The Science of Sausages: A Taxonomy of Sausages for Your Grill
"Although the frankfurter originated in Frankfurt, Germany, we have long since made it our own, a twin pillar of democracy along with Mom’s apple pie. In fact, now that Mom’s apple pie comes frozen and baked by somebody who isn’t Mom, the hot dog stands alone. What it symbolizes remains pure, even if what it contains does not." William Zinsser
Historians think the first sausages of any kind were made about 5,000 years ago in what is now Iraq, and they are mentioned in Homer's Odyssey, written around 800 B.C.
Although sausage can be made in patties, the typical sausage is called a forcemeat or a link -- long and slender because it is forced into a long slender transparent casing. The meat is most often ground beef or pork, but it is also made from lamb, duck, chicken, and everything from alligator to zebra. The casing is usually made from lamb, beef, or pork intestines. Sausages can be seasoned with spices, herbs, onion, garlic, and other flavorings. Some sausages are sold raw, and others are cooked, smoked, or in some fashion cured with salt or preservatives before being sold so they can be eaten without cooking.
There are hundreds of sausage types in the world, heck, there are hundreds in Italy alone. Here are a few of the more common types of sausages that you are likely to find in the US.
Andouille is a smoked raw pork sausage from Louisiana. Usually spicy hot, garlic, onions, pepper, wine and other herbs and spices find their way into the natural casings. It is found in many dishes popular in New Orleans cuisine, especially red beans and rice.
American Bologna is an variant on mortadella, a classic Italian sausage from the city of Bologna. It is a finely ground fully cooked product that is usually sliced for sandwiches although some people like to grill or smoke them. In the US, they are uniform and smooth in texture and can be made from practically any meat or a blend with garlic a common seasoning. It comes in various widths from about 3" diameter to 5", and is usually in a plastic casing called chubs.
Lebanon Bologna (shown here) is made in the Lebanon Valley in Pennsylvania Dutch Country, and has more in common with salami than bologna. Lebanon Bologna is fermented and cold smoked. My favorites are Weaver's, Baum's, and Seltzer's. Weaver's has been using outdoor smokehouses since 1885, and it is dark, 100% beef, 90% lean slightly sweet, slightly salty, and slightly smoky. It is wonderful fresh, but can be aged in the fridge where it will dry slightly. It's amazing stuff.
Bangers are mild, coarsely ground English or Irish natural casing pork sausages, pudgy, short, and not precooked. Bangers 'n mash (mashed potatoes) with a beer is almost as common in Great Britain as hot dog 'n' fries with a cola in the US. Irish pubs in the US often serve bangers 'n' mash.
Brats are the official food of Green Bay Packer fans. They are usually tan colored links made from coarsely ground pork or veal, they often contain dried milk, eggs, pepper, savory, bay leaves, nutmeg, celery salt, chives, and parsley. They are usually not precooked at the factory, although a few are. The best way to prepare them is to simmer them first in beer with sliced onions for 20 minutes and then grill them on a medium hot grill until brown all over (boiling may burst their natural casings). Then add some ketchup to the beer and onions and cook it down into a gloppy sauce. Serve on a crusty bun with the sauce on top. Brown mustard is another good topping. Serve with smashed potatoes, sauerkraut, and of course, an Old Milwaukee beer. Here's more about brats and a recipe for a Brat Tub.
A fresh raw pork sausage from the US often sold without a casing and pan seared as small patties although it is also sold in small links. Sage, black pepper, cloves, red pepper flake, and a bit of brown sugars are typical ingredients. Although it is not cured, it is usually salty.
There are two distinct types of chorizo, Mexican and Spanish/Portugese. The Mexican verison is more common in the US. They are a pork sausage, loosely ground, highly seasoned, in a natural casing, usually spicy hot, and when cooked, a ruddy orange. Spanish and Portugese chorizo is firmer, more tightly packed, not as hot, and is often cured so it can be eaten without cooking.
Frankfurters, Franks, Furters, Wieners, Wienies, Weenies, Dogs, Dawgs, Red Hots, Hots, Tube Steaks, and Coneys
Frankfurters, or franks for short, are named after the city of Frankfurt, Germany. These smoked and fully cooked sausages are also called wieners, weenies, and wienies, after the city of Wien in Austria, called Vienna in English, and then there are numerous slang names. Technically, the naked sausage is a frankfurter, and when it's on a bun it's a hot dog.
