Non-Fermented and Firm/Dry Beef Snack Stick: Any Advice to add "snap" to my sticks?

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G geostriata
First, those recent pictures of sticks look amazing, what a fine looking product!

There is a ton of data here, thanks! I was surprised by your final "answer" though, it seems a complete departure in time and method from your steady gradual data gathering? Everything was 6 hrs to 12 hrs or so, all good, then suddenly 30 hrs in final post??

I will have to reread to help me extract your lessons learned, as I admit I started getting confused by the process jumping around a bit, and stuff I thought you said was a great method seems to be gone in final post.

I completely admire your dedication to this search, and it is so absolutely hard to find folks who actually record their process and take good data! Your posts are thus super valuable and a rarity!

I will throw in a quick datapoint, as I THINK I am targeting the same goal... I have settled on kabanosy, 6mm grind, NFDM 1% binder, strong extraction, 21mm sheep casings, 2 hr 145f smoke, 8 hr 145 to 165 (haven't decided on final temp yet for dryness). Sticks are bagged in fridge for a week to equalize moisture and rehydrate casing a bit.

Observation:
1. You should use grams for amount of batch instead of lbs!! All your other measurements are grams, spices and cook weights, your use of grams per lb of meat for recipe makes it difficult to quickly grasp recipe percentages! Just commit to grams and metric for that final thing and you'll be easier to understand and uniform, thx!

Couple questions:
1. What casing now? 15mm fineT? Or is that the same as "fresh collagen" casing?
2. What % water is added to meat for mix now?
3. Can you tell me a commercial stick you're trying to replicate for look, texture, and this hard to follow 'snap'? I'd like to buy and try, so I have a better understanding of your goals, and decide if mine are the same desires? Thx!

Thx again, will reread thread after reply to see if I can clear it up in my head ;)
 
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If you have a decent humidity hanging is fine, otherwise I wrap them in pink paper or just put them in a paper bag and rest a week or so in the fridge. Firms them right up.
This is great advice. Just finished my 2nd ever batch of snack sticks last week, put them in a paper bag for about a week. HUGE difference. I like mine on the dry side and these turned out amazing. Used the Legg's seasoning. I'll work on my own seasoning in the future, but wanted to master the smoking/drying process first.
 
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What kind of bag are you using to equalize after the sous vide process? And, you're getting your sticks to 150 internal with only one hour of cook? Fat doesn't render out doing that? Thanks for all the information on this thread.
Sorry for the delay, I was away for a bit!

Sous vide is just for restoring the casings and helping restore texture after an extensive drying process. I've used both vacmaster bags and ziplocks with the same equalization result. However, my wife reports that she sort of misses the tougher/snappier casing. The sticks still pass the snap test after a week in the bag, but I think she likes them crunchier. So for her, I think I'll try a little air drying after a week in the bag. For me, I think the sticks are fine right out of the bag.

The humidity is what is needed to get to 150IT quickly. Sometimes it doesn't quite get there after an hour, which is why I check and then add another 30mins at 170 if it's not quite there. My smoker did get a little high (180F) for a bit during this test, so maybe that's another factor. In any case, the goal is the same: use humidity and higher-than-usual temps to get to IT early on. It's harder and harder to get to IT as the sticks dry out. Fat out did not occur at this stage for me, but I suspect if you go for more than 2 hours, you will have some fat out.
 
G geostriata
First, those recent pictures of sticks look amazing, what a fine looking product!

There is a ton of data here, thanks! I was surprised by your final "answer" though, it seems a complete departure in time and method from your steady gradual data gathering? Everything was 6 hrs to 12 hrs or so, all good, then suddenly 30 hrs in final post??

Thanks, Dave! Also, that's a great question! Here's an explanation for the key breakthroughs that led to my vastly increased cook times:
  • Batch 34/Divine Animosity Batch: This is where I first had a breakthrough going with a 14 hour cook (1hr pre-cook, 12hr, 1hr finish). So from this point forward, most of my batches (other than a few experiments) were aiming for ~12-14hrs or so. So here's where we move from 6 to 12hr.
  • Mysliwska experiment: You can search for this in another thread, but what I learned here is a two-cycle smoking method. More evidence in an extended cook time. I did a few experiments here and there with one cycle vs two. My feeling at present is that if you're just cooking, there's no need to go with two cycles. However, if you're employing smoke most/all of the time, there does seem to be some benefit in avoiding the smoke/drying stall (more below).
  • Batch 43: This is a key batch where I did the 12hr @ 140 and then did another cycle (+8hr) similar to Mysliwska. So here's where we move from 12 to 20 hrs (in two cycles).
  • Batch 46: This one was a learning failure. I tried one long 20hr smoke and I measured weight loss along the way. On hour 15 or so, the weight stopped decreasing. Granted, my baffles weren't as open as they usually were on this one, but this is the first time where I realized that the smoke might actually be interfering with drying after an extended amount of time. After this, I start trying to go 20+hr in a single cycle.
  • Batch 49: Now that I have IT covered early, I can just cook as long as I like until desired dryness. So that's what I do, measuring weight loss every hour until I get to my desired 57-60% weight loss. This is how I got to 30 hrs.
I'm sure there's a ton of ways to accelerate this process, but now that I finally start to feel I have a handle on the process, I'm going to just do more and more batches on this schedule before I even consider saving time/effort. (And you're right to suspect my "final" claim -- I think I'll keep working on this for a while. It's final in the sense that I finally have a repeatable good outcome, solution, but it can be improved a lot, I'm sure)


