Sausage Making IV - Fermenting & Smoking by @browningbbr Just a recap from earlier posts to provide some references for this one: There are 3 major classes of fully-cooked sausages: COOKED SAUSAGES These products require refrigeration and are fully-cooked, ready-to-eat. Generally they are not “cured” (no sodium nitrite) and not smoked. As a result, they are white in color. An example is cooked bratwurst. COOKED-SMOKED SAUSAGES Also require refrigeration and are fully-cooked, ready-to-eat. They are cured with sodium nitrite and are smoked. Examples include wieners and cheddarwurst. SHELF STABLE SAUSAGES (ones that don’t need refrigeration) These products require drying and lowered pH (acidity). Production of acid is achieved by bacterial fermentation that produces lactic acid. The product is smoked through most of the processing and is fully cooked after the bacteria are done growing. Usually, shelf stable sausages are divided into “semi-dry” (like summer sausage) and “dry” (pepperoni) or “hard” (Genoa salami) categories. In order to ferment, cook and smoke sausages, a little bit of equipment and supplies are required. Here’s a run down of the basic requirements: SMOKEHOUSE There are a number of good, small volume cooker-smoker units available today. The major sporting goods retailers usually have several brands and models to choose from. There are also about as many types of home-made smokehouses as there are hobbyist sausage makers. Some of the best ones that I have seen were made out of old refrigerators (from when they were still made with steel linings). Other effective ones I have seen were made from oil tanks, milk bulk tanks and large metal cabinets. Whether your smoker is home-made or purchased, try to make sure that it has: A CONTROLLABLE HEAT SOURCE Whether the heat comes from an electric hot plate, a gas burner or from burning coals, try to make sure you can control temperature within +/- 5 degrees F. This is particularly important when using the smokehouse to ferment sausages. A WAY TO DISTRIBUTE THE HEAT / MOVE AIR AROUND This is important to get even cooking of product and prevention of “hot spots”. Purchase smokers often have vents that cause heat to rise evenly through the unit. Home-built smokers with small circulation fans are effective too. The objective is A SOURCE OF HUMIDITY Humidity is very important to the cook rate of the sausage and deposition of smoke on the surface. Often this is as simple as placing a pan of water over the top of the heat sources. A SOURCE OF SMOKE Wood smoke produced at low temperatures (700-725 F) produces the best smoked flavors. Wood pieces or chips heated above 750 tend to produce acrid flavors in the sausage. Wet wood chips sandwiched between two metal pie pans (top one inverted) will produce a lot of smoke and will not readily catch on fire. In addition to the smokehouse, it’s good to have these tools of the trade: DRY BULB AND WET BULB THERMOMETERS In order to really control the cooking or fermenting process, you need to know the temperature and the relative humidity inside of the smoke house. An old fashioned wet bulb-dry bulb thermometer is needed to do this. Don’t mount the thermometer on the wall of the smokehouse. Hang it in the middle where the sausage is. It will give you a more accurate reading. PSYCHROMETRIC CHART The reading off of the dry bulb thermometer will tell you the temperature in your smokehouse. By matching this number to the wet bulb reading on a psychometric chart, you can determine the relative humidity within a couple percent. (For a printable chart, type the term in quotes into Wikipedia.) To use the chart, locate the dry bulb temperature across the bottom and the wet bulb temperature across the top. Mark the spot where the vertical dry bulb line and the diagonal wet bulb line meet. Now look for the red, curved line that comes closest to this point. The relative humidity will be printed along the red, curved line. SMOKE STICKS Steel rods, stainless rods or wood dowels all work well for hanging sausages. Make sure they are strong enough to hold the amount of sausage you will hang on them before loading them up. If you use mild steel rods, you’ll want to oil them with salad oil to keep them from rusting. Another trick with mild steel is to polish them until they are shiny, coat them with liquid smoke (you can get this at the grocery store) and then heat them to 200 degrees F. They will “blue” like a shotgun barrel. Avoid aluminum rods as the surface oxides will leave silver smudges on the sausages. THERMOMETER A good quality dial-type meat thermometer that can be calibrated is essential. (You can tell it can be calibrated if there is a hex nut under the dial.) Calibrate the thermometer by putting it and your wet/dry bulb thermometers into a quart of the hottest water that will come out of your tap. If the dial thermometer temperature does not match the liquid thermometers, adjust it so it does. Recalibrate every cooking session. The penalty for undercooking meat can be a good case of food poisoning. pH PAPER (if making fermented sausages like snack sticks and summer sausages) This can be obtained from businesses that sell commercial cleaning supplies or sausage maker’s websites. It’s a color indicator to tell you if acid is being produced by the bacteria. Get the type that will read at least the pH 4.0-7.0 range. The paper changes color based on the acid level. You match the paper color to a chart on the side of the box. KITCHEN SCALE (if making fermented sausages) Get one that will read in 1/10ths of a pound and will weigh a full piece of the sausage size you are stuffing. PROCEDURES (finally!) COOKED SAUSAGES (NO SMOKE) 1. Cook at 120 degrees F and 30-40% relative humidity (RH) until the core of the thickest sausage gets to 95 degrees. 