Introduction - The Art and Science

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Page updated September 19, 2018

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INTRODUCTION: I don't know about you, but my image of sausage depicts delicately spiced meats stuffed in casing and grilled to perfection; but I wasn’t sure I was capable of creating such a product. At first, I made only sausage patties, because I wanted to see if sausage making was for me before investing in a bunch of equipment that I may never use again. Also, I just made one pound test batches; I wanted to determine if I liked the particular spicing! In my early university years, my relatives purchased a commercial sausage factory in San Francisco that specialized in Italian salumi ["Salumi" is the Italian word for cured meats] and my love of sausage making began.  At the time, sausage making was an art based on centuries of trial and error.  However all of that was to change in the early 1950's as more and more science crept into the art! The application of science and food research to the sausage industry allowed for a more healthy, consistent, and tasty product. In my formulations you will find that i often use chemical additives--if that is a concern to you, just make those sausage that do not contain those chemicals! The additives I use are based of the government standard referred to as GRAS (Generally Regarded as Safe) for human consumption.

The most important item needed for sausage production, however, is clean equipment.  Before any sausage making begins, I wash all of my sausage making equipment (my stuffer bowl, grinder parts, bowls and measuring spoons) in the dishwasher; then, I wipe the counter surfaces down with a 10% bleach solution.  I also use latex gloves when handling meat and mixing in the spices.  Generally I use dried whole spices --make sure they're fresh---and grind them to a fine powder.  I always chill my meats to the slightly frozen state before grinding them so as to obtain a nice clean cut! 

I realized that sausage making equipment need not be extensive nor expensive. For example, I started with a Universal Chopper that I picked up in a second-hand store for $2.50...that was it.  As my proficiency grew, I added to and upgraded my equipment. First, I bought a new 3/4 hp #22 grinder, then a vertical stuffer. Recently I added a Bradley smoker to my equipment. My last purchase was a good meat slicer. For making dry-cured sausage, you'll need to provide humidity and temperature control.  An incubator was needed and I constructed one out of an old freezer chassis I got at the dumps!

A note on sausage formulas:  Most formulations are my own creations, some have been copied and referenced from various sources. Those with my signature are my own creations. Others have been submitted to me for consideration and posting and their source identified. Feel free to adapt the ingredients and amounts to your own tastes; the formulas here are only meant to be guides. 

All my recipes are in Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) so that they can be easily read and printed from your browser. You can download a free copy of Adobe Reader by clicking on the icon .












Before Getting Started

It’s my position that before you begin making sausages at home, you educate yourself about matters of health and safety.  Realize that by the time meat reaches the butcher counter, it has gathered a number of different kinds of bacteria just from handling. Some of these bacteria can cause severe gastrointestinal consequences. Common bacteria like E. coli, Listeria sp. Salmonella sp. can be easily transferred to the meat. You must learn how to discourage the growth of harmful organisms in the ground meats you use for sausage making.  I found guidelines for the treatment of pork and pork products with regards to health on the both USDA and Canadian Food Inspection Agency websites (see links) to be very helpful.  Always be careful to prevent any further contamination and to always keep the temperature of the meat low enough to discourage further bacterial growth. Keep the meat refrigerated until its ready to be ground, and return it immediately to the refrigerator as soon as possible.

Cleanliness is a major factor in preventing food borne illness. Everything that touches food should be clean. Kep the following steps in mind to help prevent food borne illness by safely handling food in your home. You should wash your hands before and after handling meat (especially uncooked raw meat, poultry, or fish and their juices). Wash your hands (gloved or not) with warm, soapy water for 20 seconds with warm, soapy water. If your hands have any kind of skin abrasion or infection, always use clean disposable gloves. and don't forget to was up after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.

Thoroughly wash  all surfaces that come in contact with raw meat, poultry, and fish with hot, soapy water, before moving on to sausage preparation. Use paper towels to clean kitchen surfaces. If you use dishcloths, wash them often in the hot cycle of your washing machine. Keep other surfaces, such as faucets and counter tops, clean by washing with hot, soapy water. To keep your knives and cutting boards clean, wash them in hot, soapy water after each use; then rinse and air or pat dry with clean paper towels. Cutting boards can be sanitized with a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water. Flood the surface with the bleach solution and allow it to stand for several minutes; then rinse and air or pat dry with clean paper towels. Non-porous acrylic, plastic, glass, and solid wood boards can be washed in a dishwasher (laminated boards may crack and split). Even plastic boards wear out over time. Once cutting boards become excessively worn or develop hard-to-clean grooves, replace them.

Keep raw meat, poultry, fish, and their juices away from other food. After cutting raw meats, wash hands, cutting board, knife, and countertops with hot, soapy water. Be Smart. Keep Foods Apart. Don't Cross-Contaminate Raw or cooked meat, poultry or egg products, as any perishable foods, must be kept at a safe temperature during "the big thaw." They are safe indefinitely while frozen. However, as soon as they begin to thaw and become warmer than 40 °F, bacteria that may have been present before freezing can begin to multiply. Perishable foods should never be thawed on the counter, or in hot water and must not be left at room temperature for more than two hours. Even though the center of the package may still be frozen as it thaws on the counter, the outer layer of the food could be in the "Danger Zone," between 40 and 140 °F — temperatures where bacteria multiply rapidly.

Learn about the safe way to defrost food: in the refrigerator, or, in cold water.

Refrigerator Thawing --- When thawing frozen food, it's best to plan ahead and thaw in the refrigerator where it will remain at a safe, constant temperature — at 40 °F or below. Planning ahead is the key to this method because of the lengthy time involved. A large frozen item like a pork shoulder requires at least a day (24 hours) for every 5 pounds of weight. Even small amounts of frozen food — such as a pound of ground meat or boneless chicken breasts — require a full day to thaw.

Cold Water Thawing --- This method is faster than refrigerator thawing but requires more attention. The food must be in a leak-proof package or plastic bag. If the bag leaks, bacteria from the water, air or surrounding environment could be introduced into the food. Also, the meat tissue may absorb water, resulting in a watery product.

The bag should be submerged in cold tap water, changing the water every 30 minutes so it continues to thaw. Small packages of meat, poultry or seafood — about a pound — may thaw in an hour or less. A 3-to 4-pound package may take 2 to 3 hours.


Record copious notes of your procedure, changes in formula, cooking method, temperature, etc.

Before you begin any sausage making endeavor:

  • Educate yourself concerning health risks, ingredients, limitations, and food technology as they relate to your use of the formulations (recipes) that appear here as they pertain to your personal production of the sausages your are making.
  • Obtain a notebook and begin recording everything you do while preparing the recipe: materials, grinding the meats, mixing the spices, etc. Record times, temperatures and humidity where appropriate.  Don’t rely on mental notes, jot important information will be valuable for troubleshooting cases where you are dissatisfied with the product.
  • Read the entire procedure through, making sure you understand all the nuances of grinding, curing, spicing, etc. and have all the necessary materials at hand.
  • Assemble and scrupulously clean all equipment you will be using.  (don’t rely on the cleanliness of stored equipment and utensils.)
  • Use latex gloves when handling meats and mixing in cures and spices.
  • Keep all perishables refrigerated whenever possible through out the procedure.
  • Follow the meat preparation, curing spicing, cooking and/or drying times and temperatures precisely. Don’t make substitutions unless you completely understand the effects of the substitution...for example, saltpeter is NOT a substitute for cure #1 or Cure #2.








Meats used in Sausage Making

A number of different kinds of meat are suitable for sausage. But the most common are the United States are pork, beef and poultry.  Mutton and lamb may also be used.  Hunters will often include game meats in their sausages, like venison, elk, antelope, duck, goose and pheasant. My suggestion for game meats, however,  would be to substitute pork fat for the “wild” fat, where dietary and religious regulations permit.  Fat is necessary for both taste and texture in sausage; if you want to leave out the fat, forget making sausage and make a meat loaf and substitute bread for the fat! How much fat? That varies, some sausages are made with a total fat content of 20%; others up to 50%.  If sausage contains more than 50% fat, you must call it “imitation” sausage. 

The shoulder is a good and economical choice for both pork and beef sausages; Pork shoulder is often marketed commercially as “Boston Butt or Pork Shoulder Butt”, while beef shoulder is called “Chuck”.  The desirable fat to use in sausages is the hard fat that comes from above the shoulder, that over the loin (back fat) or the belly around the ribs (bacon). Today's primal cut pork shoulders contain about 20% fat!

Prepare the meats for sausage by removing any bones. Next, look for and remove any glandular meat  between the muscle bundles—it will have a quite different texture and color than the muscle meat and give a bitter taste to your sausage. Trim away all silver skin (connective tissues: tough, thin shiny sheets) and any tendons (tough, dense white fibrous sheets).  Remove any visible blood vessels, also.  Save any small pieces of edible meat and fat from this trimming, but don’t mix it in with the “regular” meat you just trimmed….grind it separately. The picture on the right shows me boning out a pork shoulder butt.


The picture on the left shows Glenn, my “sausage-making buddy”, grinding up some pork shoulder. Once you start making and sharing sausages, you'll find that there are other people who make sausages or want to learn.  Although sausage making can be an individual thing, its much more fun when you have a buddy who also loves sausages! You'll practice with spicing and types of meats, the size of grind, etc. You may make a formula that would be a sure winner in a sausage-making contest!

We buy the pork in vacuum sealed bags...they come two “butts” to the bag and weigh in at a total of about 15-18 pounds (or 7-8 kilograms)  Some of you will be lucky enough to raise your own pork, I’m jealous!

In my recipes, I often use the terms 95/5, 80/20 and 50/50.  The first number refers to the lean portion of the meat and the second number refers to the fat portion. Back fat is 100% fat!







Types of Sausage:

FRESH SAUSAGE: I think of fresh sausage as a sort of "meatloaf" in a casing. Anyone that can make a “meat-loaf” can make fresh sausage!  My  definition of a fresh sausage is one in which NO curing is required in making the sausage.  Fresh sausage is made of raw meat, salt, and seasonings and always is cooked before eating. The amount of salt present in fresh sausage formulations is not necessarily sufficient to cure the meat. Because the meat is not cured, it must be kept under refrigeration. They usually take the form of links or patties. Fresh sausages are very perishable and should be used within several days of their being made...or else they should be frozen. In my opinion, the beginning home sausage maker should gain extensive experience with making fresh sausage, before attempting to make cured sausage. They are not difficult to make. There are a few simple procedures to follow and precautions to observe, however.

A very simple general formulation for any fresh sausage is:


= 80%


= 20%


= 2.5%


= 1.5%


= 0.75%

It is helpful to write your formulations as percentages because they can easily be converted to weights in the Metric system.  The American and Imperial measurement are difficult to use in the small quantities used for home sausage formulations. Try this in your head: If you have 2¼ lb. of meat, how many ounces of salt would you need to yield a 1½% concentration of salt? Compare that with the ease of using the metric system. [see below]

As you develop your own particular formula, you will want to experiment with small batches of sausage. I recommend making one kilogram batches (1,000g  or about 2¼ lb.) This mass will give you enough bulk to thoroughly mix the ingredients and get an even blend. Taking the above formula recommendation, multiplying the percentages by a factor of 10 (Yuk — math!) will give you:

Meat          = 80%   times 10 g   Meat         = 800 grams

Fat             = 20%   times 10 g   Fat            = 200 grams

                                                                       1000 grams = 1 Kg  (about 2.2 lb.)


Salt             =  1.5% times 10 g   Salt           =   15 grams

Flavorings  =  1%    times 10 g   Flavorings= 10 grams

Water        = 2.5%  times 10 g   Water       =   25 grams

                                                                       1050 grams = 1.05 Kg  (about 2.3 lb.)


Now you know why your 8th grade teacher stressed learning multiplication and decimals…wait until we get to biology, chemistry and physics…and you thought you’d never need to know them!

Let’s examine each ingredient in the general formula of fresh sausage:

Meat: While pork is the most common meat for sausage making almost any species can be used. Sausages can made from beef, lamb, domestic and wild poultry, game meats like deer, elk, antelope, and even fish! In handling home butchered meats and game you must take precautions to remove all fur or feathers and keep them from contacting the meat. The animal should be skinned and the carcass washed to lessen the contamination of bacteria that can cause food-borne illness, such as E. coli and Salmonella.  When preparing the meat for sausage, trim the meat of all visible fat and cut it into chunks about 2-inches each. This will facilitate the proper ratio when building up your formula. [Note: If using store-purchased meat cuts, avoid buying ground meats. While deep muscle is sterile, the surface can become contaminated by handling and store grinding. Also storage greatly increases the chances for bacterial growth. All meat used for sausage making should be kept under 40oF (4oC). Remember the phrase “…life begins at 40”.]  

