There is nothing more satisfying than tearing open a box containing a new food gadget, putting it together and using it for the first time to make something that was but a dim possibility hours earlier. Most kitchen gadgets don't really serve this need: you'd still be able to slice and egg without an egg slicer and even if you don't have a Kitchenaid stand mixer you'd still be able to whip up a meringue, albeit painfully, by hand.
The same is not really true for sausage making, although a couple years ago I wrote about my work-around solution that used a pastry bag, a food processor, and an elastic band with surprisingly good results. I know most people won't bother to make sausage at home, let alone do it by hand without a proper grinder and sausage stuffer, but it is, with the right equipment, a task no more difficult than baking bread. Like bread baking, it requires patience, a little bit of practice and the right mix of ingredients and equipment (you can't bake bread without a good oven, right?).
I'd been bemoaning the poor state of my kitchen, mostly to no one, since my move from the East Coast last May. I packed Lula (my five year old dog) and my car and headed back to Chicago where I took a job in research and development with a company that produces allergy-friendly and gluten-free snacks. I left all my things - my kitchen, most of my tools, all my books, and all of my furniture - in storage, with the promise that maybe, someday, I'd return for them. I had kept my knives, Kitchenaid, and a few pans and bowls out of storage; I knew the cost of replacing them would be prohibitive (culinary school made a knife- and cookware-whore out of me) so I sacrificed a few boxes of books to get the gadgets to my new home.
So my kitchen is only adequate: I have good knives, all the smallware I could possibly want, and one Kitchenaid mixer (I own 3). The accessories are buried somewhere in a temperature-controlled warehouse, along with everything else. One thing I do not have is a meat grinder. My mother had a meat grinder and still uses it once a year to make the most sublime potato pancakes I've ever eaten. After watching a friend struggle to get their sausage attachment to work with his Kitchenaid (it overheated the machine and ground the meat and fat into an over-fine paste, which makes for terrible sausage) I decided against buying one.
And then I received an email from Pleasant Hill Grain, a Nebraska-based distributor of meat grinders and grain mills (and almost every other lust-worthy kitchen object known) asking if I wanted to try out a new product they were selling, the Maverick 5501 Meat Grinder.
I don't like to write reviews unless it is of something I'd actually use. I frequently get emails from companies hoping I'll review some new food product they're introducing. I'll only write about food if it is something that I've fallen in love with, on my own, without any 'paid consideration' from a company. I don't really eat processed food and certainly no one visits this blog to read about the latest new energy bar. From time to time I'll review some books that are sent to me if they strike me as something I would have bought on my own. I've tried to avoid goods-for-reviews, but there are some opportunities I can't turn down. The chance to review a meat and food grinder was one of those opportunities. I've been yearning for a home sausage maker for years now and I do know my way around sausage (it was my task every Wednesday to make sausage using a 20 quart Hobart mixer when I was a fancy restaurant kitchen intern back in the 90s). So I considered my usual stance on reviews (no pay to play!) and abandoned it. Quickly.
I mean, seriously. A sausage grinder?
A week after I said yes to the review, the grinder arrived via Fedex. Shiny and new and ready to be put to work.
The Maverick embodies simplicity: it is at its core a powerful 550 watt motor with a hopper and a grinder and an "on/off" switch and a reverse switch. That's all. There are no bells and whistles, but every part is well-constructed. The worm screw is metal (vs plastic in other products) and the grinder arrives with three grinding plates of different diameters - perfect for coarse country sausage or fine ground beef - if that's your bag. The cutting blade is sharp, a minor detail that makes a significant difference in whether the grinder runs smoothly or has to be stopped frequently for cleaning, or overheats. The Maverick can be run for 15 minutes before the manufacturer suggests allowing it to rest. That's more than enough time to grind a large quantity of meat or stuff sausages.
I decided that I wanted to make sausage for my inaugural run. I called my local butcher, The Butcher and Larder and called to find out if they sold sausage casings. The very sweet woman who answered the phone (she owns B&L with her husband) told me that were getting a few hogs from Swan Creek Heirloom Farm (I think) and would have plenty of casings for purchase, and that they would set aside a couple small containers for me. A couple days later I picked up the casings - along with some of the most beautiful pork I've ever laid eyes on, to make linguica sausage with my friend Chris, who had big plans for our finished product (the recipe is below). Plans that involved a large annual party he throws, not by coincidence timed with the Superbowl.
