I took my first stab at making deer sticks this weekend. It was a good learning experience and I'm sure I'll continue to improve over time. I'll apologize in advance that the Q-views aren't as good as they could be. I had a housefull and the final shots were taken at 2:15AM when the temps finally got to where they needed to be.
Because this was my first time around with stick making I wanted to keep it pretty simple. To that end, I went out and bought some LEM collagen casing (17mm) and some High Mtn sweet and spicy snack stick seasoning. For meat, I already have a bunch of ground venison packaged and frozen. It is mixed with 15% fatty beef. Based on some good advice received here, I added another 15% ground pork. Total weight of this batch was 14 lbs of meat.
I mixed in the High Mtn mix and we proceeded to stuff our casings. This is where my first question comes. What is everyone's success with these collagen casings. We had a fair number of blowouts. It almost seemed that if you lost focus for just a second while stuffing with the LEM you'd over stuff and have a blowout. Is this the norm for collagen casings? Is it LEMs version of the casings? I have had no blowouts when doing brats with hog casings. Granted these are far smaller but they seemed really fragile. Texture when eating has been good, but do you all prefer sheep casings over collagen for stability? I've not used sheep yet and am not sure how it would effect texture when eating.
We ended up with probably more finished product than I anticipated and the smoker was really full.
This is a sampling of what went into the smoker. This is just prior to loading her up.
A full smoker is indeed a happy smoker! Two rows deep, there wasn't much room for anything more.
My water bath was kept full til the very end (other than the first hr or so).
Due to a lot of first timer mistakes and delays these didn't get into the smoker until late afternoon Sunday. It was minus 5 degrees outside but my heavily modified MF didn't seem to care. There's lots of mass in it and its lined with insulation. I let it ride at about 140 for about 2 hrs then bumped it up to 150 for an hour then up to 160 for another hour. At that point I moved to 170 and let it role.
The entire cook I had my AMPS tube smoker providing peach tree smoke. I really like Myron Mixon's pellets in peach. They make a very nice mild smoke flavor.
About 10 P.M. the inevitable stall occurred and the IT temp of the sticks stalled right at about 125-135 depending on where in the smoker I was monitoring.
In spite of the ridiculously cold external temp, -10 by late in the evening, the Maverick ET-733 performed wonderfully just sitting on the side tray of the smoker. I wasn't sure how it would handle the cold but it never blinked. It was really nice being able to watch the Q temp and the IT temps on the remote device without stepping outside every 1/2 hr to look.
At around 2: 15AM I pulled them from the smoker. I wish I'd have taken a smoker pic at this point but it was COLD and I was moving fast. I dumped them right into an ice bath and let them cool down quickly.
A quick sample was not disappointing.
Texture and flavor were pretty darn good but not perfect.
They're more mild than I prefer. For half of this batch we added red pepper flakes just to spice it up a bit. I'm letting them age a little in the refigerator right now so have not tasted one of those yet. They will all be going into the sealer tonight for distribution and freezing.
I also got to try out my brand new Food Saver. So far I really like it.
So a couple lessons learned from this time around:
1) Don't skimp on seasoning. High Mtn is good stuff no doubt, but it pales compared to what you can mix up yourself. It woulda been worth the effort to get exactly what we wanted.
2) Re-evaluate the collagen casings... I would appreciate feedback on alternatives here. Or comments on if what we experienced was normal.
3) Get started much earlier and bake in more time for a stall. Didn't really see that coming, but the stall in this cook was comparable to cooking a butt.
4) I can smoke year round. If we could pull it off in these temps we can do it anytime. I will add that I recently swapped out my regulator with Bayou Classic and that thing is amazing. I can go anywhere from a trickle of a flame to blow torch. Tweaking it to slightly adjust temps is a breeze.
Thanks for looking!