I don’t know anyone who does not like summer sausage and homemade snack sticks. Many love to eat these nutritious natural treats but few have seriously considered making their own out of game meat they harvested.
The truth is that while making venison summer sausage or snack sticks can be time consuming, most of that time is waiting for the meat to cure and then smoke in the smoker or oven. The actual “making” of the snacks, starting from a bowl of cubed meat to the logs or sticks, is less than two hours (including clean-up). That said, there is no reason that anyone could not make their own venison treats.
There are several companies that sell seasoning packets to make these treats by the pound up to 25 pounds at a time. My favorite snack sticks blend is Spicy Lime Blend by Hi Mountain Seasonings (www.himtnjerky.com) and my favorite summer sausage blend is the Backwoods line by LEM at www.lemproducts.com. They make a Jalapeño and a regular blend. Couple those with their high-temperature cheeses and you get a snack that disappears so fast it will make your head spin.
So what is involved with the snack stick or summer sausage preparation?
Making either one of these great treats begins with trimming and cubing meat (venison, elk, or beef all work well) to run through a grinder. I like to run my game meat through the grinder once to get a rough grind, and then start following the directions on the seasoning package by mixing the seasoning and cure to the result of your first grind of meat. The meat and seasoning gets mixed really well during the second grind of the meat, so run it though the grinder once more.
I should add that although the directions for summer sausage and snack sticks calls for pork, I have often opted not to add pork. We go lean with our meat to keep it as nutritious as possible. When I do add pork, I don’t put pork fat in it. Instead I get a lean pork roast, trim off as much fat as I can, and then add 10-15% of the total meat weight in pork instead of 20%. I have found that 10% pork does a sufficient job of keeping the sausage or snack sticks moist when smoking without leaving a greasy film in the mouth.
Once the meat is ground and seasoned, it is time to stuff it in casings if you desire. Some people don’t want to hassle with casings, so they season the meat and grind it the second time before rolling it into sticks or logs with their hands without stuffing into a casing.
I prefer to put my snacks in casings and smoke them in a smoker. So, combining stuffing the casings while doing the second grind of the meat saves some time. Simply put a nozzle or tube on the grinder head that is just slightly smaller than the casing for summer sausages, and let it feed right into the casing after grinding the second time. I hold the casing on the tube, firmly filling the casing until it is nearly to the end. I stop there and tie off the casing with string as tightly as I can.
It is worth noting that if you do not have a grinder, you can still make your own snack sticks and summer sausage. Have your local butcher grind your game meat (they won’t charge much if it is trimmed up already). If I am making the Hi Mountain Spicy Lime Blend Snacking Sticks, I use a jerky gun (which looks like a caulking gun) to squirt the ground meat into the smaller diameter snack stick sleeves. You can get grinder tubes that will allow it to go straight from the second grind through the tube into the snack stick casing too.
Once you have your summer sausage logs or snack sticks prepped, they need to cure in the refrigerator for 12 to 24 hours. When that time has elapsed, fire up the smoker and get it going at between 180 and 200 degrees. Consult the package of your seasoning blend for the temperature. If you use an oven, most seasoning packages will recommend 300 degrees.
Pull the meat out of the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for an hour before putting in your smoker or oven. Smoke meat until the internal temperature of the meat reaches 165 degrees. Avoid opening the oven or smoker door a lot, because this slows the process down. A thermometer that can be inserted in the meat and left in the smoker and read from the outside is a big help when smoking meat.
Once the meat reaches 165, immediately dunk into icy water for a few minutes and then pull out and either hang or allow to sit on a rack to fully flavor for an hour or two as the meat cools. I prefer to vacuum-seal the meat that I want to save for later and keep a small batch out for immediate snacking. Be sure to hide some of the treats for yourself!
Tools and tips
- If you are using a LEM grinder, they make a foot switch that makes the grinding much easier when you have to start and stop between casings. No more bloody or meat covered switch.
- A high volume jerky gun makes the snack sticks so much easier and faster to make. Fill up the large tube and cut your time in half over the smaller jerky tubes. I recommend the long tube attachment that fits snack stick casings.
- Packing your smoker to capacity will allow you to make more meat, but it takes much longer for the meat to come to 165 degrees internal temperature. I have waited 17 hours when I have smoked a full smoker before. I recommend doing a half-full smoker and you can count on it taking seven to nine hours that way.
- With the above in mind, let your meat cure overnight on a Friday or Saturday, and smoke it first thing on a Saturday or Sunday so you are done and cleaned up by the afternoon.
- I like the high temperature cheese LEM sells. The Hot Pepper Jack goes well with the plain summer sausage seasoning that either LEM or Hi Mountain makes. The cheddar is excellent with the Jalapeno seasoning! Use the course/stuffing plate with your grinder when putting the cheese in on the second grind so the cheese stays chunky too!
- Soak your wood chips for a few hours or even overnight in water before you start up your smoker. Hickory and mesquite chips are great for this.