Which Sausage Stuffer for the Home Sausage Maker the Right Choice?
Though not a necessity for the occasional sausage maker, a horizontal or Vertical Sausage Stuffer will definitely make your job a lot easier.
Sausages are made in a wide variety of both size and texture and the proper tools will certainly make your efforts a pleasure instead of a chore and insure a higher quality finished product.
Sausage stuffers come in a variety of styles, sizes and materials from cast iron to stainless steel. All of these will do the job they were intended , but some will do it much better than others.
Vertical, horizontal, manual, manual and electric meat grinders with stuffing attachments and plain old stuffing horns are just a few of the different tools available for the home sausage maker.
Do You Need a Vertical Sausage Stuffer to Start Out ?
Not at all, you can actually make sausage without any of the tools on this page. In fact, if you’re brand spanking new to making sausage I recommend that you start out making fresh bulk sausage to get the hang of it before laying out any cash.
Breakfast sausage and Italian sausage can be made in bulk form and fried or grilled as a patty or crumbled for use in casseroles, pizza toppings, etc. But nothing beats homemade links on the grill or some summer sausage or salami hanging in a smoker, and this requires stuffing.
If you have already made sausage and are considering upgrading to either a vertical or horizontal stuffer then you’ve probably experienced some of the same results as me and decided it’s time to make an equipment change.
You Gotta Start Somewhere.
I remember looking into the frying pan on a Saturday morning while my wife was frying up some store bought breakfast sausage patties.
The sausage was just swimming in grease and water and tasted just like it. I like a little bit of grease occasionally, but this made me wonder just what the heck is in these commercial products.
After more than just a few bad experiences with store bought sausage I was looking for alternatives and began looking into making my own sausage.
After mentioning this to an older couple that we knew, Margaret and Pete offered to show me how it’s done. What a way to spend a Saturday night huh, but that was some of the best Polish sausage I ever had and that alone was enough to hook me.
We started from scratch by trimming the pork shoulder cutting it into cubes for the grinder. Grinding, seasoning and mixing, frying a bit to check the mix and then stuffing it using their KitcheAid.
I learned an awful lot that night and had seen how easy was to make homemade sausage and surprised that I remembered it the next day in spite of all the cold ones that were put down.
The next day I started my research to find a good book for someone just starting out and Great Sausage Recipes and Meat Curing by Rytek Kutas was just about everyone’s recommendation. That started the ball rolling for me. From there I checked what were the top meatgrinders since I never owned one before. And this is basically the first step if you don’t have your butcher grind your pork for you.
One of the main things I learned is that fat is good in sausage. Now I know what you’re thinking, but trimming too much fat will make a dry sausage that lacks flavor.
My first attempt was breakfast sausage and I hacked off a lot of fat from the pork butt I was butchering. I felt good knowing my family wouldn’t be loading up on that nasty fat and have nothing but the freshest ingredients to boot. Not an ounce of grease in the pan when cooked and boy was it dry. A little oil and butter helped save the day, but I learned an 80/20 meat to fat ratio was a good starting place.
That was probably around 2009 or so and I still enjoy both the book and making sausage, though the book has seen better days. The quality of homemade sausage can’t be beat and once you make your own sausage you’ll see what I mean.
Between fresh, smoked and dry cured, you’ll never be at a loss to try something new. Just being able to duplicate a sausage delicacy from the other side of the world in the comfort of your own home is reward in itself.
Manual Meat Grinder 101
This manual meat grinder is similar to the first piece of home sausage making equipment I purchased. I was on a limited budget so I decided to start with something that could basically do the whole job.
This well made tin plated cast iron grinder came with three grinding plates, knife, and a few different diameter stuffing tubes. I had a nice chunk (10″ x 24″ or so) of maple butcher block to screw the grinder to which could then be clamped to the kitchen counter because you do have to secure it prior to grinding.
It works great as a meat grinder and I actually prefer the grind from this over any electric I’ve used, but stuffing sausage with this type of device definitely has it’s drawbacks.
It did the job, but stuffing was a much longer process, especially on the Polish / Italian size links and don’t even think about breakfast links or beef sticks.
Filling the one or two pound freezer bags or salami size casings actually went pretty fast from what I remember, but the auger style feed on a grinder, either manual or electric is still no match for a dedicated stuffer in my opinion.