Fat: If you want a low fat product, don’t make sausage! Without 20% or more fat, the sausage will have a dry, mealy taste and mouth-feel. Sure there are “fat-replacers” available, but I thought you wanted to make a pure, healthy product with no extraneous additives! A number of animal fats can be used. Generally the fat is pork, but beef, lamb, poultry fat and poultry skin is often used.  The one exception is game fat, which as a very strong wild flavor. The large animal fats can be sorted into three major categories: sub-cutaneous fat, intra-muscular fat, and organ fat. Sausage makers prefer to use “fat back”, the hard sub-cutaneous fat under the skin. A good substitute is uncured and un-salted belly [bacon].  Avoid the soft and sinewy intra-muscular fat; it produces a poor quality sausage that contains “stringy” particles that love to lodge between your teeth! Organ fat, though good quality is almost impossible to get retail. Prepare that fat as you did the meat, keeping it under 40oF (4oC); this will insure a good fat definition and avoid smearing!

Salt:  In fresh sausage, the percentage of salt is not critical since fresh sausage is not cured. It’s there for seasoning purposes. I personally believe than 1½% would be the maximum amount of salt. One thing to remember is to always weigh the salt. Kosher, pickling, sea and table salt all have different densities and it is quite easy to over salt using volume measurements! Note: Some people add a sodium nitrite curing salt to a fresh sausage to give the meat reddish color. In fresh sausages this is optional; but nitrite is essential in cooked, smoked, and dry-cured sausages! For health reasons, never use more that 0.25% nitrIte cure in any sausage!

FLAVORINGS: The most common are pepper, garlic, sugar, chili pepper, parsley, onion, ginger, coriander, cumin, mace, and sage. But you are only limited by your imagination. You can use fresh seasonings and spices or dried. If using dried, remember some are more intense than the fresh variety of the same seasoning. Toasting dried spices also enhances their flavor. Alter the kinds and amounts of seasonings to suit your taste, but beginners remember…too little is better than too much!  Keep notes!

WATER: Water is useful in dissolving the salt and flavoring components so that they can be distribute evenly through the meat/fat mixture. Make a slurry of these to add to the meat mixture. As you gain experience, you might want to substitute wine for water…remember, you are in charge!

PREPARATION OF THE SAUSAGE: I personally prefer the two stage grinding method. I cut the meat in chunks large enough to fit in the grinder throat and then grind them through a coarse plate [3/8-inch or 10-mm]. Next I add the remaining ingredients to the coarse ground meat and re-grind through a small plate [1/4-inch or 4.5-mm]. This method produces a sausage mix of equal size particles and well distributed flavors. This is where you will want to experiment. Different ratios of meat to fat and different flavorings will affect the final product.  Make accurate measurements and keep notes and so you can duplicate the formula!

STUFFING: Stuffing the sausage in a casing is more esthetic than necessary. They taste the same. True, a sausage is easier to handle, grill, and cook, etc. when in a link. The most common casings are hog intestines and the come in a variety of sizes.  The suppliers listed on my “Resources” page have an excellent selection. Generally fresh sausages are twisted off into 5-inch links; but some prefer the “horseshoe” shaped ring.

STORAGE: Fresh sausage has a very short shelf-life. It must be kept refrigerated and used within 5 days. It can be wrapped and frozen for up to a month or vacuum packed [e.g. Food Saver©] and frozen for about 3 months.








COOKED SAUSAGE: Cooked sausages require the application of some sort of cure and heat as part of the formulation and preparation, such as oven-cooking, poaching, steaming, etc.  Cooking causes the denaturation and coagulation of proteins in the sausage which allows it to maintain its shape. Smoke may or may not be a necessary part of the preparation. Generally these sausages may be eaten without further heating, as in the case of luncheon meats like bologna, mortadella, and cooked salami. Some like Kielbasa, hotdogs, hot links, etc. are re-heated before serving.  Luncheon meats and hot dogs are a type of cooked sausage often referred to as emulsion sausages where the meat paste is so finely chopped that no individual particles of meat can be seen in the sausage matrix. In order to understand how these sausages are made, some background information on the nature of meat and proteins is essential.

What is meat? Meat is composed of fat, nerve, tendon, ligaments, sinew and muscle fibers. The muscle fibers, in turn contain proteins some which are soluble and some that are not. The major components of muscle protein are actinomyosin and myoglobin (myoglobin is the red pigment in meat and actinomyosin composes the contractile fibers of the meat).

Proteins are made up of long chains of smaller molecules called amino acids. Folds in the amino acid chain produce the shape of the protein and it’s that specific shape that determines the protein’s chemical and biological properties. In living tissue, the function of a protein is dependent on this three-dimensional structure. Changes in the protein’s environment will disrupt this structure causing the protein to become “denatured”. This causes the complex folds and twists in the 3-D structure to break and become linear. These changes can affect their affinity for water and their solubility. Such environmental changes can cause by:

  • changes in salt concentration alters interactions between amino acids that compose the protein

  • changes in pH alters interactions between amino acids that compose the protein

  • breaking the Sulfur-to-Sulfur bonds that cross-link the amino acids

  • changes in temperature

  • water binding properties.


EMULSIONS: An sausage emulsion results is a homogeneous mechanical mixture that results from meat that is ground so finely that it encapsulates the fat. These encapsulated droplets are then dispersed in liquid, in sausage this is generally ice water

Emulsion formation: During the formation of a meat emulsion, meat proteins are extracted from the meat muscle and are solubilized [or dissolved] in water. Once the protein is dissolved additional mixing forces the dissolved proteins to disperse around and coat fat particles that are present in the meat solution.  An invaluable aid in extracting soluble proteins is salt. The muscle fibers of the meat contain salt-soluble and heat coagulable proteins, abbreviated SSHCP. [Note: the amount of water added usually varies with the formulation from 10% to 35%.]

The extraction of SSHCP is enhanced by the addition of “sausage-makers” phosphate (e.g. Tri- and tetra-sodium pyrophosphates). Research has shown that the phosphates increase protein solubility by altering the pH and salt has a positive effect on the water-holding capacity of the emulsion by solubilizing the actinomyosin into actin and myosin. Without added phosphates, long processing times would result in an unstable emulsion. The Food Safety and Inspection Service allows for the addition of a 1% solution of sodium phosphates.

As the protein solubilizes it coats the fat globules and water droplets in meat paste by wrapping them in a protein envelope. These globules are evenly dispersed and during the cooking process the protein looses is biological structure [this is termed: “denatures”] and coagulates forming a gel around the protein coated-fat and water particles. This process stabilizes the matrix of fat and protein forming an emulsion. The process of emulsion formation occurs in two phases, described below.

Preparation of the Ingredients: Hard fat and/or fat trimmings should be free of any soft tissue or sinew. Chill the fat to 34oF and cut the fat into chunks that will fit easily in the grinder throat. Grind the fat through a 6.5-mm or ¼-plate. Make sure that the knife blade is sharp and firmly against the grinder plate. The cut should appear “clean” and not smeared! If so, check temperature, product purity, blade sharpness, etc.

The meat should be at approximately 34oF. Trim the meat so that it contains no more than 10% fat.  Remove all sinew, ligament and connective tissue to produce a very high quality product. Cut into chunks as you did with the fat, but grind the meat separately from the fat, through a 4-mm or fine plate.

Depending on the product being produced, additional filler products such as tripe, soy protein, pre-emulsion, etc. may be added. Check your formulation for proper amounts and preparation of these items and when they should be added to the matrix.

Phase I:

Mix the ground meat (not fat) with the salt, cure, phosphates and cure accelerators [such as GDL, erythorbate or ascorbate], if any. Also at this time mix in approximately one-half of the water required in the formulation and process in a cutter or food processor until the temperature of the chop reaches 43oF. The amount of time is dependent on the speed of chop, size of batch, etc. Use an infra-red thermometer to determine the end point.

Phase II:

Add ground fat, the seasonings, spices, and remaining ingredients to the batter along with the remaining water and chop or process until the batch reaches 57oF. 18oC

These steps are important.  The first chopping with water and salts results in the extraction and solubilization of SSHCP so necessary for forming a stable emulsion. As the mixing continues in the second chop, the remaining water and flavorings are absorbed by the meat emulsion, contributing to its taste, moisture and “mouth-feel”

As in the case of making fresh sausages it is extremely important to maintain your raw materials at a temperature of 400F. Failure to do so can encourage the growth of bacteria that lead to illness or spoilage. It is important to remember that bacteria grow best between 400F to 1400F.  When cooking sausages, make sure they pass through this range quickly.  For safety reasons, I recommend the use of a nitrite cure in all cooked sausages to help control spore forming bacteria and provide pleasant color retention of the product. The cooked sausage must attain a final internal temperature of 155-1600F in order to kill any pathogenic bacteria. 










There are two main cooking methods employed in sausage making that can easily be used by the hobbyist sausage maker: Dry-heat and moist-heat. However nothing is really that simple. Often both kinds of cooking are used on a particular sausage. Dry-heating can also include the application of smoke to flavor and color the sausage.

Generally cooked sausages are prepared in a “Cook House” or smoker. There are a number commercial smokers are available to the sausage hobbyist. They can be purchased in many home-improvement centers, sporting goods catalogs, or barbeque stores. However a homemade smoker can be easily constructed from an old refrigerator, freezer or even made of plywood. If you make one out of an old refrigerator make sure it is lined with metal, not plastic. The basic construction consists of a metal box, a heat source [such as an electric hot plate] and a pan for hardwood chips or sawdust. Drill some vents at the top and bottom for draft controls to allow you to regulate the temperature and smoke.

When using sawdust or wood chips as the smoke source spritz them with water and place them in a pan on the hot plate so that they smolder and produce smoke. If you are smoking in a barbecue grill or kettle unit, keep the hot coals to one side of the grill and regulate the heat by adjusting the vents. Sprinkle damp sawdust or wood chips over the briquettes to produce the smoke.  An excellent reference for constructing smokers is “Meat Smoking and Smokehouse Design” by S., A., & R. Marianski [see my resource page].

Dry-heat cooking involves the application of heat from an oven or smoker that completely surrounds the sausage. By adjusting openings (dampers) on the oven, the amount of relative humidity can be somewhat controlled to a value of 40 to 70% R/H.

When cooking sausages in a smoker, the temperature range should be between 1700F to 1800F. It is desirable to have a high degree of humidity in the smoker when cooking sausages.  This can be accomplished by keep a pan of hot water in the smoker during cooking. This keeps the surface from drying out which allows excess internal moisture to easily escape. An ideal relative humidity for many types of cooked sausage is about 45%; others may require as much as 70% humidity. There are a number of humidity gauges available on the market. You’ll have to experiment with your particular cooker to see how to maintain these percentages. Phosphates are often added to formulations of sausages to be cooked by the dry-heat method in order to prevent and excessive lose of moisture that would produce a dry, mealy product.

Moist Heat Cooking: This method uses hot water or, in the case of commercial producers, steam. If product is being cooked in water, the water temperature should be in the range of 160-1700F.  In this case the Sausage is immersed in hot water which completely surrounds the sausage or loaf to assure even cooking. Obviously it’s necessary to stuff the sausages in water-proof casings or in the case of some loaves, a mold with a water-tight, pressure lid. They should pass from 400F to 1600F as quickly as possible to minimized bacterial growth. The following internal temperature combinations are the minimum required holding times to insure that pathogenic bacteria are killed: 1450F for 10 minutes then raise to 1500F for at least 3 minutes and finally 1550F for at least 1 minute. Another reason is to quickly heat and coagulate the proteins and to prevent rupturing the casing. If higher temperatures are used there is a danger of driving off water to quickly or melting the fat which results in an increase in internal pressure causing the casing to burst.

Cooling: Regardless of the method of cooking, sausages must be adequately cooled after cooking. The high heat used in cooking will destroy all actively growing bacterial cells, BUT a few disease causing bacteria can form spores (think “seeds”) which will not be destroyed in the cooking process. If the sausage is allowed to cool slowly, there is a possibility that some of these spores will develop into active living and growing bacteria!  Plunge the sausage in ice cold water to rapidly cool the meat to about 1000F. Once cooled, these sausages must be kept under refrigeration because they are perishable.


