Archive for the ‘Equipment’ Category

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Chill Your Meat

To keep the ground meat cold, I put ice blocks in a stainless metal pan and top it with another pan

Grinding Meat – Keeping it Cool

on December 7, 2010 by fred

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Bradley 6-Rack Digital Smoker

In Equipment,Equipment for Smoking Meat on September 23, 2010 by fred

Bradley 6-Rack Digital Smoker

There are a lot of choices out there for smokers. Over the years I’ve used my gas barbeque (using indirect heat) with a wood chip box, and a 55-gallon food grade steel drum with holes drilled into it. Now I use a Bradley 6-Rack Digital Smoker with digital controls because I don’t want to constantly be checking to see if the wood needs to be replinished and I can set the temperature and not worry about it. The temp does fluctuate dramatically (10 degrees +/-) and there is room for improvement in its heat control, but at least it has a digital read-out on the exterior of the unit that I only have to check every once in a while and can be read from 20 feet away.

Partially Burned Bradley Biscuit

The Bradley Smokers use proprietary wood biscuits but the benefit is that they have an autofeed tube that hold eight hours of wood (strangely, the digital controller can only be set for four hours at a time, an annoyance if you want to smoke anything overnight and don’t want to wake up half way through). The biscuits are fed into the smoker one by one and when spent they fall into the water dish below.

Inside the Bradley Smoker

Six racks in the smoker may sound like a lot, but the reality is I rarely use the racks. The benefit to the six rack smoker is the internal volume as I can hang more meat in the taller smoker. It also means the meat is further away from the heat source so the meat drying out during the smoking and cooking process is less of a problem than with a shorter smoker.

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Drying Chamber

In Dried sausage,Equipment,Fermented sausage,Fermented Sausage Equipment on August 18, 2010 by fred

The most difficult issue to solve in making dry and semi-dry sausages as well as dry-cured meat  is how to dry the meat effectively controlling both temperature and relative humidity over a period of a few weeks to a full year.  If you aren’t in a climate where you can just hang your meat up in the cellar for the winter (most of us aren’t, especially those of us in Southern California) then you will need a drying chamber of some kind.

Drying Chamber (Right), Spare Refrigerator (Left)

I’ve chosen to utilize an upright freezer for my drying chamber.  I keep it in the garage next to a used refrigerator/freezer combo to store my raw materials.

When purchasing a freezer for a drying chamber, here is what I recommend:

  • Make sure it is a freezer.  This may seem counter-intuitive since you are striving for a temperature above normal refrigerator temps.  However, with some simple electrical work you can add an external thermostat to keep the temperature between 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit.  Refrigerators that have no freezer component but are full-size with a single chamber tend to be very expensive as they are not traditionally a consumer product.
  • Get a used one.  Craigslist is an excellent source, but you will most likely have to pickup, deliver and unload it yourself — not an easy situation without a friend, a truck, a dolly and some straps to tie it down (by the way — thanks, Joe!)   I also got one by going around to the used appliance places near me and seeing what they had in inventory.  Cheap or free delivery can usually be worked out easily with them.
  • Make sure it is a frost free model.  You can tell the difference simply by looking at the shelves — if they are metal and look like they have tubing attached to them, it is not a frost free model.  If they are plastic, it is.  You will also see a fan somewhere inside the frost free model, and it should say “frost free” somewhere on the tag inside the unit.  When I purchased my first, I couldn’t find any information on whether there was a downside to having a freezer that isn’t a frost free model.  As it turns out, there are a number of them.
  • Fully clean the freezer with a 10% bleach solution.  Drying meat at high humidity encourages yeast and mold, and unless it is mold you’ve sprayed on the meat purposefully you’ll want to keep it at bay.  Take the time to let the freezer dry out, spray it down, wipe it down.  Then do it again.  Make sure no visible signs of mold are left in the unit, in the door seal, or in any crannies.  If you find something and can’t get rid of it, spray it thoroughly and let it soak.  Then wipe what you can up with a clean rag.

Coming Soon: how to install the rest of the equipment.

