Sausages are a pragmatic solution to the problem of using up a whole hog once it's slaughtered. Once well washed, its intestines provided natural packaging that could hold several pounds of minced-up pork that might otherwise have been difficult to use. A few varieties of sausage are dry-cured to preserve them for long storage, but most require freezing or pickling to extend their shelf life.
Separate individual link sausages into meal-sized portions. For example, a package of breakfast sausages might allow three to four links per person, while for larger bratwursts, a more appropriate portion might be one to two per person. For larger coil sausages, cut portions of 4 to 8 ounces per person.
Wrap each portion of sausage individually in plastic film wrap, or seal it in heavy-duty freezer bags or a vacuum-style food sealer bag. Vacuum sealers automatically extract most of the air from the packaging, but if you're bagging the sausages, you need to squeeze out as much air as possible. Air in the packaging leads to freezer burn and shortens the storage life of your sausages.
Over-wrap the sausages in a sheet of aluminum foil, a second bag or a second layer of plastic wrap. This step is optional, but also helps protect the sausages and extend their storage life. Label and date the outside of the package with a permanent marker, so you'll know later how long it's been in storage.
Distribute the packages evenly throughout your freezer, rather than stacking them, so they'll freeze more quickly. Sausages can remain usable for up to a year, but will taste best if they're consumed within four to six months.
Sterilize several canning jars, deep enough to hold your sausages, and their matching lids. The most effective method is to boil them in a pot of water.
Boil your pickling solution in a large pot. Most include strong white vinegar, along with salt, spices and other seasonings such as whole chili peppers or cloves of garlic as desired. Some include red food coloring or beet juice to give the sausages a distinctive color.
Fill your sterilized jars loosely with your favorite cooked sausages, and then pour in the boiling pickle solution. The sausages should be completely submerged. Seal the jars and refrigerate them. The sausages can keep for up to a year, but are best within three to four months.
Prepare your sausages using a recipe from a reputable source. It's important to measure the salt and curing mixture with scrupulous accuracy, otherwise the sausages might not remain food safe after they're cured. Most dried sausages also include a fermentation "starter" of beneficial bacteria, to produce their signature tangy flavor.
Set up a spare refrigerator in an area of your house where the temperature is relatively cool and stable, such as the basement or garage. Remove the existing shelves and drawers from the refrigerator, and use small screws to install sturdy but inexpensive curtain rods across its width.
Adjust the refrigerator's temperature until it remains steady at a temperature between 35 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Hang the sausages over the curtain rods, leaving space between the links for air to circulate. Place a flat, shallow pan of water in the bottom of the refrigerator to provide humidity.
Cure the sausages for 30 to 90 days, re-filling the water pan twice each day with warm water. Never let the casings become hard, which prevents the sausages' internal moisture from escaping. The sausages are fully cured when they have a uniform appearance all the way through, without a pale, moist area in the middle.
- On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen; Harold McGee
- Garde Manger: The Art and Craft of the Cold Kitchen; Culinary Institute of America
- National Center for Home Food Preservation: Freezing Meats
- The Spicy Sausage: Pickled Sausage
- National Center for Home Food Preservation: Curing and Smoking -- Sausage Ingredients
- The pickle mixture used for pickled sausages is much like the one used for pickled eggs -- another old-fashioned treat -- so the recipes are effectively interchangeable.
- Dry-cured sausage works best if you are able to maintain a steady 70 percent relative humidity inside the refrigerator. Serious enthusiasts do this by placing a humidifier in the bottom of the fridge and using a hygrometer -- a humidity sensor -- to turn it on and off. Many websites and books offer detailed do-it-yourself instructions for creating this sort of arrangement.
- Dry-cured sausages often develop a floury-looking coating of white mold on their casings. This is normal and is considered to add to the flavor of the sausages. Simply wipe off the mold before slicing and serving the finished sausage. Mold of any other color is a sign of contaminated sausage, which should be discarded.
- Dry-cured sausages must be handled with scrupulous attention to cleanliness, sanitation and food safety. If you measure the salt or curing mixture incorrectly, the resulting sausages can harbor dangerous bacteria and cause serious illness.
Fred Decker is a trained chef and prolific freelance writer. In previous careers, he sold insurance and mutual funds, and was a longtime retailer. He was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. His articles have appeared on numerous home and garden sites including GoneOutdoors, TheNest and eHow.