The University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Meat Science Club is biting into the science behind the artisanal world of sausage making.
At the Sausage Making 101 session — which was Feb. 28 and served as the club’s first event of the semester — Husker undergraduates learned how to grind, stuff and season sausage from experienced master’s and doctoral students. The session was part of the club’s larger initiative to provide students with hands-on, interactive experiences in meat science fields.
“We’re trying to increase exposure to meat science because most people don’t know that meat science is a career and an area of focus, so Sausage Making 101 was centered on introducing students to some of the core concepts,” said Gary Sullivan, associate professor of meat science and the club’s faculty adviser.
Students, dressed in white lab coats and hard hats, watched as doctoral students Rebecca Furbeck and Nicolas Herrera ground fresh Nebraska pork through a meat grinder in the Loeffel Meat Lab, highlighting the different plates and grinding options available.
Next, Furbeck and doctoral student Leila Venzor explained the vital differences between the sizes of sausage stuffer horns and casings.
For example, a narrower horn is used to make hot dogs, while a wider horn is used to make something like summer sausage. Some artificial sausage casings used by large manufacturers are meant to be removed, while natural casings are meant to be consumed. Students learned the intricacies of the casings, such as how to rinse the salt used to preserve a natural casing.
Fraizer Kaelin, a first-year grassland systems major, cranked sausage through the stuffer, while Venzor guided the meat and spice mixture into the casing, demonstrating how to make various sizes of sausages.
After the behind-the-scenes lessons at Loeffel Meat Lab, students tasted a variety of variations (from chorizo to andouille) while learning the history of sausages — which started as a way to make use of all parts of an animal — and the importance of salt.
The event concluded with a sausage-making contest, giving students the opportunity to apply what they learned. Students were offered access to spices to create their own variation and judges selected winners — one, a chorizo-inspired sausage, the other flavored with honey and spice.
Sausage making has long been an integral part of the Meat Science Club, which launched in 2019. One of its founders, Faith Rasmussen, crafted a national award-winning jalapeño popper bratwurst that’s still for sale seasonally in the Loeffel Meat Shoppe.
“It started with some discussion among students trying to figure out how to connect both graduate and undergraduate students that had a focus and interest in meat science,” Sullivan said.
The club, whose inaugural president was Furbeck, provides students with a range of activities and opportunities to engage in and learn more about meat science.
“We don’t want students to feel like they’re just coming to another lecture after spending a full day at class,” said Avery Vieregger, the club’s president.
Members have the opportunity to go on tours of packing plants, present posters on research, compete in competitions, learn from industry experts, join a Quiz bowl team and travel to the Reciprocal Meat Conference.
Vieregger, a senior animal science major with a meat science emphasis, joined the club her sophomore year during their annual chop challenge and became president when the former president went to graduate school.
“I’ve made a lot of amazing relationships with professors and graduate students through the club,” Vieregger said. “I’ve gotten jobs and internships through meeting industry leaders with the club, and so have others within the Meat Science Club.”
Vieregger is in the process of rebuilding and revamping the club after the onset of COVID-19. She’s worked with and listened to past members and is working to get and keep people involved, and Sausage Making 101 was just one step toward that goal.