Tag Archives: Tutorial

Safely Drying Meat and Sausage

With more and more people air-drying meat having seen programmes like those made by Hugh Fernley Whittingstall (HFW) there seems to be a very blasé attitude sneaking in regarding the production of air-dried sausage and meats.

The, “Well they’ve been doing it for centuries in Italy/Spain etc without sophisticated equipment” brigade, and the, “Well they have them hanging in bars in Italy/Spain, so they must be safe” camp.

What they say may be true but we do not have the same conditions as those people, nor do we have the accumulated knowledge of generations of forebears on our side so we need to be cautious in what we do for reasons that I hope will become clear.

By the way, the meat above the bar abroad will be perfectly safe – once the meat has dried sufficiently bacteria won’t live in it – but only after it’s dried, not during its production.

Anyone wanting to read in detail about the safeguards needed when air drying meat or sausage will find some of the best information available here.

In this summary we can see that we need to protect against the growth of bacteria by:

  • Using meats with a low bacteria count. We can’t assess this at home but can:
    • Buy the freshest meat and keep it cold.
    • keep our tools and work environment clean.
    • keep the meat as cold as possible when making the product.
  • Cure the meat properly
    • Adding the correct amount of salt.
    • Using sodium nitrite and nitrate which protect against Clostridium botulinum, the most toxic poison known.
  • Increase the acidity of the meat to discourage bacterial growth – lower the PH
    • Using a starter, or other methods, to increase acidity and produce beneficial bacteria.
  • Reduce the amount of water available for bacteria to breed – lower water activity (Aw)
    • By careful drying at the correct temperature and humidity

Smoking the meat, which also dries it and provides surface protection against bacteria may also be used.

The first of these hurdles I hope is self-explanatory; if you don’t feel that it’s necessary maybe you should take up skydiving instead of sausage-making!

The second has caused much debate recently with scares about the use of nitrite and nitrate but we also know that salt alone will not protect against Clostridium botulinum unless used at unpalatable levels. The scares have mainly been related to meat cooked at high temperatures and given that the amounts of nitrite/nitrate used in modern recipes are lower than those naturally occurring in many vegetables, my opinion is that they should be used. The advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.

Increasing the acidity – lowering the PH of the meat – is generally done by producing lactic bacteria in the meat. In sausage, the addition of a small amount of glucose will assist this process as will the use of a commercially produced lactic bacteria starter. This is usually combined with an incubation/fermentation period at a high temperature and humidity. Ingredients such as wine and vinegar, in some sausages, will assist.

Drying the meat sounds easy but should be done in a specific environment. Many people dry it outside during the cooler parts of the year and this is fine but given the fluctuations in temperature we have been getting in recent years, it’s not always as safe as it once was. What is needed is a temperature of around 12°C – 15°C. We also want a Relative Humidity (RH) of between 60% and 85% (depending on the type of product) and some airflow. We need to achieve an environment where the meat dries steadily: not too fast, not too slow. Drying too fast or dry can lead to a problem with ‘case hardening’ where the outside dries before moisture can escape from the middle leading to a spoiled, or at least, an inferior product

Hot-Dog Tutorial

It’s a while since I’ve done any sausage-making, what with trying to convert a bedroom into a work space and not feeling too good. We really need to make a trip to buy meat but in the meantime, I raided the freezer to make some hot dogs.

“Hot-dogs”, you ask, “Why would you want to make horrible fast food?”. Well, my dear reader, there’s a vast difference between what you buy on a Friday night when the clubs close and a good homemade hot dog in a quality bun; ask any American! They virtually have wars over there as to which style is the best!

Now, I’ll not make any bones about this, the process isn’t easy; there are certain rules that have to be obeyed to get a good product (and the one pictured isn’t a good product – but more of that in my next post). That said, it isn’t too difficult if you obey the rules. Yes, it’s more time-consuming than you’d think, but the result is worth it.

A word about equipment: as well as the normal sausage-making equipment that I’ve talked about before, you’ll need a food processor – the more powerful the better. Emulsifying sausage meat to a paste will soon take its toll on an underpowered machine.

The recipe used is adapted from one by ‘Big Guy’, and is here:

Hot-dog recipe

Firstly, set your mincer up with a medium-sized plate. Mine is a large mincer so I’m using a #6 plate. On smaller mincers use a #8 or #10 plate. We don’t want the mincer to strain itself when it grinds the meat as this will heat the meat up, something we want to avoid.

