Casings for sausages, salami and other charcuterie
Sausage casings come in a variety of different sizes and material both natural and artificial. Some people choose to forego casings entirely! This brief guide will walk you through some of the different types of casing, what they are used for and how to prepare them.
Why use casings?
Sausage casings are an fairly essential part of making sausages. Their job is to encase the sausage meat so that the sausage holds it’s shape, keeping the meat, fat, herbs and spice together. When cooked well, they also add that all important “snap” when biting into a sausage.
When making salami and other charcuterie, the sausage casings can help regulate the evaporation of moisture to create an evenly dried product.
What are casings made from?
Natural casings are made from animal intestines, whereas manufactured artificial casings are made of cellulose, collagen or synthetic materials. They are flushed, scraped and cleaned with water and salt by machinery. They are then salted to lower the water activity (which inhibits microbial growth) and preserve the casing.
Different animals and different parts of the intestine yield different diameters and shapes, that help characterise the different types of sausage or salami that they are used for. The “Beef Runner” for example is used for Black Pudding and the curve that it naturally exhibits is often associated with the black pudding you’ll see hanging in a butchers shop window. They can range from 36mm wide up to 46mm.
How to store
Casings stored in salt should last 6 months in the fridge. I keep mine in salt in the freezer but although i have have heard people mention that this will damage the integrity of them, i haven’t had a problem so far!
If you buy a large pack of casings, you’ll find they come in huge lengths, all bundled up. As soon as they arrive, i remove all of them from the packaging and split them out into 3 meter lengths (enough to feed 4 / 6 people or make one hell of a boerewors). I then make sure there is enough salt on them (you need a really heavy covering of salt) and then i wrap each 3 meter length into a ball, in clingfilm, add them to a freezer bag labelled with type, length and date, and store in the freezer / fridge.
How to prepare for use
Before stuffing your casings, it is essential to rinse all salt off the casings by soaking them in fresh water. The ideal temperature is between 15c and 30c. Water hotter than 30c may damage the strength and integrity of the casings. Some people recommend adding vinegar to the water used for rinsing, but i haven’t found this to make a difference.
Hog casings come in a number of different thicknesses, but will generally be used for your average sized sausage or to make thin salami.
Hog casings should be soaked for at least two hours, or overnight.
Sheep casings come in a number of different thicknesses and generally of a smaller diameter than hog casings and are generally use to make thinner sausages like merguez, or “pepperami” like salami.
Sheep casings should be soaked for at least 45 minutes.
Beef casings casings come in a number of different thicknesses and generally a larger diameter than hog casings. They are used for thicker sausages such as linconshire sausages as well as cured meats such as chorizo and other salamis
Beef casings should be soaked overnight.
Beef bungs are the largest of the casings listed here and come from the cows appendix! These are used to make haggis, mortadella and bresaola.
Beef bungs should be soaked overnight.
Note: Do NOT sniff the beef bungs, you have been warned.
Are vegetarian and vegan casings available?
I’ve yet to perfect the art of vegan sausage making, but i’ve had success with the following product from Amazon: Tongmaster Vegetarian Sausage Casing Skins, 23 mm (https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B009GFBKEU/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o04_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1) and i’ve also tried these 23mm vegetarian casings from Weschenfelder (https://www.weschenfelder.co.uk/sausage-casings-skins/vegetarian-casings/new-vegetal-vegetarian-casings-23mm.html).
Where to buy casings
I order mine online from either sausagemaking.org (https://sausagemaking.org/collections/sausage-casings) or Weschenfelder (https://www.weschenfelder.co.uk/sausage-casings-skins.html). Both offer great products and deliver reliably!