Interest Rekindled in Home-Curing Ham and Sausage Making
I spent a good bit of time this past week at the annual Dallas Safari Club Convention (DSC) in Dallas. A walk down any of the many isles at the convention is proof positive that the passion for the outdoors is alive and well. At the beginning of each New Year, for many years, I have attended the convention and visited with many friends, and each year I make new ones. I look at the convention as a celebration of hunting, a way of life that I love so much.
Granted, there are booths filled with outfitters from North America and all over the world offering everything from fishing trips to remote waters in Canada, to old world hunts in Europe, and just about everything in between. Many folks that have never attended a DSC convention get the idea that the DSC club is all about hunting in Africa on safari. While hunting in Africa is always well represented at the conventions, so is pheasant hunting in Kansas or deer hunting right here close to home.
I was invited by my friends with Smokin’ Tex electric smokers to do an hour-long talk on cooking fish and game. Our seminar was well received with a contingency of outdoor folks from as far away as Alaska and Maine. Everyone present was there to add to their knowledge of cooking game meat. I am amazed at the current interest in subjects such as, making sugar cured ham from wild hogs or summer sausage from venison. These are things that I grew up doing, and to me, curing pork or making sausage is as simple and commonplace as driving through a fast food window for many folks. When I inquired of the crowd who was interested in learning about curing wild pork and turning it into ham or sausage, just about everyone raised their hand. When I asked if there were any sausage makers in the room, only two or three responded by raising their hands. The majority of these folks were intrigued by the fact that with just a bit of basic knowledge, they too could easily turn the fruits of their hunts into tasty food for their family.
When I began the discussion, I was wondering how I could take an entire hour to explain the basics of curing meat and sausage making. After about 30 minutes, I found myself wishing for even more time. The questions I received were indicative of the fact that the skills I was discussing were fast becoming a lost art. At the beginning of the seminar, many of the audience were amazed at just how basic and simple curing meat is. Some of them looked questioningly at me when I told them that after a bit more instruction, they could transform the back straps of their wild hogs or upper pieces of the hind quarters into tasty sugar cured, smoked ham; making corned venison was even easier and required less time.
Many of questions regarded the exact amount of various spices necessary to make products such as salami or summer sausage. When I introduced the folks to the fact that kits are available with the exact amounts of cure, spices and even the casings to stuff the sausages, I detected that a bit of confidence and eagerness to try, swept over the crowd.
“You mean, all I have to do is take one of these kits, add the prescribed amount of ground meat, stuff the meat into the casings, and smoke them?” Was a question one lady asked. When everyone learned that they didn’t have to purchase bulk spices and spend the time measuring and hoping they got everything right, I could see I had many newcomers to sausage making ready to give it a try. There are many places to purchase these “ready to go” kits, but Butcher Packer Company has one of the best selections I’ve found.
I explained that the easiest sausage to make is “bulk sausage,” which is basically ground meat with seasoning. Breakfast sausage and Chorizo are a couple of easy-to-make types of sausage. With these, no stuffing of casings is necessary; simply grind the meat, mix the seasonings well, wrap and freeze until it’s time to cook!
When I related just how easy it is to cure ham, I could see that several in the group were really getting fired up! Rather than bone-in whole hams, I advised them to cut pieces of boneless meat about 1.5 to 2 inches thick that weighed a pound or less, rub the pre-mixed sugar cure (containing sugar and cure in just the right proportions), place the meat in the refrigerator seven days to cure, and then put it in the smoker for a few hours at low temperature to give the ham a good smoked flavor. Then, simply cut thick slices of their home cured ham and fry to accompany their breakfast of eggs and hashbrowns.
On the way home from the convention, I gave some though to why so many of these intelligent folks knew next to nothing about curing meats and making sausages. The answer was obvious; these skills have been lost with the past few generations. Since about the 1950s, most of the population has purchased their meats from the grocery store, rather than having to learn the “old school” methods used by their grandparents. Granted, it is much easier to walk into a deli and order a pound of salami or a stick of summer sausage, but nothing can prepare to the lean, seasoned-to-taste products you can make at home, at a fraction of the cost.
Yes, I see a huge interest in younger folks doing things the old way and I plan to continue to help them get started on the right path. They can share their computer skills with this old timer!
Butcher Packer Supply www.butcher-packer.com
Smokin’ Tex Electric Smokers www.smokintex.com
Listen to “Outdoors with Luke Clayton and Friends” weekends on radio stations from Nebraska to Texas or anytime online at www.catfishradio.com.