How to make deer kielbasa

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Terry Tischler holds up deer kielbasa in front of his homemade offset smoker on Feb. 3, 2024. (Liz Partsch photo)

BETHEL PARK, Pa. — Growing up on a farm in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, my dad spent most of his childhood in the woods, building tree stands and hunting for deer.

The Partsch family would celebrate the end of deer season every December by making homemade deer kielbasa using a recipe passed down through the generations. When Christmas came around, they would celebrate by sharing their kielbasa with the family.

My dad and his friends started making deer kielbasa about 15 years ago. Thinking back to his childhood, my dad dusted off the old recipe to be used once again, and boy have I reaped the benefits.

The deer products they’ve made have grown from when they first started: from deer kielbasa to deer chorizo, Italian sausage, breakfast sausage, maple breakfast sausage, bologna and deer jerky in a dehydrator.

Now, it has become a tradition that at the end of every January, the guys bring together their season prizes and spend a weekend grinding, mixing and smoking deer meat.

I decided to spend this year’s annual weekend learning how to make deer kielbasa from the best, which resulted in a total of 100 pounds of deer kielbasa and 200 pounds of various deer products.

smoked deer kielbasa
Deer kielbasa being smoked in Terry Tischler’s homemade offset smoker on Feb. 3, 2024. (Liz Partsch photo)

How to make deer kielbasa (Partsch recipe)

Recipe for deer kielbasa:

  • 3 lbs of trimmed deer meat cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 lbs of 25% pork shoulder or trimmings cubed
  • 2 tablespoons of garlic cloves
  • 2 tablespoons of salt
  • 1 tablespoon of black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons of paprika
  • 1 lb per 10 lbs of meat of high-temperature cheddar cheese (add or subtract based on preference)
  • 1 cup of ice water

Supplies:

  • Meat grinder
  • Several large bins
  • 35-38 mm sized hog casings
  • Weston 10 lb Stuffer (or sausage stuffer)
  • Neoprene gloves
  • A way to smoke the meat
  • Wood

Tip: Making deer kielbasa with a group is recommended as extra hands are helpful and make for a fun weekend activity. The steps below took place over 3 days.

Step 1: Prepare the meat. Cut the venison into cubes. Trim your pork meat. Do not cut off any fat. Keeping the fat on the pork is necessary as venison is an extremely lean meat.

cutting meat
Terry Tischler cutting the meat on Feb. 3, 2024. (Liz Partsch photo)

Step 2: Grind the meat. Grind both the venison and pork on a course grind until all of it or the desired amount of meat is ground. Grind two pounds of pork for every three pounds of venison.

Step 3: Make your filling. Grab a large bin and put the ground venison and pork meat in it. Then, add in the rest of the ingredients and hand mix with neoprene gloves.

We made the deer kielbasa in two 50-pound batches. To do this, we x10 the recipe so the ratio would be accurate.

Step 4: Grill a few test patties on a George Foreman grill. Take a handful of filling and press it into a patty. Using a George Foreman grill, fry a few patties and, after fully cooked, try the meat.

According to my dad, this is an essential step before you begin filling your casings. This will allow you to assess if any more spices are necessary to add to the filling.

Step 5: Fill your casings. Prepare the casings. First, wash the casings. Then, let them soak in hot water for about 30 to 45 minutes.

Natural casings come from sheep, cow and hog intestines, and as a result, come with a salted brine. You need to soak the casings to remove the salt.

Take the casings out of the water and blow into one of them until it becomes inflated. Starting from the bottom, push the casing onto the tube at the bottom of your sausage stuffer. Continue until the entire casing is on the tube and then tie a knot in the front.

Load the filling into the top of the sausage stuffer and place a large bin below the sausage stuffer to catch the filled casings. Crank the wheel as someone else holds the casing. Be sure to crank the wheel slowly, as the casing can easily rip if too much filling is being loaded in too fast. Once the casing is filled, tie a knot at the bottom and place it into the bin.

deer kielbasa
Bill Dugan cranks the wheel of a Weston stuffer while Bruce Cashdollar holds a casing as it’s being filled on Feb. 3, 2024. (Liz Partsch photo)

Step 6: Smoke your deer kielbasa. Take the bin of filled casings to your smoke machine of choice.

We used a homemade offset smoker created by my dad’s friend Terry Tischler to smoke our deer kielbasa, but you can also use a grill.

homemade offset smoker
Deer kielbasa hanging in Terry Tischler’s homemade offset smoker on Feb. 3, 2024. (Liz Partsch photo)

Terry created the smoker by welding together a toolbox and oil drum. To smoke the deer kielbasa, he hangs the filled casings on rods that slide into the toolbox. He then puts a bin with water in it below the links. The water helps “cook” the kielbasa similar to the way you steam broccoli. Once all links are loaded, he shuts the door and puts wood in the oil drum.

Terry Tischler deer kielbasa
(From left to right) Terry Tischler and Tony Koonse hang casings of deer kielbasa into the smoker on Feb. 3, 2024. (Liz Partsch photo)

We used a mixture of apple, sugar maple and hickory wood to smoke the kielbasa. The wood you use is important because each wood adds a different flavor profile: apple and maple bring a mild smoke flavor, while hickory brings a bold, harsh smoke flavor.

Smoke the kielbasa for two to three hours at roughly 200 to 225 degrees. Check on it routinely and flip over the links halfway through the smoking process to make sure the kielbasa gets an even smoke. It is done when a pinkish smoke ring appears in the link.

Step 7: Let the kielbasa cool. The kielbasa must cool completely before packing it up for storage.

deer kielbasa
Freshly smoked deer kielbasa ready to be packaged and stored long-term on Feb.3, 2024. (Liz Partsch photo)

Step 8: Prepare your kielbasa for proper storage. We vacuum seal ours, but you can also store yours in plastic bags or Tupperware and put it in the freezer.

deer kielbasa
Deer kielbasa packages are vacuum-sealed and ready to be put in the freezer on Feb. 3, 2024. (Liz Partsch photo)

Step 9: Eat and Enjoy! Take your deer kielbasa out of the freezer to thaw. Cook the kielbasa in the oven or on the stove. Eat and enjoy!

(Reporter Liz Partsch can be reached at epartsch@farmanddairy.com or 800-837-3419.)

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