Getting to Know: Sausages
All the world loves a sausage, so whether you grew up in Brooklyn or Bologna, you probably have a favorite. Here are some of ours.
The genuine article, the Frankfurter, hails from Germany. But America adopted it and made it the most famous sausage in the world. Hot dogs are made from beef (sometimes combined with pork), which is cured, smoked, cooked, and seasoned with coriander, garlic, ground mustard, nutmeg, salt, sugar, and white pepper. Although hot dogs are fully cooked, warm them by steaming, boiling, sautéing, or grilling (we prefer the last two, which make for crisp skins). All-beef dogs with little or no sugar taste meaty and real. The test kitchen favorite is Nathan’s Famous Beef Franks.
Knackwurst (often incorrectly spelled knockwurst) is named for the characteristic pop you hear when you take a bite; “knack” is German for crack. Like the hot dog, knackwurst is precooked and can be made entirely from beef or a combination of beef and pork. The “smooth,” “mild” knackwurst is plumper and more sophisticated than a hot dog, though some tasters said it tasted like hot dog crossed with bologna. Eat it with traditional sausage toppings such as mustard and sauerkraut.
At Midwestern backyard barbecues and tailgates, these “sweet,” “herbal” sausages are more common than hot dogs. They are made from ground pork and veal gently seasoned with caraway, coriander, ginger, and nutmeg. We prefer the “coarse, pebbly texture” of fresh, uncooked bratwurst to the mealiness of partially cooked versions. In Wisconsin, boiling a brat in water is a big no-no—the casing will burst. Instead, simmer them on the grill in a pan of water or, preferably, beer, then finish them by crisping the skin over a medium-hot fire.
Popular in the deli case and key for Italian sandwiches and antipasto platters, Genoa salami is cured pork sausage with visibly chunky pockets of fat. Its “slightly sour,” “fermented” flavor may stem from a measure of wine added before it’s salted and air-dried (no smoking here), while the whole black peppercorns contribute spiciness. If you’re buying a whole one, take off the casing to remove the (harmless) mold; peel it only from the portion of sausage you plan to eat, though, or the sausage will dry out.
“Banger” is British slang for sausage, but in the United States it has come to describe a specific style that is plump, soft, white, and “creamy.” It is made from pork butt combined with crumbled rusks (dry, wheaty biscuits), so it’s not surprising tasters described it as “bready.” Popular in England and Ireland, bangers are served alongside potatoes or with a plate of eggs. We like to simmer them in water, then sear them in a skillet to bring out their naturally “buttery,” “porky” flavor.
Tasters compared this Polish sausage to a “coarse, garlicky hot dog.” Traditionally made from all pork, most commercial kielbasa today includes beef and sometimes turkey and is seasoned with garlic, marjoram, and smoke. Kielbasa is sold fully cooked, but we like to grill it or sear it to add flavor. Some brands are much saltier than others, so always taste for seasoning when you’re cooking with kielbasa (we like it in soups and stews). Smithfield Naturally Hickory Smoked Polska Kielbasa is our top-rated brand.
Griddled or grilled, Italian sausages are popularly served either with pasta or smothered in grilled onions and frying peppers on sub rolls. They come either hot or sweet and always raw. Both sweet and hot versions are made with coarsely ground fresh (not cured or smoked) pork flavored with garlic and fennel seed. The hot variety is also seasoned with red pepper flakes. Grill or sauté whole sausages or remove the casing and crumble the meat into sauces, soups, or stews.
This “spicy, chewy” Italian-American sausage is best known for its starring role on pizza. Pork (or occasionally beef) is ground and dried; combined with black and cayenne pepper, sugar, salt, and paprika; and cured for several weeks. To prevent pepperoni slices from leaching grease over pizza, we microwave them between sheets of paper towels first, a step that degreases yet doesn’t toughen the meat. Turkey-based pepperoni lacks a pleasant greasiness but ain’t bad for a low-fat substitute.
Spanish chorizo, which comes in links, is generally sold cured and fully cooked. It’s made from chopped pork and pork fat and seasoned with smoked paprika, garlic, and herbs. Its “jerkylike” texture reminded some tasters of pepperoni; its “pungent smoke” and “vinegary aftertaste” are all its own. Eat sliced chorizo as an appetizer or add to paella or Spanish tortillas. Don’t substitute it for Mexican chorizo or vice versa; they are not interchangeable. (Kielbasa or linguiça makes a better substitute for Spanish chorizo.)
Unlike Spanish chorizo, the Mexican chorizo available in American markets is almost always sold raw, in links or bulk packs. Mexican chorizo includes paprika and garlic, but it’s chili powder that provides its characteristic “spicy, coffee-like” flavor. The texture is “crumbly,” similar to ground beef. Remove chorizo from its casing, then crumble and fry it. Drain off the grease before adding cooked chorizo to soups, stews, tacos, or even scrambled eggs or omelets.
Made in German style, given a French name (pronounced an-DOO-ee), and seasoned with Cajun spices, this southern Louisiana native is a proverbial melting pot. It just wouldn’t be gumbo, jambalaya, and red beans and rice without it. “Chewy,” spicy andouille is made from ground pork, salt, garlic, and plenty of black pepper. It’s traditionally smoked over pecan wood and sugarcane, where it turns reddish and “hot and smoky.” Cooking isn’t required, but it does improve its flavor.
This “peppery” smoked sausage from Portugal is distinctive for its “tangy,” “heavily spiced” flavor, which comes from a blend of paprika, garlic, pepper, cumin, and sometimes allspice or cinnamon. The spices are combined with pork butt and brined in vinegar and salt before smoking. Linguiça is sold primarily in areas with large Portuguese or Brazilian populations and should be cooked before serving. Try it as a pizza topping or in soups, such as kale or bean.