Snack Sticks

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Snack Sticks Yum
This is a framework, not a recipe. It does not presume what flavorings you want to use. Plug in your own, or use your favorite commercial mix.

It is based on venison. If making sausage from game meats it is usually best to aim for a 70/30 meat to fat ratio.

The additives listed here are all standard, safe products developed specifically to improve the flavor and texture of sausages. Waltons is a convenient source, but similar products are widely available elsewhere. Waltons uses their own custom name for some of them, but if you google for the ingredients all will be revealed.

You should have a smoker setup you are comfortable with because smoking semi-dry cured sausages requires more temperature control than most other smoking jobs.
Servings
lbs meat&fat
Ingredients
  • 17.5 lbs venison
  • 7.5 lbs fat — fat e.g. Fatback, bacon, pork belly, or beef tallow. If bacon/belly, use the fattiest you can find.
  • ? Spices etc salt, herbs, spices — The flavorings. Or 1 pkg Excalibur Snack Stick Seasoning per 25lbs
  • 283 g salt WARNING: Do not add this salt if using a pre-mixed spice package that already includes salt for this volume.  IT PROBABLY DOES. This is a generic amount of salt for cured semi-dry sausage.
  • 1 oz Cure (e.g. Instacure#1, Waltons Sure Cure, Prague powder #1) WARNING: If using pre-packaged spice blend check if it already includes cure (sodium nitrite). You don't want to double up on it.
  • to taste cayenne powder — For those who know hotter is better
  • 6 oz Waltons 'Sure Gel' Meat Binder — There are other meat binder options, but some require special care. This is a milk-solids and phosphate mix that does the job predictably and well. (Do NOT use "Sure Jell" fruit pectin!)
  • 4 oz Encapsulated Citric Acid (ECA) — A cure accellerator that also increases 'tang'.
  • 2.5 lbs OPTIONAL High-Temp cheese — Use ONLY high-temp, designed for sausage making.
  • 3 strands 19 mm Collagen Casings — Capacity varies by width. 19mm works well, much smaller than that can stress the stuffer. Use the largest stuffing tube you have that the casings fit over.
  • 4 cups ice water or chillled stock — consider store-bought water if you have chlorinated tap water. But stock is best.
Servings
lbs meat&fat
Ingredients
  • 17.5 lbs venison
  • 7.5 lbs fat — fat e.g. Fatback, bacon, pork belly, or beef tallow. If bacon/belly, use the fattiest you can find.
  • ? Spices etc salt, herbs, spices — The flavorings. Or 1 pkg Excalibur Snack Stick Seasoning per 25lbs
  • 283 g salt WARNING: Do not add this salt if using a pre-mixed spice package that already includes salt for this volume.  IT PROBABLY DOES. This is a generic amount of salt for cured semi-dry sausage.
  • 1 oz Cure (e.g. Instacure#1, Waltons Sure Cure, Prague powder #1) WARNING: If using pre-packaged spice blend check if it already includes cure (sodium nitrite). You don't want to double up on it.
  • to taste cayenne powder — For those who know hotter is better
  • 6 oz Waltons 'Sure Gel' Meat Binder — There are other meat binder options, but some require special care. This is a milk-solids and phosphate mix that does the job predictably and well. (Do NOT use "Sure Jell" fruit pectin!)
  • 4 oz Encapsulated Citric Acid (ECA) — A cure accellerator that also increases 'tang'.
  • 2.5 lbs OPTIONAL High-Temp cheese — Use ONLY high-temp, designed for sausage making.
  • 3 strands 19 mm Collagen Casings — Capacity varies by width. 19mm works well, much smaller than that can stress the stuffer. Use the largest stuffing tube you have that the casings fit over.
  • 4 cups ice water or chillled stock — consider store-bought water if you have chlorinated tap water. But stock is best.
Instructions
Grind, Mix, Stuff
  1. Cut and mix the meat and fat into grindable chunks, chill it very well (partially frozen is good) then grind through a coarse plate (≈ 10mm or 3/8")
  2. After chilling the meat and grinder parts again regrind through a medium plate (≈ 3.5mm or 4mm or 5/32" or 1/8"). Any finer is getting closer to emulsifying.
  3. Mix the dry ingredients (except the ECA and cheese) into the liquid. If using a well-gelled stock for the liquid, aggressively stir it first until you don't see significant globs, then add the dry goods and mix very well.
  4. Add the resulting slurry to the meat and mix until you see a change in texture that indicates good 'protein extraction'.

    You can do it by hand but it is challenging unless it's a small batch. It is way easier with a manual mixer and way WAY easier with a powered mixer.

    When it becomes tacky and sticky and will stretch a bit rather than just pulling apart when you grab a handful, it is ready. If that sounds confusing google and youtube can help.
  5. Think about how "stiff" the mixture is. With snack sticks, forcing a stiff batch though a small diameter stuffing tube can put significant strain on your stuffer. If it seems very stiff mix in more chilled stock or ice water.
  6. When satisfied with the texture and stiffness, with the mixer running add the ECA and cheese. Mix for no more than 60 more seconds. You want it evenly mixed but protected from as much "working" as possible.
  7. Chill and stuff. If you are not familiar with the process there are plenty of YouTube videos out there that will show you much better than words.