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Additional Equipment for Making Salami and Other Fermented Sausages

In Dried sausage,Equipment,Fermented sausage,Fermented Sausage Equipment on August 18, 2010 by fred Tagged: , , , ,

Fermentation Box

Inside the drying chamber

What I use:

The key to dry curing meat is controlling the fermentation process and the drying process.  As you can see from the list above, it doesn’t take much more equipment to ferment sausages than to make fresh ones.   There are some big ticket items in here, a drying chamber and hygrostat are the most expensive on the list, but there are cheap alternatives to most of the items (I’ve listed them below).  It really depends on your environment and what kind of controls (or lack of) you are comfortable with.

Cheap Alternatives:

The only way you’ll know if these cheaper alternatives will work in your environment is to test them out.   I would only try them if I had both hydrometer and thermometer so you can see if they are viable solutions.  Test all of your equipment solutions before you start a batch of meat and take the time to dial it in before so you don’t lose a batch like I did.

Coming soon:  how to assemble everything

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The Fermentation Box

In Fermented sausage,Fermented Sausage Equipment on August 11, 2010 by fred

Typical temperatures for fermenting sausages are between 78-90 degrees.  The ideal temperature is whatever is required by the type of starter culture you used to make the sausage because that is what you are trying to grow.  However, nearly all cooking equipment is designed to keep food under 40 degrees or over 140, otherwise it falls within the “danger zone” and bad bacteria are likely to develop.  What do you do when you actually want to encourage bacteriological growth?

I use a Princess International MR-148 Deluxe Digital Mini Fridge Cooler & Warmer.  

This is not the cheapest option by any means, but it is the only option I’ve found that holds the temperature I set it to within a degree.

Pros:

  • Set it and forget it – the temperature is digitally controlled and has a nice display on the front that I can see from a distance.
  • Door seals tight.  Not liquid tight, but tight as any normal refrigerator
  • Heat is evenly distributed using the built-in fan
  • Easy to clean – I just spray it with a bleach solution, wipe it down and let it air dry with the door propped open
  • As long as the back isn’t covered up you can run it in any position you like
  • Standard 120v AC power, or 12v car lighter plug (both included)

Cons:

  • Difficult to hang the sausages without modifying the shelf rails.  By adding two shelf rails at the top you can slide in the included plastic grate shelf in and hang the sausage from it.  Until I do that, I’ve resorted to turning the unit upside down and hanging the grate from the shelf rails the removable catch pan normally slides into.  While unstable, it works if you’re careful.
  • It is much smaller than my drying chamber.  I can fit a 5-pound batch in the fermenter, but the sticks can’t be longer than 12-inches.  I think I could squeeze nearly 10-pounds into it once I make the shelf rail modification above and the grate is stable.

I run it outside since fermenting meat is not the most pleasant smell.  Since the door seals so well I don’t need a pan of water to keep the humidity high — you can see all the moisture collecting inside through the clear plastic window.

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Basic Equipment List

In Equipment,Fermented sausage,Fresh Sausage,Making salami on August 7, 2010 by fred Tagged: , ,

Here’s the basic list of equipment I have for making home-made meat products.  Links are to the products I use personally:

Fresh sausage, hot dogs, smoked sausage, salami, fermented sausages all start with the same basic equipment:

The only additional piece of equipment you need to make hot dogs is a food processor.  In it you emulsify the hot dog meat before stuffing it into casings.

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When making salami at home goes horribly wrong (in other words, do not promise your first batch to your father-in-law for Christmas)

In Dried sausage,Fermented sausage,Fermented Sausage Equipment,Lessons learned,Salami on July 21, 2010 by fred Tagged: , , ,

This was a video Christmas card I made for my father-in-law to tell him that he will get some of my first batch of salami.  See how smug and self-satisfied I am in  my naivete?  Of course, everything went horribly wrong after I shot this video, and I ended up having to throw away the meat AND the converted freezer.

embedded by Embedded Video

So what happened?  Through some troubleshooting and testing, I found out:

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