Growing up, I knew a lot of hunters who made wild game summer sausage every fall and winter. I didn’t try making it myself until years later.
I wanted to try it since I was 16 and had my first hunting license, but fresh sausage and wild game summer sausage seemed like something only talented butchers and chefs could do. Then I received a book on homemade sausage recipes and I learned that making sausage was a centuries-old tradition that could be done at home!
Since I raised my own meat — rabbit and chicken — I had access to the freshest ingredients. A friend raised pigs, which provided lard and fat to accompany those lean meats. But, though I grew up in rural Idaho and venison was something I ate regularly thanks to $5 deer tags and my uncle’s vast alfalfa fields, my supply of wild game dried up when I moved to Nevada. This desert wasteland has few deer and hunting tags are much more expensive.
Starting a homesteading club gave me access to people who hunted and wanted to trade venison for a fresh home-raised rabbit. Some members raised Boer goats and I could finally try a goat sausage recipe. My sausage-making world was opening up. And it was glorious.
We prefer making fresh sausage for two reasons.
- We want to eat it immediately and it’s difficult to wait 24 hours for flavors to blend, much less waiting weeks to months for a nicely cured wild game summer sausage.
- We currently rent a small urban space, which doesn’t have room for building a DIY barrel smoker.
Traditionally, ground meat and seasonings slide inside emptied and washed animal intestines. It helped use every part of the animal, leaving nothing to waste. Modern sausage makers may not have access to intestines and modern customers pale at the thought. So manufacturers and outlets sell synthetic collagen casings. We prefer synthetic because we can drive to our local sporting goods store and don’t have to ask friends for their livestock intestines.
A sausage maker machine is important, especially if you are using collagen casings because they slip onto a sausage machine’s conical tip but may tear if you try to stuff them by hand. The sausage maker grinds meat so you can mix it. Then it grinds again, into a fine puree, before funneling the mixture into casings. Stand mixers often have meat grinder attachments, which can be purchased separately, but the grinder and sausage-stuffing tool can cost more than a dedicated sausage maker.
The wild game sausage we recently made includes five ingredients: venison, lamb, pork fat, casings, and seasonings. You can use 100 percent venison and no lamb, or can mix in elk or beef, goat, chicken…the options are up to you. But consider adding fat because wild game is so lean that the sausage often ends up dry and tasteless. We receive bags of pork fat whenever friends butcher a pig, and we add it to all sausages made with chicken, rabbit, or any wild game.
Seasonings vary by recipe and personal taste. I recommend that you follow a good recipe the first time, so you understand how much seasoning is necessary to flavor wild game. For our most recent recipe, we used tablespoons of ras el hanout for a Middle Eastern flavor. We also included a good amount of salt and Parmesan cheese. Recipes may include liquid smoke, dried chili peppers, onion and garlic, sugar, or massive quantities of basil. Reputable websites offer excellent recipes (hint: read the reviews!) but if you really want to try different ways to make great sausage, I recommend purchasing a book.
We grind the meat, then mix in flavorings, then run it through the grinder/stuffer. The actual stuffing can take practice to ensure you don’t put so much pressure on the casings that they burst. But soon you will learn how to fill a little and twist to create a new link, before filling again.
Place sausage in the refrigerator for 24 hours, for flavors to blend, before cooking. After that, you can grill, smoke, fry, or simmer in white wine with golden raisins the way we just did.
Do you want to make wild game summer sausage instead? Summer sausage and fresh sausage have a couple differences.
- Summer sausage is cooked or smoked during the crafting process then eaten cold. Fresh sausage is raw and must be cooked before consumption.
- Summer sausage often has preservatives, such as sodium nitrate, to keep it from spoiling outside a refrigerator.
Pink curing salts contain sodium nitrate and nitrite to develop color and flavor. Because high levels can be toxic, product labels warn to only use it in rates specified within recipes. People sensitive to nitrates and nitrites should try a fresh sausage instead.
Combine lean ground wild game, and other meats if desired, with spices such as garlic powder, dried herbs and onion, liquid smoke, sugar, pepper, and the curing salt. Fill casings then refrigerate for 24 hours. If you’re cooking them, some recipes recommend boiling for two hours, some instruct baking at 325 degrees for one and a half hours. To smoke, the University of Minnesota Extension website says to smoke at 140 degrees for one hour, then 180 degrees until internal temperature reaches 160 degrees.
Do you have to refrigerate wild game summer sausage? If you don’t use sodium nitrate, absolutely, because this cure inhibits growth of Clostridium botulinum (botulism bacteria). I refrigerate or freeze all my sausages, no matter how I made them, to maintain good flavor.
Have you made wild game summer sausage? We want to hear your experiences.