I’ve been tweaking this recipe for years, and finally have it where I want it. More than one person has told me it’s the best they’ve ever had. One of the breakthroughs was learning about Encapsulated Citric Acid (ECA), which provides a nifty way to bring a satisfying “tang” to the party without a fussy fermenting process.
There is a “gotcha” if you use ECA. The “encapsulation” part is made from hydrogenated vegetable oil, which melts at a specific temperature to avoid exposing the meat to the citric acid too early in the smoking process, which could otherwise result in unpleasant texture and flavor.
The coating (encapsulation) is relatively delicate, so ECA is the very last thing you add to the mix – and you never mix it for more than 60 seconds. Then you stuff and smoke without significant delay. Without ECA a sausage mix sometimes benefits from a night in the fridge before stuffing. But the encapsulation would be softened and “fail” too early, creating an unpleasant texture and flavor. So you only add it last, when you are prepared to stuff and begin cooking without delay. If you follow the instructions it works really well, but if you subject the mix to something that weakens or damages the coating you will not get the great result.
One last thing about ECA. I’ve read that Walton’s brand is designed to release the citric acid at 135°F, where as other some other brands are designed for 150°F – which could be a bit tight for a recipe designed to be pulled at 152°F (like this recipe). If you’re cooking to 160°F, which many summer sausage recipes do, that should be fine. I stick with Waltons for my ECA. I’ve had only great experiences getting supplies from LEM, Waltons, the Sausage Maker, and some others, so no brand loyalty here. Just a heads-up.
Regarding measurements, I’m starting to shift from imperial to metric. Sorry if that’s a hassle – but digital kitchen scales are cheap, accurate, rugged, and widely available. Every kitchen should have one. Sausage recipes benefit from accuracy and repeatability — particularly with critical ingredients like salt, cure, and ECA. FYI, 7g = 0.25oz
An accurate thermometer with a wired probe or two will also improve your life. Smoking without one is a pain. Knowing the precise temp inside your smoker, and the internal temp of what you are smoking makes your life much easier.
Part of the secret is the timing and temperatures. They are important but can be a hassle to attain. Babysitting a smoker all night is fun maybe once. After that it’s a pain.
Because electric smokers have a tough time producing adequate smoke at the relatively low temperatures cured sausages are processed, I use a cheap and simple DIY external smoke generator (google “Mailbox mod”). Works unattended for hours with no need to reload.
The temperature in my smoker is precisely managed by a programmable “Auber AW-WST1510H-W” PID controller that connects to wi-fi. It has a mobile app I can use to monitor and control the cook from anywhere I can get internet access. It costs a bit (about $220 as of this writing) but allows you to pre-set a complex temperature schedule super easy to handle. It’s a commercial grade bit of kit that will make you happy. A little bit of a learning curve, but it’s not rocket surgery.
Warning – PID’s don’t work on digital devices unless modified to allow the PID to directly control the heating element. Most digitally controlled electric smokers can be brute modified to put their heating element under PID control (that’s what I did with my Masterbuilt MES 340G). It’s a simple job for anyone with much experience working with wiring, but get help if it anything about the job is not in your comfort zone.
Depending on the smoker, such a modification may disable all digital functions like readouts, wifi, or blue-tooth. Unless restored to original condition they must NEVER be plugged into direct power, but always powered through a PID.
A PID can also control other analog cooking tools like most slow cookers, portable electric roaster ovens, etc. I use it to make stock in my 22 quart roaster oven. It should work fine with any cooker for which the heat is controlled by a rheostat or a simple mechanical switch.
One excellent (but expensive) idea you can try when using pork: find a source for pasture-raised heirloom breed pork. It will probably cost 4 times as much, but it is way WAY better. I did a side-by-side pulled pork test between a Costco butt side by side with a butt from Geisert Farms — a local supplier. There was no comparison. Richer flavor, more satisfying texture, more appealing color, everything was better. Pork didn’t use to be so pale, fatty and (comparatively) tasteless. Smoking your own is a lot of work. A few more bucks to create something nobody will ever forget is worth it. Pasture-raised heirloom breed pork is much leaner than commercial pork, so you will need to adjust your recipe for added fat.