Advanced Thermal Processing - Cured Sausage 205
Advanced Thermal Processing
Getting Started at Low Temperatures
The first thing that we want to make sure we are doing is starting the smoker at low temperatures. To avoid putting too much stress on the proteins, we want to stay around 20 degrees from the animals’ living temperature. A hog’s temperature is a little warmer than humans, right around 101° Fahrenheit, so we want to start our smoking process around 120°. The other thing we want to do at the start is to dry the outside of the product. For most home smokers, this will simply mean opening the top and bottom dampers to allow air to travel through the chamber and dry the surface of the product. This drying stage should usually last around an hour, if you skip this step, you will have problems with smoke adhesion, and you might end up with a streaky appearance on the surface of your sausage. If you are planning on using a water pan in your smoker, we recommend that you NOT add it during this first hour to get the full benefit from the drying phase.
Once we are past the drying stage, we want to close the dampers down and begin the cooking process by stepping up the temperature gradually. If you try to go directly from 120° to 170°, you run the risk of cooking the outside of the sausage too quickly, this is called case hardening, and it’s how you end up with a product that is overcooked on the outside and under-cooked on the inside. Slowly increasing the temperature will allow the outside of the meat to transfer heat to the interior of the meat easier.
A very important factor when you are smoking any piece of meat is relative humidity. Relative Humidity is the water holding capacity of the air, and being able to increase that can speed up your cooking process and give you a juicier finished product. Most people at home do not have a way to control the relative humidity in their smokers and just put a pan of water in there, which is better than nothing, but it is a shot in the dark. A psychrometer is something that a commercial smokehouse would have that will have both a Dry Bulb and a Wet Bulb, and by getting those two readings, it can give you the relative humidity.
So, placing a pan of water took our relative humidity from about 10% up to 15%, which, as I said, is better than nothing, but it isn’t going to make a ton of difference. So we started thinking of ways to increase that. There are a bunch of chemicals you can add to water to make it evaporate quicker, but they are not ones that you want around food; you could disturb the surface of the water with a constantly moving paddle, circulate air through it, or you can increase the surface area of the water.
The surface area of the water seemed the most doable to me, so we have been experimenting with ways to do this. In my pk 100, we took 3 large auto cleaning sponges, soaked them, and placed them so they were mostly out of the water; the sponges will continue to suck up water and will offer a better surface for evaporation. When I did this, we are able to top out at 50% relative humidity with an average of 47%. I’d call that a pretty significant improvement from the 15% we were getting from a water pan alone.
Next, we bought a dry wick towel, laid it out on a rack above the water pan, and draped part of it over and into the water to try to keep it moist. My thought was that this type of towel, much like the sponge, would stay moist as it could draw water up from the pan. With this setup, I topped out at 54.1% and had an average of 50.1%. I also tried a mop head and a regular towel, but these were not as effective.
Finishing In Water
The last one we want to bring up is pulling your meat out of the smoker and finishing it up in water. We have been doing some testing here on this method, and we think it has a lot of promise. So far, we have found that the best results are when you smoke it to 130°-140° and then move it to water that is a steady 170°. Usually, the 130-160° range takes 3 or more hours, depending on your relative humidity; from 140°, your sausage should be up to temp in one hour. Surprisingly putting it in a vacuum bag does not seem to make a noticeable difference in the quality of the meat or the amount of smoke flavor. We are still going to recommend you vacuum bag it for an extra level of safety, but plenty of people are doing it without them. One note, if you DO use a vacuum bag and you want to see what the temperature is, make a small cut in the up near the seal, insert your thermometer, and then you don’t need a new vac bag if it needs to be cooked longer.
Parksider and gadahl deserve a ton of the credit for the above section (Finishing In Water) as it was gadahl’s great post titled “Summer Sausage Nightmare” that brought up the idea to us and Parksider that recommended it. Since then I have used this technique 4 times and it has never failed!
-If I vacuum pack cased sausage in quantities of 2 to 4 and if I have one not cased, can I put a temp probe in the one, poach all at 170 and be reasonably certain that those packaged will be at 158 at the same time as the single one with the probe?
