By Spencer Neuharth

With the 2016 season behind us, it’s time to knock out some offseason chores. Since I began hunting a decade ago, a staple of my Februarys has always been making deer sausage with my family. It’s an incredibly satisfying day, turning a freezer of roasts into a freezer of sausage, but one thing about the process has always irked me – the heavy reliance on pork fat.

It’s no secret that venison on its own is super lean. To compensate, most butchers and processors cut the final product with a large dose of pork or beef. This serves a number of purposes, like adding flavor, moisture and composition. Ratios vary, but the majority of the recipes out there call for 30-50% pork fat. What if I stop using pork fat all together, though?

This is a question that’s come up in a number of forums. Here are some of the responses I’ve found, which seem to be a good representative of how the hunting community feels about this topic.

“You will not produce a good sausage without adding fat. Venison is just too lean.”

“We just made venison sausage. Trust me, you’re not going to want to leave out the pork.”

“You must add fat, or the final product will be dry and crumble.”

That’s a pretty damning set of replies. However, there is one voice that disagrees with the herd. It comes from Chef Derek St. Romain at Game & Fish magazine, who claims to have a recipe for award winning sausage that is 100% venison. I reached out to him to see exactly what the hype is all about.

Instead of using pork or beef in his sausage, he opts for a heavy dose of vegetables and some powdered milk. The vegetables add flavor and moisture, while the powdered milk acts as a binder and holds everything together. Derek is confident this is one of the best venison sausage recipes out there, but notes that this technique doesn’t freeze well.

The problem with freezing sausage like this is that the vegetables don’t retain their moisture like they do when they’re fresh. If you do decide to freeze sausage like this, Derek did have a few pointers for how to get a better final product.

For one, he recommended using mushrooms in the veggie mix, as they do better frozen than most other options. Also, during the cooking process, heat the sausages up in a liquid, like wine, beer or water, which will help the meat gain some moisture.

I did find some other options online as well, like a product called Fat Replacer from TheSausageMaker.com. The magical powder is made of microcrystalline cellulose and konjac, a subtropical plant from Asia. The product brags of being flavorless, while acting like fat in providing moisture and composition.

Either way, it seems like there are a number of good options out there for leaving the pork out of venison processing. I’ll be experimenting in the coming weeks and will be sure to report back.