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HELP!! Making snack sticks in a Little Chief

post #1 of 27
Thread Starter 
Hi All,
I am newcomer to the art of smoking meat. I just purchased a used "Little Chief" to get myself started with the whole smoking process, and since, i have managed to make some really tasty venison jerky.
Since i pretty much have the jerky thing nailed down, I have graduated to snack sticks, which is what my questions are about. I have a few questions about how to make a great batch. I made my first batch last night. The recipe included a list of spices and cure, but only used lean ground venison. well, I know that lean meat of any kind will dry out unless you add some fat to it. After going to the local meat market, which makes great snack sticks, they recommended a 50/50 mix of the lean ground venison with 80/20 ground pork, so this is what i used along with my spice recipe mentioned above.

I stuffed the meat in collagen casings and smoked it in my little chief at roughly 150 degrees (+/- 10 degrees) for about 5 hours until I got a nice deep red appearance, as the recipe said. Then, I finished them in a 200 degree oven until the internal temp reached 160 degrees, followed by a cold water bath that was supposed to help "reduce shrinkage" per the recipe. Here is where my questions begin.

When i took them out of the water bath after they had cooled (about 1/2 hour), the collagen casings were loose and not bonded to the meat at all. They were squishy because all of the fat had been cooked out of the meat, and congealed in the space between the casing and the meat. So, what i did was peeled the casing off, and washed the strand in hot water until the congealed fat came off, and then dried them with paper towel before storing them.

When I tasted it for the first time, the flavor was out of this world, I would have preferred a bit more moisture, but not much, and it had a nice red smoke color throughout the stick. But what is bugging me is the casings. How do I avoid the problem with the casing being loose? I like the little snap that comes with biting into a snack stick, and would like to make some with that snap.

Also, how tough are collagen casings?? When i was stuffing, i was leaving a tiny bit of slack, as my smoking configuration was to wrap it around the top rack of the little chief. I didn't want to blow out the casing while I was putting it on the rack, so i left a tiny bit of slack in the casing to allow for a sharp corner. As a result, the casings were taut before they went into the smoker, but not super tight. I DID get a nice flared crimp on the end, but i'm wondering how tight I can stuff those and still get them to wrap around the racks of the little chief without causing a blowout? Is this the reason that the casings were so loose after i cooked them?? and is grease normally able to permeate a collagen casing??

Another question: does anyone else have problems with losing heat while adding more wood chips to the little chief?? and is there any way to avoid that at all?? Do I add a few chips here and there to keep smoke coming without affecting the temperature as much?? does this work?? I have been just dumping the ash into a pail of water and reloading it from scratch every time. But then i lose heat, and it takes 1/2 hour or more to generate more smoke and get back up to temperature.

I am a man who is willing to admit that i know nothing of the sausage smoking process aside from seasoning the meat and what i've picked up from making jerky, and would greatly appreciate any advice that you would be able to give me.

Thanks in advance everyone. Take care.
post #2 of 27
i haven't made snack sticks, but two things that jumped out at me were the slack in the casings and the cold water bath. this is just a guess, but maybe try filling them full and then skipping the water bath.

these are suggestions only - i've made venison bologna before, but it had no casings and no prok/fat. it turned out very good, but it was not like what you are describing. in other words - if i am wrong, anyone is free to correct me, but my thinking on this is that the fuller case will reduce or eliminate the slippage of the casing from the meat - also, letting it dry completely might have it "shrink-wrap" onto the filling.

as for the water bath, i know that it is a normal part of making summer sausage and other similar types, but for snack sticks, i don't know if it is necessary or even desirable.

one final suggestion - you shouldn't have to bring it up to 200 degrees - the 150-degree range of the little chief should be just fine and will probably keep the fat from leaching out of the meat. now that it think about it, this suggestion might help kmost of all.

either way, it sounds as though you're off to a good start ~ keep us informed.
post #3 of 27
you probably need to stuff it tighter to help with the separation and maybe try holding the temps lower to avoid the smear of the fat. I do mine starting at 100 and work up to 180.
It sounded like you soaked them for a 1/2 hour to cool, I use ice water and I don't let them sit in the water very long,
the lost of temp you mentioned is inherent in the small smokers . I guess it a mater of not enough mass to maintain the heat loss of opening the door, I get a couple hours on a load of dust and chunks. In time you'll have a feel for what is right for you. Till then just keep trying different things till you're comfortable
post #4 of 27
What are you using to monitor the smokers temp? The thermo gauge might be way off. Did ya test it in a boil water bath? just a thought.
Another thought is the thermo you tested internal temp could be off and they were really cooked to to high a temp melting the fat out of the stick.
post #5 of 27
Make a hundred pounds of these every year. I used to water bath them and the casing will seperate from the meat, that is the process used to loosen you meat from sausage and bologna.

