DIY Food

You CAN Make Sausage—Even in a Mini-Fridge

April  5, 2016

It wasn’t until my boyfriend pulled the drill out of the refrigerator that we heard the hissing sound. We stood silently, frozen by the very long, very loud noise, wide-eyed and looking to each other for an explanation.

Photo by Bobbi Lin

In the process of turning our basement refrigerator into a meat-curing chamber, we’d drilled right through the freon line. In other words, our fridge—and meat-curing chamber dreams—were totalled. Our obsession with making homemade salami came to a screeching halt with the decimation of our $200 fridge. And we didn’t even have any spicy meat snacks to show for it. The next day, we scoured Craigslist for Fridge #2.


I should probably explain to you why we were taking a power tool to our refrigerator: The short answer is that a sausage with dreams of becoming a salami must spend time in the right environment. Temperature, humidity, airspeed, and ventilation are all important. A doctored refrigerator is the home cook’s best shot at creating a space to control these factors. When my boyfriend, Daniel, drilled into the freon line, we were trying to install an air ventilation system into Fridge #1 (RIP).

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On Fridge #2—thank you, Craigslist!—a friend recommended we drill the vent through the door to avoid gas lines. With this pearl of wisdom, one successful Craigslist deal, and three hours of trying to get Fridge #2 into our basement, we struck out on our journey towards spicy meat snacks.

Photo by Bobbi Lin

It didn’t take long for us to realize that making charcuterie is hard. It’s also completely unnecessary. Humans have salted and dried meat since prehistory as a method to preserve, store, and easily transport protein. In New York, circa 2016, though, access to meat is as simple as finding a grocery store and a (working) refrigerator. The three- to eight-week process of making charcuterie offers the home cook practically nothing in convenience, nutrition, or economy. But if you do it—if you really stick it out to the end and fail (like we did) then try again and finally succeed—it is completely worth it. You will have created a piece of art. A delicious piece of art.

Convinced yet? Here is an introduction to making your own sausage:

Before You Start

I don’t want to scare you away, but making charcuterie is hard and isn’t for everyone. And while anyone with enough interest, curiosity, and attention to detail can be successful, it is important to recognize that preparing and eating uncooked meat can be dangerous if the right precautions are not taken. Educate yourself thoroughly before attempting to make salami.

By far, the best and most comprehensive book available on making dried sausage is The Art of Making Fermented Sausages. Below I'll explain some high-level details about how to make dried sausage but this is just meant to be an introduction to the process. If you are serious about doing this at home please read the book cover to cover—it will tell you the science behind fermenting sausage, how to set up your curing chamber (stay away from the freon line), and it will give you recipes for different types of dried sausage. It also has a chapter all about safety and cleanliness, which is extremely important.

What You’ll Need

  • Food scale: Everything is measured in grams when making fermented sausage, including the spices.
  • Curing salt #2 (6.25% sodium nitrite, 4% sodium nitrate and 89.75% salt): Adding nitrites to your meat will improve flavor, inhibit growth of dangerous bacteria—most specifically botulism-causing bacteria—and tenderize the meat. Cure #2 is used for slow-fermented meat whereas Cure #1 is added to fast-fermented meat.
  • Dextrose: Bacteria eats dextrose and adding this in the initial stage of making fermented sausage is crucial to lowering the acidity and stunting bacteria growth.
  • T-SPX: This freeze-dried bacteria culture is specifically formulated for slow-fermenting sausages. T-SPX eats sugars, produces lactic acid, and protects bacteria from dangerous competing bacterias. T-SPX also gives the sausage a mild flavor that is typical for South European salami types such as Milano.
  • Mold 600: This helps the sausage dry properly and ensures that no black mold grows on the outside of the sausage. It also gives the sausage aroma and flavor.
  • Hog casings
  • Meat grinder and sausage stuffer
  • Cool, dry area: Or in our case, Fridge #2

How to Make Sausage

The entire process of fermenting and aging sausages is about creating conditions that favor “good bacteria” over “bad bacteria.” Good bacteria sounds odd, but cheese, yogurt, alcohol, vinegar, bread, and even our beloved kombucha rely on the presence and activity of friendly microorganisms.

Before you start drying sausage, it’s also useful to become familiar with making fresh sausage, which we learned from a number of different resources, but primarily from the book, Home Production of Quality Meats and Sausages.

