. All pork meat is well adapted for making sausages, you just have to know which sausage needs jowls (cheeks), when to use fatback or headmeat and skins. And those seemingly inferior kinds of meats are # 1 seller in the USA as the whole nation consumes hot dogs, frankfurters and bologna on a daily basis. Specially designed de-boning machines are scraping off every bit of pork, beef and poultry bones to recycle every particle of meat and tendon. Then soy protein concentrate is added to boost up nutritional value as a lot of water was added during emulsifying. In some countries situation is so rampant that a hot dog contains only 15 % of meat and the rest are fillers, binders and flavor enhancers. But it looks presentable, has an acceptable taste and most important is reasonably priced.

Most sausages are made of either pure pork, or a combination with other meats, most often beef. Sausages made entirely from beef will be drier with a harder texture. In Germany sausages are often made from equal amounts of pork and beef, in Poland pork is more popular. Hungarian, Italian and Spanish sausages contain mostly pork.

People living in off beaten track areas, (i.e. Central Alaska) might use wild game meats like moose, bear, elk, reindeer, or rabbit. However, it is still recommended to mix these lean meats with pork to achieve better texture and flavor.

Veal makes a light colored sausage and has excellent binding properties. Mutton can also be used in sausage. It has poor water holding properties and its distinctive flavor is not appreciated by many. For this reason it should be limited to around 15% in any recipe.
Emulsified sausages (finely comminuted) such as high quality frankfurters usually contain more beef (40-60%) due to its excellent water holding capacities. Cheaply produced commercial versions incorporate machine separated meat, different trimmings, and phosphates which are known for their strong water binding properties. You can mix fresh and previously frozen meats together but for the best results there should be no more than 20-30% frozen meat.

Geographical locations have often dictated what animals can grow in a particular climatic zone. High altitudes establish the vegetation that will grow at those levels which will attract only animals that like such a diet. Lamas have adapted well to the high Andes of South America and will be popular meat in Bolivia and Chile. Goats generally prosper well in mountainous locations. Ostrich is commonly consumed in South Africa. In Alaska moose, bear, reindeer and caribou are the most common animals and those meats will end up for making sausages. Local custom and religious beliefs greatly influence which meats will be selected. Norway is known for using different meats such as moose, reindeer, mutton, lamb, goat, horse, offal (heart, liver) and blood. Norwegian sausages such as Faremorr, Sognemorr gilde, Stabbur and Tiriltunga contain beef, lamb and horsemeat and are heavily smoked.

The second important factor is a religious belief and many people stay away from pork, depriving themselves from eating the best quality products. The third factor will be simple economics which is to reserve the consumption of higher value meats to the upper class and those less fortunate have to look at other combinations of meats. Sausages are made from sheep, goats, camels, horses and other meats, but those materials will hardly appeal to the majority of Western consumers.

Sausages can be made from all kinds of meats, some of them quite exotic, but we limit our choices to meats that are common. Chicken is the most popular meat which is consumed worldwide as it is easy to raise and can be cooked and eaten by the average family at one sitting. Other meats of value are fish, venison and wild game.

Meat Type Advantages Disadvantages
Chicken Cheap, contains little fat, available everywhere. High pH: breast 5.6-5.8, thigh 6.1-6.4. Poor fat characteristics, very low fat melting point temperature. Low myoglobin content (light meat, especially breast) results in a poor final color. Skin often contains a large number of pathogenic bacteria.
Fish Cheap raw material. Easy to process. All varieties can be used, including de-boned meat. Needs to be combined with pork or other meats. No myoglobin (white or grayish color). The final flavor is always fishy even when other meats were added.
Venison Good color, good price. Popular meat in Northwestern U.S. and Alaska. Available during hunting season. Often infected with trichinae worms. Very lean, needs some pork fat.

Meat Color

Meat color is determined largely by the amount of myoglobin a particular animal carries. The more myoglobin the darker the meat. To some extent oxygen use can be related to the animal’s general level of activity: muscles that are exercised frequently such as the legs need more oxygen. As a result they develop a darker color unlike the breast which is white due to little exercise. Fish float in water and need less muscle energy to support their skeletons.

Fat

There are different types of fat and they can be used for different purposes. There are hard, medium and soft fats and they have a different texture and different melting point. Some head cheese and emulsified sausage recipes call for dewlap or jowl fat that may be hard to obtain. Bacon looks similar and it seems like a good replacement, but it is not. Bacon is a soft belly fat and dewlap/jowl is a hard fat. Fatter cuts from a pork butt are a much better choice that contain hard fat and meat.

Pork fat is preferred for making sausages as it is hard, white and tastes the best. It exhibits different degrees of hardness depending from which animal part it comes from. Back fat, jowl fat, or butt fat (surface area) have a very hard texture and higher melting point. They are the best choice for making products in which we expect to see the individual specks of fat in a finished product such as dry salami. Soft fat such as bacon fat is fine for making fermented spreadable sausages such as mettwurst or teewurst. For most sausages any fat pork trimmings are fine providing they were partially frozen when submitted to the grinding process. This prevents fat smearing when temperature increases due to the mechanical action of knives and delivery worm on fat particles.

Beef fat has a higher melting temperature than pork but is yellowish in color which affects the appearance of the product where discrete particles of fat should be visible. Besides, beef fat does not taste as good as pork fat. If no back fat is available, use fat pork trimmings or meats which contain more fat and grind them together. Instead of struggling with fat smearing when processing meats at higher than recommended temperatures, it is better to use cuts that contain a higher proportion of fat. It will help to overcome the problem of smearing as long as the materials are partially frozen.

Partially frozen back fat may be manually diced with ease into 3/16” (5 mm) pieces.

Chicken fat is neutral in flavor and is suited for making chicken sausages although it presents some problems. It is soft and melts at such low temperatures that it is hard to work with. Softer fats can be used for making emulsified or liver sausages where it will become a part of emulsified paste. For instance, vegetable oil can be successfully mixed with liver and fat when producing liver sausage.