Sunday, July 21, 2013

Meat and Fire Together Like It's Supposed to Be!

Most kitchens have an assortment of gadgets, but how many of you have a smoker?   If you did, you could have had THIS for Sunday dinner.

That's a smoked brisket.  You start with some of your favorite barbecue sauce (about 1 and 1/4 cups or so) to which you've added some Dijon and a splash of hot sauce, thinning it with some whisky so you can inject it into the meat. Use a large bore syringe and inject about 2 ounces to the 3 lb brisket that you've trimmed the fat from (don't cut all the way down to the meat, just get rid of the excess).

Stick the syringe in  and inject until the the marinade comes out of the hole and move to another spot (poke it about 6-8 times top and sides, then keep the remainder).  The aim is go get the flavor inside but also to add moisture so it doesn't dry out during the smoking/cooking process.

This went in a smoker at 200 degrees for four hours, then it was basted with some more of the sauce, wrapped tight in foil and put into the oven at 200 for six more hours.  It makes for an unbelievably tender and juicy piece of meat (with a big thanks to my Canadian friend Marty for the recipe). Served with marinated veggies, corn and homemade bread, you just can't get this at most restaurants.

But the smoker just isn't for the typical "barbecue" cuts of meat  How about taking some of that leftover venison  you've got and make home smoked Bambi sausage before it's time to fill the freezer up with venison again?

Sausage making isn't as hard as it looks, providing you have the right equipment. It's like reloading, if you spend the the money wisely on the right equipment and read up on it, you'll be set up in no time. And like reloading, if you can get a friend to walk you through the process the first time, even better.
For starters you need a grinder.

A grinder is a good investment. Don't be fooled into thinking the smaller kitchen grinder will do the trick. It will, if you're grinding up some walnuts for Christmas cookies but try and process a whole deer with one and it may fail halfway through.
Sure, you can just go with lots of lumps and chunks of meat, stew is always good. But think of all the uses for ground meat, burgers, casseroles, shepherds pie, chili, soups, tacos, meat sauce for pasta, meatballs to launch in your trebuchet at the invading hordes, the list is endless. Instead of . "Oh boy honey, stew again".

Look for one carefully. You do NOT want one of those cheap units that sounds like it's fired by a Rotax on one cylinder or one that groans and labors like a teenager being forced to pick up their room. Venison WILL take more horsepower to grind than most non game meats as it's leaner. This is one of those times, that it pays to get quality, looking not for wattage but for horsepower. A cheap grinder will clog more, be less efficient and likely have to be replaced sooner, costing you more in a long run.

You are looking for something commercial grade, with a solid transmission and a loading hopper that's safe and easy to use. Most of these are also compatible with attachments such as sausage stuffers. Also get to know your local butcher/grocer, for when they are upgrading or replacing used grinders and slicers, they sometimes toss out the old (working) one or will sell it cheaply.

Also, be careful! This is not a piece of equipment you want to use if you are tired, careless or have had a beer or two. It can hurt you!
Yes, this is a homemade helicopter.  It can also hurt you.

The Bambi sausage started with a casing and seasoning duo from Cabelas which was then cooked in a smoker, the summer sausage flavor kit being selected. The pre-measured cure and seasoning provided has no fillers, and the how-to kit, with directions even the inept (ahem) could read included enough seasoning, cure and casings for 25 lbs. of meat.

Yes, you must cure the meat as smoking produces the slow cooked environmental conditions in which botulin can party like there's no tomorrow. (Geek trivia: botulism is Latin for "sausage disease", bringing out the wurst in anyone.)
The usual curing agent is sodium nitrite (NaNO2). Salts like Sodium Nitrate (and Sodium Chloride) can enhance the flavor as well as effectively ward off microbes like Clostridium botulinum. But Sodium Nitrite is implicated in the formation of Carcinogenic nitrosamines and hence should be used only in the recommended quantity. I can't guarantee the rest of my instructions will result in perfect sausage, but trust me on this one, you must cure the sausage meat if using a smoker.

Once prepared, you want to make sure the sausage is always thoroughly dry before being placed in the smoker. As a rule of thumb, you'll want to generate smoke for 3.5 to 4 hours if using fruit wood. In most household smokers, that takes about 3 pans of soaked wood chips.

With the stronger flavored smoke generated by hickory and mesquite, you might be better off stopping the smoke after 3 hours.
Too much smoke flavor is far worse than not enough. Over smoking will cause your sausage to taste acrid and bitter. Under smoking will just result in a less intense smoked flavor, but the sausage will still be very good.

Soak wood chips in water for at least 30 minutes. Any kind of wood chips will impart a smoky flavor to the sausage, but different kinds of wood provide different tastes. Apple, cherry, hickory and pecan wood will give the sausage a nice hint of sweetness. Oak and hard maple, along with mesquite, are excellent. You do want to avoid the soft wood (oh, don't go there) as the flavor of such soft woods such as pine, cedar and poplar tend to burn too fast and much too hot.
The smoker
Fill the firebox with charcoal. If you need to use charcoal lighting fluid, use a high quality one that will ensure no lighter fluid taste taints the flavor of the sausage. Once the coals are nice and grey, place the racks into the smoker, making sure the lowest rack is far enough way that the bottom layer of sausage will not scorch. Lay the sausage carefully on the racks, making sure they neither touch the sides of the smoker nor each other. Place the wet wood chips on top of the coals and close the smoker.

Regulating the Heat
The secret to the smoking phase is temperature control. If you can manage this, the rest is simple. You are aiming for a temperature inside the smoker between 150 and 165 degrees F.

I can't over-emphasize the importance of temperature control in the smoking phase of sausage making. If you get this part right, everything else falls into place easily.

Remember for those of you that cook, you know what happens to some food when you try and turn the heat up too high to make it cook faster? Yes disaster, and "hello, Dominos?" If you try to smoke at a higher temperatures than is recommended, the fat content in your sausage will start to melt and ooze out of the casing, drying out the meat and possible resulting in a visit from Fire Marshall Bill.
Note: I add some pork to the lean venison. For not only does it add flavor, it acts as a binding agent so your final product doesn't turn out dry, bland and crumbly.

Take your sausage out of the smoker when it reaches an internal temperature of 152 degrees F. adding more wet wood chips as needed. This could take several hours depending how full the smoker is. DO NOT GUESS on the temperature. Use a thermometer and monitor it regularly as part of the smoking process. Some people recommend stopping the smoke a few degrees shy of done and continuing to heat to 155 degrees for better color and flavor (such as is stopping the smoke at about 3.5 to 4 hours when using fruit woods and then continuing to heat, or 3 hours for the stronger flavored woods such as mesquite or hickory.)

If you're uncertain as to technique your first try, just smoke til 152 degrees, turn off the smoker, and heat to 155.
When it is done, remove the links and cool them in a cold water bath to lower the internal temperature quickly to 120 degrees. This keeps the links from drying out and shriveling up. When they are cooled, dry on racks for three to four hours and then freeze any you don't plan to eat in the next 4 days. In the freezer they will keep well until the next whitetail season though for optimum flavor use within the next 8-9 months.

One last hint: You may want to have some newspaper down for the puddle of dog drool that will collect on the driveway as the aroma of smoking meat builds.

He's trying to look calm and vigilant but the hypersonic tail gives him away,