Home sausage making provides an endlessly fascinating hobby, largely because it's so variable. With practice you'll learn to adjust the seasonings to your own taste, how and when to choose natural casings over collagen, how to manage temperatures and fat ratios, and many other arcane skills. One of the simplest steps is tying off your sausage into links, a technique you can begin to learn right from your first batch. Which method you use is determined by your choice of casings. Natural casings can simply be twisted to make your links, while synthetic or collagen must be tied with twine.
Things You'll Need
Wooden toothpick or sterilized needle
Cotton butcher's twine
Doing The Twist
Soak your casings overnight in cold, fresh water, if you have the time. Otherwise, separate each length of casing and rinse away the salt under cold running water. When the outside is well rinsed, hold one end of the casing open under your tap and let cold water run through it to rinse the inside. This also provides opportunity to check your casing for holes.
Moisten your stuffer's tube, and thread the entire casing -- or as much of it as you can fit -- onto it. Fill the stuffer's hopper with well-chilled sausage meat and place one hand on the end of the casing. Compress it gently, so air can escape but the sausage won't, and start your stuffer. Once the first few inches of sausage have entered the casing, shut it off again. Squeeze out any excess air and make a simple half-hitch to tie off the end of the casing. Wrap the casing around your finger, then push the end through the loop and pull it tight.
Start the stuffer again, and this time, continue until you run out of sausage meat or until the entire casing is filled. Keep a hand on the casing to hold it in place as it fills with meat, applying gentle tension. For a sausage that will be twisted into links, you need the casings to be not quite full, leaving some "squish space" for the sausage to compress.
Remove the end of the casing from your stuffer, squeezing out any excess meat and returning it to the stuffer's hopper. Again, tie a simple half-hitch to close the casing.
Pinch the filled sausage with your thumb and forefinger to mark the length of your links, usually 4 to 6 inches depending on the type of sausage. The pinched-in spot will hold its shape.
Grasp the second sausage in your string, forcing any trapped air to the sides, and rotate it to twist up the pinched casing. This creates a seal at each end of the sausage you're working in, and finishes the already half-tied end sausage. Move on to the fourth link in your string, and repeat the process. This completes both your third and fourth sausages.
Repeat until the entire string of sausages is completed. Puncture any air bubbles in the casing with a wooden toothpick or sterilized needle. Refrigerate your sausages on an uncovered tray for an hour or two, or overnight, permitting the sausage meat to "set" and the natural casings to dry and become firm. The sausages will then hold their shape, and can either be hung for smoking or separated and packaged.
String 'Em Up
Cut cotton butcher's twine into lengths of approximately 6 inches. Depending on the diameter of the casings and the quantity of sausage meat you've made, you might require 80 to 100, so cut lots. If you have any leftovers, they can be packed away in a zipper-seal bag and used for your next batch.
Moisten your stuffer's tube with cold water, and slide as much of your synthetic or collagen casing onto the tube as possible. Fill the hopper with refrigerated sausage meat, then place one hand on the open end of your casing. Start the stuffer, and wait as the first few inches of sausage meat displace the air from your casing. Shut off the motor, squeeze the casing tightly against the sausage meat, and tie off the end with your first piece of string.
Re-start your stuffer, using one hand to apply tension to the casing. You want to grip it firmly enough to ensure that the meat fills the casing tightly as it emerges from the tube, but not so tightly that it over-fills and bursts. If you don't see visible air pockets, that's usually tight enough. Continue, until the entire casing is filled or until you run out of sausage meat.
Tie the end of the casing with a second length of string, squeezing out any excess air or sausage meat as needed to make room. Pinch the sausage with your thumb and forefinger to mark the length of your links, usually 4 to 6 inches depending on the type of sausage.
Wrap a length of twine around each pinched spot, and pull it tight to separate the two segments. Tie a square knot in the twine, then continue to the next link. If you plan to separate the links for storage, make two knots with a small gap between them. This way, you can cut between the knots without opening the end of the sausage to the outside air.
Examine the sausage carefully along its entire length, popping any air bubbles you find with a wooden toothpick or a sterilized needle. Trapped air can harbor bacteria or mold spores, accelerating spoilage. Once you're finished, refrigerate the sausage or proceed directly to smoking or cooking it.
If you fill your natural casings too tightly, they'll burst when you try to stuff them. If you fill them too loosely, you'll have extra space between the links once you've wound them tight. You'll only learn how tightly to stuff them through experience, but on the whole it's better to err on the side of stuffing too loosely rather than too tightly.
Some books and online sausage-making guides suggest twisting each successive link, alternating clockwise and counter-clockwise twists. The every-other-link method is faster and doesn't require you to remember which way you twisted the previous link, so this is the technique typically used by professionals and experienced amateurs.
Artificial casings and extruded collagen casings are not as pliable as natural casings and will rupture if you try to twist them. This is why they're tied with cotton butcher's twine, instead. You can use the string technique with natural casings as well, if you find it easier.
The procedure is much the same if you have a manual sausage stuffer, though one of your hands will need to alternate between refilling the hopper and working the lever or crank. It's helpful to have a helper filling the hopper, so you can focus on striking the right balance between your cranking pressure and the tension you apply to the casing.
Sausage should always be kept very cold to discourage bacterial growth. Ensure that your meat grinder, sausage stuffer, utensils and hands are all scrupulously clean before and after use, to minimize the risk of contamination. Cook pork or beef sausages to a minimum internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit, and poultry sausages to a minimum of 165 F.