Sausage 101: Your Guide to Everything Sausage
Everybody loves sausage. It’s great for breakfast, lunch or dinner. It’s tasty on its own, and it’s also a vital ingredient to plenty of great recipes. It is even available made with different types of meat, including chicken and turkey.
But what exactly is sausage? Or maybe more accurately, what is in sausage? And how is sausage made?
Today, we’re going to be answering any and all sausage questions you’ve ever had, and maybe even address some questions you’ve never thought to ask.
Table of Contents
- Origins of Sausage
- Different Types of Sausage
- Differences Between the Many Types of Sausage
- Cooked, Cured or Smoked: What’s the Difference?
- How to Store and Care for Sausage
The Origins of Sausage
Way back when, sausage making was an art created to use up the trimmings butchers had no use for. After all the other meat had been cut and prepared, there were bits and pieces left over. Rather than throw these pieces away and waste food, butchers created sausage to use up the extra scraps.
Salt and a variety of other spices were added to the meat to help it last longer and also taste better. As people began to enjoy sausage, it became less a collection of leftovers and more of a desired meat itself. The techniques and ingredients used to create it improved.
Traditionally, sausage is created by smoking — hot or cold — drying or salting. In most cases, early versions were made from pork, although sausage makers also used beef, lamb, veal, turkey, chicken and other meats.
As sausage became more and more popular, and people realized it was not only cheap and easy but also delicious, new ways of making sausage were created. Butchers used new meats, and the quality of sausage improved a great deal.
What Are the Different Types of Sausage?
Due to the demand for new and delicious kinds of sausage, there is more than one variety of the meat. Today, many types of sausage exist. People create them from different sources, incorporate unique spices and flavorings, and have their origins in many countries around the world.
Of course, there are hundreds of different types of sausages you might encounter, and there are far too many to discuss here. Because of variables like different meats, different spices and spice combinations, and different preparation methods, the number of sausage types is staggering. Even if we were to limit our survey to one country, such as Germany, there are more than 1,200 different varieties.
DIFFERENT SAUSAGE CASING TYPES
Though we may not think about sausage casing often, it contributes immensely to the flavor, texture and appearance of the sausage we eat. Sausage casings are traditionally made from natural animal products. These days, though, there are plenty of synthetic and alternative options available for people who have different preferences.
Not sure which type of sausage best fits your tastes? Consider the three common types of casing materials.
Today, natural sausage casings are made from the intestines of animals like cattle, pigs, sheep, goats and occasionally horses. They come packed in either a salt or saline solution and can be frozen for up to one year. Natural casings are edible and tender, and they conform well to the shape of the sausage they hold. They are flexible and durable, allowing them to endure harsh smokehouse processing methods.
Natural sausage casings tend to be the most popula
r choice due to their rich flavor and visual appeal. Because they breathe well, they easily absorb cooking and smoking flavors, which saturate and season the meat. They also make a satisfying snapping sound when you bite into them.
The three main types of natural sausage casings include:
- Hog: Hog casings are one of the most traditional natural casing varieties. People use hog casings to make many types of sausage links, such as bratwurst, kielbasa, Italian sausage and bologna.
- Sheep: Sheep casings are smaller in diameter than other natural casings, making them suitable for smaller link sausages like hot dogs, snack sticks and breakfast sausages.
- Beef: There are three primary kinds of beef casings — rounds, middles and caps. Each type of beef casing takes on a different shape and encases meats like blood sausage, salami and capicola, respectively.
Artificial casings differ from natural casings primarily due to the fact that they’re not always edible. These casings are inexpensive and more uniform in size, shape and weight than natural casings. They come in two main varieties — collagen and cellulose, both of which are permeable to smoke.
Collagen casings consist of animal collagen, such as pig and cowhides, but they are occasionally made from fish and poultry. These casings are more fragile and vulnerable to breakage than cellulose.
There are two main types of collagen casings — fresh and smoke. People usually use fresh casings to make breakfast links and bratwurst, while smoke casings are usually found around wieners and snack sticks. Smoke collagen casings are more durable than fresh casings, and both are edible.
Cellulose casings contain viscose, which comes from the cellulose of cotton linter and wood pulp. These casings are peeled off after cooking and are used for high-yield products that don’t require smoking. Cellulose is strong and breakage-resistant. Because cellulose casings aren’t edible, they are usually removed before being packaged and sold. They are often used to make frankfurter-type sausages.
If you’re not a fan of natural or syn
thetic sausage casings, you can opt for alternative varieties. People often make temporary casings using unique materials like muslin strips, foil and plastic wrap. Alternative casings typically allow individuals to form and shape the sausage to their desired length and width through poaching and cooling methods.
What Are the Differences Between the Many Types of Sausage?
Still, to give you an overview of the most popular and common types of sausages you’re likely to encounter and hear about, we’ve put together a list of the top candidates. Let’s start by reviewing this list of different types of sausages and looking at what the differences are between sausages.
As you might guess from the name, Andouille sausage originated in France, although it’s most commonly associated with Cajun-style dishes such as gumbo, jambalaya and others. It’s a pork sausage and is distinctive for its smoky and spicy flavor. While it’s a delicious part of many recipes, it’s also great when served cold and on its own as an hors-d’oeuvre.