Some people like to peel the casing off for digesting reasons, I eat em'! If you dont water bath them they will get a wrinkle type outside texture and the casings seem to shrink to the meat not as pretty but they wont seperate.

The casings are fairly tough and you may need to fill them a little fuller also and not water bath them quite as long. After a few "blowouts" you figure out in a hurry how mch they will take and it will come natural to you. Hope this helps some.
post #6 of 27
I use a little chief top loading smoker for 20 + years.I use 80/20 mix 80 venison and 20 ground pork.I usually peel off the collagen casing before I eat it not sure just what that is anyhow.I use the same thing a 22mm casing and twist them the same length as 4 of my fingers.I cut these to length with a scissors and then this way I can get 2 rows on each tray/shelf.I did take the wife's cooling racks and bent them up to double the volume of this smoker.I didn't like where the bend was in leaving them hanging together. the stick to stick where they bend never seemed to get done.I believe that with the collagen casing nothing can penetrate it or leak out of it.that being what it is , when I smoke them it's for a smell factor more than a taste one. I hit them with some smoke and then finish off in a dehydrator.

The fat in the mix does two things it carries the flavor through the sticks and it makes it easier to chew.We made sticks from lean very lean elk meat only and it was o k but tough as shoe leather more like hard jerky.good luck with the chief ,still like mine.Bill & Crew
post #7 of 27
Well this is what I would say. You ratio looks ok. I have made a few snack sticks and use 60% venison, 40% pork. If you are not making a bunch, try pork chops.
I would keep them in the smoker and bring them to 160, not the oven. As far as the water bath, instead of soaking them, take the rack of your smoker and set it in the shower. That way they are getting a constant fresh supply of cold water, and not simply sitting in cold water which will warm with the sausages in it.
After they cool, let them hang somewhere to drip dry so to speak. About an hour should be good.

Try stuffing them a little tighter as well.

As far as retaining heat, I use a big chief for jerky and drying herbs. I live in Minnesota, not known as one of warmest states in the union. I have had my big chief up to 220 degrees, although I don't recommend it LOL. The chief series of smokers are not the best insulated, if fact, their not insulated at all. One thing you can do to help in the rebound of the heat, is to find yourself a heavy thick piece of steel, say 1/2" thick and about an inch smaller than the inside dimensions of your smoker. A large stone, say the size of large grapefruit would also work. The steel or the rock will act like the stones in a sauna, absorb heat in the begining, and hold it. I had the same dilema when adding chips to my big chief. Temps would go down when I did. Basically, the unit has to start over again, each time you do ad chips. Having a bit of mass in there helps to ballance it out.

Hope that helps a bit.
post #8 of 27
Thread Starter 


Hi Everyone,

Thank you for all of your feedback. To answer some of your questions, I actually use 2 thermometers. One is an internal oven thermometer that i hang from the top bar in my top loading little chief. the second is a meat thermometer that i stick through a small hole i drilled. i use one to check the other, and they are both pretty accurate, either that or they are both wrong. :)

It seems that the water bath that i was using has mixed reviews, and that it may just come down to personal preference. Between here and another forum i joined, it is about half and half to use it or not. I am mixing another batch tonight, and i will try not using a water bath, as i really didn't like the results when i did.

I really like the rocks idea in the bottom of the chief to hold the heat. Question, would water do the same thing?? maybe start with a pan of water on the drip pan at 120 degrees or so, then let the heating element of the little chief do the rest. Water is an excellent heatsink, and might do the same thing. just wondering if anyone has done this, or if there would be any adverse effects on the meat. The reason i ask is that i'd have to go and find some bigger rocks at a landscaping outlet.

Also, i have seen different strategies for making sticks and sausage, and some of them advise just getting cubes of pork fat and grinding them, keeping them really cold and adding them to the mix last to add moisture. has anyone done this?? I am using 80/20 ground pork and mixing 50/50 with venison, and i defrosted it in the microwave, so it was a little warm on the outside when i mixed everything. Is it best to keep everything as cold as possible when mixing??

You guys are the best. Thanks for all of your suggestions. I appreciate every one of them. I'll be making another batch and stuffing it tonight, and smoking it tomorrow. I'll post some pics of how they turn out. Thanks again.
post #9 of 27
Hello again. Yeah I don't see why water would not work, go for it. I use 2 small disks of steel in the bottom of mine, 1/2" thick by 6" diameter. They work great.

