Peppery sopressata, spicy chorizo and the perennial pizza topper pepperoni bring flavor to the party. The process of curing, first recorded by Cato the Elder in 160 B.C., is probably the oldest method of preserving meat. While the basic methods haven't changed much, sausage-makers now use slightly more sophisticated techniques.
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1. What Is Dry Sausage?
Dry sausage is a combination of ground meats, spices and curing salts that is packed into a casing, then air-dried. Fermentation, a metabolic process, preserves the sausage and gives it a tangy flavor. Pepperoni is probably the best-known dried sausage in the United States.
Dry sausage takes longer to make because of the fermentation and air-drying processes. When they're fully cured, they weigh 60 to 80 percent of their original weight.
Semi-dry sausages, like summer sausage, Thuringer and Lebanon bologna, are made with a lactic-acid fermentation process and are usually smoked to cook the meat.
Both dry and semi-dry sausages, when prepared properly, are safe to eat. Fermentation and lack of moisture during drying cause bacteria in dried sausage to die. Semi-dry sausage is cooked, which kills pathogens.
2. Types of Dry Sausages
- Sopressata or soppressata. A dried Italian salami with regional variations across southern Italy. Made from pork.
- Saucisson. A dry-cured French sausage made from pork.
Known as salchichon in Spain.
- Chorizo. A sweet or spicy pork sausage with a distinct red color.
- Lola/Lolita. Mildly seasoned pork sausage flavored with garlic.
- Pepperoni. Highly-seasoned sausage made with pork and beef.
- Salami. Highly-seasoned Italian sausage usually made from pork. Genoa salami is made with grape juice or wine.
- Cervelat. A semi-dry summer sausage made from beef and pork. Originally of French origin, there are Swedish, German, Swiss and American versions with varying seasonings.
3. Sausage-Making Equipment
While you can chop the meat by hand rather than grind it, a meat grinder makes the process much less tedious. Hand-cranked meat grinders are an economical choice if you're only making sausage once in a while. Stand mixers have meat-grinding attachments — consider investing in one if you're going to make sausage frequently. Electric stand-alone grinders are expensive and usually found in commercial kitchens.
A sausage stuffer is an essential piece of equipment for making dried sausages. They're an inexpensive add-on attachment for a stand mixer, or you can purchase a dedicated manual or electric sausage stuffer.
You'll need a chilled, metal bowl for mixing the meat and spices. If you're making large quantities of sausage, a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or dough hook makes it easier to blend the ingredients.
A kitchen thermometer helps gauge the temperature of the meat, which needs to stay below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
4. Sausage Ingredients
- Meat. Most classic dried sausages are made with beef, pork or a combination of the two as well as some sort of fat like pork belly, beef trimmings or lard. Hunters turn some of their harvest of game meats like venison and bear into dry sausage.
- Curing salts. Salt, nitrite and nitrate help preserve and retard bacterial growth in meat held at room temperature. Look for premixed curing salts near the canning jars in your supermarket or farm supply store.
- Dextrose. Dextrose is a simple sugar used in some sausage-making as a source of energy for the organisms that help in fermentation. Some curing salts contain dextrose.
- Herbs and spices. Different sausages call for different herbs and spices. Garlic, black pepper, paprika, chile peppers, sage, fennel and thyme are common.
- Casing. Casings, the tube you stuff the sausage into before smoking or drying that helps it hold its shape, come in natural and manufactured form. Natural casings are the intestines of a sheep, cow or hog. They can be fragile and difficult to work with and must be cleaned thoroughly before use. Casings made from collagen or plant cellulose are either edible or inedible. You must remove inedible casing before eating the sausage.
5. Making Dried Sausages
- Grind the meat and fat; add the seasonings and mix thoroughly.
- Stuff the ground meat mixture into sausage casings. Form
into links by twisting the rope of sausage about every 8 inches and tying the twisted
area with butcher's twine.
- Air-dry the sausage links by hanging them in a well-ventilated
room with a constant temperature around 60 degrees Fahrenheit. The process can take days
or weeks, depending on which sausage you're making. The surface should be dry, and
the weight should be reduced by 20 to 40 percent when it's finished. Don't
rush this process — drying too quickly can cause creases and holes in the sausage.
- For smoked summer sausage, smoke for one hour at 140F, one hour at 160F and two hours at 180F to an internal temperature of 155F. Remove from the smoker, spray with hot water; then dip in a water bath to cool to an internal temperature of 100F. Let rest for two hours; then refrigerate.
6. Dried Sausage Recipes
A standard sopressata recipe includes pork fat and pork shoulder seasoned with dry white wine, curing salt, dextrose, salt, garlic and red pepper flakes. Sopressata has a coarser texture, so use a grinding blade with larger holes.
The 1916 edition of The Picayune Creole Cook Book included a recipe for saucisson that included 2 pounds of beef, 2 pounds of pork and 1 pound of fat seasoned with onion, cayenne, black pepper, salt, finely chopped bay leaf, garlic, allspice, cloves and garlic. The Creole fried the sausages in boiling lard as soon as they were made. Make saucisson sec by drying the sausages.
Make a semi-dry summer sausage by seasoning game meat like venison or pork and beef with mustard seed, pepper, marjoram, garlic powder, salt, pepper and curing salts. Remember that summer sausage should be smoked rather than air-dried.
For pepperoni, combine beef, pork and pork fat with ground red pepper, paprika, allspice, garlic powder, fennel seed, anise seed, curing salts and sugar. Pepperoni typically has a lower fat content than other sausages.
7. Sausage-Making Tips
- Clean your equipment before and after sausage-making.
Wash your hands for 20 seconds before you begin.
- Some sausage-makers add the seasoning to the meat before
it's ground to ensure even distribution. Others wait until after the meat is ground.
- The fat content of sausage should be between 30 percent
and 40 percent.
- Make sure you don't leave air pockets in the casings as
you're stuffing them. If you discover them after you're finished, prick them with
the tip of a knife.
- Use liquid smoke to add a smoky flavor to your sausage.
Be careful — too much liquid smoke can overpower the other flavors.
- Store the finished sausage in the freezer, refrigerator or in a
cool, dry place out of the light of the sun. If you store the sausage in a plastic bag, leave
an opening so moisture doesn't form on the sausage. You can also vacuum-seal the
- Keep the ingredients cold during the sausage-making process to prevent bacterial growth. If the meat starts to warm up, put it in the freezer for a few minutes to chill it quickly. Keeping your equipment, bowls and utensils cold until you're ready to start helps keep the ingredients at a safe temperature.
Ask the butcher at your supermarket if she has casings, or if she'll special order them for you. They're readily available at meat markets and online.
- Encyclopedia Britannica: Marcus Porcius Cato
- USDA: Sausages and Food Safety
- National Hot Dog & Sausage Council: Glossary of Sausages and Prepared Meats
- Washington State University: Homemade Meat, Poultry and Game Sausages
- Mohan, Anand: Basics of Sausage Making
- National Center for Home Food preservation: Curing and Smoking Meats for Home Food Preservation
- LEM: Sausage Casings, The Lowdown
- University of Minnesota Extension
- North Dakota State University: The Art and Practice of Sausage Making
- Louisiana Tech: The Picayune Creole Cookbook
- Rust, Robert E.: Dry and Semi-Dry Sausage Technology