Summer Sausage Nightmare



  • Over the past two weeks I’ve made two 15 lb. batches of summer sausage. Both turned out terrible.
    On the first batch the fiberous casings (2.4 X 12 inch) were loose, wrinkled, and the casings were filled with fat. About ten percent of the finished weight was lost during smoking–the water basin in my smoker was half full of fat that drained off of the sausages. I determined that I had not mixed the meat enough to get good protein extraction. The sausage tasted okey, but was dry and had a terrible mouth feel–like eating a slice of cardboard.
    On my second batch I added carrot fiber (2.4 oz for 15 lb. of meat) and mixed the meat in a bucket mixer until it seemed sticky and it looked like I should have good protein extraction. I smoked this batch in my electric smoker to the exact temperature/time schedule that you have published (1 hr @ 125 no smoke; 1 hr @140 with smoke; 2 hrs @155 with smoke; then 175 until internal temp reached 156 degrees.) This smoke/cook time took about ten hours to get to an internal temp of 156. It was a warm day, not freezing.
    After smoking, both batches were cold water showered and chilled in ice water for about 20 minutes.
    My second batch also de-fatted and came out terrible. The casings are wrinkled, not full. After mixing and smoking, the consistency of the meat is similar to a hot dog, but dry; and again with a disagreeable mouth feel.
    My sweet wife, who supports me in my many and expensive hobbies, is starting to look at me like I’ve grown a horn in the middle of my forehead. She’s muttering about me messing up her kitchen with my inedible food experiments.
    Guys, I need help. I suspect my mixing is the problem, although with the second batch I really thought I had the sticky consistency that should indicate good protein extraction, and with the added carrot fiber I was hoping to retain moisture and fat in the product. It didn’t work.
    Where do I go from here?
    Greg


  • Regular Contributors

    @gadahl
    If you’re using 2.4" casings 10 hours is way too long to be in the smokehouse, not a surprise that it fatted out on you. Seems like you’re mixing the meat enough, i’m questioning your thermometer at this point. Have you calibrated it or confirmed it-put it in ice water should be 32F, if not that would be my next step. Or start checking at different points in the meat or different sticks, may have a cold/hot spot in the smoker. Once you get to 4 hours the meat isn’t going to take more smoke, I’d recommend simmering them in water-like a turkey fryer to finish them just keep the water at 180F, not a boil, it will have the same effect. Good luck!



  • Gadahl, Are you mixing by hand? How long are you mixing? From what you have described it sounds like you haven’t gotten quite to the level of protein extraction that you need to. I have the 20 lb Weston mixer and generally mix 8-10 minutes changing direction every minute or so. If you are mixing by hand you’d need to go probably closer to 20 minutes. Hope this helps.



  • @parksider John: Thanks for the input. I use two thermometers, a probe and cable, and an instant read. Both just checked out as calibrated in an ice water thes at 32 degrees. I’ll try simmering the next batch, although I was following the “Meatgistics” expert’s time and temp cook plan to the letter.
    Greg



  • Not to belabor my sausage nightmare, but these calculations may help you help me:

    I started with 15.2 lb of ground beef. 10 lb was a 28/72 mix of fat to lean, 5 lb was a 20/80 mix. The fat content of this meat block should have been 3.8 lb or 25%. After processing my resulting product weighed 12.8 lbs of finished sausage excluding the casings. This is a loss of 2.4 lbs, which seems to me excessive. Most of the loss, in my opinion was fat lost during smoking. There was a lot of liquid fat in the water pan, between 2 and 3 cups. The product is dry, has a poor mouth feel and although the taste is a good summer sausage flavor, it seems more like the consistency of a hot dog or bologna but drier.

    Greg



  • One other thing you may want to try is to stuff the casings as full as you can, once you have achieved your target temp I would put them in an ice bath as quickly as possible to get the internal temp down, you want to stop the cooking process.
    Hope this helps.


