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Making Deer Sausage the Old-Fashioned Way

By Michael Barr
Michael Barr

German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck gets the credit for saying "Laws are like sausages. You should never watch them being made." Well I've watched both, and I'll stuff sausage any day.

Sausage-making is a Hill Country family tradition although it's not as common as it once was. Sausage-making is like making soap or butter. It's a link to the past you might say.

The Germans make dry deer sausage in the fall using preserving techniques brought to this country by their ancestors. In the old days the relatively cold weather and short growing season back in Germany (it's about the same latitude as Newfoundland), meant that old world preserving methods such as pickling, salting, smoking and curing were crucial in order to make the food supply last until springtime.

There are fundamental steps in the art of sausage-making although the techniques and ingredients vary from one family to another. Some sausage recipes are written in German on old pieces of paper and lovingly passed down through the generations.


A sausage recipe I am familiar with calls for 20 lbs. of meat - 2/3rds deer meat and 1/3 pork. The pork is necessary because deer meat is lean and tough. Pork adds flavor.

The first step is to debone and cube the deer meat and pork. Then mix the cubed meat together and season with cup of salt, cup of coarse ground black pepper and 2 tablespoons saltpeter.

Grind the meat through a course plate, and grind again with a finer plate. The meat is now mixed, seasoned, ground and ready for stuffing.

Next cut the casings (beef intestines that hold the sausage) into strips about 15 inches long, and soak them in warm salt water. Tie one end of the casing with a string and slide the other end over the stuffing nozzle. Feed the meat into the casing letting the casing slide through your hand as it fills with sausage. (It looks easy but takes practice.) Pack the casing tight enough that no air gets in but not so tight that the casing explodes. When the casing is full, tie off the other end with the string to make a ring.

After all casings are stuffed and tied, hang the rings in the smoke house and smoke the sausage about 4 hours. The sausage absorbs the flavor of the smoke. (This recipe uses oak wood.) Then let the sausage hang in a well-ventilated area until reaching the desired hardness. Make sure the rings do not touch each other. Keep the area free of flies and other insects. In a week or so the sausage is ready to eat.


Some families make jerky at the same time they made sausage. Some make "clothesline jerky," which is venison cut into strips like bacon, cured and hung to dry on a string similar to a clothesline

Another jerky recipe calls for dissolving about 4 cups of salt (enough to float an egg) and 4 teaspoons of pink curing salt in 4 gallons of water. Then slice the deer meat into chunks and soak the chunks in the salt water for 4 hours. Drain the water and add pepper to the meat. Then string it up and smoke it with the sausages.


Lyndon Johnson was a fan of deer sausage. He handed out sausage rings to his Washington colleagues for Christmas gifts. When West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and Admiral Chester Nimitz stayed overnight at the LBJ Ranch in 1961, Lady Bird served "a typical breakfast of eggs, deer sausage, home-cured bacon and homemade bread."

Deer sausage is chewy, a little salty and slightly sweet. It is a Hill Country delicacy.

Still the best part about deer sausage is not the taste but the time spent making it. Sausage-making day is a family gathering and a celebration. The older generation teaches the family traditions to the youngsters, often using grinders and stuffers that are heirlooms from the 19th century. There is plenty of beer, laughter and fun.

Stuffing sausage with the family is a great way to spend the day. It's a lot more fun than those sausage factories in Austin and Washington.

Michael Barr
"Hindsights" November 1, 2022 Column

Related Topics:
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