As far as the water bath goes, I would give them a quick spray, not a soaking, in cold water, just to help bring the temps down. Also, let them hang for an hour or two afterward and air dry a bit.

As far as keeping your stuff cold when mixing. YES, you want it as cold as it can be. Nasty bacteria can build. Let me ask you, do you have a grinder and a stuffer or a combo unit that does both? Here is one of the ways to mix your spices into your meat. First, take the meat you are going to use, and chill it to a somewhat frozen state, not solid though. It makes it easier to cut. Cut all the meat and fat into cubes no larger than 3/4". If you recipe calls for say 2 cups of water, take one of those cups and get it ice cold. Use that to mix your spices. Don't try to dry mix them directly into the meat. Once the spices have mixed in with the water, add that to the meat and mix well. Set in fridge for a few hours, take out and remix.
Return to fridge for a few more hours. When it comes time to grind, a few hour prior to doing so, take the meat that has been cubed and if you have the space, put into the freezer. You want it to get to an almost solid frozen state. Reason for this is when you grind the meat, you want it to grind, not tear which is usually what happens when meat is too warm. If you have a combo unit, grinder/stuff, then you just grind once and right into the casings. I would recommend a grind plate around 3/16th". There is no need to grind twice unless a recipe specifies it. If you have a separate grinder and stuffer, then you simply load the stuffer after grinding. I don't know if you have it or not, but the book by Rytek Kutas, the 4th edition, Great sausage recipes and meat curing are an absolute read for this hobby. It sounds like you are pretty into the sausage thing so I would pick up a copy of that book. There is even a book/dvd pack out now.
Remember, keep your stuff COLD. If you have a smaller stuffer/grinder combo unit, say something like the kitchenaid, watch out that the motor does not transfer the heat to the grind unit. Some will even throw the grinder unit in the freezer to help with the build up of heat. Take some pics of this next sausage your doing. We would like to see and good luck.
post #10 of 27
Thread Starter 


I do not have a grinder/stuffer. all of the meat i am using has been pre-ground, the venison and the pork. We grind pretty much all of our venison as that is how we use most of it, save the loins, and some chops. Should i be using just cubed venison, and maybe a pork butt instead of ground pork and then getting a grinder/stuffer to do the rest?? I have just been using a jerky gun that came with a stuffing cone attachment. I am still doing small batches of everything until i perfect the process, then i'll get some bigger stuff. Or are there some major disadvantages to the way i am doing it that will prevent me from perfecting the process??

I like your ideas about keeping everything really cold and mixing the spices in water. makes a lot of sense to me. in addition to providing a more uniform seasoning, it would also add a little moisture to boot. How much water added to a 2 lb batch would you recommend?? maybe 1/4 cup?? I will definitely take some pictures for you guys and post them here. It would have taken a lot of subpar batches for me to gain the knowledge i have gained here in the last 24 hours. Thanks again for all the help.
post #11 of 27
If that is how you are getting your meat, that's fine. As far as disadvantages in the way you are doing it, there are none. I did not know if you had the capacity to grind your own. No problem. Although, if you find this hobby appealing, and I think you will, you will probably want to get your own equipment in the future.
With that being said, for a 2# batch, I'd say add 1/3 cup water. If you find that the overall mixture is too watery, you can add some powdered milk to act as a binding agent. Not too much, just enough so that the mixture slightly thickens. And the milk will not have any effect on taste so don't worry about that.

I can't remember, what are you using for spices/recipe? Did you post it? If not and you want to show us, do it. Maybe we can provide some pointers?
Don't worry too much about the next batch, it's all part of the learning curve and we all go thru it. Luckily, you and I have this forum where we can call on the advice of others who are a few steps ahead LOL. Can't wait to see some pics.
post #12 of 27
Thread Starter 


Sorry, i did not post the recipe i used.

1 lb of venison burger
1 lb 80/20 ground pork
1 tablespoons of salt
1 teaspoons of Tender Quick
3 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon of garlic powder
1 tablespoons of onion powder
1/2 tablespoon of black pepper
1/2 teaspoon of celery salt

It has nice strong garlic and pepper flavors, and goes great with beer. (but really, is there anything that doesn't??) Thanks again for all of your council. I'm really anxious to use all of these pointers on my next batches. I'll post a lot of pics of the whole process for you guys. Thanks again!!!!!
post #13 of 27

It has nice strong garlic and pepper flavors, and goes great with beer. (but really, is there anything that doesn't??) [/quote]

Jeff Foxworthy once said at one of his standup shows, the 2 greatest things in life are beer and slim jims, but would it not be awesome if they made a slim jim with a hole in it, like a straw. That way you could sip your beer thru it. LOL.