  • Walton's Employee

    @gadahl @Parksider has a good point with the meat not picking up any more smoke after a few hours. However, I think your initial suspicions are correct, the issue must be in the mixing somehow. There is just no other way you would have that amount of “fat out” that I can think of. If you mixed as much as it sounds like you did then there must be another factor that caused this. I have a few questions that might help us determine what the cause was.

    What seasoning was used?
    Did you use Encapsulated Citric Acid?
    What was the temperature of the meat when you were mixing it and what was the temp of the meat when you put it in the smoker?
    How much water was used?

    I might have a few more questions throughout the day but these are the main ones that I think can help us right now!



  • Jonathan:
    Sorry, the seasoning mix on this batch was my own recipe, not one of yours. I’ve received a shipment of your Summer Sausage H seasoning & cure for the next batch, will probably add some mustard seed, too.
    In this batch I did use a pink salt cure #1 in appropriate amount and added 2.4 oz of carrot fiber to 15 lb of meat. I did not use Encapsulated Citric Acid.

    The meat was refrigerator chilled prior to mixing, to about 36 degrees. I added about 16 - 18 oz. of ice water.
    Since I did not use Encapsulated Citric Acid, I put the stuffed casings in the refrigerator over night to let them cure. The next morning I let the stuffed casings come up to near room temp, probably about 60 degrees, before hanging them in the smoker. I followed Walton’s recommended time and temp schedule, applying smoke only in the 2nd through 4th hours.

    The more I think about this the more I am convinced my problem is in the mixing process. My first failed batch was hand mixed, but not mixed long enough to develop good protein extraction so the sausage fatted-out and was dry with loose, wrinkled casings. My second batch was mixed in a new powered bucket type mixer and perhaps I over-mixed. The product, after smoking and heating to 156 degrees, was the consistency of an emulsified product, like a hot dog. None of the meat/fat particles were retained. In normal Summer Sausage you can distinguish the texture of the ground meat. Mine was emulsified, very uniform but with the fatting-out also very dry. Not a good mouth feel at all. Maybe I need to try a hand powered mechanical meat mixer, mixing at a slower speed to retain the texture of the product. A mechanical mixer operated by hand at 35 - 40 RPM would make 280 - 320 revolutions in the recommended 8 minutes of mixing. The mixing blade in my bucket mixer, powered by a 1/2 inch drill motor, is turning at 800 to 1000 RPM. Maybe it’s just too fast for summer sausage. Should make great hot dogs though, if I can just retain the fat in the product.

    What do you experts at Walton’s think?


  • Walton's Employee

    @gadahl Okay, after looking at the mixer you were using and how long you mixed it for it is absolutely possible that you mixed it so much that you denatured the protein. That would explain what happened to a large extent, the denatured protein no longer has the same bonds and it will not help hold together the product any longer. So, yes you can over mix meat.

    Another possibility is that the homemade mix you used did not contain the correct percentage of salt. I am not saying your mix was no good, some people have home recipes for mixes that work wonderfully but salt plays a key role in protein extraction as it allows meat, fat, and water to bind together more efficiently. In almost all seasonings that are going to be used on a cured product salt will be the #1 ingredient. For example, even the Reduced Salt Frank & Weiner Unit has salt as the #1 ingredient.

    It is also possible (though unlikely considering how much you mixed it) that your chunks of added fat simply did not come into enough contact with the proteins. If any large chunk of fat existed, even if they were completely surrounded by lean meat they would still render out of your product during the smoking process. This would only really come into play if you added your fat and your lean separately, this most often happens when making a venison summer sausage or snack stick where pork fat is added separately, but again I don’t think this was your issue. A good way to prevent this from happening would be to grind added fat at the same time as your lean.

    Your water and carrot fiber ratios look fine to me.

    Here is one other possibility, the mixer you used might have caused so much friction that it raised the temperature beyond optimal levels? I know this can happen if you run the product through a hot mixing plate, I’ve never seen it happen when mixing but I’ve also never used that type of mixer. However, I also know you would be far from the only person to use this type of mixer.