-If I smoke to 130 and decide to vacuum pack , is there any process to do prior to packing or do they go right from the smoker to the vacuum pack and to the water?
Screamin No, the one you dont have in a bag will have dirtect contact with the water where the ones in a bag might have a little air around them. What I would do is to have a single sausage in a bag as a “tester” and seal that bag all the way at the end. Take it out after 45 minutes or so, cut the bag right next to the seal and temp it, reseal it right back at the top and so on and so forth until you have reached your goal.
If your question was more about can you use the temp of one to say the rest are all done too, then…kind of, there might be a few mitigating factors but as long as you are doing this for your personal enjoyment and not selling them that should be fine.
I did not do anything special between smoking and vac sealing and cooking in the water.
Screamin Jonathon My brother and I were just talking about this again… I think part of the reason we don’t see an issue is that we smoke heavy. We use stick wood smokers not pellet or sawdust. So… I think that’s why we don’t see a fall off on the flavor. That being said once the smoke is driven into the meat, ususally a 4 hour max, that’s all the smoke meat will generally take, i’m not sure that it would impact the overall flavor. Other than wasting bags I don’t see any other reason. BTW we’ve been doing this for decades or four generations that we know of, handed down family recipes.
Great article. I’m sitting here laughing because when I lived on the “road” as and airline pilot we would sometimes layover in and older downtown hotel, that still had the wall room heaters. In winter it would make your nose bleed in the mornings with no humility in the room… The wick method is what I used to put some in the room and it worked. that’s before those portable small humidifiers which still are to big to carry around.
Just bought a couple big SS restaurant pans to try out this way of finishing the product. 11$ each at a swap meet…
Sausage here I come.LOL
I just received my order from Walton’s and since reading Meatgistics, these products should cure many of my past problems. However, I have a couple questions.
-I am using pork shoulder, but I have been trimming off the thick fat on the bottom and not grinding into the sausage mix. Do others include this fat in the grind or remove? My concern is that I may be disrupting my fat content.
-I have been adding Jalapenos to the meat after grinding and before stuffing, same with pineapple. . However, I have not been drying them. Just draining, blotting and adding to the meat. Is this the proper way to add this stuff or should they be dried. Have heard opinions both ways, but I don’t think those I’m talking to know any more than I do which is a problem. Need some expert advise.
-I received Carrot Fiber with my order. However, the “Usage” says 1.59 oz up to 3.59 oz per batch. What is the batch size? How much should I use for 5#
-After smoking the sausage, cooling, overnight in the fridge, left out for an hour and vacuum pack, I notice some moisture on the brats when opening the vacuum bag to eat. Does this present a possible mold problem and if so, what should I change to prevent?
Thank you so much for your time. This is a really great site, can’t say enough good.
As for my other question below, I have decided to go with the experts and not vacuum pack when finishing in the 170 degree bath. Thanks for that advise.
Screamin the fat content is a variable 80/20-70/30 is in the range but it is a matter of preference but fat in the proper amount is flavor there have been many discussions on this from what I have read dried additives work better waltons has a Hawaiian /pineapple seasoning and many others that might get you closer to what you are trying to get to.
Screamin Pineapple I would absolutely recommend you dry, it contains bromelain which could be an issue as it will break down the proteins surrounding it. For Jalapenos that isn’t as much of a concern but I do still use dried flakes when I am adding it to sausage. If you have fresh jalapenos you could blanch them and then dry them out just to be safe.
Use carrot fiber at the 4 oz to 25 lb batch, her is the link to the Additive Chart but basically use .8 oz per 5 lb batch.
Yes, if you are getting a lot of moisture inside a vacuum package it can spoil the meat more quickly. You could add a longer drying phase, or check the humidity in the cooler you are holding it, sometimes holding it too long actually adds more moisture back into the sausage.
OK, I gave it a try and appears I’m not as smart as I look!! I made three 1 lb batches to try some stuff and did not turn out well. My first time with Carrot Binder, Sure Cure, Hickory Smoke and Chili Dog Seasoning. I usually smoke and this is my first time using the water cook.
