Weenies

About Sausage and Weenies

I have to correct misimpressions about our encased meats about once a year as new customers come on board and are learning the rules of the road to good and wholesome eating. Some are surprised that JVF, a clean, wholesome and local farm would offer sausage and weenies. That’s understandable since these products have a deserved reputation that is less than savory.

Let’s start with the easiest one, link sausage, usually found in your cooler as bratwurst, andouille or Italian. What is the problem with commercially produced sausages? The answer is twofold. Long time manufacturers add all of the organ meats to their links. Organ meats are good but are also the quickest to spoil especially when being handled in huge quantities and then shipped all over the planet. Secondly, nitrate preservatives must be added to act as a failsafe against bad bacteria. Both of these hazards can be triggered by any number of intermittent failures. E.G., the coolers at the plant, on the truck, on the plane or in the grocery can rise above safe temperatures and trigger an outburst of bacteria. Not good.

How is our sausage different? We do not use organs, only meat and the animal fats and since we do not cook or even smoke the sausages, there is no regulation requiring the addition of preservatives. So what you have is meat and fat with seasonings in a pure protein wrapper. Clean and wholesome meat like everything else in your cooler from JVF. End of story.

Weenies are a bit different because they are a cooked product. All weenies wherever found are emulsified, explaining the more homogenized texture. The process of emulsification also cooks the meat simultaneously and this is when the big bad USDA steps in, mandating that all cooked meat products shall contain nitrates. No matter that we are not Oscar Meyer and our weenies only travel from Schulenberg to Houston. So, our weenies contain the minimum dose of nitrates considering how close they are to our eaters.

So what about the alternative to nitrates, substituting garlic powder and celery seed? Turns out the combo of natural ingredients form exactly the same result – nitrates. Molecularly indistinguishable. Same result in the weenie and in your body. So what’s the point? There is none.

Our last analysis involved researching the alleged harm of nitrates. The short answer is this: don’t eat 10 of our weenies a day, year after year. If you did, there could be a correlation but no demonstrable causative effect from consuming our weenies. We think you are fine, we eat them, our children and grandchildren eat them and they are very popular with our customers. We only send a 4-pack about 7 months of the year. You’ll be fine and you will enjoy an unadulterated weenie occasionally. Hot dogs almost define us as a nation! Teddy Roosevelt served them to world leaders visiting the White House for goodness sake! How could Teddy be wrong?

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Why the Weenie?

Many of you wonder why our farm would produce a hot dog weenie. Here's the history and the process we went through to deliver the finest, healthiest weenie you can find. Is it perfect? Almost.

First, understand that weenies got a bad rap all the way back to the 1930's when Upton Sinclair wrote his expose' on meat packing plants in Chicago, spurring the US's first really strict set of food slaughter and processing regulations (written but not always enforced, as we know.). The weenie was a prime target because "everything else but the meat" usually went into the casing. This of course included the organs - liver, kidney, brain, heart, intestines - parts that while often very nutritious were also quickest to spoil.

So the point is that weenies still suffer today from what happened during an era more than 3 generations ago. In terms of the content, our weenie contains none of those organ parts, only the meat and the oleic oil-like fat of a pig.

But here's where the regulators step in. They assume we are in unregulated mega-plants in Chicago in the 1940's. So all weenies sold in the US must have preservatives, period. The nitrates. They make no exceptions. So what do we do about that? Deep research into the issue followed, to wit: we first looked at what is promoted as "the natural preservative", celery root and garlic. You will see those ingredients on weenie labels marked as containing "only natural ingredients.". Seemed like a solution until we learned that celery and garlic transmute into exactly the same molecular structure as nitrates when cooked into the weenie. That solution seemed misleading to us and we always want our product to be accurately represented. So we talked to the regulators, explained our dilemma, and did gain this advantage in our weenie - we were allowed the absolutely lowest level of preservatives allowed in any weenie purchased anywhere. How can you see this for yourself? Nitrates add a red color to any product in which it is included. So compare our salmon-blush color to say the dark red of an Oscar Meyer.

OK, so what about those other unfamiliar ingredients found on our label? All have to do with the casing. The casing is made from pure protein sources (the tendons which attach the muscle to the bone). Those ingredients come from the process of turning that protein into a useable casing. There is no known link between them and disease.

Before deciding to go forward with our weenie, we took one further step. What was the relationship between nitrate preservatives and disease? We were surprised to find very little evidence of a correlation and no evidence of a causative link. The one possible correlation is between nitrates and colon disease. It is a slim correlation, not at all definitive, and would require a much higher and regular dose of nitrates than you could ever ingest eating our weenie even 4 times per month.

We eat JVF weenies as soon as a new batch is made and feed them to our children and grandchildren. We suggest that the good so offsets the questionable that it is the best, cleanest and most nutritious weenie on the market. Whether you decide the same or not, at least you know we have made every effort to ensure a clean and healthy product for you and your family. We endorse them.

Housekeeping

Preservatives, Not.

It’s time for the semi-annual explanation of a number of issues, starting with how our foods are unadulterated despite required labeling that might lead to a different conclusion. The prime contradiction is found in our link sausage packaging which declares that our sausage contains preservatives - they don’t! So why the label?