Generalized Cooked Sausage Formulation:

Cooked sausages can be made in the form of links, rings, rolls, or loaves.  A general formulation for a cooked sausage is very similar to that of a fresh sausage, but with some important additions. The most important difference is that ingredients include nitrite cure and often some sort of binding agent [Some examples are phosphates, non-fat dry milk, and soy protein].




70 to 80%



20 to 30%



1.0% to 10%



1.5% to 2%



0.75% to 2%



156 PPM


Let’s examine each ingredient in the general formula for cooked sausages.

Meat: What was said for fresh sausages can be applied to cooked sausages. In addition to pork, other common meats are beef, game and poultry. Meat should be treated the same way: Trim the meat of all visible fat, sinew, blood vessels, glands and connective tissue and cut it into chunks about 2-inches each. The meat used should be chilled 400F (40C) during the preparation steps. The percentage of meat depends on the specific formula; often several meats are combined [for example, some bologna contains a mixture beef, pork and veal]

Fat: As in fresh sausage, fat is important for producing a succulent sausage. A variety of animal fats can be used. Generally the fat is pork, but beef, lamb, poultry fat and poultry skin is often used. Prepare that fat as you did the meat, keeping it under 400F (40C); this will insure a good fat definition and avoid smearing the fat when you stuff the casings! The percentage of fat varies depending on the type of sausage being made. Generally when using pork shoulder, you can assume that they have about 20% fat; Pork bellies about 50%; pork jowls about 70%. You may have to add fat or meat to obtain the proper percentage for your particular formulation.

Water: As in the formulation of fresh sausages, water is used to dissolve the soluble ingredients so that they can be distributed evenly through the meat/fat mixture. If the sausage recipe calls for holding the sausage mixture under refrigeration before cooking, the water/salt/cure mixture also functions to solubilize the proteins so that the proteins coagulate and firm up the sausage during cooking.

Salt:  The percentage of salt is more critical in cooked sausage. Besides seasoning the meat, salt is necessary to extract the SSHCP proteins [salt-soluble, heat coagulable proteins] in the meat muscle. Remember never measure salt as a volume measurement [tablespoons, etc] but always weigh the salt. Remember that Kosher, pickling, sea and table salt all have different densities and it is quite easy to over salt using volume measurements!

Nitrite Cure: In my opinion, nitrite is essential in cooked, smoked, and dry-cured sausages! The amount of curing salt is strictly defined by the USDA. For health reasons, never use more that 0.25% nitrate cure in any sausage! There are a number of cures on the market and confusion is often the order of the day. Cure #1 is a cure that contains salt and 6.25% Sodium nitrite [along with a little pink die and anti-caking agent] --- so read the label carefully!

Flavorings: What was true for fresh sausage, the most common are pepper, garlic, sugar, chili pepper, parsley, onion, ginger, coriander, cumin, mace, and sage. You can use fresh seasonings and spices or dried. Alter the kinds and amounts of seasonings to suit your taste. [Note: some formulations also call for the addition of skim milk powder, soy powder, etc. These are generally added to help retain moisture and bind the ingredients to form a firm sausage.  Often these can be omitted if you prefer not to consume them, but trial and error is needed with this approach, so make small test batches at first and keep notes!]

Preparation of the sausage: Sausages to be cooked are generally refrigerated for 24 hours before cooking. The purpose here is two-fold: it allows the meat to salt cure (solubilizes the SSHCP) and the flavors to equalize through the meat paste. Use the two-stage grinding method when preparing cooked sausages. First grind the meat coarsely through a large grinder plate; then add remaining ingredients to the ground meat according to the formulation, and re-grind through a finer plate. 

Stuffing: Stuffing is a straight forward process.  The object is to get the meat paste into a form that can be easily manipulated.  The casings used can be natural intestine casings or artificial casings.  Often it is the preference of the consumer unless you are trying to duplicate the look of a traditional sausage. The important thing to remember is to stuff them firmly but not tightly and to use a pin to prick any air pockets under the casing. Large, heavy sausages will require you to tie them in links or rings with twine to support them during the cooking process.

Storage: Cooked sausages have a longer shelf-life than fresh sausages. The still must be kept refrigerated but will remain edible after several weeks if properly packaged. They can be wrapped and frozen for up to a 3 months or vacuum packed [e.g. Food Saver©] and frozen for about 6 months.







SMOKED SAUSAGE: Cooked sausages are often smoked in order to enhance their flavor and color as well as helping to extending the shelf-life of the sausage.  It is important to understand that such smoking does not completely preserve the sausage unless it was somewhat dried [more about this later]. In general, sausages to be smoked are air-dried at an ambient temperature of approximately 680F and a relative humidity of approximately 60-65% to allow surface water on the casing to evaporate. Be careful not to over-dry the casing or the smoke will not penetrate at all. Smoking can be done by either the hot or the cold method.

Sausage makers use the hot-smoke method for sausage that is to be partially or completely cooked in the smoker. After drying the outer casing, smoke is generated while the sausage is cooking. The casing should be dry to the touch or the “bitter” elements that compose wood smoke will be deposited on the sausage giving it an off taste. For good smoke penetration into the sausage, it is important to have a relative humidity of about 45%. Color development of a smoked sausage is proportional to increase in temperature -- i.e., the more rapidly the temperature increases, the faster the color of the sausage will develop. This is the reason why many formulations suggest a temperature-holding schedule.


The cold smoking method is generally used to impart a rich smoky flavor without cooking the sausage. Often cold smoking is used as a drying method for sausages, meats and fish. In addition to drying the product, the smoke adds color and flavor to the sausage. Products like mettwurst, teewurst, liverwurst, bacon are often cold smoked. Temperature is a critical component of cold-smoking. Try to keep the temperature range between 95-1100F. Depending on which product is being produced, schedules vary from a few hours to many days in order to get the proper flavor, color and dryness.

A simple set-up that I use is disconnect the hot smoking unit from my Bradley smoker. Then I  put a 110 VAC hot plate on a rack in my bullet-type smoker. I replace the bullet top with a piece of aluminum roof flashing with a 4-inch opening.  Then I connect one end of an 6-foot section (it can be longer) of 4-inch aluminum dryer-ducting the flashing and the other to a 4-inch opening in my Bradley smoker. All that's needed now is a small cast iron pan on top of the hot-plate and a good source of smoking wood.  I've tried hardwood sawdust, but in this set-up I prefer hardwood chunks.

A possible alternative to smoking in an oven is the use of liquid smoke. For example to produce a smoke flavor in sausage loaves cooked in molds, liquid smoke is added to the water in the formulation at a rate ½ teaspoon/ pound [or more accurately 5.4 ml/kilogram] of meat paste.

Not long ago a came across another neat way to make a cold smoker from a galvanized garbage can. The web site is called "Started Smoking...Meat" at . Check it out.  Another one along similar lines was built from parts totaling about $50. Check out Craftbox. No need to sped a lot to get excellent cold smoked sausage, meats, fish and cheese. The picture of mine, using a Bradley Smoker, will do both hot and cold smoking depending on how I set it up. Currently the smoking craze has generated a number of quality commercially available smokers in varying price ranges.











The Meaning of pH

Before we continue with the discussion of fermented sausage (below), it's necessary to have an operational definition of pH. Acids in water separate into ions (Atoms with electron imbalances are called ions), and the positive ion is hydrogen (H+). When hydrochloric acid (HCl) mixes with water, it separates into positive hydrogen (H+) and negative chlorine (Cl-). Hydrogen (H+) combines with water (H2O) to make hydronium (H3O+). Bases in water also separate into ions, and the negative ion is hydroxide (OH-). When the base sodium hydroxide (NaOH) mixes with water, it separates into positive sodium (Na+) and negative hydroxide (OH-).

The pH-value indicates the degree of acidity in the meat. Acids all produce Hydrogen ions (H+). Acids like Hydrochloric acid (HCl) produce lots of Hydrogen ions. Chemists write "hydrogen ion concentration" as [H+]. The pH of a solution is expressed mathematically as the negative logarithm of the hydrogen ion [H+] concentration.

When producing meat products, the pH-value should lie between 4 to 7; pH- values from 0 to 7 denotes an acidic nature (the smaller the number the more acidic the solution). The neutral point is 7; pH values from 7 to 14 signify alkalinity (the larger the number the more alkaline the solution).

 When Hydrogen Chloride gas dissolves in water it form Hydrochloric acid and the molecules of Hydrogen Chloride dissociate into Hydrogen ions and Chloride ions.











Water also dissociates to produce ions, this time it is Hydrogen ions and Hydroxyl ions.











Sodium Hydroxide also dissociates to produce ions when it is dissolved in water, this time it is Sodium ions and Hydroxyl ions.










In each case we can measure or calculate the concentration of Hydrogen ions present.

                    In HCl(aq) Hydrochloric acid [H+] = 0.01

                                In H2O(l) water [H+] = 0.0000001

In NaOH(aq) Sodium Hydroxide solution [H+] = 0.00000000000001

As you can see, these numbers are small and difficult to read and write. By counting  the decimal places each of the above can be written as:

   HCl (aq)         pH 2

    H2O (l)           pH 7

      NaOH (aq)    pH 14

Although a pH value has no unit, it is not an arbitrary scale; the number arises from a definition based on the activity of hydrogen ions in the solution. The definition of pH is the number equal to the negative logarithm to base 10 of the hydrogen ion concentration: This can be represented by the mathematical formula:

    pH = -log10[H+]

Log10 denotes the base 10 logarithm, and pH defines a logarithmic scale of acidity. A lower pH value  (for example pH 3) indicates increasing strength of acidity, and a higher pH value (for example pH 11) indicates increasing strength of alkalinity. Some common pH values found in raw meats used for sausage making and meat production are:

pH 5.8 to 6.2     Pork muscle

pH 5.5 to 5.8     Beef muscle

pH 6.0                Veal

pH 6.5 - 6.7        Chicken


Meat with a low pH-value (pH-value below 5.8) has a poor water binding capacity. This means high cooking losses, inconsistent weight and a dry, straw-like consistency. For this reason water-bonding chemicals, like sodium polyphosphates, are generally added to the formulation. It's use is optional, however. Other additives contribute to good curing features, such as accelerators like ascorbate or erythorbate, that are used for good color development and color stability. These accelerators act as reducing agents and/or lower the pH to provide the environment required to enhance the rate of conversion of nitrite to nitric oxide, which reacts with myoglobin plus heat to yield pink-colored  nitrosyl-hemochrome [or nitroso-myoglobin]. The reduction of microorganism growth by the addition of nitrite results in a longer shelf-life and a longer storability of the meat and meat products.

For a more scholarly discussion of pH see: How to Determine pH    or    The Wikipedia Definition










This area of sausage making is definitely the most complicated and should never be attempted by anyone who does not have a good understanding of the chemistry and microbiology involved in the process. The etiology of the word “botulism”, which is caused by a toxin produced by Clostridium botulinum, is derived from the Latin word botulus, meaning "sausage"! Inadequate understanding of the complexity and condition necessary can result in serious illness or death! In the past history of fermented sausage-making the procedures were dependent on the art of sausage maker that was passed down from father to son. Today’s production relies on our scientific understanding of the fermentation process and microbial action to produce a high quality safe product that minimizes or eliminates pathogenic and spoilage bacteria.

Sausages that are produced as a result of bacterial fermentation are classed as either dry or semi-dry sausages. The fermentation results from the ‘digestion” of carbohydrates in the meat paste resulting in an accumulation of lactic acid. As a result, the pH  is generally reduced to pH 5 or lower. Fermentation is ancient process of preserving meats. In the not too distant past, chopped meat was mixed with salt and allowed to “sour”, producing an edible sausage. The technique was very unreliable since it depended on the presence of “good” bacteria in the meat mixture—which was not always the case.