Here’s what I did
-I made 3- 1 lb batches, all of which contained 1 tbsn & 2 tspn Carrot Binder,
1/4 tsp (4 oz) Sure Cure Pink
-All were cooked in water, starting temp around 140 and up to 175.
-All were tossed into ice water when they reached 160
-All were done at the same time on the same oven top and heat measured constantly with a digital probe.
Batch 1. Added 1/2 Tsp Hickory Smoke, 3 oz of water and Callagen Casing.
Result: Really bad. Casing fell off, what casings stayed on had water in them and when I removed the lose casings, the meat was done on the inside but some had what looked like raw meat next to the casing. After they cooled were really dry and looked bad. Will probably grind and add to chili. Appeared to have spots of grease on the outside.
Batch 2. Added Chili Dog Seasoning and Callagen casing with 4 oz of water. These appear OK and taste pretty good and casings stayed on. Still kind of dry, but OK
Batch 3. Added some Summer Sausage Seasoning I had laying around and added per the package for 1#. Also added Hickory Smoke Seasoning and used Mahogany Summer Sausage Casing. The casing is not tight at all, meat loose in the casing. Meat appears to be done, but very tender and very moist.
I suspect the water added and the cooking is the problem. Usually I would just try again, but with the Walton World insight and at the risk of really looking stupid, what happened?
Screamin It sounds like you went right to the water? That would be the issue for sure. Sorry if it wasn’t more clear, what we were referring to was smoking/cooking until the internal temp of the sausage (or really anything else) reaches 130° and THEN finishing it in water. I tested the same thing you did a few times with snack sticks trying to see if I could make it work and I hade the exactl same experience that you did.
Again, sorry if we weren’t more clear on that! So smoke till 130 or so and then finish in water.
Jonathon Not Walton’s fault at all, I have done enough of this that I should have known better. However, I am new to the Meat Binder products. Most recipes and bagged additives advise how much water to use. If using the Carrot Fiber, do you just use the water is recommended or, given you have the fiber, do you up the water content. If yes, is there a rule of thumb how much?
Screamin I don’t add any extra water to mine. If I am making a cured sausage I go with 2 pints/pounds of water to a 25 lb batch. However, it can hold up to 26 times its weight in water so you could if you wanted to increase your yield or how much moisture was in your sausage. If you are adding carrot fiber you could get away with 3 pints per 25 lb batch but I wouldnt go more than that!
Screamin I’ll throw one more out there, I like to mix the spice into the water with a wisk then drizzle onto the meat while it’s mixing. Pepper especially will pick up the water, I don’t want it to drawl moisture out of the meat. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t…just a best practice that works for me. Try it for yourself.
Parksider I’ve said this somewhere else but my grandmother was an all time great cook. Seriously, she was amazing and she taught all the women and the interested men in my extended family how to cook but noone could ever make a recipe EXACTLY like hers. It wasn’t until after she died and we were splitting up her recipe book that we compared notes and realized she gave everyone 90% of her recipes but held stuff back!
That’s what you are reminding me of with this “season the water” comment! Just kidding, sounds good and I shall try that on my next batch of whatever I am making!
Well, I put all my theories aside and did just what you folks suggested. Slow baked in oven, summer sausage seasoning with Waltons Hickory Smoke Seasoning and Carrot fiber. Gradually increased the temp and ended up with my best summer sausage to date. The casing was a little wrinkled, but taste and texture was great. Also did some hot dogs with the Chili Dog seasoning and some Carrot Fiber, another success. The Chili Dog Seasoning is really great. Thank for all the support.
What does one do when your bored and it’s too cold outside… Apparently you think about humidity. Decided to try my own wet/dry bulb experiment. Although very crude the results were surprising. Found a how to on this from the UW Madison extension office. Wish I’d copied the link.
Found a psychrometer app to do the math. Lost my slide rule. Was surprised the results were pretty close. Set this up near a humidifier so there was some air movement over it. May try this in the smoker as a test as well.
Now you know what cold weather and a cold beer leads to.