Sausage has ancient roots that can be traced back to the Greeks and beyond. In the United States many of the most popular “Fresh” sausage varieties have a European connection, though many new ethnic varieties from all around the world are starting to join this often-crowded spotlight.
It’s important to note the difference between “Fresh” sausage and “Dry” sausage when it comes to choosing a smoker.
There are many popular smoked sausages sold in grocery stores and butcher shops throughout the United States and Canada would be classified as fresh sausages. This includes things like Italian sausage, breakfast links, chorizo, country sausage, siskonmakkara, natural casing wieners, and the full spectrum of bratwursts, just to name a few.
Dry sausages, on the other hand, aren’t necessarily smoked. Instead, they rely on things like salt curing, dry aging, naturally occurring yeasts, and benign mold spores to protect the meat from spoilage as well as for accenting the flavor.
With these sausages, smoke might be one of many factors in the preservation process, though it could just as easily be used for an accent flavor. This might be the case for ready to eat items like jerky meat sticks or beef sticks. Other cured and dry-aged meats really deserve their own category due to the other preservation measures at play.
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Smoking Homemade Fresh Sausage
In recent years, concerns about meat quality and chemical additives have driven an increasing number of average consumers to look into making their own fresh sausages. This, of course, has long been a tradition for hunters who need to make the most out of their game meat and trimming.
All you really need is a meat grinder with a sausage stuffer attachment. There are even some sausage stuffers that come as accessories with kitchen stand mixers. Most butcher shops will sell natural or artificial casings. Though you could just as easily order them online in bulk for a per-unit price discount.
Most of these fresh sausages use smoke as an important flavor, but rarely as a preservative. Sometimes the sausage is forced into the casing and hung directly in a smoker set for a lower temperature for a short period of time. This so-called “Cold Smoking” leaves them undercooked, but still viable for vacuum sealing and freezing.
Other times fresh sausage is put directly into the smoker at a higher temperature for immediate service. This so-called “Hot Smoking” is designed to cook the sausage all the way through. When it’s done you can eat it, or vacuum seal and freeze it for long-term storage.
Temperature Control Is Critical For “Cold Smoking” Fresh Sausage
The term “Cold Smoking” is most often referred to as temperatures that might linger between 85 to 125 degrees. Just bear in mind that at these temperatures meats like pork and chicken will not be cooked through to a safe internal temperature.
These sausages are essentially smoked to give them flavor and color before being vacuum sealed. When you want to consume them later, you will need to thaw the sausages and cook them to an internal temperature of at least 165.
To make these sausages you might want to lean toward electric smokers and natural gas units that are capable of lower temperatures and use accurate controls for consistency.
Best Smokers For Cold Smoking Fresh Sausage
Hot Smoking Fresh Sausage
When it comes to “Hot Smoking” fresh sausage the goal is often to cook the sausage through to a safe temperature of 165-degrees or more. Of course, the time and temperature can vary depending on the type of sausage. If you are new to hot smoking sausage the general rule of thumb is to set a temperature between 225 to 275, with 250-degrees being a happy medium. Over the course of two to three hours, the internal temperature of the sausage should cook through, while the meat itself takes on a rich smoky flavor.
Again, this is a place where temperature control is very important. The more fat a sausage has in it, the more forgiving it will be to rollercoaster temperatures like you often see from wood-fire and charcoal smokers. Just keep in mind that if the internal temperature accidentally soars too high a natural casing can split under the pressure of rendered fat and boiling moisture.
Another distinction to make is vertical versus horizontal smoking. With ring and link sausages that you are smoking to cook through, yet still intend to vacuum seal and freeze, you want to hang them in some way. This makes vertical cabinet smokers with sausage hooks installed in the roof very appealing. Though even if a cabinet doesn’t have dedicated hooks, you can always use butcher twine to tie the links or rings to the underside of the top rack.
Best Vertical Cabinet Smokers For Hot Smoking Fresh Sausage
Can Fresh Sausage Be Smoked Horizontally?
With fresh sausage smoking it horizontally essentially means it’s making contact with some type of grill surface. This might impart grill lines, and crisp the skin, it could also lead to skin splitting from. These aren’t things you necessarily want to happen for a fresh sausage that you are smoking and cooking through before storing. However, it could be perfect for fresh sausages that you mean to serve right away.
This category is sort of split in two. One popular option is to use a charcoal smoker or charcoal grill with an offset smoker box. At a temperature of 250 degrees, sausages with natural casings will take on attractive grill marks as they cook through to a safe internal temperature.
Best Charcoal Smokers And Offset Smokers For Cooking Fresh Sausage
Another good option to consider for smoking fresh sausage for immediate service is a wood pellet grill. This is a highly automated type of smoker that delivers wood pellets from a hopper to an internal firepot via a small auger system. The sensitive controls keep the temperature consistent.
The other nice thing about wood pellet grills is that you can use it as your daily griller on the back deck or patio. Many can reach temperatures as high as 500-degrees, which even makes them versatile enough to sear steaks, bake pizza, and even braise things like baked beans.