When it comes to making sure that your food grills exactly the way that it should, there are quite a few things that you need to think about. Of course, you need to make sure that you have your grill in good condition, and everything needed for the grill is completely taken care of. At the same time, you need to make sure that you are making the most out of the materials that you have.
For instance, most people know that sausages, among other meats, usually have a particular kind of casing. This casing is there when the sausage, or other meat, is placed onto the grill, and it is designed to be cooked alongside the meat of the sausage itself. Choosing the right casing is going to make an impact on how the sausage tastes, feels, and how it is generally received.
There are two main types of casing that you will need to pay attention to. There are the collagen casings, which are commonly referred to as artificial casings. There are also natural casings, which are made from a variety of natural materials. Knowing the differences between these two is going to be key when it comes to making your sausage taste amazing on the grill.
First things first, knowing what exactly is in each type of casing, knowing its history, and understanding how people work with the casing is going to help you get a good idea of which one is best suited to your grilling needs.
What Is Collagen Casing?
Collagen casing, which is often referred to as artificial casing, is something that has been continuously developed over the course of the past several years to become what it is today. After all, it was designed to compete against natural casings. Generally, they are made up of collagen, cellulose, and/or synthesized films. These films can be of a material such as nylon.
They come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and appearances, making them suitable for everything from salami to sausage to hot dogs, depending on what exactly you are in the mood to grill today. Artificial casings also have quite a bit more variety when it comes to the colors, their spices, smoke flavorings, and so on. In a sense, there is just about every single kind of casing that you can think of when it comes to these artificial casings.
The main goal of these cases is to resemble their natural counterparts as much as possible, making them nearly identical in moisture content and how you dry them. This means that, unless you are using a product that is wildly different than natural casings, you can expect collagen casings to be fairly easy to use.
One thing to note is that there is a version of collagen casing, known as cellulose casings, that are meant to be peelable. This allows you to use them for “skinless” products of your choosing.
Of course, the way you use these particular casings is much different than other casings, and some special care is required, but most natural casing doesn’t have this option to even consider.
What Is Natural Casing?
While natural casings do have a considerable amount of collagen in them, they are not to be confused with collagen casing. Natural casings have been used for centuries, ever since people realized they could use the intestines of animals as casing for a sausage-like meal. From there, the use of these casings has evolved into what it is today.
They are made from a combination of collagen and a particular animal’s intestinal tract (stripped of all content, of course). The casing is then stripped of the fatty outer layer, cleaned, and salted to make sure that bacteria doesn’t grow on it while it is drying. Because of the way that they are made, they have a characteristic tenderness and permeability that many people can appreciate.
Depending on the size casing you need, the materials will be taken from different animals. Sheep are usually the smallest, with the walls of the casing being thinner and more tender than the others.
Larger casings are often used in smokehouses, as they can support the weight of the meat inside, allowing them to be strung up. More often than not, larger casing is made from beef.
Because of the materials used in these casings, there is a lot to consider with the sensitivity to moisture. Rather than being able to check whether or not a casing is moisture-proof the way you can with artificial casings, you will need to have a little bit of knowledge of natural casings to make everything work. In a way, natural casings are best suited to grillers who enjoy the process of creating a meal from scratch.
Considering the Sensitivity to Moisture and the Microbial Environment
Two of the most important areas you are going to need to think about are the moisture that could potentially find its way into the casing, and the bacteria that could be waiting to make its home in your brand-new sausage creation. Nobody wants to serve up freshly grilled bacteria.
One of the reasons why natural casing isn’t really the best for beginners is that it is very sensitive to moisture that can get into it. When collagen in natural casing becomes wet, it becomes soft and weak.
If the natural casing is left out to dry for a little too long, it becomes too hard to comfortably eat. This makes it very important to find the proper balance of moisture if you are planning to use natural casings when you are grilling.
Likewise, because natural casings are quite literally animal intestines, there is going to be bacteria on them whether you keep your cooking area clean or not. As long as you properly salt your natural casings, you should be able to keep the worst of the bacteria at bay.
While salting casings is easy, it is yet another step in the cooking process that some people might not appreciate.
Which Is Better?
While it is completely up to the opinion of the person using the casing, it is a definite fact that natural casings are not beginner-friendly. This also means that unless you are completely serious about every detail when you are cooking, they are not going to be the best casing for people who simply enjoy grilling food casually. Of course, there is the tradition and the quality of natural casing, but for most families, the trouble isn’t going to be worth the difference.
Collagen casings, and other artificial casings, have much more variety and you can choose exactly how sensitive to moisture they are going to be. There are different colors, flavors, and sizes that you don’t have the freedom of choosing if you work with natural casings. For more casual cooking purposes, collagen casings are going to be the best. With all of this being said, if you are completely serious about your grilling, and you want to cook and smoke your meats from scratch, the effort that you put into caring for natural casings might be well worth it for their unique taste in the end. You just have to be willing to put up with the amount of care that they require.