This very coarse-textured sausage originated in Germany. It’s smoked and has a highly seasoned flavor. Most people sauté or steam this type of sausage.
Beerwurst or Bierwurst
No, despite its name, this sausage doesn’t actually contain beer. People use this type of German sausage as sandwich meat, and its distinct dark red color and heavy garlic flavor set it apart from other meats.
Blood Sausage, Black Pudding or Blood Pudding
You might hear this sausage referred to by any of these three common names. People make this link sausage from a combination of pig’s blood, oatmeal, bread crumbs and suet. Almost black in color, blood sausage is usually sold pre-cooked and is often sautéed and used as a side dish with mashed potatoes.
Another German sausage variety, this ground veal sausage gets flavor from generous doses of chives and parsley. Most places sell it raw, and it requires special care during preparation to ensure it is cooked thoroughly.
Bratwurst is a traditional German variety of sausage. Of course, there’s hardly one standard type of bratwurst. It’s so popular there are dozens of different flavors and styles. Typically, however, people make it from veal and pork, and season it with nutmeg, ginger, and caraway or coriander.
This type of sausage is usually sold in casings, which you remove before you use the sausage. You then cook the meat separately before using it in a recipe.
Chorizo is made from pork and is popular due to the distinctive blend of spices that flavor it — including chiles and garlic. These flavors make chorizo a great addition to many different recipes, such as:
- Soups and stews
- Tacos and burritos
It’s a popular addition to many Mexican and Spanish dishes, with the Mexican versions favoring fresh pork in the sausage and the Spanish versions preferring smoked pork.
Also known as a hot dog or a wiener, a frankfurter is just as much a sausage as anything else on this list. You can make it from beef, pork, veal, chicken, turkey or some combination of these meats. In most cases, unless the package specifies otherwise, you’re probably getting a blend of beef and pork. You know how to eat these. Fire up the grill or boil them in a pot of water, put them in a bun and drench them in ketchup and mustard.
Wait, what? Cheese? Don’t let the name fool you. Head cheese isn’t actually cheese at all. Instead, it’s a sausage made from the meaty parts of the heads of calves, pigs, or sometimes sheep or cows. You season the meat and mix it together with a meat broth, then cook it in a special mold. Once it’s cooled, you take the sausage out of the mold and eat it in slices.
Visually distinct because of its long, sausage shape, Hungarian varieties of sausage are made of pork and flavored with garlic and paprika. You might find Hungarian sausage smoked, dried or fresh.
Less a specific type of sausage and more of a broad category, Italian sausage comes in many different varieties. Traditionally, hot Italian sausages are made with pork and seasoned with red pepper flakes, garlic, and anise seeds or fennel. You make sweet Italian sausages very similarly but usually omit the red pepper flakes.
In the U.S., we know this as a specific type of sausage. But in reality, Kielbasa is simply the Polish word for sausage, and it can refer to many different types of traditional Polish sausages. When you hear this word in the U.S., however, it usually refers to a pork country sausage in a recognizable horseshoe shape.
You can recognize this Polish blood sausage by its large ring shape. It’s made from a combination of pork, a grain such as rice, barley or buckwheat, beef blood, marjoram and additional spices, as well as offal, a collection of organ meats. While it’s typically un-smoked, it’s usually sold cooked.
This is another type of German sausage, and you can make it from beef, pork or both, although you might also find some veal in the mix. It’s typically flavored with garlic and comes in natural casings. You can remove these before eating, or you can eat them along with the sausage. The word “knack” actually translated to “snap” in German, mimicking the sound the sausage makes when you bite down on the outer casings. These tasty sausages are usually grilled up and served alongside sauerkraut.
This Greek sausage is a little bit different from its northern European counterparts. It’s made from both lamb and pork and flavored with orange rind. It’s usually sold fresh, meaning it needs to be cooked carefully before eating. You can prepare loukanika by being cut into chunks and sautéed.
A specialty of the German state of Thuringia, this sausage is either pork, or a combination of pork and beef. You can buy it fresh or smoked, and it is often seasoned with marjoram and caraway. The sausage has a medium coarse texture.
Yet another German sausage, this one might look a little strange due to its white coloring, but it still tastes delicious. It’s made of ground veal or pork, and offers up a tasty medley of flavors, including:
It’s also a traditional part of many Oktoberfest menus, where it’s served with beer, sweet mustard and rye bread.
Cooked, Cured or Smoked: What’s the Difference?
We’ve thrown around these terms, and you’ve probably seen them for yourself when you’ve examined sausage packages. So what do they actually mean?
All these terms refer to different ways the sausage has been prepared before it made its way into your shopping cart. Whether it came from the butcher or a grocery store, it can fall into any of these categories. All require slightly different preparation methods, and different kinds of sausage are more likely to be sold certain ways than others.
