Monday, March 29, 2010

Total Failure

This weekend I ruined a perfectly good batch of sausage by trying to be clever. Call it the just reward for the sin of Pride. I had nailed this batch. My test patty tasted exactly like I wanted and was flat out delicious. I had formed the sausages into extremely nice individual sized ropes that were going to make a beautiful presentation. I was going to be bragging about this sausage; “Look at me, look at what I can do!” And so the Lord says, “Well clever little man, let’s make you a little too clever.”

I smoke my sausage on an 18 inch Weber Smokey Mountain bullet. The WSM is awesome by every single measure except for surface area. You can only fit so much meat on an 18 inch grate and sometimes that just isn’t enough. When I am working with ropes of sausage they typically weigh about a pound and I can only fit two at a time on the grate. This means I have to do multiple batches which takes a 2-3 hour process and stretches it out to 6-8 hours. I decided to eliminate this headache by not using the grate. I bought an 18 inch length of a 3/16” stainless steel rod and hung all of my ropes from the rod. I rested the rod on the tabs that the top grate rests on so that all of the sausage was hanging just below the top grate. I had made my ropes much smaller than usual so their bottoms would hang several inches above the bottom grate and water pan. I then placed a thermometer into a sausage link and placed the single link on the top grate. I fired up the smoker and let it run gentle for a few hours until the sausage on the top grate read 168F (yep, I overcooked it…got distracted with other stuff).

I brought my rod of sausage into the kitchen to cool while I munched on the link that I had used to monitor temperature. I took a few pictures and was quite smug with my cleverness. It wasn’t until a few hours later when I went to slice some up for my neighbor that I realized just how bad I had screwed up.

There is a temperature gradient in the WSM and the magnitude and DIRECTION of the gradient are dictated by how you use the water pan. Some people run the water pan empty, some fill it with water, some fill it with sand and cover with foil….there are ~20 different variations and each gives a different operating characteristic. There are no right or wrong answers to the water pan question, just different approaches. My approach is to place a 16 inch heavy ceramic saucer in the pan. One result of this approach, which I had forgotten, is that the resulting temperature gradient is inverted. The temperature a few inches away from my water pan is actually lower than the temperature at my top grate. Significantly lower. The end result is that my hanging sausages were overcooked at the top (farthest from the fire) and were still raw at the bottom of the rope (closest to the water pan). Judging on the different degrees of doneness in my sausage I am going to estimate that they were exposed to a 30-50 degree temperature gradient while being smoked.

Time to be humble again. I obviously still have much to learn.

Saturday, March 6, 2010


I'm playing with andouille sausage..I won't claim it to be perfect but it is pretty darn good.
2387 g pork butt
36 g salt
10g black pepper
4 g paprika
2 g red pepper flakes
2 g thyme
100 g diced garlic (5 Tbls)
1 tsp cure #1
The pork was cut to roughly 1 inch cubes, mixed with the seasonings and cure and rested in the fridge for two days. I turned the mixture every 12 hours or so.
I diced about a quarter of the pork and ground the rest. The ground pork was mixed with 1/2 cup ice water for a couple minutes with the stand mixer and then the diced pork was folded in. I got four good ropes of sausage as well as two nice sized links. I grilled the links with some pecan wood thrown on the coals to get the great smoke color. The ropes with be treated with a little more care. I'll slowly smoke them for ~4-5 hours to get the true smoke flavor andouille requires.
This does not have as much red pepper as most andouille recipes as I wanted my family to be able to enjoy it. Still, it's a pretty good sausage.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Fresh Sausages

I am getting back into fresh sausages and am having a pretty good time. My recipe framework is pretty standard; 1.5% salt and 1% other seasonings. I am playing around with binders (milk powder, breadcrumbs) at a 3% level but have not made up my mind if they are worth adding or not. For this batch I went with:

2038 grams pork butt
30 grams kosher salt
10 grams black pepper
7 grams granulated garlic
3 grams fresh rosemary
60 grams breadcrumbs
1/2 cup ice water

The pork went through the grinder then was mixed with the seasonings and stuffed into hog casings. One thing I am certain about is that I love working with hog casings and do not care for collagen. You cannot get the collagen casings to curl and they do not hold a twist when linking, they must be tied. Pig guts rule!