Sausage making 101
One by one, Rob Dutkiewicz pushes cold, three-inch chunks of cured pork down the chute of an electric meat grinder. Beautifully marbled meat noodles slowly emerge, dropping into a stainless-steel bowl below. I plunge my gloved hands into 20 pounds of ground pork shoulder and start squeezing the pink meat and bits of white fat between my fingers, scooping and kneading to mix in the freshly ground black pepper, juniper and garlic cloves.
As we work, Dutkiewicz (pronounced doot-KEH-vitch), a father, real estate agent and home sausage maker based in South Bend, tells me he started this yearly all-day sausage-making extravaganza when he was a teen as a way to connect with his Polish heritage. His grandfather was Polish and grandmother half Polish, half German.
He pulls out an impressive cast-iron stuffer and places it with a thud on the counter in front of us. This is when it becomes a “fun team-based game,” Dutkiewicz says. He fills the stuffer with meat and loads slimy opaque casings onto the pipe where sausage will come out. On command, I start slowly cranking. I’m using both hands; it’s hard work. As I watch him expertly guide the ground sausage into the casing, he says, “You have to work closely with the guy that’s cranking the press. If the guy cranking goes too fast, you break the casing. You have to communicate back and forth.”
Pressure’s on. It’s my turn to sit down and stuff casings, while Dutkiewicz cranks.
My right hand regulates how quickly the casing leaves the pipe, while my left guides the sausage, testing tension to make sure it’s just right as it moves along. Once a six-inch sausage has miraculously materialized in my hand, I twist off the end while Dutkiewicz simultaneously stops cranking, just for a moment, before we continue cranking out beautiful sausage after sausage.
Growing up, sausage-making day was as cherished as any other holiday, Dutkiewicz remembers. He would head to his best friend Bela’s house on a cold morning in February to make a big batch of kolbász, or Hungarian sausage, with the family. They’d dust off the old cast-iron sausage stuffer from Hungary and take direction from Bela’s father all day, not leaving until pounds upon pounds of six-inch links dangled in the smoker. Weeks later they’d come back together, eager to taste the sausage their own hands had made.
When he turned 30, Dutkiewicz got the urge to make sausage again. Starting with a recipe his grandma borrowed from a Polish friend, Dutkiewicz and his good friend Ben began experimenting with sausage, relying on KitchenAid attachments and enthusiasm. He was on a quest to find a sausage recipe that would taste just like the one he made at his friend’s house growing up, but nothing quite hit the mark.
“My friend’s dad would hold the recipe tight to his chest,” says Dutkiewicz. “So I decided to find my own.”
And he did.
Over the past eight years Dutkiewicz has researched online, read books, accumulated equipment and tried all sorts of sausage recipes. His friends and family, including his three children, would come together to collaborate on each new batch. They made Italian, bratwurst, Cumberland, bangers and more.
In the midst of this cycle of search, trial and error—and loads of delicious sausage—Dutkiewicz realized he already had what he was looking for. Not the perfect Polish or Hungarian sausage recipe but instead a recipe for successfully connecting with his favorite people.
“Sausage making is so much more than recipes and techniques,” he says. “It speaks to something much deeper in us. Something that is handed down from parent to child, something that connects us to our heritage, our friends, our family—it grounds us in our roots and builds deep relationships.”
While curing and casing sausage requires special equipment and ingredients, anyone can mix their own fresh-ground sausage right in their kitchen. Dutkiewicz tells me you can start small with the most basic equipment, recipe and ingredients, then grow your skill and toolbox from there.
Polish hunter’s sausage, called mysiwska kielbasa, is one of Dutkiewicz's favorites. It incorporates three cuts of meat—pork shoulder, fresh ham and beef—and requires curing salts, drying and smoking. Since we’re all beginners here, we’re providing a fresh sausage recipe that’s perfect for first-time sausage makers. This breakfast sausage requires a meat grinder, but no stuffer, smoker or other special ingredients or equipment.
You can start with KitchenAid attachments, which range in price from $50 to $150, but Dutkiewicz says those will get frustrating pretty quickly. For those who decide to make sausage on a regular basis, he recommends buying an electric meat grinder with at least two speeds and two grinding plates. “Look for metal parts, especially where the grinding auger—the spiral part—attaches to the motor,” he says. You may also want to have a spice grinder on hand.
Pick up fresh local meat the same day or within a few days of when you plan to make sausage. Call ahead to order and ask to have the meat precut into three- or four-inch cubes to make it easier to grind. Dutkiewicz likes to buy from DC Meats in Osceola or Mattern’s Butcher Shop & Corner Deli in Goshen.
Click here for a list of local butchers in Michiana.