Super Food Nerds: The Making of Sausages

See how sausages are made with this behind-the-scenes look at one of NYC's acclaimed butcher shops on Cooking Channel.
By: Rupa Bhattacharya

Ever since  making chorizo for Super Food Nerds several months ago, we haven’t stopped wondering how sausages are made. So, over the summer, we began debating doing a deep dive into the making of either sausage or hot dogs. We decided to let  a poll on Facebook determine our fates, and the people spoke loud and clear: They wanted sausage. So we reached out to the proprietor of butcher shop  Hudson & Charles, Jason Fox, who had visited our offices a few years ago to teach us how to break down pigs. The newly opened shop, named for the corner it’s on in New York City’s West Village, is co-owned by Jason and partners Kevin Haverty and Adam Gale.

The day we came by, Ian Halbwachs, their in-house charcutier, was making a batch of one of their best-selling sausages: the sweet Italian. It’s a combo of classic Italian seasonings (Parmesan, garlic, parsley and white wine) and classic pork seasonings (juniper, caraway and bay leaves). His go-to cut is pork shoulder, but because Hudson & Charles is a whole-animal butcher shop, he often ends up using trim. His main goal is to make sausages that are about 30 percent fat: “People want to cook sausages all the way through, and at about 30-percent fat ratio is where it stops feeling like overcooked hamburger.”

The steps he demonstrated reflect the basic tenets of sausage-making: Keep everything super-cold (if it’s not cold, the fat smears and the sausage gets crumbly and fatty), dice the meat into chunks, pass it through the grinder, mix in the seasonings and knead it well in a stand mixer until the salt and proteins in the meat start to bind together. Ian describes the binding as the most important step: “This is what makes it a sausage; more than the casing, more than the seasoning. If it’s not bound, it’s not a sausage.” And he’s been doing it for long enough that he can just hear when the meat hits the appropriate consistency. If you (like us) don’t have the professional charcutier’s ear, you’ll know sausage meat is ready when you grab a handful of meat, turn your hand upside down, and the meat continues to stick to your hand. That would also be the perfect time to fry a little test patty and taste it to check the seasoning.

If you’re happy with the flavor, the sausage can now be either formed into patties or piped into casings. Hudson & Charles sells almost all its sausage in casings, and mostly natural pork casings (smaller sausages get sheep casings, and larger sausages get beef). The casings come packed in salt, so they are soaked for a while to become moist and for some of the salt to be rinsed away before they’re loaded onto a stuffer and the filling is piped in as evenly as possible. Ian first fills the casing with a good amount of sausage, then goes over it with a small needle to dispel air pockets and lessen the pressure inside the casing.

Finally, he ties the individual sausages by twisting the sausage in opposite directions to separate each link. Natural casings, because they’re natural, are a little more irregularly shaped than manmade casings, so Ian sizes each sausage by weight instead of length. Once they’re separated, he likes to age the links for 24 hours in the fridge to let the flavors come together (“but they’re also totally fine to eat immediately,” he says). I can attest that his final results are pretty much the ideal sausages: juicy and well-seasoned. I’m already trying to wrangle a visit to see hot dog assembly in action.

If you decide to make sausages of your own, check out our favorite resources on the topic:

Ryan Farr’s new cookbook  Sausage Making is a fantastic in-depth guide to the entire process.

Hank Shaw’s entire website, especially the charcuterie section, is awesome.

Bruce Aidells’  Complete Sausage Book is pretty fantastic as well.

And here are a couple of our favorite ways to eat it:
See all the posts in the  Super Food Nerds series .

See even more of Cooking Channel’s  Adventures in Cooking .

Super Food Nerds is a column written in alternating installments by Rupa (food and beverage editor, culinary staff) and Jonathan (research librarian, same place). Each post will be dedicated to a particular topic — how to DIY something you don’t normally DIY, how to perfect a dish usually taken for granted, plus the best techniques, underlying chemistries and a handful of inexplicable preferences. Basically, if they can overthink it, they’re on it.

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