Introduction: Make Pepperoni Sticks at Home

This is a step-by-step guide through my oddessy of home sausage making. This is the first time I have ever attempted anything like this, so I'll point out all of my bad examples along with what to do.

I wanted to make good use of all the less desirable cuts of meat left over from butchering deer and elk, which are taking up space in my freezer. At the same time, I wanted to make something delicious. As a survival nut, I am enamored with the idea of food preservation and living like a neanderthal, so this was a great project to take on.

Also, I wanted to use my favorite cooking implement, the Luhr-Jensen Big Chief Smoker.

Before using venison or other game meat, I decided to test the process with two pounds of ground beef. The end result was pepperoni that had a very hamburgery taste. Good, but if you are going for the traditional taste, I recommend adding some pork. When I attempt this with venison, I'll update this page.

Step 1: Gather Ingredients and Materials

Here's what you will need to have co-located. There are some things I used that are optional, I'll mention what they are at each step.

2lb ground beef
Sausage casings (I used 19mm collagen)
Olive oil (optional)
Seasonings (Shown in picture):
- 1 Tbsp Morton Tender Quick cure (plain salt will NOT work)
- 1/2 tsp Crushed Red pepper
- 1 tsp Fennel Seed
- 1/2 tsp Anise Seed
- 1 tsp Mustard Seed
- 1/2 tsp Garlic powder
- 1 1/2 tsp Black pepper

Meat grinder
Smoker (preferably electric, preferably Luhr-Jensen Little Chief or Big Chief)
Mixing Bowl
Appropriate measuring spoons

Step 2: Crush Seeds

Using a mortar and pestle like I did, or a coffee grinder, or other crushing tool, crush the anise and fennel seeds. I only crushed the mustard a little bit.

Mix all the dry seasonings together in a dish.

Step 3: Chop Meat

The ground meat will chop and grind easier if it is partly frozen beforehand. Chop it into pieces small enough to fit into the meat grinder.

You can use whole meat if you prefer. You are grinding it, after all.

For that matter, nothing says you have to use beef. If this process works well, I will repeat it with venison, pork, beef, and mixtures thereof. Even organ meats are not off-limits. Next year, I will also use deer and elk hearts, if my hunts are successful.

Step 4: Grind Meat

Using your meat grinder, grind the meat. This is not necessarily required if you are starting with ground beef. Mine was frozen, so I reground it to enable it to mix easily with the seasoning.

Important safety point: Whether using a hand-cranked or electric meat grinder, KEEP YOUR FINGERS OUT!!! Use the tamper to push the meat inside. I don't know if human meat makes good sausage, but I prefer not to find out.

Step 5: Mix in Seasonings

Add all the dry the seasonings you have crushed and combined and blend everything together in a glass bowl.

If you are using leaner meat, you may choose to add some oil here. I chose olive oil. The goal is sausage that is about 20% fat. Too little and it will be too dry, too fatty and it will not grind well.

It is important not to use metal. The tender-quick has not just regular table salt (sodium chloride) but also sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite. Chemical reactions are going to be taking place while the meat cures, and if you introduce aluminum or steel or other reagents to the equation, you will not be satisfied, at a minimum, and you could make yourself sick or worse.

Also, don't use wooden bowls. They can harbor bacteria. Use glass, ceramic, or plastic.

Cover the bowl and refrigerate for four days.

This is probably the point where I should mention sanitation. Obviously you need to wash your hands well, and make sure that everything is sparkling clean. If you contaminate something with raw meat, then re-use it without washing, you are placing yourself at risk for botulism to infect the product. Be careful and protect yourself.

Step 6: Stuff Sausage Casings

Use the meat grinder and stuffing tube to fill the sausage casings.

This is definetely a two person job, especially if you are using the hand-cranked grinder.

Lubricate the stuffing horn with olive oil, and slide as much of the casing up on it as you can. Cut off the rest. Tie a knot in the end of the casing to close it, and try to work any air out of the end. It helps to crank until the filler is at the very end of the stuffing horn to get started. Otherwise, air will fill the end. If you do get air bubbles, don't worry, they should go away eventually.

As the sausage comes off the horn, figure out how long you want the links, pinch the spot, and twist. If you have ever made balloon animals, you'll get the idea. Twist in opposite directions so you don't untwist the previous link. Close up the very end of the casing by tying a knot or using some twine.

Step 7: Smoke (optional If Baking)

If you don't have a smoker, you can skip this step. Smoke flavor can be gained by adding 2 tsp liquid smoke to the mixture in step 5. However, this will not provide the added preservation benefits smoking will. You can also add smoke flavor in the smoker, then finish the process in the oven, or do it all in the smoker.

Plug the smoker in outdoors in a safe place where it will be certain NOT to cause a fire.

Fill the pan with your preference of wood chips and place it on the burner. Bring the rack inside and place the sausage on the rack in such a way so that the smoke will be able to circulate freely, in other words, don't let the sausages touch each other except where they are connected on the ends.

As soon as the smoker starts to make smoke, put the rack inside, and put the lid on.

If smoke flavoring only: Replace the pan of chips once after it quits smoking. After the second panful is consumed and no more smoke is coming out, move on to step 8.

If you want to preserve the sausage with smoke: You will need to use 5 panfuls of chips, and leave the sausages inside for 12 hours. The goal is to raise the temperature in the center of the sausage to 160 degrees F. You will want to replace the burned up chips as soon as they quit smoking, since the dryer the sausages get, the less the smoke will penetrate the meat. Expect smoking to take 6 hours and leave the meat inside another six with no pan on the burner.

Collagen casings are permeable to smoke, making them a good candidate for this recipe.

*Plug for my favorite model: There are a million different smokers on the market, but Luhr-Jensen makes by far the best I have ever found. They have a few models, and all are outstanding. They are all electric, which is the best suited for this process. Propane models might be ok, but charcoal is a hassle and gets too hot and too cold, and the wood burning type are hard to control.

The Luhr-Jensen models can be used for smoke flavoring and preservation. Perfect for what we are doing. I have smoke flavored foods as varied as pork chops, nuts, turkey and macaroni noodles, and smoke preserved (hard-cured) salmon, beef jerky, and other meats.

Step 8: Bake (optional If Smoking)

If you don't have the ability to smoke the sausages, you can still use your oven to raise the internal temperature of the sausages to 160 degrees F.

Also, if you are only using the smoker to flavor the meat, this step is required.

Bake at 350F for 50-60 minutes, check the temperature with a meat thermometer.

Alternatively, bake at 200F for 2 hours, checking with a meat thermometer.

It is hard to emphasize enough the need to get it to the right temperature. Botulism can kill, and is more of a threat when you are dealing with ground meat that has more surface area than say, a steak. Play it safe, better to overdo it than to make someone sick.

Step 9: Refrigerate and Store

Remove from oven and immediately wrap each link tightly in foil.

Allow to cool then refrigerate for 2 days.

Eat within one week or freeze for later consumption.