The Zen 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.
Here are a few of the many kinds of sausages that you are likely to find in a local grocery and that beg to be grilled.
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. They are also called wieners, weenies, and wienies, after the city of Wien in Austria, called Vienna in English. 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.
Click here for more about the ingredients of frankfurters, including a discussion of nitrates.
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.
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.
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 a recipe for a Brat Tub.
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.
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 an interesting way to turn the Italian sausage sandwich inside out and make a remarkable stuffed meatloaf wrapped in bacon.
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.
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.
A loosely ground, highly seasoned, natural casing, sometimes spicy hot pork sausage in the style of sausages popular in Mexico.
This page was revised 1/5/2012
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