The First 3 Days: Creating “Good Bacteria”

The sausage is stuffed with 3% salt and a little sodium nitrite. Salt protects the sausage from a variety of harmful bacteria. It is also stuffed with some sugar, which will serve as food for “good bacteria.”

The best-tasting and most aromatic dried sausages originally came from locations with a natural abundance of good bacteria in the environment. Imagine a hill in Tuscany where sausages have been made for a hundred years (dreamy). Today, scientists have isolated those specific strains; freeze dried them and made them available to order online. Unless you live on that hill in Tuscany, use freeze-dried cultures.

During the first 72 hours after a sausage is stuffed, it will hang in your curing chamber at 70° F with very high humidity (95%) and mild air speed. The bacteria culture will begin eating the sugar in the sausage and producing lactic acid. This will increase the acidity in the sausage, making it even less hospitable for bad bacteria. It is crucial, though, that the sausage does not become too acidic. If it does, the flavor of the finished sausage will be too tart. The degree to how much lactic acid is produced depends on how much sugar is put into the sausage, the type of the sugar, and the temperature fermentation takes place in.

The reason it must be kept at such high humidity is to prevent it from succumbing to the dreaded “case hardening.” If the outside of the sausage dries and hardens too soon, the moisture from inside the sausage will not be able to escape and your salami will be ruined.

The Next 2 to 8 Weeks: Drying Your Sausage

After about three days, the bacteria will have consumed all the sugar in the sausage and the acidity will be at a stable level. At this point, the sausage is ready to dry. The temperature should be dropped to about 55° F and humidity dropped to around 80 to 85%.

During the drying period, good bacteria slowly breaks down the proteins of the meat and produces those deep, funky umami flavors that make aged salami so delicious. Depending on the thickness of the salami, this drying period could take anywhere from 2 to 8 weeks. Your sausage is ready once it’s lost 30% of its weight.

When it’s done, pop open a bottle of wine, serve some cheese, and invite friends and family over to enjoy your impressive accomplishment and a delicious treat!

My traditional Italian fennel sausage Photo by Lizzie Greene

My Recipe for Italian Fennel Sausage

Historically, people have used all different things to flavor their cured meats, including wine and liquor, spices, and vinegars. This part is up to you and what you like. But in case you also love traditional Italian fennel and red wine-flavored sausage, here's our recipe:

  • 70% (7.7 pounds) lean pork
  • 30% (3.3 pounds) pork back fat
  • 140 grams salt
  • 12 grams cure #2,
  • 15 grams dextrose,
  • 15 grams black pepper,
  • 10 grams coriander,
  • 10 grams fennel seed
  • 10 grams crushed red pepper
  • 15 grams garlic powder
  • .6 grams T-SPX culture
96ec419b 9b01 480d bd52 7385e44f3884  2016 02 16 10 58 27
Lizzie Greene
Lizzie Greene
9
Homemade cured fennel sausage. My first batch ever.
4 comments

Are you a fermented sausage expert with tips to share? Or are you a first-timer ready to start experimenting? Share with us in the comments below!

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19 Comments

frank C. December 15, 2017
did you dice or grind your meat in the above picture? I see that the fat was cubed
 
William E. April 7, 2016
Looks great Lizzie, nice work! Bill
 
Author Comment
Lizzie G. April 7, 2016
Thanks Bill :)
 
Andreas D. April 7, 2016
If this all sounds a little intimidating, may I recommend Michael Ruhlman's book "Charcuterie: The Craft Of Salting Smoking And Curing".<br /><br />Getting into the craft is actually really simple: Buy a duck breast, cure it in alt and spices, hang it to dry somewhere in your basement - two weeks later, duck prosciutto. <br /><br />I've been curing bacon and pancetta for years in my house, with no more tools than a bit of string and a nail to hang it from.
 
Author Comment
Lizzie G. April 7, 2016
Hi Andreas,<br /><br />Yes, we actually started the same way! Duck prosciutto is so good. We're currently doing our first bacon right now. One day I'd love to be able to do a real pig prosciutto but I'm still mastering the small stuff first. Thanks for the recommendation on the book! i will check that one out.
 
celiaruthless April 6, 2016
Pro tip from another would-be charcuterie-maker who has accidentally released ozone-unfriendly gases into our atmosphere: Google your mini-fridge model and look up a product manual to find and avoid Freon lines. Also, computer fans are great for ventilation and a mini desk humidifier can provide necessary moisture.
 
