Handiwork: Bratwurst

By Lisa Fain 
Photography by Lisa Fain

“What do you think of the texture? Does it remind you of a turkey burger?” my friend Matt asked with a concerned look. “It’s very flavorful, but…you know…kind of dry.”

I had just made my first batch of charcuterie—the mighty bratwurst, the sausage of Oktoberfest. The texture of turkey burger was not what I had been aiming for.

Bratwurst is a fresh sausage—a sausage that hasn’t been smoked, dried, pre-cooked or cured. And though I had experience making other fresh sausages, such as breakfast sausage and Mexican chorizo, I’d never attempted to stuff meat into a casing. Therein lay the challenge, and the fun. 

I definitely wanted an edible casing like those used for breakfast sausages, hot dogs, Italian sausage and kielbasa. As bratwurst is comprised mostly of pork, I opted for pork intestines. When I picked up the casings, I was first struck by how light the bag was—you’d think that a football field’s length of pig intestines would have some heft, but nope—these hardly weighed a thing. What they lacked in mass, though, they made up for in looks. To those uninitiated into the world of sausage making, it looked like I was carrying around a bag of brains.

You can make sausage by yourself, of course, but because I was a sausage-stuffing neophyte, I invited friends over to help in the endeavor. As it turns out, I desperately needed the extra hands—none of us knew what we were doing and the first few feet of links were terribly awkward. Fumbling with the sausage-making attachment on my kitchen mixer, I’d push the meat through too fast and the casing would burst, sending ground meat exploding all over the countertops. Or we wouldn’t properly manipulate the casing and the sausage would fail to make it inside, balling up in a big thick bubble. Finally, however, we found our rhythm, which ended up making us sound like a bunch of masseur cheerleaders.

“Massage it! Massage it!” we shouted at each other as the ground meat filled the casing. Massaging was the only way to get an even fill.

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The main appeal of making your own sausage, of course, is that you control what goes into the recipe. I wanted to use local meat that came from happy animals and this is where I ran into a problem. In order to make moist sausage, you must have fat. The ratio of fat to meat should be at least 20 to 80 or the sausage will have a dry and mealy texture.

The best fatty cut of pork is the shoulder, but when I went to the market, pork shoulder wasn’t available—so I bought tenderloin instead. This might have been fine if I’d balanced it with a well-marbled beef, but the veal I used was also lean.

Alas, I’d spent so much time focused on the process of sausage making, I’d failed a bit with my recipe. The flavor was spot on—chock-full of autumnal hints of mace, clove, nutmeg, ginger and allspice with cayenne for kick. But without the rich fat, the sausage needed a good slather of mustard to make its texture juicier.

Five pounds of ground meat, a few yards of pork intestine and a lot of laughs later, we’d made a beautiful stack of links. They looked like bratwurst, they smelled like bratwurst and, heck, they even tasted like bratwurst—if a mite dry.

So just make sure there’s enough fat in your recipe. The portions in the recipe above should produce the perfect links!