A modern and more scientific approach is to create a mixture of salt, sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate, and a "starter" culture of acid-producing bacteria [LAB - lactic acid bacteria], which is mixed with ground meat.  Using the more modern method, pathogenic bacteria die or are inhibited by the amount of acid produced during fermentation and the lack of moisture in the finished product. Among other things, the nitrite/nitrate salts control the development of botulinum spores produced by Clostridium botulinum. With respect to the pathogenic bacteria Salmonella, Listeria, and Staphylococcus aureus, the first hours and days of fermentation are critical. The rapid development of LAB competing with the spoilage bacteria is very important because the produce an environment conducive to a rapid reduction in the pH to below 5.4. The growth and development of desirable LAB is favored by curing salt, anaerobic conditions, added sugars,  and a low initial pH of the meat paste. With regards to Escherichia coli serotype O157:H7 the jury is still out. E. coli has been reported to survive in the fermentation environment of salami in commercial production in California, Washington and Australia in the '90's causing a number of people to become ill. It was estimated that fewer than 50 organisms may have been present in the dry fermented salami which caused infection in the Washington State outbreak, so it is important to be able to predict the efficacy of production practices. A 1997 CDC report indicated 61 deaths due to Escherichia coli O157:H7. The FSIS requires what is termed a  5-log reduction in the pertinent pathogenic microorganisms (i.e.,  reduce pathogens by 100,000-fold ) or a hold until tested before release procedure. Since the 90's, FSIS regulations, industry cooperation and testing have minimized the danger of E. coli contamination. It is extremely important that home-sausage makers be exceptional careful and clean when preparing dry-cured products; always grind your own meat from large muscle -- never use pre-ground meats from a butcher shop or supermarket because of the possibility that the meat may have been in the case long enough for bacteria to multiply to a dangerous level! 

Dry sausages, like salami, are not cooked but are hung to dry after fermentation until there is a 25% or more loss [by weight] in moisture.  The drying period depends upon a number of conditions: choice of meat, the formulation and method of fermentation, the diameter of the casing, temperature and humidity of the drying room, etc. A dry cured sausage with a diameter larger than 1¾-inches is commonly referred to as “salami”. The overall maturation may require anywhere between 30 and 90 days. The resulting sausages are “raw” but shelf-stable and can be kept without refrigeration for several months. Sausage fermented with bacteria and a nitrite/nitrate cure is not “cooked” as we understand the term. There is more information about this process later in the section on “Making Salami”.

Semi-dry sausages are a variety of sausage that is harder and denser than fresh sausage, but not as hard as a dry sausage. They are generally smoked, cooked or a combination of both processes. Then they are air-cooled and dried until about 10-15% of their moisture is lost. Although somewhat dried, they are not shelf-stable unless refrigerated. Since they are fully cooked or fermented, they can be used as a ready-to-eat sausage.  Summer sausage, Lebanon bologna and smoked beef stick are a good example.

A general formula for a dried or semi-dried sausage is:

Meat, lean = 72%
Fat, hard = 25%
Salt = 2.5%
Carbohydrate = <1%
Seasonings = 1%
Starter Culture  = 0.1%
Nitrite = 156 PPM



General Ingredients used in Fermented Sausage.

Meat: The meat is generally moderately chopped, although in some specialty sausages, like German Teewurst, are finely chopped. Many of the varieties of fermented sausages, like summer sausages, are cold smoked. Use only the highest quality of meat when making fermented sausage. A number of meats work well. Generally there is a high percentage of pork and beef in most fermented sausages. The reasons are quite technical and have to do with muscle chemistry and denaturation. The beef/pork mixture improves the color of the final product, allows for better protein solubilization, and improves drying rate. A typical proportion is 55% lean pork and 15% lean beef. [Many commercial makers prefer older animals like bull meat to beef].  In the US the next most utilized meat is poultry meat and, to a much lesser extent, veal and lamb.

Fat: One must be more careful in the selection of fat that is used for these kinds of sausages. The best fat to use is pork back fat which has a high melting point. Lower quality fats, like intramuscular fats [often termed “soft-fat”], generally have a greater tendency to oxidation that produces off-flavors and contributes to rancidity. Note: Long cold storage of fat is not recommended because the enzymes that breakdown fats into fatty acids are not inhibited by cold temperatures – do not store frozen fat more that than 60 days.








Curing Salts: The essential ingredients are salt (NaCl), sodium nitrite (NaNO2) and sodium nitrate (NaNO3). The salt concentration is usually recommended to be 2½%-3%; the maximum concentration of nitrite is ¼-ounce per 100 pounds of meat. The salt solubilizes the protein so the other reactions necessary for fermentation can take place. Nitrate is added to fermented sausages because the long aging process uses up most of the nitrite and bacteria present in the meat paste slowly convert the nitrate to nitrite. By the completion of fermentation and dry-aging the majority of the nitrite is “used up” and converted to gaseous nitric oxide. This gas combines with myoglobin producing the pink color of the sausage. The action of these chemicals are necessary for the solubilization of protein and inhibiting the growth of most micro-organisms while providing a suitable environ for lactic acid bacteria to thrive.

NaNO3   →  NaNO2  →  Na  +  NO + Myoglobin → Nitroso-myoglobin (pink color)

You will notice that some formulations for fermented sausages call for the addition of citric acid, sodium erythrobate or ascorbic acid. These compounds, called anti-oxidants, are added to inhibit the formation of cancer-causing nitrosamines as well as stabilize color and prevent oxidation of fat that would produce off-flavors.





Revised 1995, Food Safety Inspection Service, USDA


The amount of ingoing nitrite permitted in comminuted products, such as bologna, specific and nonspecific loaves, salami, etc., is based on the green weight of the meat and/or poultry and/or meat/poultry byproducts (meat block) used in the product formulation. Shrinkage is not a factor in the calculation. If nitrate is used in conjunction with nitrite, the limits of the two compounds are calculated separately and the permitted maximum of each may be used.

Calculation Formula

PPM = (pounds of nitrite x 1,000,000) ÷ green weight of meat block

* Green Weight - The weight of the meat and/or poultry (ham, breast, belly, beef or pork trim for sausage, etc.) prior to processing (grinding, pumping, breading, cooking, drying, etc.). Nothing has been added or removed from the meat and/or poultry.




                                                                 Curing Agent                                   Curing Method

                                                                                                              Immersion Cured     Massaged/Pumped*    Comminuted**   Dry Cured***

                                                                       Sodium Nitrite                  200                            200                             156                  625
                                                                       Potassium Nitrite            
200                             200                            156                   625
                                                                       Sodium Nitrate                 700                             700                          1718                 2187
                                                                       Potassium Nitrate             700                             700                         1718                 2187


* There are more stringent limits for curing agents in bacon to reduce the formation of nitrosamines. For this same reason, nitrate is no longer permitted in any bacon (pumped and/or massaged, dry cured, or immersion cured).

**Cured, Comminuted Products - Products consisting of coarsely or finely ground meat and/or poultry and cure ingredients mixed together (bologna, turkey salami, pepperoni, pepper loaf, etc.).

***Cured, Dry Products - Products that have dry or powdered cure ingredients directly applied to the surface of the meat or poultry muscle (ham, pork shoulder, pork belly, etc.).


As a matter of policy, the FSIS requires a minimum of 120 ppm of ingoing nitrite in all cured "Keep Refrigerated" products, unless the establishment can demonstrate that safety is assured by some other preservation process, such as thermal processing, pH or moisture control. This 120 ppm policy for ingoing nitrite is based on safety data reviewed when the bacon standard was developed.

There is no regulatory minimum ingoing nitrite level for cured products that have been processed to ensure their shelf stability (such as having undergone a complete thermal process, or having been subjected to adequate pH controls, and/or moisture controls in combination with appropriate packaging). However, 40 ppm nitrite is useful in that it has some preservative effect. This amount has also been shown to be sufficient for color-fixing purposes and to achieve the expected cured meat or poultry appearance.



Using the above information and formula, what is the PPM of nitrite in a formulation for Italian salami the uses 6.0 grams of Cure#2 for 2.5 kilograms [or 5.5 pounds] of meat? Converting from the metric to standard American measurements shows that 6 grams is equal to 0.21164ounces of cure; but only 6.25% of that weight is nitrite! So the actual amount of nitrite is equal to 0.01322 ounces [0.21164 ounces x .0625] or 0.0008267 pound of nitrite [0.01322 ounces / 16 ounces/pound]. Substituting in the above formula, we get:

PPM = (pounds of nitrite x 1,000,000) ÷ green weight of meat block

PPM = (0.0008267 x 1,000,000) ÷ 5.5

PPM = 826.7 ÷ 5.5

PPM = 150.3

Similar calculations can be preformed separately for the PPM of nitrate in a formulation, remembering that cure#2 contains 4% nitrate. Both nitrite and nitrate are calculated separately. Note: be careful of formulations posted on the web, one I saw for Italian salami contained only saltpeter as a cure (Potassium nitrate) at the rate of 3,547 PPM (only 1718 PPM are permitted)!!!!

Starter Cultures: I am often asked questions that relate to the fact that a person’s family recipe does not include the use of starters and they have had no problem. All I can say is that they’ve been lucky. I liken it to turnpike driving; if you do everything correctly, there is a pretty good chance of not getting killed … but it’s not a surety! Bacteria can get into the meat mix buy chance contamination; by an old commercial method called “back slopping” where a portion of a previous meat mix is added to the newer one; or, by the addition of a “starter culture” of known bacteria that are generally regarded by the USDA as safe for human food preparation. Starters have been used in the beer, wine, cheese and baking industry for many years and the consistency of their products depend upon them.

The use of starter cultures has become standard practice in the meat industry because they provide a safe environment for beneficial bacteria and inhibit spoilage and pathogenic bacteria. Laboratory experiments have shown a rapid decline in populations of enterobacteria [like E. coli] in proportion to the rapid increase of starter culture bacteria [like Lactobacillus sp. and Pediococcus sp.]. There is an extensive coverage on the selection and use of starter cultures on this page and the reader is encouraged to study it carefully before attempting to use any starter. The bacterial cultures are quite specific with the manufacturer’s suggestions of optimum growth requirements … always follow their suggestions!

Carbohydrate: Some formulations may contain glucose, sucrose, lactose, starches or dextrins. These carbohydrates are metabolized at different rates thereby regulating the speed and degree of acid formation in the sausage. The purpose is to provide fermentable substrate so that the bacteria in the meat can ferment it and produce lactic acid. The most commonly used carbohydrate is glucose [also called dextrose] because it is the simplest in molecular construction and most readily utilized by bacteria.

Some formulations also call for the use of some sort of binder to assist in holding the sausage together and making it firm. These are generally used in commercial products. They include such things as non-fat dried milk and corn syrup solids. In home produced products that can be considered optional and a matter of personal preference of the sausage maker.

Seasonings:   The purpose of seasonings is to enhance the flavor of the sausage and often to influence its color. Common seasonings are various combinations of pepper, garlic, paprika, spices; for example, mace, thyme, sage coriander oregano mustard seed, cloves, and anise seeds.  Some seasonings like garlic, pepper and rosemary also have antibacterial properties. Generally, the spices are used in their dried form, although commercially extracts and oils are frequently used. With exception of pepper, garlic and paprika, spices are generally 1% or less of the formulation. They are the one variable that can be manipulated to suit the sausage makers’ taste.

Fermentation:  The main objective of fermentation is to achieve the correct temperature for bacterial growth and development, which in turn will cause rise in acidity [or a drop in pH]. Complete fermentation will depend upon the bacterial flora present, temperature of incubation, humidity and diameter of the sausage; this can take anywhere from 12- 48 hours. The temperature, using starters, is generally in the range of 85-950F and a relative humidity as high as 90%. You will notice that as fermentation progresses the sausage slowly changes from a tan-light brown color to a redder color as the nitrite is reduced to nitric oxide and myoglobin becomes oxidized. The soft meat paste of the sausage begins to “firm up” as the lactic acid in the meat begins to accumulate; you will also notice a strong acidic aroma.

At this point, the production procedure for dry and semi-dry sausages takes a somewhat different path. After fermentation the semi dry sausage is finished by cooking in a smoker, at a temperature of approximately 140 – 1550F  and a relative humidity of 80% for a period long enough to ensure that all microbiological activity is halted. The heat and relative humidity are then readjusted to meet a specific temperature/time requirement, set by the FSIS/USDA, sufficient to eliminate pathogens. [The smoking period should be for a minimum of 1 hour at 35%R/H at a temperature high enough to produce an internal temperature of 1400F]. This will produce a sausage with a moisture level of about 50%. Since the moisture level is relatively high, semi-dry sausages must be refrigerated to prevent spoilage. Always carefully follow the cooking/smoking schedule in your formulation!