Franks are made from beef, pork, veal, chicken, turkey, and even soybeans. Some are a blend of several meats. The best are usually all-beef. The production process begins with grinding the beef coarsely and then again into a fine slurry. The meat and spices and some water are put into a giant blender and whupped into a gooey batter and pumped into casings. Many popular national brands are encased by cellulose that is removed after cooking making them "skinless." Connoisseurs think the best are embraced by casings made from natural intestines that snap when you bite them. The long tubes of emulsified meat are then twisted to form "links" and cooked to kill microbes. Some are then sent to the smokehouse for a whisp of elegant smoke flavor. A few get the smokiness from the addition of liquid smoke. A kosher hot dog is made from all beef under the supervision of a rabbi according to Jewish dietary laws that forbid pork and have numerous other regulations controlling production from slaughterhouse to packaging.
Cocktail Wienies are a variant of the frankfurter, only smaller, small enough to easily be stabbed by a toothpick with frills on the end, and dipped is a ketchup-based sweet sauce so it drips on your shirt on the way to your mouth. Here's a traditional recipe.
Click here for more about the ingredients of frankfurters, including a discussion of nitrates. Here are links to several other articles about franks and hot dogs and the many local preparations.
Typically these are thick, uncured coarsely ground pork sausages in natural casings, flavored with fennel, paprika, black pepper, red or green bell peppers, onions, garlic, parsley, and crushed red chili peppers for some heat. Take your choice of mild, medium, or hot. They can be grilled and served on a bun or cooked in tomato sauce instead of meatballs and served on pasta. Italian sausage sandwiches are ubiquitous in Chicago, served on a crusty bun with sauteed sweet peppers and onions, occasionally with tomato sauce and melted cheese. Here's how Italian sausages are usually prepared. Here's an interesting way to turn the Italian sausage sandwich inside out and make a remarkable stuffed meatloaf wrapped in bacon.
Knockwursts or Knackwursts
Knockwursts, in Chicago pronounced nackwursts (as in snack), are stubby beige finely ground German-style sausages made of pork and beef with plenty of garlic and fresh herbs like cumin, parsley, paprika, and mustard powder, in natural casings, and then smoked. They are especially good on top of German potato salad with sauerkraut and beer on the side.
Loukaniko is a pork based, coarsely ground, natural casing Greek sausage with red wine, fennel, and orange zest. Sold raw, it is almost always grilled.
A form of salami, pepperonis are spicy, cured, and fermented so they can be eaten raw. Paprika is a major seasoning giving pepperonis their distinctive bright orange color. They are a common topping on Amereican pizzas.
According to Polish Sausages, Authentic Recipes and Instructions by Stanley Marianski, Adam Maria?ski, Miroslaw Gebarowski, published in 2009, in Poland there are many types of kielbasa, which is a generic word for sausage. The most famous is the Polska Kielbasa Wedzona, Polish Smoked Sausage, which is the variety that seems to have caught on in US.
In Poland the ingredients of the original Polska Kielbasa Wedzona come from the Polish Bureau of Standards: Pork, salt, pepper, sugar, garlic, and marjoram. In 1964 the regs were changed to allow up to 20% beef in the blend. The meat is cured before it is coarsely ground and mixed with the spices and stuffed into hog casings and then smoked for a minumum of one day.
In the US, butchers make "Kielbasa" and "Polish Sausage" (sometimes called Polies) to their tastes with their favorite ingredients.The blends vary significantly, although most are pork based and smoked. The authors surveyed six commercial "Polish Sausages" in the US and found mustard, fillers, smoke flavoring, autolyzed yeast, gelatin, paprika, preservatives, MSG, and even turkey in the blend.
I like them grilled or griddled until crunchy, and served on a bun, with sauerkraut, griddled onions, and mustard.
Salami is a cured, fermented, coarsely ground blend of meats and spices, especially garlic, usually heavy on the beef, with visible flecks and chunks of fat, that can be sliced and eaten. They are often wrapped in cloth and hung at room or cellar temp to firm up and dry a bit. Versions of salami are found around the world and they are popular because they can be carried to work or on journeys without refrigeration and simply sliced and eaten.
Texas Hot Guts
Many of the best Texas barbecue joints were started by immigrants from Germany, Poland, and Czechoslovakia, and the sausages they smoke have a distinct Old World character. They can be made from all beef to a blend of beef and pork, and if the founder married a Mexican, there might even be goat. They are natural casing, usually pre-cooked, and smoked. In the picture at the top of the page we see the original Hot Guts in the smoker at Southside Market, founded in 1882 in Elgin, just east of Austin.
This page was revised 2/7/2014
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