Grinding was a breeze and I was amazed how fast you could grind up ten pounds of either pork, beef and the nastiest of all…venison. The one thing that will make this job so much easier is to make sure the meat to be ground is ice cold or partially frozen.
I skipped this step the first time and I’ve never done it since. If you listen to this advice, you’ll spend more time setting and cleaning up than grinding. And make sure you do clean this unit well, you don’t want any bacteria or food contamination.
Many of the smaller sized manual meat grinders, like the Grizzly H6250 Stainless Steel Meat Grinder #10 have a clamp on system which makes setting up and tearing down much simpler.
In my opinion, they work just as well as the larger sized versions for grinding and are much easier to clean and store when not in use. Quality may be an issue with some of the lesser priced models so do your homework, read the reviews and make an informed buying decision.
I started out with the TSM #32 Cast Iron Manual Meat Grinder and still have it today because it still does a great job after all these years.
A Great Stuffer With a Few Exceptions
After making fresh, smoked sausage, salami and summer sausage I started thinking of an upgrade to my sausage making equipment.
There seem to be a lot more choices on the market now and at roughly half the cost of what I paid for mine it seems like a good choice for those making small amounts of sausage on occasion.
With prices starting in the 20.00 range and up to over the 100.00 mark for stainless steel manual stuffers cost should not be a big concern. The one pictured below right is in the neighborhood of $40.00 and this or one similar would be a decent entry level stuffer if you choose to go that route.
I chose the manual type and figured again that it would work for every type of sausage I made. The be all to end all. It even came with a little 3/8″ stuffing horn so I could make beef sticks, hot sticks, breakfast links, etc…
This type of stuffer is relatively inexpensive, so upgrading wasn’t a huge shock to my wallet and sure made the process much easier than using the grinder for stuffing.
First test was some Italian sausage and was I ever happy. I slid around three feet of casing onto the horn, filled the stuffer and pressed the plunger. In a second I had three feet of Italian sausage done, but a small problem…air.
Air gets trapped in the meat when it’s placed in the stuffer so you have to be wary of this. Making sure the mix had the right amount of moisture and filling the stuffer a little slower helped a lot.
The next attempt was much better with just a few pockets of air in the sausage that I easily got rid of with a pin. So far so good, and I couldn’t wait to try this out with salami or summer sausage.
A month or so later and I got my chance. I ground and mixed the meat while the casings soaked in vinegar and water (this helps removing the skin or casing after smoking)
Next, I grabbed a handful of the mix, loaded the stuffer and BANG…done. It went smooth as silk and ten minutes later I had some perfectly stuffed salami waiting to hit the smoker.
Bottom line is that this type of stuffer worked great for me when doing the larger sized sausage and salamis so if that’s what you intend to make it should do the job for you.
My next attempt didn’t turn out so well when I tried a batch of breakfast sausage. Good…. A perfect excuse to get what I really wanted in the first place and looking back it changed my perspective on a lot of things, go figure.
There was only one thing I could do and that was to order the one that would do it all for me…..the horizontal stuffer.
There have been many improvements in the designs over the years by a few manufacturers that have been long overdue. The TSM brand pictured above,has changed the exit portion of the stuffer from tapered to straight which allows the plunger to travel completely to the end and increases the amount of product going into the casing.
Also the LEM Sausage Stuffer 3lb Tinned w/ SS Stuffing Tubes has a wide mouth opening for ease of loading and added gasketing to the plunger on both it’s 3 and 5 pound sausage stuffers.
Electric Meat Grinder with Stuffing Attachments.
Another way to stuff sausage that many opt for is using an electric meat grinder. This again is an easy introduction into making your own sausage, especially if you already own a grinder so the most you may have to purchase is the stuffing attachments from your grinder manufacturer. If you intend to purchase an electric grinder, many models offer the stuffing attachments as standard equipment.
I use my electric grinder almost exclusively now because of it’s small footprint and ease of cleanup afterward. However, I only use it for grinding meat and use my horizontal stuffer to fill the casings but that’s my personal preference.
If I was only making a few pounds I would definitely go this route with a few modifications to the following process. Many directions call for grinding the meat, adding seasonings, remove the knife from the grinder and install the stuffing tubes. Then load the hopper with the seasoned mixture and stuff the casings.
I like a coarser texture to sausages like Polish and Italian and this process didn’t give me the results I was looking for or accustomed to after using a stuffer. One of the workarounds I’ve seen is to mix all of the seasonings with the cubed pre-ground meat and grind and stuff in one operation.
