Historically, sausages were the first “fast food.” They were hand-holdable, and the packaging was edible too. Keeping that in mind, it’s not surprising that the intestines of pigs, cows, and sheep became part of the equation and are still the best casings.

The first choice is medium-size hog casings, followed by thin sheep casings. Instead of buying one, make it hog casings. If fill it with less meat mixture, one can make sausages as thin as those formed in a sheep casing. One pound of sausage mixture fills about two feet of hog casings and about four feet of sheep casings. Collagen casings are also available. They’re natural because they’re made from the connective tissue of animals. Collagen is the tissue that turns meltingly tender when meat is braised and it turns into gelatin. Collagen casings don’t stretch like natural casings, making them difficult to work with.

Here’s how to prepare casings so they’re ready for stuffing:

  1. Gently pull strands off the hank. Depending on the brand you buy, they may either be tied together in the center with a plastic twist tie or just a mass of strands in a plastic bag.
  2. Rinse the exteriors well under cold running water. This is the first step to riding them of excess salt and making them pliable.
  3. Put the casings in a bowl, cover with lukewarm water, and soak for 20 minutes. The meat for almost all sausage recipes chills for 30 minutes prior to grinding it, so this soaking doesn’t slow down the process.
  4. Rinse them inside with cold water. If you think that those plastic bags in the produce section of the supermarket are hard to get open, they’re a snap compared with a length of sausage casing! Start by cutting off a snip from one of the ends, and have a kitchen funnel handy. Pull apart the newly cut top of the casing, and insert the tip of the funnel. Pull about 3 inches of casing onto the funnel. Make sure your sink is empty, because this next part is similar to filling up water balloons; you want to slowly run cold water through the funnel to rinse the salt out of the interior of the casing, straighten the casing, and make it wider. While doing this, the casing will be flying all over the sink. You’ll soon get the hang of it. Then remove the casing from the funnel.
  5. Put the casings in a bowl, cover with lukewarm water and 1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar, and soak until you need them. The vinegar both softens the casings, and makes them more transparent so they look nicer on the finished sausages. You can soak them this way for up to 30 minutes.