Let’s talk about sausage skins—and why, these days, they’re so tough.

Sausages are made by stuffing meat (and sometimes other things) into casings or skins so that they will hold their elongated shape while cooking.

But some cooks have started to notice that some sausage skins have become tougher than they used to be. Some home cooks who make their own sausages can sometimes discover that their casings are tougher than they might like unless they are careful.

A Brief History of Sausage Casings

A page of Spruce Eats notes that the first time people stuffed food into a casing, the casing consisted of a goat’s stomach, sometime around 4,000 BC. Early civilizations used both animal stomachs and intestines as casings.

Modern natural casings consist of a substance called submucosa, the naturally-occurring collagen in a farm animal’s intestines. Any farm animal will do—goats, sheep, cattle, pigs, even horse.

Some manufacturers have gone over to synthetic casings. These casings can consist of collagens derived from animal hide, though bone and tendons are sometimes added. Other artificial casings consist of cellulose derived from wood pulp or cotton seeds.

Some sausage makers even use plastic, which is inedible and should be avoided at all costs. If you do find yourself eating a sausage that has a plastic casing, cut the casing off before consuming it. The advantage of artificial casings is that the manufacturers can control the size and weight of the sausages with more precision.

Avoiding Tough Sausage Casings at the Store

The problem with buying sausages at the supermarket is that most labels do not indicate what the casings are made of. The best way to make sure your casings are not tough is to go to a butcher and ask him what he uses. A decent butcher will use pig or lamb casings, the latter of which will work for those people who don’t eat pork.

Homemade Sausages

One solution to making sure that your sausage casings are not tough and chewy is to make your own sausages. You’ll need a meat grinder and a sausage stuffer, the latter of which can run you several hundred dollars. But making your own sausages gives you more control over what they are made of.

However, as we’ll note below, some pitfalls exist that may make your sausage casings tough and chewy no matter what they are made of. Fortunately, fixes are available.

Dealing with a Tough Sausage Casing

Suppose you’ve bought some sausages and find that the casings are just a little tough. Or maybe you have made your own and the same thing has happened.

When making sausages, according to Grill Simply, a mistake some people make is to not to soak and flush the casings beforehand. Natural casings are often salted to keep them firm and to protect them against bacteria. Unfortunately, the salt also tends to harden the casings.

Soak your casings in water and vinegar from four hours to overnight. The water will soak out the salt and the vinegar will soften the casings. Before stuffing the casings with meat, flush out the inside of the casing with running lukewarm water.

Another mistake some people make is to store the sausage casings for too long in less than optimal conditions. Sausage casings can last in the refrigerator for about a year without starting to harden as long as they are kept dry and salted. However, the moment that moisture hits them the casings will start to go bad.

Freezing casings is also a mistake. Frozen casings will actually start to break down with some parts getting chewy and tough.

For most sausages, you should not buy or use artificial casings. However, these are good for making summer sausages. Just remember to remove the casings before eating.

Fixing Hard Casings

If for some reason your sausage casings are still tough, whether you bought the sausages at the store or made them yourself, some easy fixes still exist.

One thing you can do is to piece your sausages with a fork or skewer. Piercing your sausage will allow fat and air to escape the sausage while cooking, allowing the inside to cook evenly, if at the expense of coming out dry. Piercing five or six times evenly around the sausage will also help to prevent it from toughening up during the cooking process.

One mistake that some home cooks make is to cook their sausages straight out of the refrigerator. You should take them out about an hour or two before cooking to allow them to come up to room temperature. That way you will better ensure an even cook.

Where Can You Get Sausage Casings?

If you do decide to make your own sausages, you’ll need to know where to get good-quality casings. One way to get casings is to ask your local butcher. He might be able to order some for you. Some supermarkets carry casings as well as Walmart. Of course, you can also order them online, including at Amazon.

According to Ehow, the general rule for buying casings is two feet per pound of meat and filling. Pork casings work well for German-style sausages such as bratwurst. Hot dogs or simple breakfast sausages are best made with lamb casings. Salami and other hard sausages are best with beef casings.

Do You Actually Need Casings on a Sausage?

Some address the problem of the tough, chewy casings by leaving them off entirely. Sausages without casings, or as many call them, skinless sausages, are available at the supermarket. Some purveyors of sausages will make them with casings to make sure they keep the elongated shape. Then, they remove the casings before packaging.

Homemade skinless sausages according to Home Kitchen Talk, are made much the same way as meatballs but are rolled out in an elongated shape. Some clever home cooks will roll the meat and spice mixture in a rolled-up square of parchment paper to make the elongated shape and then freeze it.

Generally, a skinless sausage is best pan-fried. But you can also place it on a skewer and grill it much like a kebab.