Which one of the members here will be the first to make a hollow snack stick? I know the wheels are turning on this onebiggrin.gifbiggrin.gifbiggrin.gif.
post #14 of 27
Thread Starter 


Hi All,

Here are some pics of my experience with stuffing more snack sticks tonight.

The first pic is of my setup. Got my meats, my glass of spices, my stuffer and casings, and my glass of ice cold water, as suggested, and I put my stainless mixing bowl in the freezer for about 1/2 hour to keep it as cold as possible, too.

The second pic was of the meat mixed together. It was still frozen enough that i could barely get through it with my burger chopper/mixer (the black thing in the bowl) But, i got a nice preliminary mix. s###, I forgot to add the pork last. I hope i didn't screw anything up.

I then added 1/3 cup of ice water to my spices, as suggested, made a sluttry of them, and added them to the meat. Added cure next, and gave it another good mix, which is the third shot of the meat with spices. The total elapsed time from the first pic of the gear to the third with the mixed in spices was about 5 minutes. Then it went back in the freezer for 1/2 hour to firm up a bit prior to stuffing.

I then pulled out the bowl only to load the stuffer, then it went back in the freezer to keep it as cold as possible. I stuffed the meat into the casings next. Had a few blowouts, which is why there are three strands in the final pic, but unlike the last batch, these are stuffed about as tight as they can be. I'm really impressed with the strength of the collagen casings. they take the punishment for sure. These sticks are about half again as thick as the first batch i made, so i know they are stuffed to the max. The final pic is the finished product wrapped around the grill of my little chief, and ready for the smoker. They are in the fridge right now just waiting.

I did fry up a little to make sure the spices were correct, and wow, were they ever. I'm smoking them tomorrow night after work, and will update you all with pictures of the finished product before the weekend.

By the way, I think your idea about making hollow sticks would be easy with a small stainless steel rod threaded through the sticks. It is a million dollar idea for sure. Once i get a few good batches under my belt, we'll give it a shot.
post #15 of 27
Thread Starter 


oops, here's the pics
post #16 of 27
Sounds like you have it figured out, I'll be looking forward to the final results.
post #17 of 27
Looks Good...
post #18 of 27
MMMmmm snack sticks. Looks and sounds like your going to need a bigger smoker. As others have recommended on this site to many beginners , get the "smokers bible"
by Rytek Kutas. You'll learn a lot.
post #19 of 27
Looking good Rhino70. Folks, I think we may have another smoking addict on our handsPDT_Armataz_01_34.gif.
post #20 of 27
Thread Starter 


PDT_Armataz_01_37.gifwell, thanks to you guys, I made my first batch of really spectacular snack sticks. I had to watch the temps like a hawk, but it was so worth it. I did find out that with no chips in it, on a cold night, i can hold 120 in the little chief without the insulator blanket. WITH the chips in when the smoke starts, it slowly climbs to about 142 without the blanket, and with chips AND the insulator blanket, it will get up to about 160-170 without fluctuating much. Putting the rocks in the bottom of the chamber next to the element worked well to maintain heat too. I lost no more than 15 degrees when reloading the chips vs about 40-50 without the rocks. I topped out on internal temperature of the sticks at about 145 though, so i did finish them in the oven at 180 until it got just to 152 internally, and i lost none of the fat, like i did last time. Then they went right into the fridge.

The result was night and day from my last batch. I got good binding to the casing, i could see the marbling from the fat that was still present, it didn't shrink a whole lot, just enough to wrinkle the casing just a little bit, and the flavor was outstanding. I just grabbed an end piece this morning before coming to work, and it had that wonderful snack stick snap that i wanted too. I was up pretty late finishing them, so i didn't have anytime to post pics, but will make sure to do that this weekend.

Meat hunter, you are right, you have another addict. Now, the trick is going to be figuring out a way to maximize my capacity in the little chief so i can bump up my production to 8-10 lbs per batch. maybe hanging them rather than wrapping them around the grates, and getting more racks and maybe wiring them to hang closer together.

Also, the next item on my list will be to make some great summer sausage. i would imagine the temperatures are the same, just longer smoking times.

Either way, it is game on. Thanks again for all your help guys!!!biggrin.gifPDT_Armataz_01_34.gif:PDT_Armataz_01 _34:PDT_Armataz_01_34.gif
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