Drying: Drying is a critical stage in the production of fermented sausages. The main objective here is to remove water from the sausage. The drying should proceed in an environment where the relative humidity is approximately 5 to 8 percent below the moisture in the sausage. If drying is too fast, a hard layer of protein will form just under the surface forming a waterproof shell [referred to as “case-hardening”]. This will prevent interior moisture from diffusing out of the sausage and contribute to possible spoilage. This dictates that the humidity must be progressively reduced as the sausage dries.  If the sausage is to be dry cured, then with a humidity starting in the high 80’s, gradually decrease the relative humidity to approximately 65% over the span of several weeks of drying.  The total loss in weight of the product (from its wet or “green” stage should be at least 30%. If the sausage is to be semi-dry cured, the total loss in weight should be a minimum of 10%, with 15% being the average. Follow the directions carefully for your particular formulation. Regardless of the type produced, the drying area should have a regular exchange of fresh air; this could be accomplished with a tiny fan. Target the CFM to about ¼-foot/second.


Mold Development: I often get questions on mold development on the surface of such products as salami. You should know that in the more humid environments of Southern Europe, it is desirable to have sausage dried in an environment that encourages the development of a “noble” mold .. a species of Penicillium. This mold is a fine white powdery covering over the surface of the sausage. (see photo at the right) It develops naturally in those areas since the mold spores are so common in the air. BUT, there are other mold spores in the air which are not desirable. These are black, green and brown molds; some might be reddish and they can be quite fuzzy or wispy. To be safe, I suggest using a starter mold which is added to the surface of the sausage before drying takes place.  One such mold culture is Bactoferm M-EK-4, which is a pure culture of Penicillium nalgiovense manufactured by Chr. Hansen, Co.

The photo below shows salami at various stages off their aging and maturation. The extreme left ones are almost ready to be eaten, while the extreme right salami have just begun the aging process. The growth of filamentous fungi on the surface of salami during ripening is an important factor for the quality of the product quality because it helps the biochemical changes involved in the process of maturation. Some of these fungi, however, can cause problems related to discoloration and off-flavor, as well as damage on the casings. In addition, some fungi are associated to health hazards due to toxin production.  .The growth of desirable molds on the surface of salami enhances the maturation process in by preventing the development of "case hardening" on the surface of the sausage. Penicillium mold degrades lactic acid that is produced throughout maturation, resulting in a slight pH increase and a decrease in sausage tang. Penicillium nalgiovense is a species of the genus Penicillium and it is a frequently used starter culture for mold ripened dry-cured sausages and salami.  P. nalgiovense related very closely to P. chrysogenum, a well known producer of the antibiotic penicillin. Similar strains of Penicillium are used in the cheese industry, for example, Penicillium camemberti and Penicillium roqueforti, used in the production of Roquefort and Camembert cheeses.

The surface growth of  P. nalgiovense suppresses the growth of other undesirable organisms such as indigenous molds, yeasts and bacteria. This species is indigenous to a number of areas in Southern Europe and the some areas of the United States, especially the San Francisco Bay Area. In these areas the mold grows rapidly on salami given the proper temperature and humidity. Optimum growth conditions are 64oF/18oC and 60% R/H.  In the picture on the right, the salami on the right side of the plate is covered with indigenous (wild) molds, whereas the on on the left has been inoculated with a Penicillium nalgiovense starter culture. Notice the more even and full coverage on the  salami inoculated with P. nalgiovense. The growth is so rapid in this case that other potentially harmful molds are crowded out and prevented from growing on the casings. In some areas of our country there are a number of indigenous molds that are strains of P. nalgiovense that a good coverage of mold is obtained. However, the starter cultures are relatively inexpensive and last for a long time. If you make salami often enough, the walls and ceiling of maturation and aging area will contain many active spores after a period of time and you'll find that there may be no need to inoculate with fresh starter!

A number of native or indigenous molds are unsightly; some will impart an "off" flavor to the salami and yet others might produce toxins that are harmful. The major problem with taking a chance and hoping that desirable native molds will grow on the surface of your dry-cured sausages is that other non-desirable molds may also grow and some may be a health hazard. This is especially true if the proper humidity is not maintained.  Click on the picture at the left, it shows a number of indigenous molds that have grown on a salami cured under improper humidity. Never eat a salami that looks like this. Peeling off the casing will not remove any of the mold that has penetrated the meat! If you desire that nice white "bloom" on your salami, I suggest that don't put your trust in indigenous molds instead  purchase a mold starter culture from a supplier, such as Butcher and Packer Company.

DRY-CURED PRODUCTS: Dry-cured meats are those commonly held without refrigeration; example, Smithfield-type hams and prosciutto among others. The meats used in these products are generally whole muscle meat like ham or loin. Dry-cured pork products are often eaten uncooked.   Prescribed concentrations of salt are a necessity for making dry-cured sausage and meats. A lot of discussion can occur around this topic and the reader is cautioned when searching the WWW that many opinions are just that..OPINIONS!  Always consider the sources! Seek out official government regulatory sources, research reports and industry standards before attempting to alter any recipe.

For official guidelines on  curing, you should at least check the following publications: Canadian Food Inspection Agency - Chapter 4 Annex A:  Approved Curing Methods To Ensure The Destruction Of Trichinella In Sausages And Other Meat Products Containing Striated Pork Muscle Tissues. CFIA   View Citation If you wish to see an excerpt  of the USDA citation, click here —> Citation.

It is strongly recommended that before attempting to make any dry-cure product that the reader review the documents linked above and below that relate to guidelines for the destruction of Trichinae (causes Trichinosis) in pork muscle.  Trichinosis: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Parasitic Diseases   Fact Sheet. (View the document). Please be advised that the treatments described in those documents are not designed to destroy pathogenic bacteria that may also be present in meat.  Among those organisms are Clostridium botulinum (causes Botulism),  Escherichia coli O157:H7, Listeria monocytogenes, and Staphylococcus aureus /

The use of salt, time, temperature and nitrites play important roles in the curing of meat. The curing and aging processes either kill or minimize these organisms so as they are not infectious.  There are strict guidelines regarding the processing, curing and aging of meats which are completely described in both the publications of the Food Safety And Inspection Service of the United States Department of Agriculture as well as the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.    The maximum amount of nitrite applied to the muscle being dry-cured cannot exceed 625 PPM.    

To be certain that sausages are Trichina-worm free, the sausage maker is encouraged to process the raw pork according to instructions in the above cited documents and summarized as shown in the table below. This will result in what is termed "certified pork", an industry term for pork that has been handled according to USDA requirements. Don't expect to go to your local supermarket and ask for "certified pork" unless you enjoy seeing blank stares.

 Freezing Requirements for Trichina-free Pork 
Federal Meat Inspection Service - USDA

Freezer Temperature 

Meat Thickness 
6 inches Thick or Less

Meat Thickness
6+ to 27 Inches Thick

5°F (-15°C)

20 Days

30 Days

-10° (-23.3°C)

10 Days

20 Days


The use of salt, time, temperature and nitrites play important roles in the curing of meat. The curing and aging processes either kill or minimize these organisms so as they are not infectious.  There are strict guidelines regarding the processing, curing and aging of meats which are completely described in both the publications of the Food Safety And Inspection Service of the United States Department of Agriculture as well as the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.    The maximum amount of nitrite applied to the muscle being dry-cured cannot exceed 625 PPM or 1 ounce per 100 pounds of meat block..    

The curing ingredients are placed on the surface of the meat and draw moisture away from the muscle forming a brine. This brine facilitates the movement of salt (and nitrite/nitrates, if used) into the meat. In some products only salt is used and the meat is completely packed with a thick covering. The disadvantage of this procedure is that the meat becomes overly salty and discolored. This process is rarely used commercially today, but it was commonly used by homesteads in the past to preserve lard and make salted pork.

In contemporary times a modification of salt curing is used. The newer method used sugar, nitrite and nitrate mixed with the salt to make a “curing salt”. Its is important to understand that the amount of nitrite used for dry-curing muscle meats cannot exceed 625 PPM; the amount of nitrate cannot exceed 2187 PPM. It should be noted that the FSIS/USDA now forbids the use of nitrate in commercially produced bacon .. only nitrite and ascorbic acid are permitted in the cure.

A general formula for a dry-cured product:

Muscle meat = 20 lb.
Salt = 1.2 lb.
Sugar = 0.5 lb.
Curing salt = 0.2 ounces*

*based on government regulation of 1 ounce of cure per 100 pounds of meat, which is equivalent to 625 PPM of nitrite

Curing: Curing ingredients are rubbed all over the surface of the meat and the meat is then stacked in boxes or placed on shelves. Don't misconstrue the term "rub. It's not necessary to vigorously scrub the meat, just use enough pressure to evenly coat the meat. The humidity and temperature are strictly controlled as is the curing time. In thick muscle meats like hams, it generally takes 2 days per pound of meat for adequate cure penetration. To maximize the penetration of cure, the mixture is often divided into two or three equal proportions an applied in intervals. The salting and curing stage must be done under refrigeration [40F] and depending upon the cut of meat [ham, loin, brisket, belly, etc.] and the product being made, the amount of time can vary from 2 weeks to 7 weeks. This not only allows for curing, but equalizes the concentration of salt throughout the muscle. After salt curing, the meat is generally soaked in water for up to an hour to remove excess surface salt.

Smoking: If the product is to be smoked, it is done after salt-curing and rinsing. The primary purpose in smoking dry cured meat is to assist in preservation, development of flavor, and production of a desirable mahogany color. One of the most important effects of smoke are its bactericidal and bacteriostatic properties as well as assisting in drying and removing moisture from the surface of the meat.  The chemical reactions that occur during smoking to preserve meats are beyond the scope of this introduction. For readers requiring detailed explanation, they are directed to research the “Maillard reaction” at their local library.   The general method of smoking are used for dry-cure meat production is “cold” smoking. Cold smoking is usually carried out at temperatures of 65-90oF (18-32oC).   Short drying times prior to smoking the meat is required to produce a pellicle, or thin skin, that helps the meat smoke properly.  If the surface is too wet, undesirable and bitter smoke products will be deposited on the surface of the meat, imparting a bitter or “off” flavor.  The smoke is generally applied continuously for 2 to 5 days depending upon the product.

Drying and Aging: After the meat is smoked, the long period of drying starts. The reduction of moisture on the surface of the meat helps to reduce the microbial growth not only of any surviving surface bacteria but an other bacteria that may have contaminated the surface during production. Drying times depend on the type of the meat being produced and can vary from weeks to months.  During the longer drying times, as in the drying of ham or bacon, temperature and humidity must be closely controlled so as to ensure proper drying of the meats from the inside toward the outside. The meat surface is sometimes covered with lard, pepper or other agent to slow down the surface drying and protect against insets and mites. Generally the drying/aging room is held at 60-65% relative humidity and a temperature of 65-700F. A gentle air circulation should also be maintained during the aging. It is during this time that the flavor characteristics of the meat develop. The flavor differences among the American country ham, Italian, German, French and Spanish hams are due to variation in salting, drying, aging and absence or presence of smoke treatments.









Found this chart on a BBQ web site (and I don't know the author, but its not mine!)
and it gives you some information about the uses of the common types.

Wood Type and Characteristics                    

 Use with

Acacia: Same family as mesquite, but not as strong.                

Most meats, especially beef. Most vegetables.

Alder: Very delicate with a hint of sweetness.                            

Fish, pork, poultry, and light-meat game birds.

Almond: A nutty and sweet smoke flavor, light ash

All meats.

Apple: Slightly sweet but denser, fruity smoke flavor

Beef, poultry, game birds, pork (particularly ham).

Apricot: The flavor is milder & sweeter than hickory

Most meats.

Ash: Fast burner, light but distinctive flavor

Fish and red meats.

Birch: Medium hard wood; flavor similar to maple

Pork and poultry.

Cherry: Slightly sweet, fruity smoke flavor

All meats.

Cottonwood: Very subtle in flavor

Most meats.

Grape: vines Aromatic, similar to fruit woods

All meats.

Grapefruit: Medium smoke flavor; hint of fruitiness

Excellent with beef, pork and poultry

Hickory: Pungent, smoky, bacon-like flavor

The most common wood used! Good for all smoking!

