Try this German classic recipe with any upland game bird twist this grilling season
Bratwurst are a must-have for any worthwhile cookout. This year, why not try stuffing that upland game bird meat in your freezer into a sausage casing? It’s a fun time for all involved; kids love this hands-on project. And, when done right, it beats anything you’ll find on a grocer’s shelf.
Homemade sausage isn’t hard to make if you follow two simple rules:
- Keep your meat ice-cold, or very close to it
- Use an ice-cold liquid to aid with protein extraction
A binder such as non-fat milk powder helps create a tacky texture and retain moisture, both of which are important for beer brats. Non-fat milk powder also adds a bit of a creamy texture, which I like for bird sausage. Mix your binders when your meat is ice-cold; protein extraction occurs best around 34 degrees Fahrenheit. Additionally, don’t mix your meat for more than 10 minutes at a time. Undermixing, overmixing, or mixing warm meat results in the fat and protein molecules not binding together. Unbound pork fat leaks out, leaving you with crinkled, dry sausages. In the end, you want a tacky texture for your mixed sausage so that when you hold a handful upside down, it sticks to your hand and doesn’t fall off.
You’ll need some equipment, such as a meat grinder and sausage stuffer. I recommend using a dry goods scale, too, because we want to be very precise with our measurements and work within the metric system to do so. A mixer is optional, but recommended if you’re making batches larger than five pounds. A sausage pricker also doesn’t hurt to have on hand.
This bratwurst recipe is based on one shared with me by Joshua Smith, co-owner of the Barred Owl Butcher & Table in Columbia, Missouri. I’ve tweaked some things and added beer and high-temp cheddar to the recipe. High-temp cheddar is required. It’s not cheap and sometimes it’s hard to find, but anything else will melt out from the sausage prior to serving. High-temp cheddar chunks will either leave a gooey pocket of cheese or partially retain its shape while grilling. In terms of beer choice, that is up to you. It honestly doesn’t make a major difference here. Just make sure it’s something you’ll enjoy drinking and that it’s ice-cold (almost frozen) when added to your sausage mix.
There are percentages listed under each spice. This will help you adjust this recipe based on the amount of meat you’re using. I recommend your total meat mixture consists of 20 percent pork fat. You can get this from any butcher shop. Once you have your total amount of meat, convert it to grams and do some math based on each percentage for the spices. Remember to move the decimal point two spaces to the left when multiplying. For example, 1.5% of 1,984 grams works as the following: 1984 x .015 = 30 gram (I rounded up).
In terms of beer, cheddar, and non-fat milk powder measurements, this is a little less precise. Generally speaking, you might want 1 cup beer, 1-1/4 cups (or a bit more) cheddar, and 1/2 cup non-fat milk powder per 5 pounds. In terms of what game to use, any white-meat upland bird or turkey will do. I used ground pheasant and chukar here.
Upland Game Bird Bratwurst: Beer and Cheddar German Sausage
- 1 Meat Grinder
- 1 sausage stuffer
Meat (1984 grams)
- 56 oz Upland Game Bird Meat of Choice ground (80% of Meat)
- 14 oz Pork Back Fat ground (20% of Meat)
- 30 gm Kosher Salt (1.5%)
- 6 gm White Pepper (0.3%)
- 4 gm Ground Ginger (0.2%)
- 4 gm Nutmeg (0.2%)
- 2 gm Marjoram (0.1%)
- 2 gm Ground Celery (0.1%)
- ¾ cup Ice-cold Shiner Strawberry Blonde
- ⅓ cup Non-fat Dry Milk Powder
- 1 cup high-temp cheddar cheese
- 29-32 mm Natural Hog Casings (I prefer the pre-tubed)
- 4 medium Yellow Onions sliced
- Olive Oil
- Kosher Salt
- Black Pepper
- 2 tbsp Salted Butter
- Grind partially frozen meat through a fine or medium plate. Spice with the appropriate amount of spices based on the total amount of meat. Grind again through a fine plate.
- In a large mixing bowl or meat mixer, mix meat thoroughly with beer and non-fat milk powder until tacky. Only mix if meat is ice-cold. If not cold, add it to the freezer for half an hour or longer. Once mixed and tacky, mix in high-temp cheese.
- To stuff the casings, load casings onto your sausage stuffer’s 30mm tube (or smaller, as the tube should always be smaller than the largest stretch size of casings) and leave a 6-inch tag end. Add ice-cold mixed meat to the cylinder. Turn the crank to start pushing out meat. Air will come out first. Once air is pushed out, tie the tag end and start stuffing.
- Err on the side of slightly under-stuffing. You can always twist and push meat through casings. Overstuffed casings are harder to twist and can bust.
- Stuff until the meat is gone. Use a sausage pricker to pop any pockets of air.
- To form into links, section off 6-inch lengths and turn either clockwise or counter-clockwise. Make sure to alternate with each link so as not to unravel the previous link. Take your time and push meat through casings to make sure each 6-inch length is fully stuffed. Pop any more air pockets you might find.
- Hang or store links in a cool place for a few hours before cutting. If planning to seal and freeze, I recommend freezing ahead of time before sealing, especially if using a chamber vac, so as not to crush brats under the pressure of sealing.
- To make caramelized onions, heat a medium skillet on medium heat and add a thin layer of olive oil followed by sliced onions. Lightly salt and pepper. Stir often and once seared, turn heat to medium low and continue to stir often. Once mostly browned, add salted butter, stir in, and turn heat to low to further caramelize. This whole process should take 30-45 minutes.
- To grill, cook over 450-500 degree grill or skillet until the exterior is brown and the middle is fully cooked at 160 degrees internal temp. Top with caramelized onions and your favorite condiments (Dijon, anyone?)
Jack Hennessy grew up in the South Suburbs of Chicago and didn't start hunting until he attended graduate school in Spokane, Washington, at the age of 26. Hennessy began work in professional kitchens in high school but didn't start writing wild game recipes until he joined the Spokesman-Review in 2014. Since then, his recipes have appeared with Petersen's Hunting, Backcountry Journal, Gun Dog Magazine, among many others. He now lives with his wife, daughter, and Wirehaired Vizsla, Dudley, in Wichita, Kansas.