Sausage is a staple of countless cuisines and is made with a variety of meats in a range of different styles, from mild fresh sausages to spicy smoked and cured options. The meat product can be cooked several different ways, including grilling, pan-frying, roasting, and boiling. Some sausages don't require any cooking at all. A mixture of different cuts of ground pork and fat is the most common base, but beef, chicken, seafood, and just about any meat you can think of can be used to make sausage.
What Is Sausage?
Sausage is ground meat mixed with fat, salt, and other seasonings, preservatives, and sometimes fillers like grains or breadcrumbs. Some sausage mixtures are sold in bulk form while others are forced into casings to form links. They can be fresh, which require cooking before consuming, sold fully cooked, or cured, smoked, or dried.
The word "sausage" comes from the Middle English sausige, which came from sal, Latin for salt. In France, they are sausissons and in Germany, wurst. They were originally made as a delicious way to preserve meat. Virtually any kind of meat can be used in sausage, including less traditional and game meats, and the flavor can also vary greatly depending on what spices and other ingredients are used. The price also varies depending on the ingredients, type, and maker. Standard Italian sausage tends to be an affordable option at the grocery store.
How to Cook Sausage
Depending on the type of sausage, it can be cooked in a number of ways. Ground, bulk sausage (not contained in a casing) can be formed into patties or balls and pan-fried, baked, or grilled. It can be stuffed into dishes as a filling or broken up and browned in a skillet and used in soups, sauces, and other dishes.
Fresh link sausage is often cooked whole by grilling, roasting, broiling, braising, pan-frying, or boiling. The sausage should be cooked through, especially when pork or poultry are used. After cooking, the sausage can be served whole or sliced into pieces and incorporated into dishes. Cured and smoked sausages are already cooked and can be served as-is or added to a cooked dish.
Sausage can also be made at home. This will allow you to completely control the ingredients and spices. The process is made much easier with a meat grinder and sausage stuffer (for links), which are sometimes available as attachments for other gadgets like a stand mixer. Homemade sausages can be used as-is, smoked, or dried.
What Does Sausage Taste Like?
There are countless varieties and flavors of sausages from all over the world. Some are spicy while others are mild but strongly spiced, some are lightly sweet with ingredients like apple and maple syrup, while others, like blood sausage, tend to have a strong mineral taste. Other sausage flavorings can include fennel, curry powder, wine, peppercorns, paprika, ginger, and much more.
Fresh sausage has a texture similar to compact ground meat when cooked, and is often moist thanks to the addition of fat. The grind of the meat, the amount of fat, and other ingredients like oats and breadcrumbs can impact the texture. Dried, cured, and smoked sausages tend to have a stronger flavor and odor and a tougher, chewier texture.
A huge number of cuisines have their own versions of sausage, making the list of varieties a long one. There are a few major categories of sausage:
- Fresh Sausage: This includes sausage that is sold uncooked (sold in bulk or in casings) or pre-cooked, but is not smoked or dried. Some popular fresh sausages include what Americans call "Italian sausage" as well as breakfast sausage, bangers, some bratwurst, merguez, boudin, and Mexican-style chorizo. Examples of pre-cooked fresh sausage include black pudding and hot dogs.
- Smoked Sausage: Whether pre-cooked and smoked or simply smoked, these sausages often offer strong flavors. Examples include some types of kielbasa, andouille, and Spanish-style chorizo.
- Dried Sausage: With a hard texture and concentrated flavor, dried sausages don't require cooking. Examples include lap cheong, salami, and longaniza.
While sausage is traditionally a meat dish, a wide range of vegetarian and vegan options are available. Made using tofu, pea protein, grains, lentils, and more, they can often mimic the texture and flavor of fresh sausage.
Sausage has a wide range of uses. Crumbled or sliced fresh sausage adds meaty flavor to soups, stews, pasta, omelets, stuffings, casseroles, and more. Whole cooked sausages are delicious served in a bun with mustard, with mashed potatoes and gravy (bangers and mash), or baked into a batter. Strongly flavored smoked or dried sausages are a tasty addition to a cheese platter or rice dish like jambalaya or fried rice.
Where to Buy Sausage
Sausages are widely available in grocery stores around the world. In American supermarkets, you'll typically find a selection of pork, beef, turkey, chicken, and veggie options like Italian sausage, breakfast sausage, bratwurst, hot dogs, and sometimes Mexican-style chorizo. Some groceries will also offer salami, kielbasa, andouille, and more. When looking for a specific type of sausage, visit a market offering products from that country. For example, you're more likely to find lap cheong in an Asian market.
Fresh and pre-cooked sausage is sold by the pound, either per-order at the meat counter or in pre-packaged, shrink-wrapped one to two-pound packages in the meat section. It is sometimes available in bulk packaging and can be bought loose without the casing. Look for the freshest uncooked sausage possible. Dried and smoked sausages are available by the link or sliced by the pound. Look for aged sausage that comes from its country of origin or from skilled American makers.
Fresh sausage should be stored in its original packaging in the refrigerator for up to three days. Tightly wrap any excess and place in a container or zip-top bag to freeze for up to three months. Unopened pre-cooked sausages, like hot dogs, will keep in the fridge for at least two weeks and a week after opening. Store in an airtight container or bag.
Most dried, cured, and smoked sausages will keep in the pantry for up to 2 months in its original packaging. Store any sliced sausage in the fridge for a few weeks.