Lemon: Medium smoke flavor; a hint of fruitiness

Excellent with beef, pork and poultry

Lilac: Very light, subtle with a hint of floral

Seafood and lamb

Maple: Mildly smoky, somewhat sweet flavor

Pork, poultry, cheese, and small game birds

Mesquite: Strong earthy flavor

Most meats, especially beef. Most vegetables.

Mulberry: The smell is sweet; reminds one of apple

Beef, poultry,  game birds, pork (particularly ham).

Nectarine: Milder and sweeter than hickory

Most meats.

Oak: The second most popular wood to use. Heavy smoke.

Red meat, pork, fish and heavy game.

Orange: Medium smoke flavor; a hint of fruitiness

Excellent with beef, pork and poultry

Peach: Slightly sweet, woodsy flavor

Most meats.

Pear: Slightly sweet, woodsy flavor

Poultry, game birds, pork.

Pecan: Similar to hickory, but not as strong

Good for most needs.

Plum: The flavor is milder and sweeter than hickory

Most meats.

Walnut: Very heavy smoke flavor, usually mixed with pecan

Red meats and game









WET-CURED OR PICKLED PRODUCTS: Bacon, pastrami, ham and corned beef and corned pork are often cured using the wet-cure process. If a dry cure mix is dissolved in water, it is called a brine or pickle. These meat products are prepared by curing the meat in liquid brine curing solution. The ratio of meat to pickle is very important. Generally 1 gallon of pickle per 20 pounds of meat represents a typical formula. It is important to note that the use of nitrite in brine/pickle curing is not essential to the wet-curing of meat; its presence here is primarily for color retention; the high salt concentration of the brine cures the meat. Brines should only be used once since the chemicals in the brine react with the muscle proteins during curing and become used up, altering the concentration of the brine. In addition to salt, many of the chemical changes occurring during curing are produced by bacteria which use the curing substances as a source of food producing new chemicals that flavor the product. Remember that after curing, meat and poultry are still raw and must be cooked before being eaten.

For my discussion, three types of pickle or curing solutions are considered.

  1. Salt Pickle (Water and salt)

  2. Nitrite Pickle (Water, salt, nitrate, and/or nitrite)

  3. Sweet Pickle (Water, salt, nitrate, and/or nitrite to which sugar has been added).

When making a pickling or brining solution please follow the following recommendations:

·    Keep accurate notes of the chemicals, temperature, humidity and time used during the curing process. To eliminate guesswork, label and date meat curing containers before curing and time the meat is to be removed from the cure.

·        Prepare enough brine so that meat is will be fully submerged in the pickle.

·        Cure meat at 36°F to 40°F (1°C - 4°C). Meat will not cure properly at colder temperatures, and warmer temperatures encourage growth of spoilage bacteria.

·        Salt, cure, and seasonings are generally mixed and dissolved in warm water to ensure even distribution, then the pickle is cooled to refrigerator temperature. Do not exceed the curing levels indicated in the recipes.


For the home sausage makers the curing pickles are applied to meat cuts in either of the following ways. Often the methods are combined. The process relies on the physical principles of diffusion and osmosis; the movement of particles (molecules) from an area of high concentration to an area of lower concentration.


1.     Immersion: This method involves covering the meat cuts completely by submerging meat cuts in a curing solution for an extended period of time. Immersion curing is a slow process and the pickle solution should be changed every 7 days to prevent spoilage.

2.     Injection or Injection pumping: This method involves using a needle with many orifices to inject the pickle directly into the muscle to allow for more uniform distribution of the pickle. Loins and shoulders are often injection pumped.

3.     Artery Pumping: In this method the curing solution is injected into the natural circulatory system of the meat cut using a large artery to disperse the pickle throughout the muscle. Commercially Large, thick pieces of muscle meat like hams and brisket are generally artery injected to place the brine in the properly throughout the muscle.


Any type of injection curing will speed up the distribution of the cure, and the more the more evenly the curing agents are distributed, the shorter the curing time. The curing time with the injection and artery pumping method may be as short as 24 hours. When pumping the meat, place it on a scale to determine  the proper amount of pickle that has to be pumped into the meat. For example a formulation calls for a 10 pound loin to be pumped with 12% pickle. Placed on a scale, pump the meat until it weighs 11.2 pounds.



A salt pickle (salt brine) contains only two ingredients: Water and salt. For quality curing of the product, a salinometer is a necessary; a scientific instrument (type of hydrometer) used to measure the salinity, or dissolved salt content, of a solution. the temperature of the water will have an influence the accuracy of the reading, so be sure and check the temperature at which the salinometer is to be used. Salinometers are generally calibrated to be used at 60°F.  When using the salinometer to determine the salt level of the brine or pickle, be sure salt is the only ingredient in the water.  The scale readings on the instrument are measured in degrees SAL which can be easily converted into the percent of salt in the solution. A 1000SAL brine contains 26.4% salt. Therefore the:

Percentage of salt in a brine  =  [  0SAL reading  x  26.4% ] / 100.

If the brine measures 650SAL, then the brine would have 17.16% salt.....[65 x 26.4] /100

If you want to avoid the mathematics at all costs, then the following table will be useful in preparing a Salt Pickle or Salt Brine:


  • Sodium Chloride Brine Tables for Brine at 60°F

    from: K. S. Hilderbrand, Jr., Oregon Sea Grant through NOAA,
    Office of Sea Grant and Extramural Programs,
    U.S. Department of Commerce,
    Grant no. NA76RG0476, project no. A/ESG-4.


     Salinometer Degrees SAL

    Freezing Point Deg. F.a

    Percent Sodium Chloride by Wt.

    Pounds Salt Per Gallon of Water

    Pounds per Gallon of Brine

    Gallon of water Per Gal of Brine.

    Specific Gravity

     Salinometer Degrees -SAL-

























































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































    100 b

    +60.0 c

    26.395 b






     100 b


     a Temperature at which freezing begins.       b Saturated brine at 60°F.

The above table applies to brine tested at 60°F. For other brine temperatures the observed salinometer readings must be converted before using them in the table. For practical purposes, add one degree salinometer for each 10 degrees above 60°F and deduct one degree salinometer for each 10 degrees below 60°F. For example, if a salinometer reading was observed to be 80°SAL in a brine which was 40°F, the corrected salinometer reading would be 78°SAL (subtract 1°SAL for each 10°F below 60°F).

Please note that the salinometer readings are only valid for salt and water pickles.  Cures and flavorings make the reading inaccurate.



The following comments can be applied to either the Nitrite/Nitrate or sweet pickle cures. Salt is necessary in these curing mixtures for proper curing. The main disadvantage of using salt is its harsh taste and the dark undesirable color of the meat. These problems are reduced by using nitrite, nitrate and/or sugar. The sugar masks the harsh flavor of the salt and the nitrite/nitrates preserve the color of the meat.  Spices and flavorings are often added to sweet pickle cures to enhance the product’s organoleptic properties. The amount of flavorings and spices are variable and reflect the taste of the sausage maker; However, the addition of additives like nitrite, nitrate, ascorbates, etc. are strictly controlled by the FSIS/USDA for all commercial products. Care must always be exercised when using these ingredients, especially with recipes given by friends of copied from the internet. Frankly speaking there are web-based postings by people who have very little experience with these toxic substances and have posted “deadly” recipes! I have endeavored to include in several places on this site the mathematical formulas and USDA guidelines so that you, the hobbyist, can correctly calculate the safety margins of the restricted items used in your recipes.


This section includes information on chemical additives and the limitations for their use in pickle/brine curing solutions
 that are applied in or on meat and meat food products and poultry and poultry food products.

List of Regulated Substances for Cured Pork and Beef Cuts
Excerpts from Code of Federal Regulations - Title 9, Ch. 3 [318.7(c)(4), 381.147(d)(4)]


Parts per million (ppm) of restricted curing ingredients permitted in curing solutions







Sodium or Potassium Nitrite

   200 ppm/120 ppm in bacon/ highly toxic

Sodium or Potassium Nitrate

   700 ppm/ Not allowed in bacon curing

Sodium Ascorbate or Erythorbate

   547 ppm/550 ppm in bacon

Ascorbic or Erythorbic Acid

   469 ppm/ not allowed in bacon curing

Sodium PolyPhosphates

5,000 ppm

Glucono delta-lactone

5,000 ppm



Let's try to see if we can use all this information with an actual example. Your friend has given you a formula for making corned beef. His instructions say pump the meat with the brine (see below) to a 10% pump. That means that if the meat weighs 10 pounds, you would pump it with enough brine so that the weight equaled 11 pounds.  You've made some preliminary calculations to determine the amount of salt and nitrite in the cure #1 that you are using and you've added together all the weights of the salt and have converted all weights into pounds.  You now have the following information:

1½ gallons of pure water

    =    12.5 lb.

Total amount of salt

    =      1.5 lb.

Sodium phosphates

    =      0.4 lb.


    =      0.2 lb.

Sodium erythorbate

    =      0.035 lb.

Sodium nitrite

    =      0.025 lb.

        Total pounds of pickle

    =    14.66 pounds


Question: How many PPM of Sodium nitrite are in the above pickling solution?

 Calculations (RI=Restricted Ingredient):

 PPM = (RI times percent of pump as a decimal times 1,000,000) / Total weight of pickle.
PPM = (.025 nitrite  X  .10  X 1,000,000) / 14.66 pounds of pickle
PPM = 2500 / 14.66
PPM = 170

Therefore, since the ingoing amount of nitrite is lower than 200 PPM limit by the USDA, it seems like we are in compliance. But suppose you accidentally pump 12% of the brine into the meat---are you still in compliance with regard to the PPM of nitrite? Remember, that's, 200PPM or less!  Let's see. The question now becomes what Percent of Pump is too much to force into the meat? Re-arrange the above formula to find the "Percent of Pump as a decimal".

Percent of Pump as a decimal = (PPM times Total weight of pickle) / (RI times 1,000,000)

Percent of Pump (as a decimal)     =     (200 X 14.66) / (0.025 X 1,000,000)
Percent of Pump (as a decimal)     =     (2932 /  25000)
Percent of Pump (as a decimal)     =     0.1173
Converting to a percentage:
    Percent of Pump (as a decimal) = 0.1173 x 100%
                            Percent of Pump = 11.73%

Therefore a 12% pump exceeds the maximum percent pump allowed (11.73%) and you are out of compliance!



SALT: Essential to cure meat! Salt prevents the growth of some of the bacteria that are responsible for meat spoilage by either inhibiting the growth of those bacteria directly or removing enough water from the meat that they cannot survive. Salt also helps in extraction of the soluble proteins which help in binding of restructured meat products.  Salt is used both in dry cure as well as brining.  Only food grade salt should be used. Some people wish to have less sodium due to its relationship with hypertension and food grade Potassium chloride has been used to substitute for sodium chloride up to a 40% level. The use in a ratio of 40 : 60 reduces sodium up to 34 – 35%.

In fresh sausage, salt is used as a flavoring agent; however, in cured Types of saltor dry-cured it is used as a curing agent as well as a flavoring agent.  The proper amount is critical to a proper cure. Different salts have different weights per unit volume. Table salt is the heaviest; Kosher is the lightest!  Make sure you using the proper amount. In fresh sausages, general rule of thumb you can use is 1 to 1-1/2 teaspoons of canning or table salt to 1 pound of meat.  That will yield approximately 1% to 1.5% of salt in the product.  In making salami and other dry-cured product, the USDA guideline call for 2.5% salt.

When selecting salt, make sure it has no additives in it. I generally use a canning-type salt, which is pure Sodium chloride. Sea salt, which may be tasty on your grilled steak, has a number of "impurities" which can interact with other chemicals in your sausage formula. Not that it's bad, it would just give a different taste in some cases. Kosher or flake salt will give you less salt by volume than you need if you just use a measuring spoon.  To be accurate, no matter which salt you end up using, you'll always get the proper amount of salt if you weigh it out  on a scale rather than use volume measurements.


NITRITE AND NITRATE CURING SALTS: Curing means to make the meat product inhospitable to spoilage microorganisms and to flavor, color, and tenderize the meat.  Meat can be cured either by the addition of salt alone or salt in combination with one or more ingredients such as sodium nitrite, sugar, and spices. The preparation and use of curing mixtures must be carefully planned and executed.  Curing is generally done under refrigeration (36°F / 2°C) and is essential when the formulation requires meat to be processed at low temperatures (under 140°F / 60°C)….while smoking, for example. Cures come pre-mixed and ready to use; they are usually added to the meat as an ingredient along with the other seasonings. 