    So, all in all, I think that the most likely issue is that when using a meat mixer like the one you did that 8 minutes is just way too long and it denatured your proteins preventing them from binding.

    My recommendations would be that you try again with our seasoning (correct amount of salt) use a binder (sounds like you already are!) and that you mix for a shorter amount of time if you are going to use that Kirby again, or use another hand crank mixer (like the Weston 20 lb for the recommended amount of time. I think once you do this your wife will stop seeing the horn in the middle of your head and you will go back to being a hero! I can’t help you with her muttering about the mess though but hey at least she isn’t a vegetarian like mine was for a few years, we have recently welcomed her back into the fold of carnivores!



  • Jonathan:
    Thanks. The instructions for the Kirby bucket mixer recommend no more than 2 minutes of mix time when making a product where protein extraction is required. Also, the Kirby instructions recommend reversing the blade (there is a blunt side used for normal mixing and a sharpened side used for emulsification). I used the sharp side of the blade and about 1min. and 45 seconds of mix time. It is a fast mixer. So, maybe it’s no surprise that the texture came out like an emusified product (hot dogs), but dry due to fat loss.
    Last night I ordered your 20 lb mixer and it’s on its way. I also have a package of your SS H seasoning and cure, carrot fiber, and encapsulated citric acid so as soon as the new mixer arrives I’ll do another test batch. I’ll let you know how it goes.
    One final issue: John at Parksider, above, said that I kept the sausage in the smoker too long and that my extended cook time caused my fat-out problem. I agree that after about 3 hours of active smoking the sausage doesn’t need and won’t take on more smoke flavor. My smoker has a side-mounted smoke generator and I turned it off after three hours of smoking, leaving the thermostat-controlled heat element in the main body of the smoker on, set to maintain 175 degrees.
    I think Parksider may be right, because at the end of my drying and smoking cycle (4 hours total) the casings looked full and there was very little fat loss in the water basin directly below the hanging sausages. However, I tried to follow the time and temp schedule from your Summer Sausage video exactly. It took almost 6 more hours of cooking time (after the smoke was turned off) for the internal temp of the meat to get up to 160. This was a total cook time of about 10 hours. Is this too long a cook?
    How do I get the internal temp up to the safe temp. (156-160 degrees) without exceeding your maximum temp. guideline of 175-180 degrees?
    What do you think of Parksider’s suggestion of simmering the sausages in water at about 180 degrees to finish the cook? If the fat isn’t properly bound to the protein it seems to me a water poaching method would still cause the fat to cook out.
    Your thoughts?
    Thanks,
    Greg


  • Regular Contributors

    @gadahl
    My only other piece of advice is don’t give up! I promise it will be worth the effort and time of figuring it out. One thing I’ve learned on this board it there isn’t only one right way…I’ve have the benefit of seeing and doing over the past 45 years, at this point we just try to polish the process. I struggle with “modern” methods, like carrot fiber, I’ve been handed down recipes that have stood the test of time and i’m reluctant to change them. We’ve always simmered the ring bologna to finish them. We always did it on a wood stove, no temp control, you’ll learn how to do it be “feel” and it will become second nature. Don’t overthink, don’t stress yourself out, this is supposed to be fun! We always mixed by hand, but now use a 44# weston hooked up to the grinder, i don’t even give mixing a second thought, i can just sort of tell when it ready. You might also want to make sure you are resting the bologna overnight before smoking so it will bloom. Then smoke one stick at a time until you get the smoking process down. Good luck and if you need any help you can always send me a PM, i’ll help any way i can.


  • Walton's Employee

    @gadahl I spent some time thinking about the idea @Parksider had with simmering it. My main concern would be that you won’t get the best texture form it as you could, however, I’m sure it would be an improvement over what you have had these last few times so it would be worth trying. My only suggestion is that I would put it in a vac bag before putting it in the water and just like @parksider said be careful not to boil the water.

