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Make sausage and save money
By Luke Clayton
Nov 26, 2023
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When I was a youngster growing up in very rural Red River County in northeast Texas, wild hogs were scarce but present, usually found in the “rough” country along the Red or Sulphur rivers. Today, feral hogs are present in almost all Texas counties.

With all that good-eating pork out there for the taking, I am surprised that more people don’t take the time to learn the differences between cooking wild and domestic pork.

Pork is pork but wild pork is usually much leaner; wild hogs have to work to get their groceries rather than waddle up to a feed trough. Their meat contains more muscle and less fat than domestic porkers.

We butchered a few hogs when I was growing up each winter and my dad would make sausage and ham from the meat. I remember the process took a great deal of time-consuming hard work and once I got away from
home, I made it a point to get my ham and sausages from the grocery store.

And then, at about the age of 30 with a family to feed and tight budget, I decided I would try my hand at “cranking” out some sausage from a wild hog I killed. I began with pan sausage and purchased all seasonings individually, blended them and made some pretty tasty breakfast sausage. I moved on to smoked links, summer sausages, etc. and later learned how to easily cure and smoke ham.

Sausage is one of the tastiest and easiest ways to put wild pork to use. (photo by Luke Clayton)

After years of transforming wild pork into tasty food, I’ve learned that it is much easier and cost effective to simply purchase the kits that contain everything necessary to transform the raw meat into tasty sausage or ham.

Deciding which hog to kill for table fare is really pretty simple. Look at is as though you were at a livestock auction picking out a hog to butcher, would you choose the oldest, rankest boar or a younger, fatter hog. The answer is pretty obvious. I have killed boars weighing up to 150 pounds that made great sausage and ham but if you have the opportunity to be choosy, pick a smaller boar or sow of any size.

Decide if you wish to make “bulk” sausage such as breakfast sausage, Italian or Chorizo. These sausages do not need to be stuffed into casings. Seasonings are simply added to the ground meat and then the sausage is packaged and frozen until needed. I always buy pre-packaged seasonings. These “kits” contain all the ingredients to make sausage in perfect amounts and they are available for making either bulk sausage or links and
summer sausages. Some sausage makers run their meat through a one-eight inch grinder plate but I prefer using a three-eights inch plate which makes for a bit coarser grind. The meat also flows much easier through the
bigger holes, making the grinding process much easier.

If you wish to make links or larger summer sausages, you will need some method of “stuffing” the seasoned meat into casings. This can be a stuffing tube on the end of your meat grinder or a hand crank sausage stuffer which I much prefer. These are readily available for not much more than a hundred dollars and money well spent if you make much sausage. I usually use “natural” casings for links but prefer the collagen casings for making summer sausages. Regardless which type you use, make sure and place the casings in warm water for a few minutes before you stuff them.

With the meat ground and seasoned, most of the work is done. You will need some sort of smoker to give smoke flavor to the summer sausage or links and to supply heat. The key is to slow smoke the meat rather than “cook” it. I usually set my Smokin Tex electric smoker to 225 degrees and, using a meat thermometer with a probe, bring it up to 160 degrees. This process takes from 4 to 6 hours and I rotate the sausages a couple times to avoid overheating. Regardless what type smoker you use, there will be hotspots and occasionally rotating the meat will insure even heat.

Once your sausage is up to temperature, place it on a table outside or in the sink and “bloom” it by spraying it with cold tap water. This insures it stays “full” inside the casings and does not shrink. I like to place my smoked sausages in the refrigerator for a couple of days and let the cure and seasonings “work”. I think this adds flavor to the finished produce.

If you like cheese in your sausage, you can add high temp cheese during the mixing process. My favorite blend is a jalapeno summer sausage by Butcher Packer and I always add high temperature cheddar cheese.

MAKING HAM

Making ham sound like a challenging endeavor but in truth, it’s much easier than sausage making. It’s possible to cure the entire hind leg of the hog, bone in which I have never done and have no plans to begin. I much prefer to cut three pound pieces from the upper ham or sometimes the back straps and cut them into smaller pieces. These “chunks” of pork will cure thoroughly in 7 days. I use the dry cure method and always use sugar cure rather than the more salty cures. I begin by rubbing the pre packaged sugar cure into each piece of meat and then coating the meat with dark brown sugar. Next place the pieces of meat in a plastic container and place it in the refrigerator for the 7-day curing period. I often add a bit of honey to give added sweetness to the meat. After seven days, remove the meat from the container and place in your smoker. I begin with a very low temperature of about 120 degrees for a couple hours of heavy pecan, hickory or wild plum wood smoke. Then I crank the heat up to about 150 degrees for 3 or 4 more hours. At this point your ham will be thoroughly smoked. I place the smoked pieces of ham back in the frig for another week to allow the meat to “mellow”.

The ham can now be fried or baked or frozen for future use. To be truthful, I always enjoy a big breakfast of ham, eggs and hash browns as soon as the smoking is complete. Just make sure and always remember to cook your homemade ham before eating. I usually cook wild pork to at least 160 degrees and more often to over 200 degrees to insure it is tender.

Email outdoors writer Luke Clayton through his website
www.catfishradio.org