This is pretty much what I do, hope it helps. CF
Smoking Sausage Step 1
Rule Number One
• If you plan to smoke your sausage you must use a Cure
Some folks may try to tell you different, but take my advice and ignore them.
If you smoke uncured sausage you create the very real risk of encouraging the development of botulism (nasty stuff). It's easy to avoid, so don't take the chance.
There is no reason you can't air dry your sausage before taking it to the smoker, as long as the humidity isn't too high. The steps are straight forward:
1. Gather your linked sausage into easily handled bunches. I find 3 to 4 links to work best.
2. Hang your links from smoke house sticks or place them on racks.
3. Put the hanging or racked sausage in an area that allows good air circulation all around them, and let them rest until they have dried to the touch.
That's the whole process. It's a simple but important part of smoking sausage and sausage making in general.
o There is no set time to produce a well dried link. Conditions like humidity and room temperature will vary, and so will your drying time.
o You can speed up the drying process by increasing the air circulation. A common household fan (set on a low speed) works well for this.
o Whether hanging or resting on racks, make sure there is plenty of room between your links. If the air can't circulate well, your sausage will have damp areas that will show up as white splotches or spots after the smoking is done.
Drying in the Sausage Smoker
This is a method I often use. It takes a little less time than air drying, and once the links are dried to the touch, I just need to increase the smoker temperature and add the wood chips.
1. Prepare the sausage links the same as for air drying, whether on racks or smoking sticks.
2. Put the links into the smoker, and adjust the temperature to No More Than 100 Degrees F.
3. Open your smoker dampers all the way and/or leave the door of your smoker open slightly. The moisture needs somewhere to escape.
4. Leave the sausage in the smoker with vents and door ajar until it is dry to the touch. Check it often, and be sure to check more than one link for dryness.
o If you try to dry at too high a temperature, the links will sweat (and never get dry) and the casing may become tough. Keep it between 90 and 100 degrees F. at most.
o If you aren't able to regulate your smoker at the necessary low temperatures, elect to air dry instead.
o If you desire a really dark, mahogany brown product, you can try adding paprika to the sausage recipe at the rate of about 1-2 tablespoons per 5 lbs of meat. This will not take the place of drying the sausage links. It will just enhance the color even more.
The Meat Smoking Process for Sausage
Your sausage is dry, so now it's time to start the meat smoking process.
If you have dried your sausage in the smoker, all you need to do next is increase the temperature and add the smoking wood.
If you air dried your links, now is when to hang the full meat smoking sticks (or place the full racks) in the meat smoker.
Temperature is VERY Important
I can't over-emphasize the importance of temperature control in the smoking phase of sausage making. If you get this part right, everything else falls into place easily.
• Keep the temperature inside the sausage smoker between 160 and 165 degrees F.Max.
If you try to smoke at any higher temperatures, the fat content in your sausage will start to melt and ooze out of the casing.
Fat is important. Not only does it add to the flavor of your sausage, it acts as a binding agent. Once it starts to melt, your sausage will become dry, crumbly, and much less tasty.
• Take your sausage out of the smoker when it reaches an internal temperature of 152 degrees F.
This could take many hours, depending on how full your smoker is. Don't Guess. Use a meat thermometer (I like an instant read digital with an alarm) to monitor this part of the meat smoking process.
Adding the Smoke
• Fill the chip pan of your smoker with wood chips or sawdust that has been soaked in water for 30 minutes and then drained. Increase the heat to 160 degrees and close the dampers on the smoker.
As a rule of thumb, I like to generate smoke for 3.5 to 4 hours if I'm using fruitwood. In my current smoker, that takes about 3 pans of soaked wood chips.
With the stronger flavored smoke generated by hickory and mesquite, I find I'm better off stopping the smoke after 3 hours.
Too much smoke flavor is far worse than not enough. Over smoking will cause your sausage to taste acrid and bitter. Under smoking will just result in a less intense smoked flavor, but the sausage will still be very good.
• Once you have attained the nice brown color and flavor that you want (3-4 hours), stop the smoke and continue to heat the sausage in the smoker unill it reaches the 152 degree internal temperature.
At this point, you should have a smoker full of beautiful, brown, appetizing sausage.
As important as the actual smoking is though, the way you handle your sausage links from this point on will have a lot to do with determining the final quality of your product.
Smoked Sausage Step 3
Handling after Smoking
Once your sausage has reached the correct internal temperature (152 degrees F.), it needs to be cooled quickly and thoroughly or the casings will shrink and shrivel.
This happens very quickly once the links are taken from the smoker, so you need to have things ready in place for the showering process.
Showering really just means cooling the sausage quickly with water.
If you have made a large batch, the most efficient way shower it is with a garden hose. Simply remove the sausage with the racks or smoke sticks and spray them with cold water. The goal is to cool the sausage down to 120 degrees as quickly as you can.
For smaller batches of sausage, I find that it is easier to take them out of the smoker and put them directly into a tub or basin of cold water.
I have a large, deep kitchen sink, and find that it works well for batches up to about 15 lbs. By using the sink, I'm able to keep cold water running so the water bath stays cool. You could also do this with a large pail or tub and a garden hose.
If your sausage does shrivel before you can get it cooled down, you should be able to plump it back up by reheating it in a hot water bath (160-170 degrees F.). It's a lot easier though to get it cooled off right the first time.
Your smoked sausage should now be nice and plump, and will have taken on a brown color from the wood smoke. To assure an even deeper and more uniform color though, you now need to "bloom" your sausage links.
Blooming is nothing more than letting your sausage dry and "age" at room temperature before you package it for storage.
For blooming, I put my sausage right back onto the smoke stick or racks (whichever I used), and suspend them over a couple of chair backs. You may want to put some kitchen towels or newspaper under the sausages in case they drip a bit of water before they dry.
The longer you bloom the links, the deeper and darker the color will become. I find that, in most cases, 2 to 3 hours of blooming seems about right.