2. Cook at 140 degrees F and 30-40% RH until the core of the product gets to 115 degrees. (sausage should be starting to firm up) 3. Cook at 160 degrees F and 30-40% RH until the core of the product gets to 135 degrees. (sausage should be pretty firm) 4. Cook at 185 degrees and 30-40% RH until the product reaches 155 degrees 5. Hold at 155 degrees for at least 5 minutes 6. Cool the product quickly with a cold water shower (a garden hose with a fan spray nozzle works well) until the internal temperature is less than 80 degrees 7. Refrigerate immediately. NOTES: • If you put the product into packages, spread them out so they continue to cool rapidly. Don’t put the product in the freezer until it has reached 45 F in the refrigerator. SMOKED SAUSAGES (NO SMOKE) 1. Cook at 100 degrees F and 30-40% relative humidity (RH) until the core of the thickest sausage gets to 70 degrees. During this step, periodically feel the surface of the sausage. If it feels dry, add humidity. If it feels tacky, humidity is right. If it feels wet, reduce humidity. 2. Cook at 120 degrees F and 30-40% relative humidity (RH). Begin smoking and keep testing the surface as above. Cook until the core of the thickest sausage gets to 95 degrees. 3. Cook at 140 degrees F and 30-40% RH. Keep smoking – test the surface of the product as above. You want it to remain tacky. Cook until the core of the product gets to 115 degrees. (sausage should be starting to firm up) 4. Cook at 160 degrees F and 30-40% RH. (sausage should be pretty firm) Keep smoking and checking surface until you get the color you want, then stop smoking. Cook until the core of the product gets to 135 degrees 5. Cook at 185 degrees and 25-30% RH until the product reaches 155 degrees. Check surface of the sausage, if it is dry, that’s what you want. If it is tacky or wet, reduce humidity. 6. When the core of the thickest sausage reaches 155 degrees, hold it there for at least 5 minutes 7. Cool the product quickly with a cold water shower (a garden hose with a fan spray nozzle works well) until the internal temperature is less than 80 degrees 8. Refrigerate immediately. NOTES: • If you allow the product surface to dry out too much in steps 1-4, smoke will not stick. • If you don’t dry the surface of the sausage well in step 5, the color will fade. • If you put the product into packages, spread them out so they continue to cool rapidly. • Don’t put the product in the freezer until it has reached 45 F in the refrigerator. FERMENTED SAUSAGES 1. Weigh 2 or 3 pieces of sausage in different spots in the smoke house. Put a tag on each with the starting weight. 2. Cook at 105-110 degrees F and 30-40% relative humidity (RH) until the core of the thickest sausage gets to 95-100 degrees. During this step, periodically feel the surface of the sausage. If it feels dry, add humidity. If it feels tacky, humidity is right. If it feels wet, reduce humidity. After one hour, start smoking with a light smoke. (Just enough smoke so that you can see it throughout the smokehouse.) 3. Keep cooking, checking the surface and smoking for 4 hours. 4. After 4 hours, stop smoking. Keep cooking and checking the surface for 3 more hours. 5. Check the pH of 2-3 sausages that you didn’t weigh. Do this by slitting the sausage open and putting in a strip of pH paper. Follow the directions on the pH paper box for reading the pH level. 6. Keep cooking and checking pH until the reading is BELOW pH 5.0 7. When the pH goes below 5.0, follow steps 3-4 for Smoked Sausages shown above, but do not apply more smoke. Hold at step 4 until your pre-weighed pieces lose AT LEAST 15% OF THEIR WEIGHT. 8. After the pieces lose enough weight, follow steps 5-7 for Smoked Sausages NOTES: • If you want a “hard” or “dry” sausage after this procedure, simply hang the product in a cool, dry place for 20-30 days checking periodically for surface mold growth. If you do see mold, wash it off with vinegar. If your sausage does not reach pH 5.0 after 12 hours, the bacteria did not grow. At 12 hours, go IMMEDIATELY to steps 3-8 for Smoked Sausage and USE IT AS A KEEP-REFRIGERATED PRODUCT. The author, browningbbr, has a degree in Animal Science from Iowa State University (specialized in meat processing) with minors in Food Science and Food Technology. He has an M.S. in Food Science from Oklahoma State University through the Department of Animal Science, again specialized in meat processing. For the last 30 years, he also experimented on the best ways to handle the processing of wild game to get the best quality meat for the table. When in South Africa, he asked a LOT of questions about how meats are processed, handled and prepared there. The hunting outfitter and chef gave him many insights into their procedures. Not suprisingly, the most effective ones matched basic principles of good meat science.