Sausage and Smoked Meat Basics


Good sausage begins with good meat. Beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton and poultry are all suitable for use in sausage. If you slaughter your own animal, meat from the head, trimmings, and the thin cuts can be saved for sausage. Meat from the neck and back of poultry and meat from the entire carcass of spent fowl are used. If you purchase meat, inexpensive cuts such as beef plates, chuck cuts, and pork jowls and shoulders can be used. Always use fresh clean meat ingredients.

Venison and other game may be substituted for all or part of the lean meats in the recipes in this booklet. Because wild game is slaughtered under less than desirable conditions, it is important to properly trim this type of meat. Be sure to remove any meat which is slimy, has an off-odor or is dirty. Always keep meat cold.


Salt is an essential ingredient in sausage. Salt is necessary for flavor, aids in preserving the sausage, and extracts the “soluble” meat protein at the surface of the meat particles. This film of protein is responsible for binding the sausage together when the sausage is heated and the protein coagulates. Most sausages contain two to three percent salt. Salt levels can be adjusted to your taste.


Seasonings and spices should be fresh. Most spices lose their natural flavor when held at room temperature for six months or more. For the best results store seasonings at 55ºF or below in air tight containers. Remember, the characteristic flavor of a sausage comes from the spices, herbs and flavorings which are used, so buy the best you can get.

Commercial premixed seasonings are available for most sausages. Ask your butcher, or check with your local meat processor or butcher supply house. For making small batches of sausage at home, premixed spices are excellent for providing fresh seasonings with good spice combinations.

Nitrates and Nitrites:

These curing ingredients are required to achieve the characteristic flavor, color and stability of cured meat. Nitrate and nitrite are converted to nitric oxide by microorganisms and combine with the meat pigment myoglobin to give the cured meat color. However, more importantly, nitrite provides protection against the growth of botulism-producing organisms, acts to retard rancidity and stabilizes the flavor of the cured meat.

Extreme Cautions must be exercised in adding nitrate or nitrite to meat, since too much of either of these ingredients can be toxic to humans. In using these materials never use more than called for in the recipe. A little is enough. Federal regulations permit a maximum addition of 2.75 ounces of sodium or potassium nitrate per 100 pounds of chopped meat, and 0.25 ounce sodium or potassium nitrite per 100 pounds of chopped meat. Potassium nitrate (saltpeter) was the salt historically used for curing. However, sodium nitrite alone, or in combination with nitrate, has largely replaced the straight nitrate cure.

Since these small quantities are difficult to weigh out on most available scales, it is strongly recommended that a commercial premixed cure be used when nitrate or nitrite is called for in the recipe. The premixes have been diluted with salt so that the small quantities which must be added can more easily be weighed. This reduces the possibility of serious error in handling pure nitrate or nitrite. Several premixes are available. Many local grocery stores stock Morton® Tender Quick® Product and other brands of premix cure. Use this premix as the salt in the recipe and it will supply the needed amount of nitrite simply and safely.

Much controversy has surrounded the use of nitrite in recent years. However, this has been settled and all sausage products produced using nitrite have been shown to be free of the known carcinogens.

Remember, meats processed without nitrite are more susceptible to bacterial spoilage and flavor changes, and probably should be frozen until used.

Reducing Agents:

Note that many recipes call for holding the meat overnight to cure. This is required to allow the bacteria to convert the nitrite to nitric oxide. The addition of a reducing agent such as ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) speeds the curing reaction and eliminates the holding time. Another reducing agent, sodium erythrobate (isoascorbic acid) may also be used. Meat inspection regulations allow the use of 7/8 ounce per 100 pounds of meat.

Binders and Extenders:

Many sausages contain some additional ingredients which may improve the flavor and help to retain the natural juiciness (binders) or reduce the cost of the sausage formulation (extenders). The most commonly used ingredients of this type are non-fat dry milk, cereal flours and soy protein products. You may use these ingredients in most products, depending upon your taste.


Water is added to most sausage formulations to rehydrate the nonfat dry milk and to replace the expected moisture loss during smoking and cooking. Approximately 10 percent added water is used in moist types of cooked sausage. A small amount of water (usually less than 3 percent) is added to fresh sausage to aid in stuffing, mixing and processing. No water is added to sausages which are to be dried, such as summer sausage or pepperoni.


Sausages may be formed into loaves and oven baked; however, most sausages are stuffed into casings. Two types of casings are available, natural and synthetic. Natural casings are from sheep (¾-inch), hog (1 d inches) and cattle (1¾ inches) intestines. These usually come in lengths of several feet packed in salt in one pound cups or in bulk by the yard. Although they may cost 12 to 15 cents per pound of stuffed sausage, they offer the advantage of being edible. One hank or small container of pork casings will stuff 40 to 50 pounds of sausage.

Edible synthetic casings made from collagen are also available in approximately the same sizes as the natural casings. Large synthetic casings which are used for slicing products, such as summer sausage or bologna, are not edible. These cellulose or fibrous casings have the advantage of being uniform in size (diameter) and generally free of defects. They are available from most butcher supply houses in sizes from 3/4-inch to six inches in diameter.

Be sure to select the proper size casing for the sausage being made. Small edible natural casings from sheep or hogs are used for fresh sausage, while the larger beef casings are used for cooked and smoked sausages. Recommended casing size and type will be given for each sausage recipe.

Use the following steps in preparing casings for use:

  1. Remove the amount of casings needed from the storage container and cut into three- to six-foot lengths for easier handling.
  2. Remove the salt by rinsing in running water and then soak for one to two hours prior to use. This allows time for the casings to become soft and workable.
  3. Before stuffing, insert two fingers into one end of the casing to open and separate and then hold under the faucet and let water run the entire length. Thoroughly drain any leftover casings and repack in a layer of salt in the original container. Store under refrigeration. These will remain usable about one year.

Casings are available in some grocery stores, most butcher shops, meat packing plants and butcher supply houses. Local butchers are your best contacts. If they do not have casings to sell, they can direct you to the source of supply.

Trade and brand names are used only for information. The Cooperative Extension Service, The University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences does not guarantee nor warrant the standard of any product mentioned; neither does it imply approval of any product to the exclusion of others which may also be suitable.

This document was extracted from "Sausage and Smoked Meat Formulation and Processing", 1982. Bulletin 865, Cooperative Extension Service, The University of Georgia, Athens. By A. Estes Reynolds, Jr. and George A. Schuler, Extension Food Scientists.



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