Author Comment
Lizzie G. April 6, 2016
Thanks for the tip ArcheaoCook!<br /><br />On our third go-round we did look up the product schematic but unfortunately it did not include the location of the gas lines. (Or we were bad at reading it) What we did do though, (got this idea from a home brewing thread) was cut out a plastic hole on the inside of the fridge and then gently dig out the foam insulation Shawshank Redemption style to ensure there was no gas line before ultimately drilling out through the external metal layer of the fridge. Voila! Almost all fridge's freon lines run run against the outside metal wall of the fridge so this method greatly reduces risk.<br /><br />We also used a computer fan for ventilation with great success!
 
Aileen April 6, 2016
"With this pearl of wisdom, one successful Craigslist deal, and three hours of trying to get Fridge #2 into our basement, we struck out on our journey towards spicy meat snacks." This baseball metaphor is a little... off. Was the second fridge successful? It doesn't sound like it...
 
Author Comment
Lizzie G. April 6, 2016
Hi Aileen, <br /><br />Sorry for the confusion! That was not meant to be a baseball metaphor. Yes, we were successful on our second journey.
 
José R. April 6, 2016
You look like you're not aware that nitrites convert in our bodies to nitrosamines which are strong carcinogens, one of the causes of cancer cured meat lovers get.
 
Author Comment
Lizzie G. April 6, 2016
Thanks for bringing up an important topic Jose. Excessive intake of nitrites may be linked to cancer. Luckily, the nitrites included in cured meat and sausage is enough to prevent botulism, but not nearly enough to be carcinogenic. While I would never try to convince anyone to eat something that they or their doctor isn't comfortable with, vegetables like spinach, celery and radishes naturally contain far more nitrites than cured meat does.
 
Andreas D. April 7, 2016
Celery especially. That's why food producers use celery to cure meats and can still claim "no nitrites" on the label.
 
José R. April 10, 2016
Lizzie, There’s not «excessive» nitrites intake. There is or there is not. Nitrites convert to nitrosamines which are carcinogenic. Studies show that cured meat is strongly associated with cancer but not celery or radish or spinach. True, historically nitrites prevented botulism, but nowadays we know more. I love sausages specially the well prepared so I chose without Sodium Nitrites which I fortunately find in my select provider in many variations here in Montreal, Canada.
 
Andreas D. April 10, 2016
José, that is incorrect. If you are eating cured meats, you're consuming nitrites, whether they appear on the label or not. As you're in Montreal, I chose an article published by McGill that explains the details: http://blogs.mcgill.ca/oss/2013/04/04/is-celery-juice-a-viable-alternative-to-nitrites-in-cured-meats/
 
José R. April 11, 2016
What’s incorrect? Processed meats are manufactured using sodium nitrite. A study by the Cancer Research Center of Hawaii and the University of Southern California suggests a link between eating processed meats and cancer risk. The study followed 190,000 people, ages 45-75, for seven years and found that people who ate the most processed meats had a 67% higher risk of pancreatic cancer than those who ate the least amount.<br />
 
Mike C. April 5, 2016
How did you modify your fridge? And how do you control the humidity?
 
Author Comment
Lizzie G. April 6, 2016
Thanks for the question Mike!<br />The two major steps for converting your fridge is to invest in a temperature controller that will allow your fridge to maintain a temperature above it's normal range (32-40F). You can purchase one here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0002EAL58?tag=wrightfood-20&camp=14573&creative=327641&linkCode=as1&creativeASIN=B0002EAL58&adid=10456JWVX52RVYXDN1MK&<br />The other step is control humidity. You can do this by purchasing a cheap humidifier (we prefer an ultrasonic model) and buying a humidifier controller that will allow your humidifier to turn on and off to maintain the steady relative humidity level that you want. You can buy one here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B001OLVNUK?ie=UTF8&tag=wrightfood-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=B001OLVNUK<br /><br />On the web, both http://mattikaarts.com/blog/meat-curing-at-home-the-setup/ and http://benstarr.com/blog/how-to-convert-a-refrigerator-for-curing-meat-or-aging-cheese/ are very good resources we used for guidance when we converted our fridge.
 
Mike C. April 6, 2016
Thanks!!!
 
laurenlocally April 5, 2016
So inspiring. Thanks for sharing!