"Curing salt" is available in several formulations: Cure #1 (also called Prague Powder #1) which contains pure salt and sodium nitrite; Cure #2 (also called Prague Powder #2) which contains pure salt, sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate; and proprietary formulations like Morton's Tender Quick. Careful attention must be paid to the sausage formulation to be sure that the correct cure is used!

Prague Powder #1: sometimes called "pink salt", Insta-Cure, Cure #1 or Modern Cure. This cure contains 6.25% sodium nitrite mixed with salt.  Use 1 level teaspoon of cure for 5 lb. of meat. (2.5 grams of cure per kilogram of meat)  Mix cure with cold water. This cure is not interchangeable with Cure#2.

Prague Powder #2: sometimes called Cure #2 or Insta-Cure #2 has 6.25% of sodium nitrite with 4% of sodium nitrate mixed with salt and must be used with any products that do not require cooking, smoking, or refrigeration. The sodium nitrate in this cure slowly breaks down into sodium nitrite, then into nitric oxide over a long period of time. Use 1 level teaspoon of cure for 5 lbs. of meat. (2.5 grams of cure per kilogram of meat)  Mix cure with cold water. This cure is not interchangeable with Cure #1.

Morton® Tender Quick® mix contains salt, the main preserving agent; sugar, both sodium nitrate (0.5%) and sodium nitrite (0.5%). Since Morton cures are proprietary mixtures of salt, sugar, nitrite and nitrate, and propylene glycol there is no way of easily converting how much could be substituted in a formulation that uses cure #2.  Click on Tender Quick to get more information.

 - How They Work:

Nitrite added to meat delays development of the toxin that causes botulism and imparts the characteristic cured meat flavor and color we often associate with ham, bacon, salami, etc. Some cured meats such as bacon, country ham, salami, pepperoni, and Westfalian ham, for example, use sodium nitrate because of the long aging period involved in curing the meat. During this time, helpful bacteria (certain strains of micrococcus, etc.) can ferment the nitrate and it is slowly converted to nitrite which in turn is converted to nitric oxide. It is the nitric oxide than combines with myoglobin protein in the meat that imparts a pleasing red color in the cured product. To insure proper fermentation, curing salts containing nitrite (or nitrite and nitrate) as well as starter cultures of known bacteria are used in the production of dry-cured meats.

Note: There is much concern over the consumption of nitrate and nitrite by the general public. However, a review of all scientific literature on nitrite by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences indicates that nitrite does not directly act as a carcinogen in animals and that nitrate, which is converted to nitrite in the human body, is neither carcinogenic nor mutagenic.


Reducing the pH level of sausage is part of a process of fermentation, which is necessary to get a certain texture and is used to protect the product from harmful microbiological activity. The production of cured, smoked, and/or dry-cured sausages requires a quick drop in acidity during manufacture.  This drop is needed because it inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria and provides a suitable environment for the helpful bacteria that will cause fermentation in the meat mixture. The desired range of pH's is generally lower than 5. The lower pH level can be accomplished by:

  • Bacterial acidification accomplished by adding acid starter cultures (lactobacillus, etc) or

  • Direct acidification, where food grade acids like lactic, acetic, or citric acid are added directly to the food,  or

  • Indirect chemical acidification where acidogens or acid releasing agents like encapsulated acids, glucono-delta-lactone, etc. are added to the food

A special point of concern for the direct chemical acidification methods is of course the control of the pH: by adding these acids, one can easily create pH gradients within the product which makes it difficult to control the formation of the desired texture.  Hence, a controlled acidification, for example by using microbiological cultures, is a more suitable way to acidify food products and to obtain the desired textures. In my opinion, the non-commercial sausage maker it is safer to use starter cultures.










Starter Cultures

Microorganisms such as bacteria have played an important role in the preservation of food products for thousands of years. Preservation  involves some form of lactic acid fermentation in such foods as salami and summer sausages;  pickles and sauerkraut; cheese, sour cream, and yogurt. Of course for centuries it the biochemistry of these foods were unknown and considered an art. It has now been shown that a large group of microorganisms (lactic bacteria), normally present in the foods, were responsible.

The group of lactic acid bacteria (LAB) is very diverse and includes such genera as Lactobacillus, Pediococcus and Streptococcus which produce lactic acid and aromatic compounds giving dried sausage their characteristic flavor and tang. Other bacterial species, belonging to the genera Micrococcus and Staphylococcus for example, are used convert nitrate to nitrite in sausage fermentation. Starter cultures are available as frozen or freeze-dried cultures that may contain a single species of bacteria or several species depending on the type of sausage being produced.

The fermentation step in dry cured sausage production involves the action of LAB on the sugars added to ground meat. [See the page on "Making Salami".] These organisms ferment the sugars to lactic acid and the acid causes the meat to develop the characteristic texture and flavor that is associated with the sausage.  In 1960, Merck & Co. and American Meat Institute were awarded the Food Technology Industrial Achievement Award for demonstrating the efficacy using of Pediococcus cerevisiae as a starter culture for controlled fermentation of sausage.

Today starter cultures are added routinely to commercial dry-cured sausage formulations to initiate and control the formation of lactic acid and drop the pH (acidity measure) of the sausage.  In addition to giving the sausages a unique lactic acid flavor, the rapid decline of pH inhibits the growth of spoilage bacteria and pathogens. With the current interest in sausage making, a few types of starter cultures are available in small quantities for the home sausage maker. [See the "Resources" page.]

Different LAB strains produce various amounts of lactic acid by their nature. Commonly used commercial starter cultures are either pure strains or various mixtures of Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus curvatus, Pediococcus cerevisiae, Pediococcus acidilacti,  Staphylococcus camosus. The search for a starter cultures for use by the “home” sausage maker can be frustrating.  There are many health-food type companies offering LAB as health and digestive aids---these CAN NOT be safely used as starter cultures for meat products. The search for sources and choices in starter culture outside the US, especially Europe and Canada is much easier. I have a couple of sources linked on my resource page.  Companies package starter cultures in quantities sufficient for 100 kg. (500 lb.) of sausage; fortunately, the cultures are generally freeze dried and can be kept frozen for a year or two.  One package (generally less that $15 USD) will last a long time! I get a lot of email from people asking: "What culture should I use to make a certain product?" In order to give you a guide, I have excerpted a section from the Hansen company Meat Manual below. Hansen is just one of several companies world-wide that produce starters for the food industry. This material is presented just for informational purposes.


Guideline material is excerpted from: Bactoferm Meat Manual vol. I "Production of fermented sausages with Chr. Hansen starter cultures", Edition 2003

Guidelines for choosing Chr. Hansen starter cultures


5.1. Starter cultures at Chr. Hansen

In the tables below the standard range of starter cultures offered by Chr. Hansen for fermented dried sausages are compiled and categorized into their primary target groups, taking into account the specific culture needs within each group. Please refer to the sausage style definitions made in paragraph 2.1. and to chapter 3 and 4 for details on the involved microorganisms. One should be aware that even if many of the cultures contain the same species, the strains are different and possess different characteristics.

Most of the cultures within the product range contain blends of lactic acid bacteria, staphylococci or Micrococcaceae spp., in this way simplifying the procedure of applying more than one bacterium. Yeast strains are not included in the standard range, but are available on request.

5.1.1. Starter cultures for traditional fermented sausages

In the production of traditional Southern European style sausages and traditional North European technologies, the fermentation profile must have a short lag phase in order to ensure the growth of the added starter culture at the expense of the background flora. Additionally, the acidification profile must be rather flat not going below pH 4.8-5.0 at any time. This will ensure that the applied staphylococci maintain their activity over a longer period of time; foremost their nitrate reductase and flavor-forming activities. The cultures specified below are specifically selected for traditional fermentation profiles applying fermentation temperatures not higher than 24ºC (75ºF).

In general, T-SL and T-SC-150 result in a faster acidification rate than the other traditional cultures, but this is much dependent on the processing procedure. The lactic acid bacteria in T-D-66 have a very high salt tolerance and they are recommended for sausages with high fat content.

Culture name

Bacteria included



Lactobacillus sakei Staphylococcus carnosus

Aromatic cultures with mild acidification


Pediococcus pentosaceus Staphylococcus carnosus


Pediococcus pentosaceus Staphylococcus xylosus


Lactobacillus plantarum Staphylococcus carnosus

Aromatic cultures with intermediate acidification


Lactobacillus sakei Staphylococcus carnosus


Lactobacillus pentosus Staphylococcus carnosus

5.1.2. Starter cultures for fast fermented sausages

In the production of North European and US style sausages the fermentation profile must have a very short lag phase in order to rapidly on-set fermentation and exhibit a fast drop in pH to below 5.3 within 30 hours as a minimum. This ensures an efficient inhibition of background flora and an early on-set of fast drying. Total production time is typically less than 2 weeks.

Staphylococci and Micrococcaceae spp. are not added to all cultures, so in order to enhance color formation staphylococci or Micrococcaceae spp. must be added on the side (see paragraph 5.1.3.). This may be unnecessary in the US style process (fermentation temperatures 35-45ºC/100-115ºF, very fast pH-drop, very low final pH < 4.8) since staphylococci generally do not survive the fast pH-lowering. In some instances, however, the addition of staphylococci or Micrococcaceae spp. has proven beneficial for color stability in the US style process for meat snack sticks.

The Pediococcus in F-1 and LP has lower salt tolerance than the other fast fermenting strains and F-1 and LP are therefore not recommended for sausages with very high salt-in-water levels (>6%) and high fat contents.

Culture name

Bacteria included



Lactobacillus sakei Staphylococcus carnosus

Fast cultures targeted for fermentation temperatures 22-32ºC (70-90ºF)


Lactobacillus sakei Staphylococcus xylosus Staphylococcus carnosus


Lactobacillus sakei Staphylococcus carnosus


Pediococcus pentosaceus Staphylococcus xylosus


Pediococcus pentosaceus


Lactobacillus curvatus


Lactobacillus curvatus Micrococcaceae spp.


Lactobacillus curvatus


Lactobacillus farciminis Staphylococcus carnosus Staphylococcus xylosus


Pediococcus acidilactici Pediococcus pentosaceus

Extra fast cultures targeted for fermentation temperatures 26-38ºC (80-100ºF)


Pediococcus acidilactici Micrococcaceae spp.

Extra fast cultures targeted for fermentation temperatures 30-45ºC (90-115ºF)


Pediococcus acidilactici


Pediococcus acidilactici

Very fast culture targeted for fermentation temperatures 32-45ºC (90-115ºF)

5.1.3. Starter cultures for enhancing flavor and nitrate reduction

Sausages fermented with a chemical acidifier such as GDL or encapsulated acid (see paragraph 2.2.1.) instead of lactic acid bacteria generally require added staphylococci or Micrococcaceae spp. to obtain acceptable flavor and color, see table below. In general, those single strain cultures are recommended in all sausage products in need of extra flavor or nitrate reductase activity. S. carnosus is more salt tolerant than S. xylosus and convey a more intense flavor in fast fermented products.

Culture name

Bacteria included



Staphylococcus carnosus 

Flavor and color enhancing cultures


Staphylococcus xylosus


Micrococcaceae spp.

5.1.4. Starter cultures for surface coverage

South European style sausages covered with mold on the surface will profit from being inoculated with a standardized culture, thus preventing mycotoxin formation by contaminating molds. Additionally, the on-set of mold growth will be faster and a more uniform coverage will be obtained.

The penicillin tabulated below were selected to have toxin free growth features and different appearances under the same conditions. M-EK-4 grows better at lower temperature and humidity and gives a marbled appearance. M-EK-6 is denser and develops a more fluffy coverage. M-EK-72 gives a strong growth and high and fluffy coverage when high humidity and temperature is available.

Culture name

Bacteria included



Penicillium nalgiovense


White mold cultures for surface treatment


Mold - 600

Penicillium nalgiovense


Penicillium nalgiovense

5.1.5. Starter cultures for bio-protection

If the contaminating level of Listeria monocytogenes in the fresh sausage mince is rather high, the use of a bio-protective culture may be necessary in order to remove Listeria from the final product. F-LC is a patented culture blend capable of acidification as well as preventing growth of Listeria. The culture works in a wide temperature range. Low fermentation temperature (< 25ºC / 80ºF) results in a traditional acidification profile whereas high fermentation temperature (35-45ºC /95-115ºF) gives a US style product.