    You want them stuffed to medium firmness. Too tight and you might have "exploders" (which WILL make you swear). Too loose and the meat may not bind well to the casing, or have texture issues. It's not as fussy as it sounds — you'll get the hang of it.
  8. If you followed the recipe to include ECA you MUST take it from the stuffer to the smoker without significant delay.

    If you did not use ECA or any other cure accelerator you must stage the sausage in the refrigerator overnight before stuffing.
Dyring, Smoking and finishing
  1. Hang on smoke sticks in your smoker chamber, or form into a spiral and place on grates.

  2. It's important to start out slow. Below are two sets of instructions, one more convenient if you have a PID controller you can program to follow your instructions, the other if you're battling your smoker cave-man style. Both work.

    Whichever you use you can cheat the finishing step up to 180°F (no more) if you're in a hurry, — but make sure you have good humidity, and shut down the moment the meat hits 160°F.
  3. Stuff and tie-off into pre-cut lengths that when folded will hang at the right length for your smoker Automated with a PID:
       Drying (dampers full open, no smoke, no water):
          • 125°F for 60-90 minutes
       Continuously Smoking (dampers closed, apply smoke, add water pan with sponges or chamois, use a probe for real-time meat temp)
          • 130°F for 1 hour
          • 140°F for 1 hour
          • 150°F for 1 hour
          • 160°F for 1 hour
          • 170°F for 1 hour
       Finish(dampers closed, no smoke, check water pan with sponges or chamois, continue to probe for real-time meat temp)
          • 175°F until meat hits 160°F
    OPTIONAL SOUS VIDE FINISH Pull sticks at 130-140, or optionally target when stall ends Let air cool a few minutes vacuum seal using long roll-cut bags in a suction-type vacuum sealer, (chill first if using chamber sealer) Sous vide 160°F 2 hours Remove from packages, ice bath until <120°F Bloom 2 hours refrigerate overnight cut to length then vacuum seal
  4. Manual:
       Drying (dampers full open, no smoke, no humidity):
          • 125°F for 1 hour
       Smoking (dampers 1/3 open, add humidity, apply smoke)
          • 140°F for 1 hour
          • 155°F for 2 hours
       Finishing (dampers closed or as needed for temp, humidity, no smoke)
          • 175°F until meat = 160°F
  5. When the final internal temp is hit, remove the sausage and give it an ice bath or a cold shower until well chilled, about 10 or 20 minutes.
  6. Hang to air dry at room temp for an hour. A little longer is fine.
  7. Cut to desired length and either package right away or refrigerate first. If using a suction-type vacuum sealer, you can package it right away.

    But using a chamber sealer is a bit more complicated. At room temp, it will vaporize some of the water in the sausage -- not desirable.

    But when you take a cold sausage out of the fridge to bag for the sealer, it immediately starts forming condensation from the ambient humidity in the air. This can lead to shortened shelf life and should be avoided.

    If you pay attention, prepare your bags in advance and work quickly in small batches, it's manageable.
  8. Should freeze well for a year if vacuum sealed, and should last in the fridge 2 or 3 weeks. Three or four days in a backpack should be fine too. All that depends on good process. More in the notes below.
Recipe Notes

Any recipe depends on the quality and wholesomeness of the ingredients. But with sausage, good results depend on the process as well.

Of course, your smoking/cooking technique matters. But assuming you start with good stuff and don't booger up the cook, the primary root of success or failure is salt, fat, and grinding technique.

Salt precision counts. If you're making dinner, measuring spoons are fine. But when making a batch of sausage use a precision scale.

The ratio of meat to fat, and the ratio of salt to the combo of the meat and fat, are critical to how your sausage turns out.

Repeating (or improving) results depends on knowing exactly what you did the time before. Be as creative as you like with herbs and spices. Salt and fat require precision.

Another key factor is the grinding technique. Many tools and methods work, but all depend on the meat, and preferably the grinding equipment, being well-chilled as the meat is ground or chopped. Best is to stage both in the freezer and process the meat only when partially frozen. It's the difference between slicing and smearing the meat, which produces a dramatic difference on the plate.

Equipment should be clean and sterile. Wipe a little cooking oil or food-grade lube on the plate surface that faces the blade, and the inside surface of the stuffer.

This recipe calls for two grinding steps, some others call for just one. I prefer two, but it's a matter of taste. If I was in a hurry I wouldn't hesitate to grind just once with the finer plate.

The E in ECA stands for "encapsulated". That means the meat is protected from the ingredient, citric acid, by encapsulation (hydrogenated vegetable oil) — which forms a protective shell around citric acid. It melts and dissolves at the right temperature to expose the citric acid to the meat at the right time.

ECA works great if you follow the instructions, but if you subject it to excessive mixing the encapsulation will be damaged. And if you stage it in the fridge overnight the encapsulation will absorb too much moisture and start to dissolve. Either exposes the meat to the citric acid too soon.

This stuff is not fussy, but neither does it tolerate shoddy technique. Treat it right and it's spectacular. But get sloppy and you can ruin your batch.
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NOTES for Snack Sticks, summer sausage, and grinding meats for any sausage

In addition to having meat partially frozen before grinding, also make sure that ingredients with significant connective tissue (e.g. neck meat, inter-rib meat, shoulder, shanks) be cut into cubes not much larger than 1" before chilling. Otherwise, the tissue can clog the grinder plate/cutting area.

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