True to their name, sausage stuffers are specialized pieces of equipment intended primarily for stuffing sausages. They come in all sizes and shapes. When I launched into the sausage-making business, I started off with an 11-pound-capacity manual stuffer. We upgraded to a No. 30–capacity stuffer and used it for a couple of years. The last year we used it exclusively, we made over 3,000 lbs of sausage with it. My left shoulder looked RIPPED! Now we’ve upgraded to an automated machine that helps us stuff and link upwards of 500 pounds of sausage in an hour!

The following figure is a picture of our three stuffers. With each upgrade we were able to achieve large increases in productivity. Our Lucky Linker, however, has been a total game changer!

sausage stuffers Photo by David Pluimer

Three stuffers of different sizes.

If you are using natural casings, before you can stuff a sausage, you need to make sure your casings are hydrated and flushed.

Your sausage stuffer is going to require a little prep work before you can stuff your first foot of sausage. If you have a friend to help, this would be a great time for them to join in the process!
  1. Sanitation: By now this should sound like a broken record, but make sure that before you get started, you have thoroughly washed your hands, and also cleaned your work area and all stuffing equipment. There are many places where junk can hide in your stuffer. Check all of the seals, welds, threads, and so on, and make sure there is nothing hiding.
  2. Temperature control: When working with potentially hazardous food, this will always be a concern. Make sure your sausage mixture is left in the fridge as long as possible. You can even leave it in the freezer to drop the temperature even more prior to stuffing. You can also keep the stuffer cylinder in the freezer to cool its temperature down prior to filling the stuffer.
  3. Loading the stuffer: When stuffing sausage, you want to make sure you minimize the air bubbles that get into your sausage. Your first line of defense against getting air bubbles in your links is to make sure the stuffer is loaded properly. As you are adding ground meat into the cylinder, remember to smash it down with your hand. Keep working the grind in this manner until you’ve loaded all of it (or the cylinder is full).
  4. Setting up the stuffer: Once your cylinder is filled with grind, place the cylinder into the stuffer assembly and attach the horn to the cylinder with the locking ring. You will want to use the horn that is closest in size to the diameter of the casing you are using. The figure shows a horn being attached to a stuffer.

    Stuffer assembly Photo by David Pluimer

    Stuffer assembly.
  5. Clamping down the stuffer: When you start cranking the stuffer plunger down, you will find that the stuffer has a tendency to slide all over the place. If you don’t have a partner to help you by holding the stuffer in place, consider getting some clamps to secure the stuffer to your work surface, similar to the setup shown.
clamp down grinder Photo by David Pluimer

Clamp it down.

Stuffing sausage

If you’ve ever watched a seasoned sausage maker stuff sausages, it may have looked like a breeze. But what you probably didn’t notice were the many different points of finesse that they learned from years of making sausages. The speed of the stuffer is controlled by the speed with which you crank the plunger down. The fill level of the sausage casing is controlled by the amount of tension applied to the casing on the horn. The greater the tension, the slower the casing will slip off the horn. Conversely, the lower the tension, the faster the casing will slip off the horn. If you are watching a pro, they are coordinating all of this on the fly by managing speed with one hand and applying varying degrees of tension with the other hand.

Stuffing sausages is a careful balancing act between speed of fill and tension on the sausage casing as it comes off the horn. Casings can only handle so much pressure before they break. The more you do you this activity, the more you will develop a feel for the process and even be able to sense when your casing has been filled to its absolute limit just before it pops. It’s something at which you cannot be awesome until you’ve logged some hours. You need a little muscle memory, so give yourself a grace period when you get started.

The art to stuffing a sausage really lies in the way you handle the casing on the horn. This may sound ridiculous, but you have to get familiar with your casing. You need to get a sense of how hydrated it is, and how much wider it is than your horn. If your casing is properly hydrated and moves freely up and down the horn, then the application of tension to the casing as it is filled with grind will be controlled almost completely by you. If the casing is not as hydrated as it could be, or is a little tight on the horn, then the casing will drag across the horn. The further back you push the casing on the horn toward the base, the more drag will be created on the casing because of the distance it has to travel to get to the end of the horn.

To begin stuffing, you first need to load a casing onto the horn. The following figure illustrates how to do this.

sausage stuffer horn Photos by David Pluimer

Progression of loading a casing onto the stuffer horn.

Once the casing is on the horn, you can either choose to slide a little off the end of the horn and tie a knot, or leave it without a knot. The knot eliminates the problem of grind squirting out the end when you get started. However, you can simply pinch the end of the casing between your fingers to keep that from happening. If you are stuffing an emulsified sausage, then tying the end off will be imperative because the sausage mixture will be quite loose and will run out the end.

If you opt for tying the end of the casing, prior to doing so you should crank the stuffer down to get sausage to the end of the horn. If you don’t, you will push nothing but air into your sealed casing and you will need to poke holes to purge the air from the casing. This is another reason for not tying the end.