I will have to reread to help me extract your lessons learned, as I admit I started getting confused by the process jumping around a bit, and stuff I thought you said was a great method seems to be gone in final post.

I completely admire your dedication to this search, and it is so absolutely hard to find folks who actually record their process and take good data! Your posts are thus super valuable and a rarity!

I will throw in a quick datapoint, as I THINK I am targeting the same goal... I have settled on kabanosy, 6mm grind, NFDM 1% binder, strong extraction, 21mm sheep casings, 2 hr 145f smoke, 8 hr 145 to 165 (haven't decided on final temp yet for dryness). Sticks are bagged in fridge for a week to equalize moisture and rehydrate casing a bit.
Good luck with your Kabanosy! To be honest, I find I prefer how beef turns out in "super-dry" form over pork. Maybe that's my peculiar taste, or maybe some of the procedures work less well with pork, I don't know. Super curious how it turns out for you!

If you're after a snack stick that's more like jerky and has a rougher texture, and find that it still seems more like "sausage," then you may want to consider omitting the binder. That being said, I've had some great batches with binder (potato starch, NFDM, store bought milk powder, etc...). I think when starting with a new snack-stick recipe, binder makes it easier, but when refining texture/drying after you have an established recipe, it gets in the way.

More importantly, I'd recommend to use percent weight loss to decide when to stop smoking/cooking/drying. If you don't get this far enough, then putting it in a bag makes it worse and not better. If you do get this far enough, then you don't need to equalize in a fridge and equalization goes faster at room temps anyways.

Observation:
1. You should use grams for amount of batch instead of lbs!! All your other measurements are grams, spices and cook weights, your use of grams per lb of meat for recipe makes it difficult to quickly grasp recipe percentages! Just commit to grams and metric for that final thing and you'll be easier to understand and uniform, thx!

Couple questions:
1. What casing now? 15mm fineT? Or is that the same as "fresh collagen" casing?
2. What % water is added to meat for mix now?
3. Can you tell me a commercial stick you're trying to replicate for look, texture, and this hard to follow 'snap'? I'd like to buy and try, so I have a better understanding of your goals, and decide if mine are the same desires? Thx!

Thx again, will reread thread after reply to see if I can clear it up in my head ;)
As for the metric consideration, I 100% respect and agree with the sentiment. If we were outside the USA, I would totally agree. Since we're in the USA, then I think it's easier to buy meat by the pound instead of kilogram. Since going fully SAE is not a good idea either, then I think the happy balance is pounds for starting meat and metric 100% then on for everything else.

As for your questions:
  • Casing is 15mm "Processed Stix" casing for my snack sticks. Fine-T unfortunately doesn't come in 15mm size (despite claims from some unscrupulous stores. I used calipers to verify...). I use Fine-T for everything else. It's just SO much easier than natural, only like 5% tougher than natural, and it enables me to cook sausage on my hot-dog roller :)
  • I use 75gms of water for every 453grams (1lb) of meat. So that's ~16.5% water-to-meat. Way above normal, but I like my wrinkly skin and easy stuffing. If you don't like wrinkles, you can use 28g H2O (6.1% water-to-meat)
  • Here's the commercial stick: https://ajaysmontanabananas.com/shop. A while ago, I literally bough every snack stick on amazon and tried the three-finger snap test on them all. They all failed (not to mention tasting like floppy sausage). This is the only one I've found to pass it that you can order online.
 
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This is great advice. Just finished my 2nd ever batch of snack sticks last week, put them in a paper bag for about a week. HUGE difference. I like mine on the dry side and these turned out amazing. Used the Legg's seasoning. I'll work on my own seasoning in the future, but wanted to master the smoking/drying process first.

My two cents:

It really depends what you're after and where you're starting from. I find the pink-bag-in-fridge approach results in a crispier exterior (i.e., less equalization) than you would from hanging at decent humidity. So if you're starting from a sausage-like stick already, it can add a bit of pleasant contrast to it as a finishing step.

