When making homemade sausage, it can be tricky to get the meat-to-fat ratio down pat. You want your sausages to be nice and juicy, but if you use too much fat, it might not render out properly—leaving you with a sausage that’s unpleasantly chewy.
Our guide should help you find the ideal sausage fat ratio so you can turn out deliciously juicy links every time.
Sausage Fat Ratio
When making homemade sausage, aim for a meat-to-fat ratio of 70 to 30. This template should turn out sausages that are moist and tender without being too fatty. Feel free to experiment with the fat content to suit your tastes, but don’t use any less than 20 percent fat, or the sausages will turn out too dry.
Sausage Making 101
It’s gratifyingly easy to make your own sausage, and the results are worth the effort. All you need to get started is a high-quality meat grinder—and, of course, the ingredients.
Sausage can be made from pork, beef, or a combination. Chicken and turkey make leaner sausages, and their mild flavor makes it easy to experiment with bold seasonings like kalamata olives and sundried tomatoes.
When you make sausage from scratch, you have complete control over the quality of the ingredients. It also allows you to add just the right amount of fat and salt for your taste, which is what we’re here to discuss.
Decide in advance whether or not you’d like to case the sausage. Natural casings are made from animal intestines and yield satisfactory results, but they spoil quickly. Artificial casings might last longer, but we prefer to avoid them whenever possible.
You can make homemade sausage using a food processor, but this isn’t ideal if you want to stuff the sausage into casings. The sausage will also have a different texture than what you’d get if you used a meat grinder instead.
Sausage Fat Ratio: A Guide
The ideal sausage consists of about 30 percent fat. You’ll find that most recipes follow this formula, though some might go as low as 25 percent or as high as 40 percent.
Don’t attempt to make sausage with a meat-to-fat ratio lower than 80 to 20. If you add less than 20 percent fat, the sausage will turn out way too dry. Anyone who’s looking for an ultra-lean meat product would be better off staying away from sausage entirely.
When you purchase commercially prepared sausage, the fat content will usually stay below 50 percent. If there’s more fat than meat, there’s a good chance that some of the fat will remain unrendered, which gives the sausage a chewy texture.
As we mentioned, making your own sausage allows you to experiment with fat content. Try using 30 percent fat the first time and see how you enjoy the results. If you find them either too lean or too fatty, you can adjust the next recipe accordingly.
What Cuts of Pork to Use
For the purposes of this article, we’ll stick to pork sausage in the interest of keeping things simple. Obviously, if you’re making summer sausage or another type that calls for a different meat product, you should follow that recipe.
When choosing pork for the grinder, look for the shoulder or the belly. The cheek and jowl also make decent sausage, but they may be harder to find.
Both the belly and the shoulder have a generous amount of fat on their own. You might not even need to add extra lard to the grinder. In fact, depending on the cut, some trimming might be in order.
Choosing the Fat
Selecting the right fat is nearly as important as choosing the correct cut of meat. For pork sausages, you should stick to pork fat. If there’s beef in your recipe, feel free to substitute beef tallow instead.
Duck fat and lamb fat are options as well, but they’ll give the sausages a strong gamey flavor. In general, it’s preferable to stick with the fat from whatever animal product you’re using to make the sausage.
Even within that framework, though, you’ll have to make sure the pork fat you’re using is suitable for sausage. It’s best if the fat has a hard consistency and high melting point. Otherwise, it might start to melt while you’re processing the mixture.
Back fat meets these requirements and is perfect for making sausage. The fat from the jowl, the Boston butt, and the shoulder are also good choices.
Pork belly fat is softer and has a lower melting point, but it should still work, especially if you’re using pork belly to make the sausage anyway. Avoid leaf lard, as it’s too soft to hold its shape during processing.
Sausage Salt Ratio
The salt content is just as important as the meat-to-fat ratio. After all, the last thing you want is a sausage that’s too salty to be edible. On the other hand, if you don’t use enough salt, the sausage will taste bland.
Aim for a salt percentage of 1.5 to 2 when making sausage. As with the fat content, you can experiment with this formula until you find the ratio that suits your taste.
Remember that you should never taste the sausage without cooking it first. Consuming undercooked pork can lead to food poisoning. If you want to test the seasoning, fry up a small amount of the mixture and taste that to see if you need to make adjustments.
More Sausage-Making Tips
—Remove the sinew when trimming the pork. Finding bits of connective tissue in the finished sausage is an unpleasant experience.
—Test the binding by pressing a small patty of the meat mixture against your palm. If the sausage falls off your hand, the meat and fat need to be worked a bit more.
—Cut the meat into strips rather than chunks. That way, less air will be incorporated into the mixture.
—Make sure all your equipment is very cold. If it’s too warm, some of the fat will render as you work, which creates a real mess. Put the grinding plates and other tools in the freezer for about 30 minutes before you begin.
The Bottom Line
Once you’ve found the sausage fat ratio that works for you, making homemade sausages will be a snap. This is one of the most useful skills a home chef can attain, and well worth the investment.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!