Venison Snack Sticks
This time of the year, we go through a lot of jerky and snack sticks. Long sits in the deer stand, scouting trips, out-of-town hunts, deer camp, they all just scream for the salty, savory snacks. It just so happens that this time of year also sees the need to empty the last few packs of the previous season's venison from the freezer, and snack sticks are the perfect way to use them up.
Not only do the homemade version of the quintessential gas station treat taste better than just about anything you can buy in the store, you know exactly what is going into them, making them a much healthier alternative to mass produced snacks.
Since I grind a lot of my venison in a 70/30 blend with pork or beef fat, the ratios are already correct for most snack stick mixes. I simply have to thaw the appropriate number of packages for the mix I am using, blend in the seasoning and cure mix, then use the Weston Sausage Stuffer or Jerky gun to stuff the meat into 21mm casings.
For this batch, we used a kit from Hi Mountain, but we experiment all of the time with different kits and flavors. Try a bunch and find the one you like the best. A handy tip when trying new kits is to blend the appropriate amount of seasoning with a small amount of the ground meat, no need to add any cure. Form it into a patty and give it a test fry. You will know right away if you like the seasoning mixture, or if you think it needs more or less spice. If you like it, go ahead and mix up the entire batch. If you don't, then you didn't waste a lot of meat with a batch of snack sticks you don't care for.
I like to mix the cure and seasoning with the meat, then refrigerate the mixture overnight before stuffing. This allows the flavor to permeate the meat fully. Let the meat mixture sit at room temperature for 30 minutes prior to stuffing the casings.
Most kits include 21mm collagen casings. These casings don't require soaking in water, but they do benefit from an overnight stint in the fridge to soften them a bit. The casings can be left in a continuous rope, or can be twisted into links as they fill. I prefer leaving them long through the cooking process, then cutting to length when they are finished. Prick each casing a few times before cooking to allow excess fat to drip from the snack sticks as they cook.
Cooking the sticks can be accomplished in the oven, on a smoker, or in a temperature-controlled dehydrator that can be set to at least 160 degrees. I start out low, around 145 to 150 degrees for an hour, then turn the temperature up to 170 degrees and continue to cook until the snack sticks reach an internal temperature of 150 degrees.
As soon as the sausage reaches temperature, I remove it from the oven or smoker and immediately submerge it in ice water for 10 minutes to set the fat inside the sticks. From that point, the sticks can be cut to length and vacuum sealed to be stored in the freezer until needed.