It is Smokin’ Hot outside. But don’t worry – fall is on its way, and before long, we will have some respite from the heat and humidity. Cooler weather begs for you to be outdoors – whether it is working in your fall garden, doing the heavy clean up chores in preparation for winter, or getting the smokehouse ready.
Another fall activity is hunting. For those of you who hunt, there is butchering and processing that goes along with it. We love having ‘Free Food’, so the Country Boy hunts both deer and wild pigs to fill our freezers and feed our family throughout the year. One of his favorite things to do is make sausage. He worked patiently for years to develop his own seasonings and trims his meat just so. He taste tests each batch, to make sure it is perfect. We saved for quality equipment, like his LEM Grinder.
Make Your Own:
But making your own sausage requires a way of smoking it. At first, he just used his grill, with a smoke box attached. During a summer visit to the grocery store, he reached over to pick up a package of sausage, because we had run out. As we lamented the fact that the store-bought version didn’t taste as good as what he made, we finally made the decision to move building a smokehouse to the top of the priority list.
So The Country Boy sat down with pencil and paper and designed a smokehouse. As much as possible, it was designed to utilize what we had on hand. He bought some things, but spent less than$100.00. A smokehouse can be as elaborate or simple as you choose. For our budget, the simpler the better. After doing an inventory of what we had on hand, The Country Boy opted for an 8’x8’x8’ building.
Choosing a Location:
A smokehouse needs to be in close proximity to the house; far enough away that there isn’t an issue with the smoke, but still close enough to carry trays and bowls of sausage. In case things get out of hand, it also needs to be away from other outbuildings. For ventilation, it needs to be at least partially in the open. We chose a space along the fence line, just a short walk from the back door. We measured out a 9’x9’ square and cleared it of all the grass and limbs.
Next we dug post holes at each corner, moving inside the cleared area by one foot, to allow for an 8’x8’ building. The holes were 2’ deep and large enough in diameter to hold 10-foot 4’x’4’ posts. We filled in the hole, using a level to make sure they were straight.
Once completed, he built the frame out of 2’x4’ boards, leaving a space for a hinged door. We had a stack of galvanized corrugated tin that was left over from taking down the old chicken coop. It had some screw holes in it, but we just either re-used them for attaching the tin with screws to the frame, and considered the few that remained ‘ventilation’ holes.
The next step was building a door. He framed the door out with 2’x2’ boards, and added more tin. He hung it in place using 3 heavy-duty hinges. For the door pull, he used an old barn-style handle.
After the building was complete, he drilled two holes in the front of the building and inserted a traditional cooking thermometer with a 12” prong. This way he could keep track of the internal temperature without constantly opening the door and letting heat out.
Now that the building was complete, he began hauling in sand for the floor. He spread a 6” layer from wall to wall. When you build your fire on the floor, the sand helps to prevent the fire from spreading and catching the building on fire. It also helps to keep things tidy by absorbing the grease that drips from the sausage.
For the fire pit, he laid out a 3’ circle with bricks. Next, he cut a 55-gallon metal drum around the first ring. In the bottom, he drilled ¾” holes around the edge. After lighting the fire, the barrel is placed over the fire, bottom side up. This allows the fire to burn, but prevents it from flaring up.
Hanging the sausage: The Country Boy cut sweet gum saplings long enough to reach from one end of the interior to the other and thick enough to hold the weight of the sausage, without breaking in the middle (give or take they are all at least 1-1/2” in diameter, or better). He stripped off the bark. Using tie wire, he extended the branches from the ceiling.
When making our sausage, we use the full length of the casing, then wrap it in a spiral. Some links are short, at approximately 2’. Some can reach 3’ to 4’. These are draped across the limbs, leaving gaps to allow for even smoking.
For wood he uses a ‘good oak’, as he calls it, or any other traditional smoking wood he can get – apple, mesquite, cherry or other fruit wood.
There are a lot of variables when it comes to smoking meats. From the time you light the fire, it begins to cool. This means regular monitoring of your temperature. It needs to be kept at a 160 to 165 degree range. That can mean from 6 hours up to 24 hours to get the flavor you want (think alarm clock going off every two hours).
Every smokehouse is different – size, height, etc. Timing is something that is trial and error, depending on the thickness of the sausage, the size and type of meat (ham, bacon, etc.), the proximity to the fire, and the amount of heat. On rare occasion, The Country Boy rotates his sausage for more even smoking.
Remember this: Smoking adds flavor – it does NOT thoroughly cook the meat. In order for it to be safe to consume, it must be cooked properly.
Once the smoking process is complete, we cut the links into approximately 12” lengths and put them in food saver bags. We store them in the freezer until we are ready to cook them.
How to cook your sausage is up to you. Slice it and add to red beans, gumbo or jambalaya. (Just remember – there are any number of ways to create Gumbo, but always, always, First you make a roux!) Grill them, or slow cook them in a pan in the oven. No matter how you like it, homemade smoked sausage is delicious. And knowing you created it – from hunting to table, including smoking it yourself, in a smokehouse built by your own hands – brings you a new level of satisfaction and contentment in any homestead heart.