A Simple Guide To Making Kick-Ass Homemade Sausage (As Told By Chef Erik Niel)

Image Via Our Ampersand Photography

With Thanksgiving rapidly approaching, wouldn't it be uh-mazing to have a kickass homemade sausage recipe under your belt? Yep, our thoughts exactly! No better way to impress the in-laws than with some seriously enviable culinary skills. Now, sausage is a pretty versatile (delicious) ingredient and unless you're a freakin' vegetarian, there's absolutely no reason to not be incorporating sausage into as many dishes as possible. We're not exactly sure of the health ramifications that would cause, but, hey! Life's short.

Instead of scouring the internet for regurgitated information, we decided to link up (pun intended) with two-time James Beard Award honoree, Chef Erik Neil. Simply put, the man knows his meats (and really, food in general). His restaurant, Easy Bar & Bistro in Chattanooga, Tennessee boasts a menu so mouthwatering, we're getting hungry just thinking about it — cornbread with bacon fat and sorghum butter, anyone? Or how about Fall gnocchi with with turnips, radishes, mountain rose apples, and brown butter?

Erik is also the chef and owner of Main Street Meats (also in Chattanooga). Pork rinds with harissa aioli and roasted chicken with with sweet potato, smoked ricotta, pecans, and bourbon maple cream sauce. YES, PLEASE.

Any chef with menu items like that HAS to know what they're talking about (and again, the James Beard recognition doesn't hurt). C'mon, now! For all things sausage, keep reading! Oh, and if you haven't eaten yet, you may want to grab a snack before continuing.

FHM: Pork, beef, chicken — what protein works best for sausage?

Erik Niel: I think pork, hands down, works best. It’s really pork fat that works best and that’s the kicker that makes it the winner.

FHM: Of course, herbs and spices are necessary, right? Or do you take a more purist approach and let the meat speak for itself?

Erik Niel: Herbs and spices are a key component of the sausage making concept, but you have to start with a really good pork first. If you’re going to make the effort of making something at home, use the right base product first instead of trying to season it to make it taste better than it actually is.

FHM: Is cheese ever an appropriate sausage component?

Erik Niel: No, because in order to have cheese in sausage you have to have this special high- temp cheese so it doesn’t melt while the sausage cooks. It’s not really a natural cheese as Mother Nature intended.

FHM: Do you need a machine/special equipment to make sausage at home?

Erik Niel: At its most basic, you would have to have a funnel of some sort to stuff meat into a casing. I would at least recommend having the KitchenAid sausage stuffing attachment that’s inexpensive and makes the process much easier.

FHM: Once the sausage is all set in the casing and ready to go — how do you prepare it?

Erik Niel: I like to make sure we pierce the casings with a small needle a few times around to let any liquids escape so they don’t tear the casing. I prefer to pre-cook sausages by poaching them in a very warm 180 degree water. Then after that, you can grill, roast or seer them. Technically you can eat them after you poach them, but it’s really nice to grill them and add some char.

FHM: Is there a specific dish or recipe you find complements sausage the best or is it better off eaten on its own?

Erik Niel: Because of my heritage, I am required to say that red beans go better with sausage than anything else (and I really do think beans and sausage are the best combination). But, sausage is also good by itself.

Images Via Our Ampersand Photography and Beall + Thomas Photography

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