    One last thing, I re-read your second post about the thermometers this morning and you say you used a probe and a cable, were either of those placed as an ambient thermometer in your smokehouse to make sure it is actually achieving the level of heat that it says it is? If your smokers thermometer is off, even by 10 degrees (and a lot of models don’t have terribly reliable thermometers) it can create an issue. If you do this, make sure you place your ambient thermometer as close to where your meat is as possible.

    Also, if you don’t want to do the simmering and you run into the stall on your next batch where the meat just won’t increase in temperature past a certain point, and if you are already at 180° in your smoker, you can up the temp a little beyond 180° to get it moving again. Part of what causes the stall is that the evaporation energy from the moisture in the meat matches the heat energy going into the meat. To combat that you can either wrap your meat in foil (not good for summer sausage) increase the temp or increase the humidity in your smoker.

    With your new mixer and the H Summer seasoning, I really think you are going to see a dramatic improvement in everything! Good Luck and keep us posted!

    Thanks to @Parksider @tswohl6 and @Boudreaux for your contributions on this! It is almost always better to have more than just one person answering this as we all have slightly different ways of looking at problems!



  • @parksider
    John, thank you for your words of encouragement. I’m finding the learning curve a little steep for summer sausage. My fresh sausages – breakfast, polish, italian, etc.-- have been great. And last summer, my very first batch of summer sausage was a big hit. This summer it seems like the wheels came off my wagon. This stuff was so bad the dog wouldn’t eat it. I’ll keep at it until I get it figured out. Waiting for my new mixer to arrive, and then we’ll see. I’ll let you know.

    Greg



  • @jonathon
    Jonathan: I’ve experienced stalls when smoking briskit and clearly my summer sausage stalled out. I never understood a stall until I read your post, then the light bulb came on. Thanks. That is the best, clearest, explanation I’ve see in all my reading and research–a “stall” as a balance between heat energy in and energy loss through evaporation.
    I did have a water pan in the smoker, but as my product started loosing fat (due to improper protein extraction) the fat collected in the water pan. The liquid fat floating on the surface of the water sort of sealed the water in the pan, preventing the water from evaporating and kept the humidity in my smoker low. Result: dry sausage.
    Jonathan, thanks for all your help and your answers. I’m keeping on, as soon as my new mixer arrives from WALTON’S I’ll be making another batch. You guys have earned my business for life.
    Greg


  • Regular Contributors

    @gadahl
    I’m telling you give the water finish a try you won’t be disappointed! I know it sounds odd but it really does work, we’ve been doing it that way for decades. You’ll like this one, just talked to my brother about simmering temp, he says 170F. He remembers one farmer telling him the water was hot enough when you don’t want to put your hand in it for a third time…First time-not that hot, second time-that’s hotter than i though, third time-why did i do this again! He said he temped the water with a thermometer 171F…Just to show old school still has a place. He remembers the farmer said 170F was the perfect temp to de-feather chickens, scald hogs, or whatever else you were doing. Gotta love it, just wish we would have paid more attention, who knew…


  • Walton's Employee

    @gadahl Glad we could help and explain what was going on with the “stall”, evaporation energy is amazingly powerful and is one of the reasons that many commercial processors use cycled showering (1 few minutes shower then water off) to cool their products instead of ice baths. It can actually cool a product quicker than just submerging it in water, I still find it hard to believe but it is apparently true!

    I’m glad we earned your trust and business, this type of post is exactly what we envisioned when we first started Meatgistics a few short years ago!



  • @boudreaux Boudreaux, thanks. Your post hit the nail square on the head. My basic problem was inadequate mixing and not getting enough protein extraction. I now have two mixers (feast or famine around here) a bucket type and a new 20 lb Weston.
    Again, thanks.
    Greg



  • @parksider i will second the water bath, several batches of dogs, brats, summer sausage. It takes far less time than in the smoker or oven, just hang or “bloom” cured sausages for a couple hrs would be sll i have to add, 170 is perfect.


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