Before we started curing our own sausage, we were a little bit daunted by the prospect. After all, if something goes wrong, the product might not be safe to eat, which means all that time and effort were for naught.
Once you know what you’re doing, though, you can cure summer sausage like a pro. In this guide, we’ll take you through the process so you can wow your guests with your sausage-making prowess.
How Long To Cure Summer Sausage
After you’ve added the seasonings and the curing salt to the sausage mixture, let it sit in the fridge for at least 24 hours. Be sure to use Curing Salt #1, also known as Prague Powder #1 or Insta Cure #1. Regular table salt isn’t an acceptable substitute—the sausage won’t be stable at room temperature if you don’t use the right type of salt.
Curing is an old preservation technique, designed to give products a longer shelf life. It works especially well for meat, which usually needs to be refrigerated in order to ward off spoilage.
When you cure meat, your goal is to remove excess moisture and alter the texture of the muscle fibers. This will create a hostile environment for spoilage bacteria, thereby preventing the meat from spoiling when it’s kept at room temperature.
Do You Have To Cure Summer Sausage?
By definition, summer sausage is a type of sausage that requires no refrigeration. That means it has to be cured in order to be classified as such.
As you’ve probably guessed, this results in a lengthy preparation process. Making summer sausage can take up to three days, though you might be able to move things along more quickly.
In order to cure the sausage, you’ll need to add a special salt known as “curing salt.” This isn’t necessary when you’re preparing sausages that will be cooked and consumed right away, but for summer sausage, it’s essential.
Never be tempted to skip the curing process in the interest of saving time (or for any other reason). If the meat isn’t cured, you’ll run the risk of botulism infection, which is caused by toxins from the bacterium Clostridium botulinum and can be serious.
How To Cure Summer Sausage
The process involves more than just adding curing salt, though that’s the key factor. You’ll also need to let the mixture sit for awhile. Make sure you set aside enough time to see the process through before you begin.
Your first step is to select the meat you’ll be using. Summer sausage is often made primarily of beef, but adding pork to the mix will give it complexity. Try to choose fattier cuts, as the mixture should contain 30 percent fat in order to be successful.
If you do end up with leaner cuts, add some beef or pork fat to make up the difference. This is one of the reasons why we like to save as much leftover fat as we can after trimming a brisket or pork butt.
Proper seasoning is the key to success when it comes to homemade sausage. For summer sausage, try a blend of mustard seed, black pepper, cayenne pepper, chili powder, garlic powder, and thyme.
Once you’ve added the seasonings, it’s time to start curing. Add the curing salt (we’ll talk more about the proper meat-to-salt ratio in the next section) and mix well. It’s best to use your hands to to blend everything thoroughly without overworking the meat.
Add the mixture to a bowl and set it in the refrigerator to begin curing. You can’t leave it out at room temperature yet—the curing salt hasn’t had time to work its magic.
How Much Curing Salt to Use
While you can experiment with different seasoning ingredients, you do need to follow the rules as far as curing is concerned.
For every 5 pounds of meat you use, add one teaspoon of curing salt. This isn’t a matter of seasoning—it’s not safe to use any less than this. You’ll be able to tell if you didn’t use enough curing salt once the sausage is cooked, as it will probably taste “off.”
How Long To Cure Summer Sausage
After you’ve added the curing salt, the meat mixture will have to be refrigerated for at least 24 hours.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can move ahead the next morning if you added the curing salt in the afternoon. A full 24 hours has to pass in order to ensure food safety.
It’s a good idea to knead the meat mixture at least once while it cures. If the salts aren’t evenly distributed, then some portions of the finished sausage might not get the full effect.
What Curing Salt Should I Use For Summer Sausage?
There are two basic types of curing salt: #1 and #2. The one you’ll be using for summer sausage is Curing Salt #1, which may also be called “Prague Powder #1” or “Insta Cure #1.” Sometimes, it’s referred to simply as “pink powder.”
This type of curing salt is used for short-term curing. It’s ideal for semi-dry sausages and meats, and summer sausage falls into this category.
Curing Salt #2, also known as “slow cure,” is made for long-term curing. If you make sausages that need to cure for weeks or more, this is the type you’ll use. However, it’s not suitable for summer sausage, so make sure you choose the right kind of curing salt.
Also, know that curing salt isn’t the same as pink Himalayan salt. That’s a regular table salt that happens to have a pinkish hue. It lacks the chemical compounds that are essential to the curing process.
What are these compounds exactly? All curing salts consist of regular table salt (NaCl), sodium nitrite (NaNO2), and sodium nitrate (NaNO3). If the salts don’t have the right chemical makeup, they shouldn’t be used to cure meat.
How To Smoke Summer Sausage
Your job isn’t done after the meat is cured. You’ll still have to stuff the sausage into casings and then cook it at a low temperature, which can take a few days.
Start by setting the smoker temperature between 110 and 130 degrees Fahrenheit. You can also use a regular grill, but in our experience it can be tricky to maintain a temperature this low unless you have a dedicated smoker.
Once the sausage has taken on a pleasing reddish hue, increase the cooking temperature to 150-170 degrees. Eventually, you can bring it up to 190, but we don’t recommend smoking summer sausage at a higher temperature, or the texture will be off.
Continue to smoke the sausage until it achieves an internal temperature of 155-160 degrees. It’s best not to let it smoke past this point, as the fat dispersion will be out of balance if the mixture gets too hot.
Let the sausage sit in the fridge overnight to dry. It might take several days or even a week for the meat to reach the desired consistency. Once it has, you can slice and serve the sausages whenever you’d like.
Again, trust your judgement when it comes to the flavor. If you think the meat tastes rancid, then something probably went wrong during the cure. In this case, you should discard the sausage.
The Bottom Line
The curing process is time-consuming, but it’s imperative not to skip it. In order to keep without refrigeration, the summer sausage needs to cure for at least 24 hours.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!