With shorter and much cooler days upon us, hunters in the Northern Wilds turn their thoughts to the out-of-doors and their upcoming pursuit of game. Grouse and archery deer hunters are first in the woods, followed by the duck and pheasant chasers in October. Then comes the granddaddy hunting season in Minnesota (and the entire upper Midwest): deer season. Thousands of deer hunters leave their jobs behind for a few days in deer camp, hoping to lay in a winter’s supply of venison.
While I am not a deer hunter, my thoughts also turn toward venison, which I can sometimes get from friends who have been lucky in their hunting. My cravings aren’t for roasts, chops, burgers or back straps, but for sausage.
House Blends and Half Batches
In an effort to give you a little insight when it comes time for the processing decisions to be made, I contacted a couple local sausage makers for their input. Gordy Olson at Russ Kendall’s Smoke House in Knife River says that the customer rules when it comes to sausage.
The house blend at Kendall’s is about 30-35% beef or pork, with the remainder being venison. If the customer likes more than 30% beef or pork in the mixture, though, they can certainly get it. A “half batch” of sausage (the minimum Kendall’s like to do) is approximately three pounds of the beef or pork and about seven pounds of venison. The folks at Kendall’s make mostly domestic sausage, such as summer sausage, salami, snack sticks, brats and the like.
Snack sticks, which usually combine beef and venison, are great favorites at Kendall’s, with summer sausage coming in second place. One top seller is the jalapeno and cheese snack stick. The overall spiciness or “bite” of the stick can be determined by customer preference.
Shaine Stokke, nine-year sausage-making veteran up at Adolph’s Meats in Hermantown, can make your mouth water talking about sausages. Stokke says that essentially any sausage they make for sale in the meat department can be duplicated using venison. Adolph’s uses a 50/50 mix for their fresh sausages. For smoked sausages, they prefer a ratio of 65% venison to about 35% pork. Most of their recipes are variations from their regular bratwurst seasoning. Their minimum order rrequirements are three pounds of venison for snack sticks and five pounds of venison for fresh brats and similar sausages.
Year in and year out, the favorites up at Adolph’s include the following:
- Number one summer sausage: Jalapeno / cheddar
- Number one brat (tied): Bacon, wild rice
- Top snack stick: Pepperjack
As you can see from the two area sausage makers, the tastes of us northlanders tend towards the spicier side. But don’t worry—both Olson and Stokke will craft a sausage to your tastes.
Mary and I have been grinding our own sausage since our early dating days. Our favorite sausage is a breakfast sausage loaded with spices and packed in small packages, not in casings. All we use in the process is a grinding attachment for our KitchenAid stand mixer. I can’t tell you how many pounds of venison and pork that have passed through that attachment—rest assured, it’s a lot.
We like slightly leaner sausage so our mixture is usually about a 60/40 mix of venison to pork. During the deer season, many grocers carry coarse ground pork butt, which is perfect for this sausage. Here is the recipe as we received it about 25 years ago:
Venison Breakfast Sausage
- 4 pounds each of venison and pork butt*
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 2 teaspoons coarse-ground black pepper
- ¾ teaspoon mace
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- ½ teaspoon allspice
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
*This is a 50/50 ratio as given in the original recipe. We prefer a 60/40 mix, which comes to 4.8 lbs venison and 3.2 lbs pork butt.
Grind twice if you don’t get coarse ground pork and have to cut up a pork butt. When we have whole pork butts, we alternate venison and pork going into the grinder.
One trick I learned many years back is to grind the meat once, season it and then grind it again. Once the second grind is done, let the sausage mixture sit in a bowl for several hours in the fridge. When the spices have had a chance to meld, fry up a small patty to taste the spice amounts. Any adjustments to spices can then be made. We prefer less salt but more black pepper, mace and allspice. This sausage smells great when frying. The packages are just the size for two patties, not more than half a pound each.
Another sausage we have made when venison is plentiful is an Italian sausage. This sausage is perfect for lasagna, meatballs in spaghetti, or just fried in a patty.
- 4 pounds each of venison and pork butt (50/50 ratio)
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon coarse-ground black pepper
- 4 teaspoons fennel seed
- 4 teaspoons oregano
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon red pepper
Grind twice, similar to the breakfast sausage. We package Italian sausage in slightly larger packages than the breakfast sausage.