However, it's not going to turn a sausage stick into a dry snack stick. Over about a week, it stalls in drying and doesn't show further improvement.

In addition, if you're already starting from a really dry stick (~50+ weight loss from initial), then pink bag seems to hurt the stick more than it helps. The contrast I mentioned above stops being as pleasant as it goes from "firm" to "tough."
 
Just ran a quick experiment to go into sous vide longer duration. It was also intending to test three different drying methods, but upon review, that part of the experiment is invalid due to differences between batch 48 and 49.

Initial WeightSous Vide MethodPost SV Texture/WeightDrying MethodPost Dry Taste/Weight
48A (56.5% wt loss at this point)51.64g80sec @ 160FTender / 52.62gPink Bag in FridgeInedible. Too dry to eat.
(18.4% inside, 14.4% outside)
48B (56.5% wt loss at this point)54.03g40sec @ 160FTender / 55.05gHang at 70% RH / 65FCrispy skin (wife says too crispy). Dry but still edible. (10% surface, 18.3 inside)
49B (53% wt loss at this point)72.87gUntil IT 148F (7.5 minutes)Tender / 75.56gZiplock BagTender inside, slight crisp on skin. (48.6% on inside, 35% surface)

Previously I had eschewed using sous vide to get to IT because I had done so previously and it caused almost all moisture to return. However, since these are really small diameter sticks I revised it to only be under sous vide for a minimum amount of time (instead of prolonged, like is typical w/ sous vide). It seemed to work ok! There was only 3.7% weight gain due to moisture addition from sous vide. So rather than messing about with moisture in the smoker I could just finish with SV and be okay (or use it in addition for added safety).

On an unrelated note, I also compared two samples from batch 49. After equalizing both with a vacuum seal for a week, I opened one and let rest a day in a ziplock. I then compared with another straight out of the vacuum bag and found the ziplock to taste better. The skin got a bit crispier. I think this leads me to thinking it's better to bag with a little air in the bag (or to equalize in bag, then rest in the open air for a big, then re-bag with air).
 
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After testing moisture-gain due to sous vide more, I discovered something interesting. When the sticks are slightly dry, they bloat up and take on a ton of moisture from sous vide. When the sticks are very dry (> 50% moisture loss by weight) they do not. As a result, I determined that it's absolutely fine to sous vide the sticks for internal temperature. So instead of starting with high humidity to get to IT, then to proceed with cook/smoke for remainder, I just jump right into the cook/smoke and finish with sous vide for 7.5 mins @ 152-154F to IT.

This was verified with batch 50 and 51, shown below. These two batches were simply validating the approach, and batch 51 tested taking them even further on dryness (but it stalled at 36 hours at around 51% moisture loss). I have some variance in the proportion of fat to lean, so it makes sense a fattier batch would fail to achieve my target 57% loss.

Both batches read under 54% on the moisture meter and when bagged, hygrometers read about 65% RH, which indicates to me that their AW < 0.85. So they should be shelf stable.

Here's batch 50 after sous vide, chill, and bloom (51 looked similar):

1716262113644.png


1716262439052.png


Also, I managed to source a caddy of 14mm collagen casings. I think I'll try that out and compare with my 15mm batch. I might be able to get the 14mm even drier...
 
After testing moisture-gain due to sous vide more, I discovered something interesting. When the sticks are slightly dry, they bloat up and take on a ton of moisture from sous vide. When the sticks are very dry (> 50% moisture loss by weight) they do not. As a result, I determined that it's absolutely fine to sous vide the sticks for internal temperature. So instead of starting with high humidity to get to IT, then to proceed with cook/smoke for remainder, I just jump right into the cook/smoke and finish with sous vide for 7.5 mins @ 152-154F to IT.

This was verified with batch 50 and 51, shown below. These two batches were simply validating the approach, and batch 51 tested taking them even further on dryness (but it stalled at 36 hours at around 51% moisture loss). I have some variance in the proportion of fat to lean, so it makes sense a fattier batch would fail to achieve my target 57% loss.

Both batches read under 54% on the moisture meter and when bagged, hygrometers read about 65% RH, which indicates to me that their AW < 0.85. So they should be shelf stable.

Here's batch 50 after sous vide, chill, and bloom (51 looked similar):

View attachment 697218

View attachment 697219

Also, I managed to source a caddy of 14mm collagen casings. I think I'll try that out and compare with my 15mm batch. I might be able to get the 14mm even drier...
Do you have a final synopsis of what your process is now going forward, or are you still tweaking slightly? I'm intrigued by the sous vide process being involved and want to give your process a try on one of my next batches.
 
