There’s something sinister about sausages. It’s just a bit grim to grind up a slab of meat and cram it into a condom-like tube. Speaking of, what is sausage casing made of, and do I even want to know?
Turns out, there are a couple kinds of sausage casings. There are natural casings, which are made from all sorts of animal intestines (gross) and are popular for a few reasons. “A great, fresh sausage would be nothing without that quintessential snap,” says James Peisker, co-founder of Porter Road, a butcher shop in Nashville. “To get that snap, you’re going to need natural casings.”
For standard-sized sausages, Peisker says pork casings are the way to go, but lamb casings, which are more delicate, are better for smaller weenies, like breakfast links. “A natural casing provides enough strength to contain the meat without being too tough to chew,” he explains. “The only downside is that natural casings will burst if you put the sausage directly over high heat.” As such, he says a sausage in a natural casing should be started at low heat, which allows “the expanding sausage time to slowly stretch the casing.” Then, you can finish it over high heat to achieve a nice char.
There are also synthetic sausage casings, which are human-made and most often derived from collagen — specifically, the hides of cows and pigs. Some synthetic casings are edible and some aren’t. “Edible collagen casings have an almost paper-like feeling and appearance, and they’re typically found on already-cooked products, like snack sticks and pepperoni,” Peisker says.
Inedible collagen casings, meanwhile, are mostly used for smoked meat products and emulsified sausages, like bologna. “The sausage is formed by pumping meat into the casing, then the product is cooked, and the casing is removed and reused,” Peisker explains. “Small pores in the casing allow smoky flavors to permeate the sausage.”
Although not as common, synthetic cellulose casings are an option, too. They’re made of wood pulp or cotton, which makes them vegetarian, and need to be peeled off after cooking. There are several other edible vegetarian/vegan options made from some combination of water, starches, sugar and vegetable glycerin, a syrup typically made from soybean, coconut or palm oils.
And that just about covers sausage casings. I’m not exactly pleased with what I’ve learned, but will that stop me from slamming a succulent sausage on a warm summer day? Nah.