Teriyaki snack sticks sweep News Tribune's Great Venison Sausage ContestWisconsin meat markets dominated the News Tribune’s fourth annual Great Venison Sausage contest, and teriyaki blends won both the commercial and amateur divisions.
By: Sam Cook, Duluth News Tribune
Wisconsin meat markets dominated the News Tribune’s fourth annual Great Venison Sausage contest, and teriyaki blends won both the commercial and amateur divisions.
Three judges performed a taste-testing marathon, circling the entry tables for an hour on Wednesday while sampling about 36 entries.
“This doesn’t seem right without a beer,” said Sgt. Mark Baker of the Minnesota State Patrol, one of the judges.
Superior Meats took first and third places in the commercial division with its smoked teriyaki snack sticks and smoked bacon/cheddar snack sticks, respectively. Jim’s Meat Market in Iron River, a perennial top-three finisher and former winner, took second place with its smoked barbecue snack sticks.
“Are you sure that’s right?” said Jens Gregorson of Jim’s Meat Market, tongue in cheek. “We might need a recount.”
Sorry, Jens. The judges have spoken.
In the amateur category, Jon Capriglione of Fredenberg Township won for the first time with a delicious teriyaki smoked snack stick. Second place went to a venison sausage made with apple wood chips by Russ Kunkel of Hines (near Blackduck). Bill Nelson of Duluth took third with his smoked pepper cheese styx. (That’s right, “styx.”)
This year’s judges brought a law enforcement flavor to the contest. Besides state trooper Baker, judges included Duluth-area
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources conservation officer Kipp Duncan and Cloquet eighth-grader Deke Vereecken, whose dad is a state trooper.
All samples were numbered for the competition, so judges didn’t know whose sausage or snack sticks they were tasting.
The winners speak
Capriglione, the amateur winner, said he’s been smoking his own venison snack sticks for the past four years.
“I’ve always liked to cook,” he said. “I thought, ‘I’ll try my own and see how it turns out.’ ”
His smoked teriyaki snack sticks turned out well, the judges said.
“I like teriyaki,” Baker said. “But you could taste the venison more than in some others. It didn’t hide the venison.”
Capriglione uses PS Seasonings (www.psseasoning.com) out of Iron Ridge, Wis., for his basic seasoning, adding two kinds of liquid teriyaki mix he buys at the grocery store.
He says he always uses apple wood when he smokes his snack sticks.
“A lot of (smoking recipes) say to wet down the wood first,” Capriglione said. “But with apple wood, you don’t have to wet it down, and it produces good smoke.
“The key is the temperature. You have to make sure that first hour they’re smoking at 150 to 160 degrees. Then for the last two hours, you don’t want it above 180.”
Capriglione also has made a habanero stick and a brown sugar stick.
Billy Pike of Gary New Duluth has been buying Superior Meats products for years and decided to submit several of their smoked snack sticks for the contest. Superior Meats’ teriyaki snack sticks took first place and its bacon-cheddar snack sticks took third place.
Pike said he doesn’t have much of the teriyaki left in his refrigerator.
“I don’t have much willpower,” he said.
Birch Chilman, meat cutter and sausage maker at Superior Meats, said he began making the teriyaki snack sticks when he joined the firm five years ago.
“It’s turned into one of our best sellers,” he said.
Teriyaki-flavored sticks are a perennial favorite among hunters.
Chilman said he mixes half venison and half pork in his teriyaki snack sticks.
“I put together the seasonings for it myself,” he said. “We use soy sauce and brown sugar to bring out the teriyaki flavor.”
In the bacon/cheddar snack stick, Superior Meats uses a summer sausage seasoning mix.
“We use our own bacon, taking the ends and pieces, and grind those,” Chilman said. “We cook it until the grease is out of it, then add that back in. It really gets the flavor in it.”
Both the teriyaki and bacon/cheddar sticks are smoked for eight hours at 100 degrees, then turned up to 150 to 155 at the end, Chilman said.
It works, said the judges.
“I liked the sweetness,” Vereecken said.
“And you didn’t have the aftertaste,” Baker added.
Jim’s Meat Market in Iron River has been making its smoked barbecue snack sticks for a couple of years, said Jens Gregorson.
“We found this one in a seasoning,” he said. “It’s sweeter. I liked it. My friend is a Superior policeman. It’s really popular with the Superior cops.”
Winners in each category receive a $50 gift certificate from a local merchant. Second place was worth $20, and third place $10.
The News Tribune thanks everyone who submitted their sausages and snack sticks and made the contest a success.