Most sausages are made of either pure pork, or a combination of pork with beef, veal or poultry. 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.
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. Sausages are made from sheep, goats, camels, horses and other meats, but those materials will hardly appeal to the majority of Western consumers.
The fat makes sausage tender and juicy, no fat, and the meat is dry. Not enough fat makes it dry and hard to bite. 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 definitively be healthier and cleaner, but you will miss out on the taste. Fat is also known as the carrier of flavor. 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.
A religious belief plays an important factor and many people stay away from pork, depriving themselves from eating the best quality products. The extremely religious will only use beef or lamb. A simple economics is a factor which reserves the consumption of higher value meats to the upper class and those less fortunate have to look at other combinations of meats.
When it comes to sausages, pork is king. Pork became popular for many reasons. Pigs:
- were the second animal to be tamed by humans. They felt secure among people and there was food leftover.
- gained weight rapidly
- ate anything
- lived in cities and villages and ate garbage from the streets (they were Rome's first sanitation system)
- fled to the forests during invasions where they flourished and when things returned to normal, they returned back to villages
Pigs are most importantly cheap to raise. They tasted great and no part of the animal was wasted. In the past, Europeans were sentimental towards cows since they produced milk and often worked on farms along with the horses. Even when a cow was killed in an accident, it was usually buried. There was a different attitude towards pigs; they were just meat to be consumed.
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). The diet affects especially the texture and flavor of fat, peanuts produces a softer pork fat than oak acorns.
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 sausage will be fine. What about a guy with a big family who buys the whole hog - there are two pork butts weighing 15 lbs in total 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.
There is no substitute for pork fat, it is simply the best. Venison is very lean meat, definitely healthy, but then why does every recipe beg for pork fat? To make it taste good. 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. 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).
Beef is tougher than pork (the cow is older than a pig when slaughtered). There are sausages made entirely of beef or with beef and pork, the beef usually accounts for a smaller portion of the total. Lean beef when finely ground has excellent water 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.
Good cuts of meat make good sausages. Trim out 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 in some products for example when making headcheeses or meat jellies. Upon cooling this gelatin solidifies and binds ingredients together. The best gelatin producers are pork skin or pork hocks/feet.
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.
All pork meat is well adapted for making sausages, you just have to know which sausage needs jowls (cheeks), when to use fatback or head meat and skins. And those seemingly inferior kinds of meats end up in emulsified sausages such as hot dogs, frankfurters and bologna sausages which people consume 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 what is most important for many it is reasonably priced.
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.
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.
|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.
|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.
|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 is determined largely by the amount of myoglobin a particular animal carry. 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 and that is why flesh of a typical fish is white. A predator fish that swim fast to catch other fish use a lot of oxygen and their flesh is darker.
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. Belly fat looks similar and it seems like a good replacement, but it is not. Belly is a soft 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, particularly back 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 belly 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.
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.
Liver. Beef liver is ill suited for making liver sausages but up to 50 % of it can be mixed with pork liver. Pork liver is good, veal liver is excellent.
Blood. For blood sausages pork blood is also preferred to beef blood as it is much lighter in color.