With the casing on the horn, begin slowly cranking the plunger down. Position your other hand on the horn as illustrated in the following figure. Be sure to pay attention to how easily the plunger is pushing the grind down into the horn. You will want to get acclimated to the speed at which it can and will flow into and out of the horn. Let the casing start to fill, and use your right hand to apply tension by gently pressing the casing against the horn. This will make it harder for the pressure of the sausage coming out of the horn to drag the casing along and off the horn.

Hand positioning sausage Photo by David Pluimer

Hand positioning on the stuffer.

I am right-hand dominant. When I stuff sausage with a manual stuffer, I crank with my left hand and I use my right hand to manage the horn. I refer to my right hand as the ‘brake’ because I use it to slow down the speed at which the casing slips off the horn.

No matter how hard you try to eliminate air bubbles when loading the cylinder, you will have air bubbles. When the air hits the casing, it will cause the casing to puff up like a balloon. This air pressure can cause the casing to break. Air bubbles will also cause you to have a poor fill in the casing. Periodically, if you get air bubbles in the casing while it’s on the horn, you should use a sausage pricker to poke a couple of holes in the casing so the air can escape.

Slowly crank the plunger down and keep filling until you run out of casing. If you run into issues like the casing slipping off, resulting in loose or poor fills, just stop cranking, and then crank in the opposite direction to relieve the pressure inside the cylinder (which will stop the flow of grind out of the horn). Then slide the casing back onto the horn and start again.

The more sausage you make, the better you will get. Just take your time, there is no rush.

If you are planning to link your sausage, make sure your fill is tight but not so tight that there is no margin for twisting the casings to make links.

As your sausage casing comes off the end of the horn, periodically stop to coil your sausage rope neatly on the work surface. This will ensure that nothing slips off the counter onto the floor. It is pretty difficult to catch 15 feet of sausage as it slides off the countertop. Before you throw your ring of sausage into a tub and put it into the fridge until it’s time to link, you will want to work out any air bubbles that may be in the sausage. Using your sausage pricker, prick your sausage rope from end to end. As you link, this will give the air a place to go and will allow the grind to compress as you twist links.

Linking sausage

If you’re ready to link, that means you’ve stuffed your sausage and hopefully you’ve got a tub filled with ropes of sausage! Linking sausage is a little more straightforward than stuffing, but there is still quite a bit of finesse involved. If you’ve filled your casings perfectly, then the task of linking will be pretty straightforward. Probably a little more realistically, this is going to be a process of cleaning up your stuffing job.

Have you ever seen a balloon animal being made? A long, skinny balloon is filled with air and then twisted in all different directions until it is shaped into an animal form or some other object. Have you ever noticed how the balloon is handled by the person making the balloon animal? They tend to use their whole hand to grip, twist, and fashion the balloon. The reason for this is that it spreads pressure out over a greater surface area and reduces the chances that the balloon will pop. This is the same sort of mindset that you need to have when linking sausage.

Your sausage rope is under pressure. As you twist the rope to form links, you are reducing the available space inside the casing, which further compresses the contents. With each twist of the casing, you are increasing pressure. So you need to approach linking with the mindset of “how do I not blow up my balloon?” Just like stuffing, the more you link, the more sense you will get for the process (this is called muscle memory), so you just need to get started.

  1. To begin, empty your rope onto the countertop and form it into a coil.
  2. Pick up the end of the rope and pinch the outside with one hand. Then, with the other hand, using the space in between your index finger and your thumb, gently compress the link to create a space that you can pinch. The following figure illustrates this technique.
  3. Gently spin the sausage link forward (clockwise). Give it a solid five or six spins.
  4. Repeat Steps 1 and 2. When you are ready to spin your link, you want to spin in the opposite direction of the last link. In this case, you will spin backwards (counter-clockwise).
sausage rope Photos by David Pluimer

Steps to distribute fill within a sausage rope.

Twisting links compresses your sausage fill. If your links are not rigid after twisting, try spinning them a few more times to compress them further. You want your links to be tightly filled but not bursting.

If you find that your sausage ropes have sections that are so full that they will likely burst, then try spreading the fill out through the casing by gently pushing the fill down the rope to more evenly distribute it. You want to use your whole hand to distribute the pressure out over as much surface area as possible. Grip the sausage rope with your whole hand and gently work the fill down the rope to distribute the fill. You want to start by creating room in a part of the rope that has a light fill and then slowly work your way back toward the section of sausage rope that is under a great deal of pressure.

Now that your sausage is linked, find a place to hang the ropes of sausage links in your refrigerator so they can “bloom.” This is a process of drying the casings and letting the flavors permeate further through the grind. If you can’t hang them, leave them in your tub, uncovered, in the fridge overnight before cooking them. You’ll appreciate the final product more.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Mark LaFay is a tenured entrepreneur. He started two successful businesses in the music industry and is the founder of Old Major Market, a virtual artisanal butcher shop in Indianapolis. LaFay is a serial entrepreneur, butcher, certified sommelier, the Abe Frohman of Indianapolis, and the 2015 and 2017 Indiana State Fair Backyard BBQ Grand Champion.

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