Culture name

Bacteria included



Staphylococcus xylosus

Culture for acidification and prevention of Listeria

Pediococcus acidilactici

Lactobacillus curvatus

B-LC-007 Pediococcus acidilactici
Staphylococcus carnosus
Staphylococcus xylosus
Lactobacillus sakei
Pediococcus pentosaceus
For production of traditional fermented sausage with a short fermentation time.



Bactoferm Meat Manual vol. I "Production of fermented sausages with Chr. Hansen starter cultures", Edition 2003-(additions made in 2013)




Citric Acid

Citric acid is a naturally occurring acid that can be added to ground meat which has a number of effects depending upon its concentration. For example, at concentrations of 0.075% it acts as an antioxidant (oxygen absorber) and is used to preserve the color of fresh sausages.  At a concentration of 0.75% (ten times more) it will lower the pH of a meat paste.  This can cause a problem for the sausage maker, however. If the pH is lowered to quickly, the proteins will not bind and firm up the sausage. When this occurs, the texture of the sausage will be coarse and crumbly. To prevent the premature lowering of pH, the citric acid used in sausage making is encapsulated--that is, coated with a hydrogenated vegetable oil which will melt off and release the citric acid at about 135oF allowing the proteins to react with each other before the acid is released.

When the sausage maker wants that fermented "tang" in a cooked or smoked product, but wants to avoid processing under special conditions of temperature and humidity required for bacterial fermentation, the appropriate amount to add to a product is 7.5 grams of encapsulated citric acid for every Kilogram meat. When the sausage maker wants to preserve the color of the fresh sausage, the appropriate amount to add to a product is 0.75 grams of encapsulated citric acid for every Kilogram meat. (Note the decimal point!)

The general way that it is used is to add the acid at the end of the mixing process. At this time the product can be held for a short period of time at room temperature or sent directly to the smoker-cooker. There are several cautions to remember: (1) Add it at the end of the processing cycle to prevent rupture the capsules during the mixing, (2) Do not regrind the meat paste after adding the acid, and (3) Do not refrigerate the product before cooking or smoking.  

Glucono-delta-Lactone (GDL) is a carbohydrate that reacts with water and slowly breaks down into gluconic acid when it comes in contact with the water in sausage mixture. By using GDL, the pH is lowered gradually in the sausage emulsion or mass without going through the fermentation process. This will aid in retarding the development of pathogens and spoilage causing micro-organisms that may be present in the meat mixture. This slow acidification process has a minimal effect on flavor as it lowers the overall pH of the sausage mixture without imparting sourness, since is a "sweet" carbohydrate. It decomposes at about 153°C and is stable at ambient temperatures and humidity. The reversibility between gluconic acid and GDL exhibits the properties of the acid with a gradual but continuous decrease in pH.  During the conversion of GDL into gluconic acid in the meat paste, its taste characteristics change from sweet to slightly acidic. It is GDL’s slow rate of acidification and mild taste characteristics that set it apart from other acidulants. GDL reaches its lowest pH after approximately 40-60 minutes or more, depending on the concentration of GDL and the temperature of the meat. GDL is often used to replace traditional fermentation processes of some sausages, especially in commercial manufacture, because fewer production steps and controls are necessary.  The maximum amount of GDL should be kept to 8 ounces per 100 pounds of ground meat (for the small producer, use at the rate of 5 grams per kilogram). Its use by the home sausage maker should be guided by the person's depth of understanding of food chemistry and bacterial spoilage. The FDA position regarding the safety of GDL is that it is generally regarded as a safe additive; see the following governmental document:   21 CFR Ch. I  §184.1318. Since GDL is a carbohydrate, it may be used as a carbon source for naturally-occurring bacteria in the meat which could then have a detrimental effect on taste.  This can sometimes be corrected by adding flavor-enhancing bacterial cultures.








Seasonings are used in sausage production to contribute to the flavor of the blended meats. Spicing should be done carefully in order to control the seasoning but not overpower the meat flavor of the sausage.  In addition to seasoning, some spices seem to have bacteriostatic and antioxidant properties.  Garlic and nutmeg, for example, have been shown to have such properties.  The chemical and nutritional components of spices can be accessed on the USDA Nutritional Database

Spices come from the bark (cinnamon), root (ginger, onion, garlic), flower buds (cloves, saffron), seeds (yellow mustard, coriander, anise), or the fruit (juniper berry, black pepper, allspice, paprika, chili pepper) of tropical plants and trees.

Herbs are leaves of low-growing shrubs. Examples are parsley, chives, marjoram, thyme, basil, dill, oregano, rosemary, savory, sage and tarragon. These can be used fresh or dried. [Note: Generally substitute half the amount of dried herbs for fresh herbs.]

Seasonings, dehydrated vegetable include onion, garlic, sweet peppers, hot peppers, mints, and freeze-dried chives and shallots.

Condiments are usually a combination of herbs and spices blended in a liquid form. Examples are prepared mustard, catsup, Worcestershire sauce, hot or pepper sauces, and many of the specialty vinegars.

Seasoning blends are mixtures of spices and herbs. Check spice companies, like Penzey's or Sutton’s Bay for exact mixtures.

The art of using herbs and spices is learning how much to add and how to combine flavors. In developing your sausage recipes use strong, pungent spices such as red pepper in small amounts. More delicate seasoning can be used in greater amounts without ruining the final product. Although the herbs or spices should enhance and not overpower the flavor of the meats used, cultural preferences will influence your decision. Be Creative! Learn to cook with tastes rather than with recipes. Be both a scientist and an artist as you learn to use seasonings. Start with several herbs and spices, learning to know the flavoring and how it complements different meats. Each seasoning has a variety of properties not just a taste property but warm or cooling property to it.  Strive to make the best use cooling spices as well as warming spices, bland spices as well as pungent spices, sweet spices as well as hot spices. Flavor is a combination of two sensory perceptions: taste and odor or aroma. The first part is perceived by the taste buds and other sensory tissues on the tongue. It is this area which perceives non-volatile stimuli such as: salt, sweet, acid (sour) and bitter. Secondly one's sense of smell, or odor, is one's reaction to the stimulus of volatile components found in the spice or herb.

Start with a tested recipe. After it has been prepared, decide if more or less seasoning is needed for the next time. Spice companies recommend about 1/4 teaspoon (a pinch) of spice per pound of meat creating recipes. Only use 1/8 teaspoon of stronger seasonings such as red pepper and garlic. Remember, it is easier to add more than to try to compensate for too much. More than one herb or spice can be used in a recipe. When creating a recipe, start by using only one or two choices. As you gain experience with herbs and spices, taste will tell if others might be added.










SUGARS: The addition of sugar is common to many sausages. Its use depends upon the type of sausage being made. Most sugars except sorbitol enhance the browning of sausage during cooking. It is often added to help mask the taste of salt used in the curing process and it can also be used as a source of food the lactic acid producing bacteria needed for proper fermentation of dry and semi-dry sausages. Glucose is essential in fermented sausages as a substrate for growth of fermenting bacteria. Depending on the type of sausage as little as 0.5% sugar is added; some processed meats can contain as much a 2% sugar. Sugar is available in several forms. Some examples of sugars or sugar derivatives are glucose (or dextrose), maple syrup, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, sucrose, honey, and sorbitol. 

PHOSPHATES: Phosphates are used to increase water holding capacity of meat products and have an antioxidant effect.  They also help reduce rancidity as well as improve the color stability and flavor.  The USDA has approved Sodium tripolyphosphate, Sodium hexametaphosphate, Sodium acid pyrophosphate, Sodium pyrophosphate , Monosodium phosphate and Disodium phosphate for use in curing.  The use of these chemicals, however, is restricted to an amount which will result in not more than 0.5 percent phosphate from any source in the finished  product.  (meat contains 0.1% phosphate)

ASCORBATE AND ERYTHORBATE: These chemicals are classed as anti-oxidants, i.e. they combine with free oxygen  that would hasten spoilage. Sodium erythorbate or ascorbate can also create conditions in meat which speed up the rate of conversion of nitrite to nitric oxide which is important for stabilizing the meat color as well as inhibiting the formation of nitrosamines in cured products.

MONOSODIUM GLUTAMATE: MSG is used as a flavor enhancer in sausage formulations. It is a salt of glutamic acid, an amino acid which, together with other amino acids, forms proteins in living tissues. Therefore glutamate is naturally contained in almost all food products such as meat, fish, vegetables, milk, etc. Only a small percentage of the daily eaten glutamate comes from added glutamate. The biggest part comes from proteins. Food products which naturally contain lots of free glutamate (e.g. tomatoes, cheese, mushrooms, etc.) are used in many food recipes because of their flavor enhancing properties. The human tongue can sense sweet, salty, sour and bitter flavors; Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) imparts a fifth flavor which is called UMAMI. (Translated, it means "delicacy"). This flavor plays an important role in many sausage products. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has examined all existing reports on supposedly allergic reactions caused by MSG and they find that there is no connection between glutamate content in food products and the appearance of symptoms such as numbness of neck and back.

MEAT BINDERS:  A variety of substances are used as binders in sausage making. Some of the binders in use are starch, soy protein concentrate, and non fat dried skim milk powder. They are added for a number of reasons, depending on the type of sausage being made. They are used to improve flavor, stability, moisture retention or slicing characteristics. Commercially,  the calcium-reduced form of skim milk powder is often used as calcium is said to interfere with protein solubility. Soy protein concentrate available as coarse granules, powder or grits and is used in emulsion type sausages. The content of meat binder in a sausage product is regulated by the Federal Meat Inspection Service and the amounts vary with the type of sausage or loaf being produced For example, any sausage product containing more than 2% soy protein must be labeled as “imitation” sausage.

TRANSGLUTAMINASE ("Meat Glue") An enzymatic meat binder. This is a naturally occuring enzyme that causes the proteins (well, certain protein amino acids) in muscles to cross-link---in layman's terms, stick together by a chemical reaction. Basically it restructures the meat muscle into a single unit!  For example, you can get two pork tenderloins (that taper) , sprinkle some enzyme, and line them up to form an uniform roll!  It's not a quick reaction, but takes at least 6 hours (or better up to 24 hours) to completely bond and it should be done under refrigeration. As with many things scientific, the general public is suspicious of it's effects on our health.  I suggest you do some research on your own from reliable sources and not just anyone who claims they are knowledgeable about pure foods.

I have more information on my TIPS page. 









Natural Casings: Natural hog, sheep or beef casings are edible and allow for good moisture retention when making sausage. They are best stored under refrigeration; do not freeze. Soften them before use by soaking in fresh warm water for one hour; then flush casings by allowing water to run through them.

·        Sheep Casings: They are smaller and more tender when cooked than hog casings.

·        Hog Casings: They can be used for fresh, cured, smoked, and dried sausage. Most commonly used are the 32 mm size and 35 mm size casings. 

·        Beef casings: the largest size casing; the three commonly used are:

·        Beef Rounds: Slightly curved casing used in making knackwurst & ring bologna. Usually tied on one end and about 15 inches long.

·        Beef Middles: The “middle” part of the beef intestine about 2 ½ inches when stuffed; good for salami, summer sausage, etc. A hank is about 50 feet long!

·        Beef Bungs: About 4 to 4 ½  inches in diameter. Can be used for stuffing coppa and large bologna; this casing hold about 10 pounds of meat.


Fibrous Casings: These casings are non-edible and consist of continuous tube paper which is then impregnated with cellulose. They need to be soaked about 30 minutes in warm water before being used. They do not need to be refrigerated. These casing come in a variety of sizes from small salami to large bologna.

Collagen Casings: These casings are either edible or non-edible (depending on the thickness). They are made of collagen (skin protein) that has been processed and reformed into continuous tube. Those made for fresh sausage are edible, very tender and stuffed dry (without soaking); the thicker, flat collagen casings (3 ½ - 4 inches in diameter) and are soaked for about 30 minutes in warm water before use. They are used for making large sausage, salami, bologna etc. and are not edible.

Plastic Casings:  These casings are non-edible and are used in making sausages that are generally cooked in water.  The plastic is non-permeable to the water and the cooked juices remain in the sausage. Headcheese is an example of a sausage using this casing






Page last edited on September 19. 2018

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