Do you have a final synopsis of what your process is now going forward, or are you still tweaking slightly? I'm intrigued by the sous vide process being involved and want to give your process a try on one of my next batches.
Sure thing. It's much simpler now that I use SV to get to IT.
  1. After stuffing, weigh a sample stick and record initial weight.
  2. Dry a bit in smoker with fan @ 105F for ~30mins.
  3. Set temp to ~145 and smoke as much as you desire, but for no more than 14 hours. Smoke should be very light, baffles 3/4 to fully open.
  4. Cook at 145 with no smoke until weight loss is 50%. Since there's no smoke, using fan to assist airflow/drying in smoker helps.
  5. Periodically take out the sample stick and re-weigh. This took a total of 32hrs last time to get to 50% weight loss with my 15mm sticks.
  6. Sous vide at 152-154F for 7.5 minutes. Ensure IT is reached (7.5 minutes is more than enough for me).
  7. Chill however you like to get temp down (I rinse with cold water, towel dry, and chill in freezer for 2 mins).
  8. Let rest no more than 2 hrs (I usually just do 30 mins) and then bag. I use a vacuum machine and stop the process after 4 seconds to allow a little air to remain in the bag.
  9. After a week in the bag they are ready. Moisture has equalized, flavor is more balanced, and sticks are tender. Even after a few days they are quite good, but I don't consider them done until a week.
Curious how it works out for you!
 
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After testing moisture-gain due to sous vide more, I discovered something interesting. When the sticks are slightly dry, they bloat up and take on a ton of moisture from sous vide. When the sticks are very dry (> 50% moisture loss by weight) they do not. As a result, I determined that it's absolutely fine to sous vide the sticks for internal temperature. So instead of starting with high humidity to get to IT, then to proceed with cook/smoke for remainder, I just jump right into the cook/smoke and finish with sous vide for 7.5 mins @ 152-154F to IT.

This was verified with batch 50 and 51, shown below. These two batches were simply validating the approach, and batch 51 tested taking them even further on dryness (but it stalled at 36 hours at around 51% moisture loss). I have some variance in the proportion of fat to lean, so it makes sense a fattier batch would fail to achieve my target 57% loss.

Both batches read under 54% on the moisture meter and when bagged, hygrometers read about 65% RH, which indicates to me that their AW < 0.85. So they should be shelf stable.

Here's batch 50 after sous vide, chill, and bloom (51 looked similar):

View attachment 697218

View attachment 697219

Also, I managed to source a caddy of 14mm collagen casings. I think I'll try that out and compare with my 15mm batch. I might be able to get the 14mm even drier...
glad you figured it out!! thank you for sharing!
 
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An update! So I finally got a batch of my "aged" snack sticks. I kept finding unlabeled bags from past experiments that I found suddenly tasted amazing, but I couldn't pinpoint the batch so it was all unknown.

I found one of those bags today, labelled #49 and 5-3-24. It tasted AMAZING. Exactly what I'm looking for and even better than initial. Basically a meat stick jerky.

1717960375417.png


The snack stick darkened a little, and it looks less red over time, but it tastes a good deal better than when fresh out of the smoker/sous vide. So good! So I'm going to change my aging recommendation from 2 weeks to 1 month now at room temperature (in a sealed bag with o2 absorber, of course).

On other news, I got my 14mm casings, and made two large batches (I have a new 15Qt commercial stand mixer and the LEM electric stuffer, so I can do larger quantities now).

1717960564781.png

1717960581138.png


I had to adjust my recipe a bit for the smaller casings. These were cooked 26.5 hours and it only took 3:30 mins to get them to IT via sous vide at 154F.

Unfortunately, I have to say they are a real disappointment. The sticks were made perfectly, but the casings are just too tough... Good snack sticks, but not great... I even used a vinegar bath to try to soften them and to no avail. These Viscofan 14mm casings are just not as good as my Devro 15mm casings. So now I have a caddy of em I won't really use. Oh well, at least I can go back to my 15mm casings.

One interesting development, however, is that I started using rate-of-pct-weight-loss calculations as a new measure. The problem is that not all of my batches are exactly the same fat-to-lean ratio. Some are 25/75 and some are 27/73 and some are 23/77, etc... This means I can't 100% rely on weight loss, since fat holds less water. This is why I ended a few of my leaner batches a bit too early, and a few of my fattier batches too late.

However, it does seem that water loss seems to follow the same trend regardless of the mix ratio. As a result, given I cook/smoke exactly the same way, I can determine when a recipe is "done" by looking at the percent weight loss over an hour of time. Right now that figure is ~0.48%/hr.

So I have a test snack stick, weigh the initial weight, and then capture the weight periodically. I then find the relative weight loss between the final two measurements, divide by the number of hours between them, and if the figure is less than 0.48, then it's done. This is how I figured out the equivalent cook time for the smaller diameter sticks and it worked out brilliantly. I suppose a similar method can be used for other diameters as well.
 
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