I’m not sure how well this works as I’ve yet to try it, but I may make a small batch of the larger size linked sausage just to see how well it works.
One thing I do have to keep in mind while trying to pass along this info is that not everyone makes large amounts of sausage like I do. In fact that’s pretty evident by some of the recipes I’ve found on the web. Many will call for 1 to 1-1/2 lbs of meat and 3 feet of casings, and for those amounts, using a grinder / stuffer would be a great way to experiment with sausage making.
Horizontal Sausage StufferI knew for sure (this time) that I finally found the one that would do everything I wanted and do it a lot easier than anything I’d used up to this point.. I went for the horizontal stuffer based on the logic that the closest distance between two points is a straight line.
A vertical stuffer forces the meat down the cylinder and then out at 90 degrees but the horizontal’s cylinder and horn are inline which may reduce pressure, at least in my mind. I’m sure my logic is flawed somewhat, especially when I look at the ratio of vertical to horizontal stuffers currently on the market.
The big advantage is that both vertical and horizontal stuffers have a gear drive which really makes it a pleasure to operate and offers consistent results.
One of the more popular models is the LEM 5 lb. Vertical Sausage Stuffer pictured above. Stainless steel construction, easy cleanup, three supplied stuffing tubes and an air release valve are all of the right features and it explains why this model is so popular and given a 5 Star Rating by purchasers.
One negative comment I’ve seen elsewhere talks about how awkward it is to stuff the sausage because of the placement of the handle to the stuffing nozzle. I’ve had no problems at all and the location seems perfectly natural to me. Unless your arms are 12 inches long I don’t see it as an issue :=). I just chalk statements like that up to promotional sales chatter.
There’s a huge difference that’s easily apparent between the manual plunger type stuffer and a gear driven stuffer in either vertical or horizontal configuration. I was eager to try it out so I decided to start with the type of sausage I had so much trouble with using the other methods.
First on my list was to make some beef hot sticks, and what a pleasure it was. It took a few turns of the crank to get used to the right speed and feed, but after that I was spending more time slipping the casing onto the stuffing horn.
Sheep casings are very fragile and not the most uniform in the world to work with, but I stuffed 10 pounds of sticks in roughly 15 minutes without a ruptured casing. This was a first for me and the main reason to finally break down and purchase a stuffer of this type. It couldn’t have worked out better.
Though I really prefer the bite and texture of natural sheep casings, especially in fresh links, collagen casings have a definite advantage for me when it comes to smoked beef sticks and the like.
They were a snap to stuff because of their uniform size and wall thickness. Not much of a learning curve here, just turn the crank and let the meat feed evenly into the casing.
You do have to be careful if you intend on twisting links because they become very tender after being moistened.
Since I use collagen primarily for smoked sausage I stuff them into 4 foot lengths and twist only in the middle and ends and then cut them into 6-9″ lengths after smoking.
Next on my list was breakfast links, and again got great results with the sheep casings. Nice and evenly packed into the casings with no ruptures or air pockets and the texture of the meat in the casing was just the way I loaded it into the stuffer. No more emulsified beef sticks or breakfast links for me! You can tell as soon as you cut into them.
The next few sausage making Saturdays were spent stuffing Italian, Sicilian and Polish sausage. Again with great results and it took longer for the prep work and mixing than stuffing or the cleanup afterward.
Now what was once the hardest part of the process, especially on the smaller casings had turned into the easiest part for me. This led to a lot of experimenting with new recipes and mixes like barbecue beef and jalapeno sticks. I can still remember the wonderful aroma they put out hanging in the smoker.
One feature you may want to consider if you plan on buying a new or used horizontal or vertical sausage stuffer is an air release valve. Mine is located on the piston and whenever an excessive amount of air builds up, the valve opens and allows the air to escape. This will help to eliminate large air pockets and voids in the finished product.
A few reasons to consider a vertical stuffer if workspace is limited is the small footprint on the counter or table top and the ease of setup. I use a horizontal stuffer primarily and the one drawback is that this model requires you to setup by the edge of the table or counter to be able to operate the stuffer.
Those are minor tradeoffs in my opinion and either model is more than sufficient to handle any homemade sausage stuffing job you can throw at it. In my old house we had a breakfast counter and that was perfect for my sausage making station. Now I use a round kitchen table which seems a little awkward but works . Now all I need is that portable dropped leaf butcher block table and I’ll be set….again :-).