Then get your beef and fatty pork very cold. I put mine in the freezer for about 30 minutes.

Mince the meat.

…and then mince it again.

Put the meat back into the freezer whilst you change to a small mincer plate. Ideally, you’d use a #3 but as I don’t have one, this #4.5 will have to do.

Make sure that the meat is really cold, then mince it again.

Check that the meat is still really cold, then mince it yet again.

Check that the meat is still really cold, then mix in the other ingredients except for the water. Either mix them very well by hand or put them through the mincer again to mix them.

Put the meat back into the freezer, clean down and set up your food processor. Now for this bit, we want our meat really cold. The food processor will heat the meat up quickly. We need to keep it below 15°C (59°f) otherwise it’ll split and be ruined. We’re effectively making meat mayonnaise!

When the meat is really cold, just above freezing, put as much of the meat as your food processor can cope with easily into the machine.

Add a proportion of the iced water/slush and mix. Check the temperature as you do this to ensure it doesn’t go above 15°C. I had to use around double the amount of iced water in the recipe; I think that this was because my meat wasn’t as fatty as it should have been. Do the same with the other meat you have.

It should form a smooth paste. Ideally, smoother than this!

Now quickly set up your stuffer

…and stuff the sausage meat into 25-26mm collagen or sheep’s casings – these are sheep’s. If you want perfectly straight hot dogs use collagen ones.

Twist the casings every 125 – 150mm (5 – 6 inch) and tie with string at the joints to ensure that they can’t come undone. Then hang them to dry for an hour or so until touch dry. Place them in the smoker with the heat very low, around 40°C (104°f) until the casings are perfectly dry – around 30 minutes. Then apply heavy smoke at 50 – 60°C (112 – 140°f) for an hour.

Then you can either, gradually raise the temperature of the smoker over the next hour or so to a maximum of 80°C (176°f), or poach the sausage in water below 80°C (176°f), until they have an internal temperature of 72°C (162°f). I actually just held mine in a ‘steamer’ over hot water. The temperature around the sausage was 80°C (176°f).

Cool the sausage in iced water or by spraying with cold water, then cool further in a freezer or fridge. You want to get the temperature below 5°C (41°f) as quickly as possible.

The Whole Truth

My post above will make great hot dogs, but as I intimated, that wasn’t exactly so this time.

So what went wrong? Or, it may be more pertinent to ask: “What didn’t go wrong”.

Firstly, the pork was nowhere near as fatty in reality as I remembered when I put it into the freezer. You really need a good 20 – 25% fat to make a good hot dog.

But that was just one thing…

…now, when you make anything you’re best to get all your tools assembled before you start. If you do, you won’t then get to the stage where you want to stuff the sausage and remember that you gave the sausage tube that you need to your nephew to straighten out because you dropped and bent it! A 4 – 5 hour delay while you wait for said nephew to get back from work is not conducive to a good temper!

Once you’ve made the mistake though you shouldn’t then try to rush things to catch up. This leads to sausages of uneven lengths (even if you choose to make some longer ones), insufficient drying of the sausage prior to smoking so that the smoke doesn’t ‘take’ to the hot dog, smoking the sausage in the dark so you can’t see what the hell’s going on, and finally managing to cook them at too high a temperature so that they are ‘grainy’ on the tongue!

Other than that, these were perfect!

OK, perhaps I’m making these out to be worse than they are; the kids still seem to like them, but they’re not up to my normal standard.

It’s a case of “Do as I say, not as I do”!

Dry Cured Bacon – Tutorial

This is an adaption of the tutorial that I wrote on ‘beginners’ bacon curing for the sausagemaking.org forum.

Let’s Make Bacon!

Cure suppliers

Details of cures and suppliers can be found on this page.

Cleaning/Hygiene

Pay attention to hygiene; keep everything clean and safe. Ensure work surfaces and cutting boards are clean. You may wish to use plastic gloves when handling curing salts.

Choice, Size and Source of Meat

Your meat can be from the supermarket, local butcher, or direct from the farm-shop or farm. You can cure as much or as little as you want. Remember though, the better the meat: the better the bacon. For this reason, many people choose rare-breed or free-range meat. However, for your first project, a joint from the supermarket is fine. If something goes wrong it won’t have cost you the earth!

