This homemade deli-style headcheese is surprisingly easy to make, it’s delicious, and the best part is that you know exactly what’s in it. We show you how to make it using a Ham Maker, and also how to make it with no special equipment at all!
This recipe and tutorial is for making the kind of headcheese that you get at the deli counter of a grocery store or deli. It doesn’t contain any head meat nor is it cheese. Instead, it uses ground pork, lean cubed pork and garlic, as well as gelatin for the firm clear liquid that holds it all together.
Instructions are given below both for making this style of headcheese using a Ham Maker, also called a Ham Press, and also for how to make it without any special equipment at all. The only thing you will need is a sensitive digital scale (sensitive to the 1 gram) for measuring small amounts. The reason is that this is a small batch of headcheese and the required ingredients have small measurements that are hard to get correct without a scale.
Unlike the other sausages in our Homemade Sausage Series (like kielbasa and pepperoni), you can’t put headcheese into casings, nor can you cook it in the skinless method that we discuss. That’s because of the nature of the gelatin that we use. It isn’t going to set well in the casings, or without casings. If you want to try making sausages like those, you should definitely give it a try. It’s such a fun and delicious product. Now, let’s continue with the headcheese!
Ingredients For Homemade Headcheese
The main characteristic thing about headcheese is the gelatin that surrounds the meat. When we make uncured headcheese, the kind where the meat has a browner color, we actually simmer meat and bones to get a broth rich in marrow that will gel on its own. However, for this style of cured headcheese, where the meat is pink and more ham-like, we don’t cook the meat in that way and we therefore don’t end up with that broth. Instead, we use powdered gelatin.
To make the meat mixture with the gelatin, you’ll be combining cubed pork and ground pork together. To that mixture you’ll be adding salt and cure that have been dissolved in water. It’s the cure that will be keeping the meat pink. You can read more about cure here.
You’ll also add garlic that has been pureed in water (add the water in as well!). Pureeing the garlic in water allows the blender to chop it up more easily. It also flavors the water. When you add the water and garlic mixture to the meat, it disburses the garlic well throughout everything. This is also why you put the cure in water. It’s the same idea.
Finally, you’ll dissolve gelatin powder in water. You’ll add this to the meat mixture as well.
How To Make Headcheese Using A Ham Maker
Once you have your meat mixture made, you put it into the Ham Maker. The Ham Maker has a spring loaded lid that squishes the meat down. This helps the meat hold together firmly as the gelatin sets.
Put the Ham Maker with the meat in it and with the spring loaded lid correctly in place (read the instructions on your Ham Maker to make sure that you have it on correctly) into the fridge for 24 hours. The chilling allows the gelatin to set and also allows the cure to penetrate throughout everything.
After 24 hours in the fridge, fill a pot big enough to fit your Ham Maker with enough water such that once the Ham Maker is in it, the water level will be higher than the meat level. Bring the water to a gentle simmer of 185-190F. You can use a candy thermometer to get the temperature exact, or just make sure that there are continuous small bubbles forming in the water. You don’t want a vigorous boil but you do want a gentle simmer.
Put the thermometer that came with the Ham Maker into the hold in the top of the lid, making sure that the stick of the thermometer is penetrating the meat. Then put the Ham Maker into the pot of simmering water.
Keep the water at a simmer until the thermometer in the meat registers 160F. This will take 1.5 to 2 hours.
Remove the Ham Maker from the water and transfer it to the refrigerator. Refrigerate the headcheese inside of the Ham Maker until very cold all the way through. It’s best to leave it in there for at least 12 hours to be sure.
Once it’s cooled all the way down, run warm water all around the Ham Maker. This will melt the gelatin a bit and loosen the meat inside so that it can release from the Ham Maker. Take off the lid and invert the Ham Maker onto a plate. The headcheese should slide out. If it doesn’t, run more warm water around the Ham Maker and try again.
Once the headcheese is out of the Ham Maker, slice it and serve. Or you can store it in an airtight container for up to 4 days.
Homemade Headcheese Without A Ham Maker
This method makes a rectangular loaf of headcheese that you can slice and serve.
What you’ll do is to put the uncooked meat and gelatin mixture into a loaf pan. Put the loaf pan into the fridge for 24 hours. This allows the gelatin to set and also the cure to fully penetrate.
Preheat the oven to 325F. Put the loaf pan into the oven and bake until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the middle of the loaf reads 160F, about 45-60 minutes.
Transfer the loaf pan to the fridge and allow to cool completely all the way through.
Run warm water around the loaf pan, in particular warming the bottom of the pan. Run a knife between the edges of the loaf pan and the headcheese. Invert the headcheese onto a plate. If it doesn’t come out easily, try more warm water.
Once the headcheese is out, slice and serve. Or store in an airtight container for up to 4 days.
- Dissolve the salt and cure in 2 tablespoons of water.
- Put the garlic into a food processor or blender with 4 tablespoons of water. Puree. Add the pepper to the water-garlic mixture.
- Put the pork cubes and the ground pork into a large mixing bowl. Add the cure mixture and the garlic-water mixture. Mix well.
- Dissolve the gelatin in 3/4 cup room temperature water. Then add 3/4 cup boiling water. Stir well.
- Add the gelatin mixture to the meat mixture. Mix well.
- Put the meat mixture into the Ham Maker. Add the spring loaded lid such that it is pushing down tightly on the meat mixture.
- Refrigerate for 24 hours.
- Fill a large pot with enough water such that the Ham Maker will fit in it and the water will be higher than the meat level inside the Ham Maker.
- Bring the water to a gentle simmer. Put the thermometer into the lid of the Ham Maker, making sure that the stick of the thermometer is penetrating the meat. Put the Ham Maker into the simmering water.
- Keep the water at a gentle simmer until the thermometer in the meat registers 160F, 1.5-2 hours.
- Remove the Ham Maker from the pot of water and transfer it to the fridge. Allow it to cool completely all the way through. Leaving it for 12 hours is a good bet.
- Once fully chilled, run warm water all around the Ham Maker. Remove the lid. Invert onto a plate. If the headcheese doesn’t slide out, try more warm water.
- Slice and serve.
*If you use a different brand of gelatin, the instructions might be different. Consult your packet instructions for the correct amount of water and of boiling water.