So many of these recipes seem to start out with a history lesson. In the interest of giving credit where credit is due, we often walk into the middle of a debate that has been raging or simmering, unbeknownst to us, below the seemingly innocuous surface of some beloved food. So it is with Kielbasa. The names we know things by are a reflection of a world in which many traditions and cultures have been mixing, since the time the first trade routes were established across mountains and deserts. The name ‘Kielbasa’, which means something rather specific to us in the USA, means nothing more than ‘sausage” in the land of its origin, Poland. Look up ‘Kielbasa' in a trusted sausage text, however, and you will find 15 different recipes, as we did when we consulted what is to many the gold standard recipe book for this sort of thing, Great Sausage Recipes and Meat Curing, by Rytek Kutas. It is not a fancy book, being mostly text and simple instructions; no succulent pictures to entice the reader toward a particular recipe, but the recipes make amazing sausage. This one has become our hands down favorite—so far. We’ve only made half a dozen of the recipes, though…
Anyway, it seems that what we have come to know as The One and Only Kielbasa is most similar to a particular smoked Polish Sausage. It seems, too, that there has been quite a bit of liberty taken with the name over the years so that there are many additional ingredients and substitutions that have made their way into the sausage under the name of Kielbasa, that is not entirely traditional.
History grinds on, (sausage pun!) and all things shift and change. As far as we know, this recipe is very similar to the ones made in Poland for hundreds of years. It’s a keeper, as you will soon discover.
Trim the meat, removing any gristle, sinew, blood clots, or excess fat. While the recipe calls for 10 lbs boneless pork butt, sausage can be made from many a cut of pork. If you have leftovers from a large butchering project, you’ll likely end up with a 50-pound pile of meat labeled “Sausage Meat.” While there all kinds of jokes about ‘what goes into sausage”, it IS important to have quality meat to start with. You are looking at a ratio of about 25% fat to 75% lean meat. Sausage made with meat that has excess fat and gristle will leak fat as it cooks, losing body and making an unpleasant texture. A small amount of fat is as desirable in a good roast as in a good sausage; fat helps make the meat tender and juicy. Too little fat will make the meat dry. Chop the meat into small chunks to feed into the grinder.
Feed the meat, a little at the time, through the grinder. Grind the lean meat through a 3/8” grinder plate, and all the fat meat through a 3/16” plate. Place the meat into a large stainless steel bowl or mixing tub.
Add the remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly.
If you like, this is a good time to test the flavor of your sausage. Fry up a small amount and adjust the seasonings as desired. The final flavor will be more smoky, and the texture slightly different, but it's a good time to add, say, a 1/4 teaspoon of chili powder, if you would like a hotter sausage.
Refrigerate the meat while you prepare the next steps.
Ready the casings. Rinse the salt from the casings and allow them to soak for 20 minutes in a bowl of water to soften. Open the end of each casing and fill it with water until water flows out the opposite end, flushing the salt from the interior of the casing. You will need to use several casings as you stuff the sausage, so it’s a good idea to flush 2-3 casings to get started. Keep the flushed casings in a bowl of water until you are ready to use them. Wet the nozzle on your sausage stuffer to lubricate it. Gently pull and roll the casing onto the nozzle, until the entire length of the casing is on the nozzle. While sausage can be stuffed with attachments that come with
While sausage can be stuffed with attachments that come with most manual and electric grinders, a dedicated stuffer can give more control over the speed and flow of the stuffing. Here, we are using an electric meat grider/stuffer combo. We are also fond of the simple Porkert stuffer. Fill the sausage stuffer with meat, up to the point in the funnel that matches the diameter of the plunger.
Tie a simple knot at the end of the casing, and gently depress the plunger of the sausage stuffer, if using a manual stuffer, or simply turn the switch to “Stuff” if using an electric apparatus. There’s a bit of an art to the stuffing, but the best way to learn is to get started! Allow the sausage meat to fill the casing completely, depressing the plunger steadily with one hand, while holding back the casing slightly, allowing it to fill completely before advancing slightly to fill the next area.
When the stuffer is empty, refill it with another scoop of ground meat. Fill the entire casing with the ground meat, in one long spiral. If air bubbles occur, pop a small hole in the casing with a sterilized safety pin or other small pricking device. (A safety pin is easier to pick up than a needle.)
After the entire casing is filled, it’s time to link up the sausages. Choose the desired size of your sausages; about 5-6 inches is a good place to start.
With your fingers, gently squeeze a space in the filled casing that is free of meat for half an inch or so. Twist the casing three or four times. Working in the same direction, repeat this step down the length of the sausage. It’s important to always twist in the same direction, or the sausages will unravel as they hang in the smoker.
When all of the casings are filled and linked up, prepare the smoker. Leave the sausage to begin drying in the refrigerator.
How you smoke the sausage will depend on your smoker. Here, we are using a homemade smoker. The sausages are hung on sticks and placed in a preheated 130°F smoker. The heat is gradually increased to 160-165°F. Keep the sausages in the smoker until the internal temperature of the meat (not the smoker, but inside the sausages themselves) reads 152°F. Make sure your thermometer is reliable and well-calibrated. The sausages should be sufficiently smoked after about an hour. They will have taken on a rich, tan color, and become visibly dried.
The heat is gradually increased to 160-165°F. Keep the sausages in the smoker until the internal temperature of the meat (not the smoker, but inside the sausages themselves) reads 152°F. Make sure your thermometer is reliable and well-calibrated. The sausages should be sufficiently smoked after about an hour. They will have taken on a rich, tan color, and become visibly dried. They are not cured until they have reached the appropriate internal temperature of 152°F. Once smoked to your liking, the sausages may be placed in a 200°F oven and cooked until they reach an internal temperature of 152°F, if they did not reach that temperature in the smoker. After the sausages have reached an internal temperature of 152° F, they should be cooled as rapidly as possible.
Place the links directly into an ice-water bath until they have cooled to at least 110°F. Remove the sausages from the ice bath and allow them to hang at room temperature until dry. The longer they hang, the darker they will become; this step is called “blooming.” 30 minutes is sufficient to allow the color to develop, but it can hang at this stage for up to 3 hours. Place in the refrigerator overnight, and package the sausages the next day. Cut the links apart, and seal them into whatever portion sizes you desire with a vacuum sealer. Freeze the packages for best long-term storage.
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