The Dreilich Butcher Shop* is about 3-4 years into it's serious sausage making affair and it has afforded us the opportunity to take even more control and connection with our field to fork experience. And while we have managed to pump out some dam fine links at times, I'd be lying if I said that there were not some hard lessons learned. Recognizing that we are not experts in the field you can do what you want with this information, but here are five tips I believe helped us get a little bit closer to that perfect ring of venison kielbasa.
Assuming you have already done your research on the process and have a general idea of what you're expecting to get out of it, (if you haven't check out this great video by Josh McFadden for Hunt Fish MB) your other primary consideration is going to be your gear. Without getting technical, the big lesson associated with gear is how closely it associated with volume. As most folks start with smaller batches (~25 lbs), it is easy enough to grind and stuff with a Kitchen Aid alone, or even a hand grinder, some of which have likely ground more meat than the industrial units at Schneider's.
However, as you scale up your outputs, those entry level units soon become bottlenecks in your process, and turn an 8 hour day into a 14 hour one. When you're pushing 200 lbs of product, eventually you will get sick of cleaning out your grinder plate all the time, or the slow rate of sausage pressing coming from the grinder - meaning upgrade time.
Starting with entry level gear allows you to asses your priorities for upgrading, but borrowing items from your hunting/butchering friends is also helpful. We snagged a meat mixer off our buddy Chris Steinke this year and it really opened up our bottle neck of hand mixing that meat in tubs and increased consistency. Our new bottleneck this year was smoking capacity, which meant I stayed up till 3:00 am watching a meat thermometer in an extreme weather event. Safe to say, we will be building a new smoker for next year.
2. Prep, Prep, Prep
Again, this may be less vital with smaller batches, but grinding, stuffing, smoking/cooking, and wrapping always takes more time than I remember. Anything you can get out of the way ahead of time will save you time and stress on gameday. Things like pre-measuring both your meat and ingredients, organizing and cleaning your casings, setting up your equipment and pre-cutting your wrapping paper or vacuum bags can all help shave a lot of minutes off the processing time the next day. Items like vacuum bags, sharp knives and your equipment can be prepped very early, while some things like ensuring your meat is properly thawed and measured is best left to the day or two before your grinding day.
Another good idea is to have your recipes and ingredients planned and organized. You can make adjustments on the fly, but crunching your mix ratios in the heat of the moment will eventually lead to a mathematical and mixing error. Avoid this ahead of time by weighing and having your recipes ready early. An intentional and clean workspace also increases efficiency and reduces stress. Think about the flow of your process - grind, mix, stuff, cook, wrap - and lay your space out that way. Keeping things clean means the final cleanup is less cumbersome and your gear will perform better.
3. Keep a Journal
One of the smartest things we did was keep a journal (actually a google doc) of our recipes and notes. Not only does this help us locate our recipes easily, it acts as a living document where we can track changes to spices, meat ratios, cook times and any additions we might make. Three years into this and we have been able to come up with some consistent recipes, like our Jalapeno Cheddar Bratwurst, and we are still tinkering with others. It's invaluable to have a point of reference to help us from year to year.
4. Get Inspired
While it can be a busy day, the main reason most of us are heading up the home sausage making venture is to feel more connected to our food and have a little fun while we do it. Don't be afraid to experiment (on smaller batches) and look to others for inspiration. The more we connect with folks in the outdoor world, the more we want to try new and exciting ways to process our harvests. Friends like Josh, John Wallace and Tyrone Welchinski all provide different visions for what your process and product can look like (and all have been on the podcast). That inspiration helps keep the process fun and novel, and might introduce you to your next favourite recipe.
5. Invite Family and Friends
Family and friends are not just good for keeping casings straight when you're stuffing, or wrapping meat sticks; they might provide valuable insight or help keep morale high. Having the extra set of hands for the meat stuffer for just a minute can really streamline a process too. On the flip side, friends and family might be there to learn a few tricks themselves or glean a few packs or free smokies. It's also a great way to further connect kids to their food. The boys now know how that meat was made and will be reminded of it throughout the year whenever we enjoy it. Making an event of the day and involving others will usually make the day more fun and smooth. Finally it closes the loop on providing food for our family, friends and community - stay connected to your food and stay connected with your loved ones.
*We are not meat handler experts or professionals. The following represents our reflections, but is not food handling or processing advice.