How to Turn Frozen Ground Venison into Sausage
Tired of burgers and meatloaf? Turn the rest of your ground game meat into sausage
It’s that time of year when hunters find themselves sitting on a mound of ground meat, trying to decide how to make room in their freezer for the upcoming deer season. Burger and spaghetti dinners are a classic go-to, but for those who want to get more creative, those frost-caked packages can be used to make amazing sausage.
Necessary Equipment For Making Sausage
Even though you’ll be using ground meat, you still need some specialized equipment to make linked sausage. You may already have some of the following at home, but other things—like the sausage stuffer—can be found online or in kitchen stores.
Sausage is all about precision, and if you want to be precise, digital scales are the way to go. A standard digital scale can be used to weigh meat. To accurately measure spices, a dry goods scale is best.
A grinder allows you to add pork fatback to ground meat for better texture. Without it, wild game sausage tends to be dry. Pork fatback is basically flavorless and lets the flavor of the meat you’re using come through.
A meat mixer is optional, but I recommend it for larger batches (think 10 pounds of sausage or more). A mixer will help distribute spices. It also helps break down the protein which, in turn, allows the seasoning, water, meat and fat to bind together. You can mix by hand, too, but it adds excess heat to the meat that can affect the texture of the finished sausage.
If you’re planning to make sausage links, you’ll need a sausage stuffer/press. Most grinders include a sausage-stuffing plate and tube attachment, but I don’t recommend using it. A stuffer/press is more efficient and, generally speaking, easier to operate.
If you plan on making sausage patties, you can get away without using any of the equipment above. Instead of grinding pork fatback you can add store-bought ground pork shoulder to ground wild game to make it juicier and more sausage-like. The pork will add its own flavor and texture, which will be a little different than grinding your own fatback, but it works in a pinch.
Guidelines For Making Sausage With Wild Game
1) Keep the Meat Ice-Cold at All Times
You want to work with ice-cold, borderline frozen meat. If the meat warms up, fat can smear, and this fat will leak out during cooking—leaving you with dry, crumbly sausage and crinkly sausage links. If at any point you think the meat is warming up too much, while grinding or mixing, add it back to the freezer for 30 to 60 minutes.
When making sausage with pre-ground game, I thaw out the chub bag or package of meat just enough to cut into four pieces that are small enough to fit in a grinder chute. I also freeze the grinder chute an hour ahead of time. If you’re hand-mixing sausage, the meat should be so cold your elbows start to hurt while mixing.
2) Get Your Fat to Meat Ratio Right
Compared to whole muscles, pre-ground game results in a drier texture after it’s been thawed and cooked. Small muscle fibers (in the form of ground meat) leak more juices after thawing. For that reason, sausage made from a frozen package of ground game needs more fat than you’d use when making sausage with fresh cuts. I recommend 40 percent pork fatback (by weight) as compared to the 30 to 35 percent used with fresh game. For game meat with a higher fat content, such as waterfowl, I like to add 25 to 30 percent fatback.
If you don’t have a grinder and you’re making patties with pre-ground pork, you’ll want to opt for a 1:3 ratio. That’s 3 pounds of ground meat from the freezer to one pound of store-bought ground pork. Any more pork than that will result in sausage that tastes more like pork than wild game.
3) Don’t Use Too Much Salt
The amount of salt you use will vary depending on what type of sausage you’re making. A good rule of thumb is to add 6.8 grams of kosher (non-iodized) salt per pound of sausage.
3) Grind Meat and Fat Twice
If you’re using pork fatback, grind the pork fat by itself once, then a second time with the ground game and spices. This allows you to easily combine both types of meat while incorporating your spices. It also results in a more consistent sausage texture.
4) Use a Binder
A binder such as C-Bind (also known as carrot fiber binder) helps bind the meat while also retaining moisture. C-Bind retains 26 times its weight in water, and up to 4 times its weight in oil. If you use pre-ground game, which tends to have a drier texture, C-Bind will ensure that the finished sausage stays moist.
How to Make Italian Sausage from Frozen Ground Venison
Ingredients are listed for a 5-pound batch of sausage. If you’d like to adapt the recipe for different amounts of sausage, use a blend of 60 percent venison to 40 percent fat and adjust spices accordingly.
Ingredients (per 5 pounds of sausage)
- 48 ounces of ground venison
- 32 ounces of pork fatback or pre-ground pork
- 1 cup ice-cold sherry cooking wine
- 10 grams of C-Bind
- Natural hog casings 32-35mm
- 2 tablespoons and 1 teaspoon kosher salt (34 grams)
- 1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon fennel seeds (18.5 grams)
- 2 teaspoons ground black pepper (8.4 grams)
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano (8.4 grams)
- 1-1/2 teaspoons garlic powder (6.3 grams)
- 1-1/2 teaspoons paprika (6.3 grams)
If you plan to make linked sausage, follow the directions on the natural hog casings, which likely include thoroughly rinsing and soaking in lukewarm water 1 hour prior to stuffing. Before getting started you may also want to freeze the grinding plates and chute of your meat grinder an hour ahead of time to keep the meat cold.
Run very cold (perhaps partially frozen) ground venison and pork fat together through the coarse plate of the grinder. Add spices to the meat and mix for a few minutes, then run it through the grinder again, this time using the fine plate.
Add ice-cold sherry and continue to mix for another couple minutes. (If the meat starts to warm up at any point, put it in the freezer for 30 minutes.) When the sausage is mixed, you should be able to hold a golf-ball-sized ball upside down on your palm without it falling off immediately.
If you’re not making sausage links, you’re done. work into patties and freeze or cook some up in a pan. If you want to make links, continue on.
Add the meat mixture to the sausage stuffer, and secure natural hog casings to the tube (either a 30mm stuffing tube or a tube just slightly smaller than the hog casings). Leave a few inches of casings hanging off the tube untied and start cranking to let air out of the stuffer.
Once the meat starts pumping through the casing, tie the tag end of the casing with a square knot. Continue stuffing and letting out the sausage. Go slowly, and take your time. It’s better to under-stuff versus overstuff, as you can always work meat through casings afterward.
Once all of the meat is stuffed into casings, It’s time to twist the links. Links should be 6- to 8-inches long for Italian sausage, but length is ultimately up to you. Direct meat into the first link, then twist clockwise to separate it from the rest of the sausage. For the next link, on the next turn, twist counter-clockwise, and continue alternating every link to avoid undoing the previous one. Use a sausage pricker or needle to pop any air bubbles.
Hang the sausage links in a cool, dark place with as much separation as possible to allow for airflow to dry and shrink the casings. After a couple of hours, put the sausage (still linked) in a tub in the refrigerator for 6 to 8 hours to further shrink casings and allow the meat to cool. Cut the links and either vacuum seal and re-freeze or set aside to cook soon.
Cook links in a skillet or on a grill over medium heat. (High heat can cause natural casings to bust.) Sear all sides and finish in the oven or on a covered grill at 350 degrees F until thoroughly cooked with an internal temp of 160 degrees F.