The only label our Mom & Pop butcher shop has is for smoked sausage. Smoked sausage must have preservatives added. However, all of our sausage is “fresh” (uncooked) sausage, which does not require preservatives. Nonetheless, on goes the preservatives label because, they say, it “keeps the inspector happy”. Oh well. Take it from us, our sausage does not contain preservatives.
Weenies are a different story. They do contain preservatives, but the very minimum allowed by the regulations. We were allowed that because our weenies don’t travel long distances. Brenham to Houston is a lot shorter trip than Chicago to Houston.

Packaging.

We seemed to have a spike in broken seals lately which of course defeats the purpose of paying for vacuum-sealed meats, for us and for you. We are on this problem like ducks on a June bug. There are 3 points at which the packages might be handled too roughly and we are inspecting at each of those points. If we find broken seals, they are corrected immediately. Please let us know if you receive any broken seal packages.

Hot Piggity Dog

The JVF weenies are back from our little Polish weenie maker in Schulenberg. For our newest customers who have not enjoyed the JVF weenie, some explanation.

Years ago, we decided to make a hot dog weenie from our pastured and grass-fed pork and beef (the beef version is the “Farm-tastic Frank”). We of course wanted ours to be top-shelf stuff; no organ meats or other unmentionables, no drugs, no steroids; every bit of it from prime cuts raised in natural freedom. We refined the recipe over several attempts, made the labels, and went through the approval process with the state departments of health and agriculture. This version is our pork dog, made from the whole hams of our clean porkers. You can now eat hot dogs that are actually good for you.

A couple of notes. The only “manufactured” portion of the weenie is the casing, which is derived from protein sources and, we are told, contain nothing artificial. The other note is about nitrates. Texas is pretty darned conservative when it comes to preservatives. Try as we might, the state would not excuse us from including nitrates in our weenie, but they did allow us the very minimum amount. You can tell by the mild color that that is the case. The redder the weenie, the higher the nitrate content. You couldn’t call ours red at all. Pink is closer to it. But many will ask how other weenies in the store and on the web advertise as “nitrate-free”. Those dogs have substituted garlic powder and ground celery seed. Guess what – the result is the exact equivalent of nitrate you find in our weenie.

Other notes about nitrates. While we would rather not have them simply because they are a red flag to some, the fact is that their connection to any sort of disease is very weak; secondly, if you eat one or two of ours a month, you are nowhere near anyone’s suggested hazard level. My last comment is from Salatin, who also makes weenies, and who claims that grasses are a natural detoxicant, hence the nitrates are neutralized.

Best cooking method: fry in a skillet with butter; when the casing starts to blister on all sides, they are at their eating best.

The Eaters Write

We always appreciate hearing from you. It gives us a chance to explain our mission when your letters sometimes express misconceptions about our meats. We recently got a note that expressed a desire for more ground pork and beef but less sausage because, “I don’t know what sausage is made from.” The concern was understandable — sausage, including hot dog weenies, have had a deservedly bad rap sheet for a long time. The bad rap comes from the fact that otherwise unsellable (and often inedible) parts were blended in to add weight and avoid waste. On top of that, sausage factories were neither the cleanest places in the food world but also were dealing with meat that was well beyond its fresh state, always transported again from the point of original processing to the ‘junk yard’, the sausage maker. That was not so in every case but probably was the dominant process. So the only way to make that sausage work was to add bacteria killing bleaches and then injecting preservatives out the wazoo (in some cases in the wazoo). BUT that’s not us! Here are the differences:

  1. Sausage is ground pork or beef, the same fresh and balanced stuff you have in your package labeled as such. In most cases, these ground products come from the rear leg of the pig or beeve, in other words, the hams or the hindquarter respectively. Why? Because these are often the toughest part of the cuts and grinding them breaks the tendons that are causing the toughness.
  2. We never put inedibles in our sausage.
  3. Grinding and sausage making all happens simultaneously at our same butcher shop in La Grange.

These cuts are treated no differently than say a porterhouse chop or a ribeye steak. Bottom line: if you like our ground meats, then you must like our sausage. It’s just ground meat with spices added.

It’s good for us all.

Salt and Its Cousin, Nitrates

With the recent study implicating a low-salt diet as the wrong way to go for heart health (low sodium actually increased the risk of heart disease while normal levels reduced same), it is time to take another look at salt’s cousin, nitrates and nitrites. This is a topic that has interested me ever since we perfected our Hot Piggety Dogs and Farm-tastic Franks. The State requires the addition of nitrates as a preservative, though we managed to limit the dose to as little as possible (which is why our weenies are so bland in color. The deeper the red color you see in grocery store dogs, the higher the content of nitrates. Ours are mild by comparison.)

Despite the low dose found in our only product containing preservatives, I am and always have been interested in understanding why nitrates have been implicated as a possibly deleterious preservative. The only correlation I have been able to find is as a possible contributor to colon cancer. The correlation, however, is very mild and inconclusive. I suspect the danger, if there is any, comes from eating too much food containing nitrates. Please let me know if you know of research otherwise.

Hot Piggity Dogs and Farm-tastic Franks

We occasionally have questions about the relative stiffness of our hot dog weenies and how to cook them. They are stiffer than the average Oscar Meyer version because the ratio of meat to fat is higher in ours. That’s intentional, because we are making a dog that is actually good for you. So how do you soften them a bit so that the texture is more akin to what your expectation is in a weenie? Grill or fry them until they split open. Try something new — braise your steaks and chops. In other words, cook them low and slow. You can do it on the stove top in a covered skillet. Ooooh those juices!