Ground, chopped or puréed uncooked meat makes up fresh sausage. Because they are fresh, they need to be kept at freezing temperatures until they’re used, or else they will spoil. Some sausages commonly sold fresh include:
- Italian sausage
- Breakfast links
- Mexican Chorizo
- Sausage patties
When cooking frozen sausage, don’t forget to poke through the skins lightly with a fork. This prevents them from exploding when they heat up. Cook the sausage completely, leaving no pink even in the very center of the sausage.
You have several different options for cooking fresh sausage. It can be grilled, broiled or pan-fried. In the case of some white sausages, which are usually made of veal, the traditional way of cooking is poaching or steaming. You can also remove them from their casings and crumble them up in a pan as you sauté them before including them in other recipes.
No doubt, you’ve had plenty of experience with pre-cooked sausage, even if you didn’t realize it at the time. Whenever you buy something like frankfurters or hot dogs, bologna, mortadella or almost any of the German “wursts,” you’re usually buying pre-cooked sausage. If there’s ever a case where you’re unsure if the sausage you’re buying is raw or pre-cooked, check the packaging. And if you buy from a butcher, ask them. You should know if you’re dealing with raw meat or not.
Most pre-cooked sausages are made with a firm outer casing and a smooth, puréed filling inside. Sometimes the fillings will be partially cooked before they’re put into the casing. Even if the sausage maker cooked the filling beforehand, the entire sausage is cooked again after it is filled.
Even though these sausages are pre-cooked, you’ll still want to cook them before you eat them, or at least heat them up a little bit. This will bring them to a more palatable temperature and also bring out the best of their natural flavors. Grill them, broil them, pan-sear them or cut them up and use them as an ingredient in a variety of other dishes. Since they aren’t raw, you don’t have to worry about cooking them all the way through. Instead, just worry about raising their temperature.
This category includes sausage like Andouille and Kielbasa. As the term implies, you cook these sausages by smoking them. The sausage maker hangs the sausage in a smokehouse or a smoker, where a fire burns slowly and lets off huge amounts of smoke. This smoke then cooks, flavors and helps preserve the sausages hanging above it.
With smoked sausage, you have a couple of different options. You can eat it as-is, since it’s already fully cooked. You can also heat it up, or you can cook and crumble it into smaller pieces to use in other dishes. It’s extremely easy to find and buy, since it’s a guaranteed staple at many deli counters and plays a vital part in lots of different types of sandwiches and recipes.
Cured sausage is a little bit different than the other types of sausage we’ve talked about. Sausage makers produce this type fresh, then salt it and air-dry it for weeks or even months. This long drying process is called curing. During this curing process, the combination of salt, time and air-drying cook the meat. Some common examples of cured sausage include Genoa salami and Spanish Chorizo.
One of the best ways to enjoy cured sausage is to cut it into thin slices and serve it at room temperature. It makes for a great sandwich meat, snack or appetizer, especially when served with cheese and crackers.
How to Store and Care for Sausage
No matter what kind of sausage you buy, you should learn a few definite rules of thumb that apply when it comes to storing, cooking with and keeping it fresh for longer.
The first and easiest rule to remember is smoked sausage will always last longer than fresh sausage. Unless otherwise stated, the sausages you purchase from a butcher shop will have fewer preservatives and go bad long before the packaged sausages you buy at the grocery store.
If you do buy fresh sausage from the butcher, however, there are steps you can take to keep it fresh and edible for longer. Refrigerate the meat as soon as you get home. If it’s wrapped in butcher paper, seal the entire package in an airtight bag. This will help prevent your fridge from smelling like smoked meat — although that might not be such a bad thing, depending on your perspective. Sealing the meat in a bag will also keep it from drying out and becoming inedible too quickly.
Depending on what state the sausage you bought was in, the window of time you have to use it in will vary:
- In most cases, fresh sausages need to be used within one or two days.
- Cooked sausages have a slightly longer window, and you should use them within four or five days.
- Smoked sausages have the longest window, and you should use them sometime within a week after their purchase date.
But what if you bought the sausage because it was a great price, or simply because you wanted to have it as a backup? What if you don’t plan on using it within the allotted window of time before it goes bad? If that’s the case, just freeze it. Use airtight, plastic freezer bags to seal it up and protect it against freezer burn, then tuck it away into the back of your freezer. It should keep for at least two months in the frozen state.
What Kinds of Sausage Will You Find at Premio Foods?
After learning about the many different sausage flavors and varieties available, you might be curious enough to give some of them a try. If that’s the case, then we’ve got good news. Premio sells lots of different types of sausage, and we’d love for you to give them a try.
Just head to your nearest Premio distributor to find:
- Real Italian Sausage: Available in a variety of flavors and styles, like a sweet, hot and mild, and in patty, ground or sausage form.
- Italian Specialties: Specialty styles of the traditional Italian variety, such as sweet basil, tomato, garlic and rosemary, and pepper, onion and mushroom.
- Chicken Sausage: Available in flavors like sweet, garlic and cheese, hot and spicy, kale and more.
- World Flavors: Flavors and styles from around the globe, including Salvadorian Chorizo, Andouille, Cajun and Kielbasa.
- Turkey Sausage: Sweet? Hot? No matter which one you prefer, we’ve got you covered.
- Breakfast Sausage: Available in a range of flavors from original to maple, or even maple and apple.