You’ll need:

For Streaky Bacon – a boned joint of belly pork
For Back Bacon – a boned joint of loin of pork

In the supermarket, both of these are likely to be rolled and tied with string. Remove any string and unroll the meat. It should be noted that the rashers from these joints are smaller than those of commercial bacon as smaller pigs are used.

The Dry Cure

For this guide, we will pretend we are dry curing a piece of meat weighing 1930gm (1.93kg/4.24lb).

For each 1kg of meat we need:

22gm Salt
8gm Sugar
2.4gm Cure #1
0.4gm Sodium ascorbate (optional)

The sugar can be one of your choosing white, brown, Demerara or even honey or maple syrup. The darker the sugar: the stronger the flavour. A mixture of white and Demerara, or light brown sugar, makes tasty mild bacon.

Weigh your piece of meat and calculate the amount of cure you need…

If you have accurate scales:

For our 1930gm (1.93kg) example, that’s:
Salt 22gm x 1.93kg = 42.5gm
Sugar 8gm x 1.93kg = 15.4gm
Cure #1 – 2.4gm x 1.93kg = 4.6gm
Sodium ascorbate 0.4gm x 1.93kg = 0.77gm

You can add any herbs and spices you fancy. A sprinkle of black pepper and thyme keeps things simple.

If you don’t have accurate scales:

Make up a batch of cure:
Salt 220gm
Sugar 80gm
Cure #1 – 24gm
Sodium ascorbate 4gm (optional)

Now, ensuring it’s well mixed (you could grind it in a clean coffee grinder, if you have one, to make sure) use 33gm per kg meat. So in this case that would be 33gm x 1.93kg = 63.69gm (64gm to make it easier to weigh).

You can add any herbs and spices you fancy. A sprinkle of black pepper and thyme keeps things simple.

For easy calculation for all weights of meat use one of my online calculators:

For My Favourite Bacon – the moderately salted bacon that’s featured above.
Or, alternatively, this very Mild Bacon
Or, make up your own cure – this calculator will help you to do it safely: Bacon Cure Calculator

These and others can also be accessed via my Cured Meat Calculators page

Applying the Cure Mix to the Meat

The amount of cure mix may seem a lot less than you expected. Don’t add more, that’s how it’s meant to be.

Sprinkle about 80% – 90% of the cure mix onto the flesh side of the meat and rub well in, getting into all the folds and crevices. Don’t forget the ends. The remainder is sprinkled onto the skin/fat side and rubbed in well.

Now put the meat, along with any cure that fell off whilst you were rubbing it in, into a food grade bag, or wrap it well in cling film. In fact it’s easier to put the meat into the bag and then rub the cure into it! Put it into the fridge; on a tray’s best, just in case it leaks. Every day or two turn it over and give it a bit of a rub; you can do this ‘through’ the bag without opening it. Don’t worry if liquid comes out of the meat. It often, but not always, does. Just leave it all in the bag.

How Long Do I Leave It For?

The standard advice is to cure the meat for 1 day for each ½ inch (13mm) of thickness, plus two days. So for a piece of supermarket belly like ours, about 1½ (39mm) inches deep, that’s going to be 3 days + 2 days = 5 days total.
Don’t lose sleep about the curing times. Unlike older curing methods, this type of cure is not time-critical, it won’t be too salty if you leave it longer than the calculated time so it’s always best to err on the side of caution. If in doubt leave it a little longer.
You may notice, because you’re bound to take a peek, that it doesn’t appear to have changed colour. That’s normal. The outside colour is deceiving. If you’ve followed the instructions it’ll be lovely red bacon when you cut into it.

Wash and Dry

At the end of the curing time, rinse the bacon in cold water, then dry it with a clean cloth or paper towel. It then needs to dry out a bit before use. It’s best hung in the fridge, but this can sometimes be difficult. If you can’t hang it, put it where the air can get around it; maybe on the fridge shelf with something underneath to catch any drips. Leave it for at least a couple of days to dry; I tend to leave it longer as I prefer it well dried. When your impatience gets the better of you, slice it, cook it, and enjoy!

Storing Your Bacon

This is not ‘old-style traditional bacon’ that can be hung in the rafters all winter. Keep it in the fridge for up to a few weeks, or for longer storage freeze it whole, or in slices, for 1 to 2 months. If you Vac-Pac it, you can keep it longer but it must be kept under 5°C or frozen.