I brought the pork home, cleaned it (there's a lot of silverskin on pork shoulder, and it needs to be trimmed off or it can jam the grinder), weighed it, and used Michael Ruhlman's Ratio app on my iPhone to ensure my proportions of meat to fat (they weren't selling fatback, so I bought some beautiful chops that included a thick layer of fatback and skin, which I trimmed, rendered, and gave to my dog as cracklins) and meat/fat to salt were correct. I then doused the meat with Solera sherry and set in in the refrigerator to marinate for two days. I mixed the linguica spices - a combination of garlic, paprika (I used the sweet Spanish smoked paprika) and cinnamon, allspice, and clove. I improvised a little on measurements - clove can get a little powerful and I brought it down by half. I let it sit for two days in the refrigerator.
On the day of sausage making, my friend Chris brought over some venison a friend who lives in downstate Illinois gave to him. We had enough casings to make both types of sausage - pork and venison. Here's my friend Chris pulling displaying the seasoned pork just prior to grinding:
We set up the Maverick for grinding - it was a quick process, no more than two minutes:
The Maverick includes quite a few accessories - a cookie dough die for extruded doughs, three grinder plates, a tube for forming kibbeh (??!!) and, thankfully, a sausage stuffer:
We initially set up the grinder for simple grinding. It took only a couple minutes to grind through all of the meat we had prepared, about 4 lbs.
It took less than a minute to take off the outer ring and replace the grinder with the sausage stuffer. We stuffed the ground meat into pork casings, not very skillfully.
The finished sausage, before cooking:
We ended up low-temperature poaching both venison and pork sausages - in part to help them form better interior structures and also to keep them from exploding on the grill when they're cooked on game day.
We did cook up some of the sausage, though (I didn't photograph the exploded sausages...live and learn). Here's the venison, which we made with Moor Porter from Cisco Brewers in Nantucket.
The Maverick made the entire job - from grinding to stuffing - a quick task rather than the long and slow chore it can be on the Kitchenaid grinder/stuffer. Nothing stops the blade; sinew and silverskin didn't cause the blade to slow or misalign against the grinder plate, something I've experienced with other grinders. I have only one quibble with the sausage stuffer - the end of the tube isn't rounded, so it is easy to tear natural casing on the rough edge. I also cut my finger when cleaning the outside piece that holds the cutter, plate, and screw in place - turns out those machined edges are sharp!
Cleanup is a mixed bag - the hopper set-up can be broken down within seconds and put through the dishwasher; some parts need a simple oiling after cleaning to prevent rust. The motor itself was trickier to clean up: I do wish that the plastic gear that both holds the hopper in place and turns the interior screw came off the machine as it was tough to clean out the meat that was stuck in the notches without violating the expressed warnings in the how-to guide. I had to position the spray nozzle of the faucet carefully, aiming only at the gear, so that water didn't work its way through the housing to the motor. I had tried cleaning it by hand but my efforts had little effect in removing the residue. I used a damp diluted bleached towel to sanitize the grinder after I finished the spray wash as I was unable to get soap and water into the small crevices on the machine.
So while cleanup isn't quite as easy or fast as it could be, the Maverick itself is a tremendous improvement over other home meat grinders, and is head and shoulders in quality, speed and function above the grinder + sausage attachment for the Kitchenaid. Priced under $100 dollars, the Maverick is fast, easy-to-use, and durable.
I had nearly given up making sausages at home. The Maverick makes it fun again. And I'm not saying that just because I was sent one - if I had spent my own money on this, I would be just as satisfied with its' performance.
Cake and Commerce's Linguica Sausage (inauthentic but tasty)
- 48 oz (3 lbs) Pork, cubed
- 16 oz (1 lb) Fatback
- 1 oz Salt
- 1 T Sugar
- 1/2 C Solera Sherry (Or Tawny Port)
- 4 T Smoked Paprika (use plain if you are using a smoker or don't like smoked flavor)
- 10 Cloves Garlic, finely minced
- 1 T Coriander, Ground
- 1 T Aleppo Pepper
- 2 t Black Pepper, Ground
- 2 t Oregano
- 1 t Cinnamon, Ground
- 1 t Allspice, Ground
- 1/2 t Clove, Ground
- 1 T Rice Vinegar
- 2 T Water
Combine all ingredients and allow to sit, refrigerated in a sealed bag, for 48 hours. If you have a vacuum sealer, you can speed up the process by taking as much air as possible out of the bag. Grind once on coarse and chill. Make sure your pork, especially your fat, is very cold bordering on just-starting-to freeze. Warm fat is the enemy of good sausage. Feed the sausage meat back into the grinder and stuff casings. Cook as desired.