After the meat has been ground, the next step is to mix the sausage and create what is known as the primary bind. Ground meat does not hold together on it’s own, so it has to be kneaded a little. The action of kneading develops the protein in the meat called myosin which, when combined with salt and water, will create a sticky mass of meat. This is the primary bind. Sausage that hasn’t been properly mixed will not have a uniform texture and, when cooked, will be similar to crumbly ground beef thats been stuffed in a sausage casing.
This is the time to add spices. All sausage recipes will require the addition of an ice-cold liquid (usually water, but sometimes alcohol or vinegar) in addition to the dry seasonings. You can add about 8% liquid in relation to the weight of the meat, which comes out to about 1 cup of liquid per 5 pound batch of sausage. Remember how we talked about keeping the meat cold when grinding? The same rule applies with mixing; try to keep the meat below 40°F to prevent the fat from smearing (this is why the liquid should be ice-cold).
It is a good idea to blend the spices in a blender with the cold liquid, then add this mixture to the ground meat throughout the mixing process. If you seasoned your meat prior to grinding, you’ll still want to add ice cold liquid; the liquid will help evenly distribute the spices and soften the meat mixture, making it easier to stuff into casings.
Mixing can be done several ways; with your hands, with a wooden spoon, or by using the paddle attachment on standing mixer. There are mixing machines, but these aren’t necessary unless you are mixing upwards of 50 pounds of meat. Just like grinding, mixing generates heat and there are a few things that should be done to prevent the sausage mixture from getting to warm. If mixing by hand or wooden spoon you should mix the sausage in a bowl that is set over ice, and if using a stand mixer, make sure the bowl and paddle attachment are chilled.
If using a stand mixer, mix the meat on low speed for one minute, add the ice-cold liquid, then mix on medium speed for another minute.
Mixing by hand generates the most heat (keep that mixing bowl set on ice!) which is why some people prefer to mix the sausage with a wooden spoon (still keep that bowl on ice). I prefer mixing with my hands, but both of these methods require a little muscle. This procedure is similar to kneading dough; you want to press and fold the meat together, adding the liquid throughout the process. This will take about 3-5 minutes.
No matter which method of mixing you choose, you are looking for the same outcome: the meat should look sticky and have a cohesive texture. This is the primary bind.
At this point you can do a taste test; make a small patty with your mixture and cook it. If you are not satisfied with the seasonings you can make some adjustments. Adding more seasoning is easy, but if you’ve over-seasoned, the only option is to add more ground meat.
What you have now is a loose sausage. Many recipes call for loose sausage (aka bulk sausage) for pizza toppings, spaghetti sauce, breakfast patties, etc. If your goal was to make your own loose sausage, congratulations, you’re done! If not, the next step is stuffing the sausage into casings.