Believe me, I know how it feels to put such heart and hard work into crafting and cooking beautiful homemade sausages only to find out that the sausage casings are completely tough and chewy.
But I’ll tell you what, I didn’t make that mistake again. I did what I could and I tried several different ways to really pinpoint what went wrong so I could stop my sausage casings from being so tough.
From all my efforts and trials, cooking homemade venison brats, salami, and a few goes at chorizo, here’s what I learned about how to fix tough sausage casings.
Tough Sausage Casings
If it’s your first time cooking homemade sausage and you’ve simply followed instructions on how to make them, then it’s certainly excusable to have tough sausage casings — in fact, it’s almost expected as it’s part of the learning process.
However, if it’s your first time or not and you’ve found yourself with tough sausage casings, it can really dampen the mood. Particularly as once it’s been cooked there’s not too much you can do to make it tender. But, what you can do is identify what went wrong, and find out how to cook them just right to prevent tough casings next time.
The most common reasons your sausage casings have come out tough is due to long storage of the casings, not washing or flushing them properly, or not preparing them in a water-vinegar mix before use. The casing of sausage can also become tough if it’s already been cooked! Tough sausage casings can evenHere are the full details to help you understand what happened and how to fix it for next time.
What Causes Tough Sausage Casings?
Although there are slight differences in texture of different natural sausage casings, whether you’re using a beef round casing, hog casing, or sheep casing, the same principles apply when it comes to keeping them tender.
The first step to fixing tough sausage casings is to find out why they came out as chewy, rubbery, or tough to begin with. A lot of people think it’s due to the age or quality of the sausage casing, but it’s much more commonly due to how it’s been prepared or handled before cooking.
Here are the most common reasons your sausage casings have come out tough:
Not Soaking And Flushing Your Casings
When you first pick up any type of natural casing, usually a natural hog casing, you’ll notice they come heavily salted. This salt keeps them dry, preventing bacterial growth and preserving them. But herein lies the most crucial step that a lot of people miss that causes tough sausage casings.
It’s an absolute must to soak your casings adequately and then flush water right through the entire casing. This process removes all excess salt, loosens it, and leaves you with a beautifully fresh and tender sausage casing.
First, prepare a lukewarm water bath with a splash of vinegar and soak your entire bundle of casings for at least one hour up to a few hours or overnight. The vinegar helps to tenderize the casings even before you start the cooking process!
After soaking time is over, grab the end of the casing and open it using two fingers. Either use the tap or control some water into the opening and slowly force it through the entire case. It’s worth doing this at least twice, just to ensure it’s properly cleared and loose.
Not Using The Right Casing
Depending on what sausage you’re preparing and how you’re going to cook it, you’ll want to match it with a casing that accommodates the filling. So, if you’re new to sausage making you’ll want to ask for some recommendations from us here at GrillSimply or your local butcher.
For example, beef casing is known to be very robust, holding together well but naturally being a lot together than other casings. This is used to make larger sausages or hard salamis which have a longer or harsher cooking process.
Hog casings are most traditional and will be suitable for any standard link sausage like smoking bratwurst, Italian sausage, etc.
Sheep casings are renowned as the most tender in the industry. When cooking with these you’ll find your sausages are more likely to “snap”, with the casings breaking much more easily. This is beneficial when you want a tender casing, but isn’t suitable for all types of sausage. They are also much more fragile in the preparation process.
Although sausage casings certainly do have a long shelf life when they’re stored in the right conditions, everything eventually ages. In ideal conditions, kept in a refrigerator, heavily salted and kept dry, natural casings can last at least one year without losing much or any quality.
However, as soon as they absorb moisture or are left in the air they will seize up, and can become tough, or even break.
One reason your natural sausage casings have become tough is that you might have frozen them. This actually weakens the casing and can cause some parts to break, and some parts to become chewy and tough.
Both cellulose or collagen casings have a shelf life of 12 and 24 months, but really need to be kept in a dry location away from the sun or any moisture. Again, incorrect storage conditions can lead to unwanted texture changes.
You’re Using Fibrous Or Plastic Casings
This kind of goes without saying, but if you are using plastic casings or fibrous casings (for summer sausage or salami for example), these are not edible sausage casings, and are designed to be removed for any consumption. So if you are using these casings that would explain why it’s tough or chewy!
However, these are preferred as summer sausage casing, due to their ability to hold and permeate smoke, air, and moisture.
How To Fix Tough Sausage Casings
So, once you’ve identified what might have gone wrong in the process, from storage, choice of sausage casings, or improper soaking or flushing, the best way is to simply improve for next time.
However, if you’re sure your preparation process and casing choice are solid, then there are a few helpful tips and tricks you can use to make perfect, tender, and incredible sausages. Here’s some advice on other ways to fix tough sausage casings.
Pierce The Casing Before Cooking
Depending on how tightly you’ve prepared your sausage, it can be worth piercing your casing before you smoke, fry, or grill your sausage.
Piercing your casing literally just means making a few small holes in order to allow some of the air and fat out of the casing which helps things cook more evenly. The best way to pierce your casing is to simply take a skewer and poke a few holes (5-6) around the sausage.
It’s important to note this is absolutely optional, but can help things cook more evenly and for your sausages to keep their shape and not explode or split.
Let The Sausage Come Up To Room Temperature Before Cooking
One common mistake made, which goes for both homemade sausage and precooked/store-bought sausages, is cooking the sausage straight from the fridge. It’s essential you let the sausage come up to room temperature before cooking to ensure an even cook.
Otherwise, sudden heat can tighten up the casing causing it to become tough.
Try “Beginner” Sausage Casings First
Although you may want to master the art of sausage making using traditional natural casings, it’s actually much easier to start with the “beginner” sausage casings first as they require much less preparation and have a smaller margin of error.
Collagen casings are surprisingly easy, convenient, and just as good to use as traditional casings for beginners. They are completely uniform in size and length (i.e. no links), and you can simply cut where you want your sausage to end.
They are typically used for pepperonis, snack sticks, or breakfast sausage, but you can use them for others too. They are both smoke and moisture-permeable which means you can make a nice smoked sausage or simply one to fry in the pan.
Another type you can use is cellulose casings which are very much the same as collagen except they are typically made from plant fibers, and almost feel plasticky.
The Final Link
By understanding the most common mistakes made with sausage casings you can avoid things becoming too tough or chewy – usually being caused by inadequate washing and flushing process or incorrect storage.
However, some expert industry tips can really lift your sausage game. Washing and flushing in a vinegar-water mix, understanding each type of sausage casing, and cooking it properly will all make a world of difference.
If you have any questions, tips & tricks, or advice — let us know in the comments so we can all share in the glory of a perfect sausage.