Turkish cuisine, like the country of Turkey itself, bridges the Middle East and the Mediterranean, and one of its most representative dishes is a spicy beef sausage called sucuk (suˈdʒuk). Find out all about this meaty little sausage that packs a big punch of flavor and how you can use it to spice up your culinary adventures.
What Is Sucuk?
Sucuk—also spelled sujuk or soudjouk—is a Turkish national dish. Variations of it are also found in Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and the Middle East. It is known as sudzhuk in Bulgaria and Russia, suxhuk in Albania, and soutzouki in Greece.
Turkish sucuk is usually made with ground beef, though some butchers add a bit of lamb for more flavor. Further east, in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, sucuk may also contain horse meat. As Turkey has a large Muslim population, pork is not used.
Sucuk is a semi-dried beef-based sausage made by a dry-curing process. Ground meat is well mixed with salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, garlic, cumin, sumac, and other common Turkish spices. The mixture is then piped into natural or plastic sausage casings and left to dry for several weeks. During this curing period, the salt and other spices ferment with the ground meat, creating a chemical reaction that changes the molecular structure, flavor, and consistency of the meat, and also acts as a preservation agent.
The result is a firm, flavorful sausage with a high-fat content that’s ideal for cooking, especially frying and grilling.
How to Cook Sucuk
One of the best ways to enjoy sucuk is with a traditional Turkish breakfast. Slices of sucuk are pan-fried with no added butter or oil and served with Turkish cheeses, fresh white bread, black olives, honey, fruit preserves, and brewed black tea.
Sucuklu yumurta (soo-JOOK’-loo yoo-MUR’-tah), sucuk and eggs, is another popular way to serve this spicy sausage at breakfast. Slices of sucuk are fried in a small, single-portion copper skillet called a sahan (sah-HAHN’). When the sausage is crispy and has released enough fat, the eggs are broken on top. The eggs are typically left runny to allow for dipping crusts of bread in the mixture.
You can take sucuk out of the casing and make little meatballs or shish kebab cubes for broiling or grilling. Grilling sucuk allows the fat to drip away, leaving flavorful and fairly low-fat grilled sausages. Guests at typical Turkish barbecue parties often gather around the portable grill called a mangal (mahn-GAHL’) with chunks of bread in hand to take pieces of sizzling sucuk right off the grill.
Sucuk is also a key ingredient in another national dish of Turkey called kuru fasulye (koo-ROO’ fah-SOOL-yay), a navy bean and tomato stew. And it is also a tremendously popular street food: If you ever find yourself in Istanbul or any other moderately large city in Turkey, keep your eyes open for a food stand or truck, serving delicious sandwiches of sucuk crisped on a griddle, served on loaves of toasted bread with sliced onions and tomatoes.
What Does Sucuk Taste Like?
Turkish sucuk tastes like highly spiced aged crumbled beef that is saturated with fat but not swimming in it, as if fried but well drained, leaving crispy, tasty little morsels of cured meat.
Turkish Sucuk vs. Mexican Chorizo
While there is nothing quite like sucuk, the thing that probably comes closest in flavor is Mexican chorizo. Both have an intense spiced-meat flavor and dense fatty consistency. Both are made to be used widely in their respective cuisines, both are generally high on the heat-spice meter, and both (surprisingly) are often served with eggs. But there are some important differences. Chorizo is made primarily with pork while sucuk is made of beef, possibly with some lamb added (but no pork). Mexican chorizo is made as a fresh sausage to be used fairly quickly, whereas sucuk undergoes a curing fermentation stage which takes time and significantly alters its flavor profile.
There are only two basic varieties of sucuk: commercially produced and packaged or made in a butcher shop. But within these two categories there is tremendous variation. Within the butcher-made category, each butcher has their own, often secret, recipe for preparing sucuk, and the amount of seasoning, curing time, and sourcing of the meat (including whether lamb is added or not) varies greatly. While most sucuk is spicy, the amount of heat varies from almost imperceptibly mild to a level that will bring tears to your eyes and leave you gasping for breath.
Most of the above considerations apply to the larger commercial producers as well, except that they are much more reliable and consistent—once their product is in production, there is little variation. The big difference in this category, however, is stylistic. While some commercial producers attempt to produce a traditional-style version, others seek to make sucuk-like products that will appeal to the largest number of consumers by toning down the spice, speeding up the drying process by using heat treatment instead of fermentation, and even using additives to reduce the admittedly high level of fat in the traditional product.
A few of the classic Turkish dishes utilizing sucuk are easy to make even without a recipe: Cut some hefty slices of sucuk, crisp them in a hot pan on both sides, then crack some eggs over the top, cover for a minute or so, then serve. You can also make a sandwich by removing the sausage from its casing, roll the meat into little balls, then cook in a skillet, pressing down with a spatula. Flip the sucuk until crispy on both sides, then place it on one half of a hero-type roll. Soak up pan juices with the other half of the roll. Sprinkle the sucuk with thinly sliced onions and tomatoes, and then top with the juice-soaked half of the bread and enjoy.
Otherwise, try sucuk in place of other recipes that call for spicy sausage.
- Flamenco Eggs
- Creole-Style Crock Pot Black Beans and Sausage
- Crock Pot Chicken, Sausage, and Shrimp Gumbo
Where to Buy Sucuk
Sucuk is widely available at grocery stores and butcher shops in Turkey. Elsewhere, you may be able to find sucuk at Middle Eastern and Greek groceries or butcher shops. You can also find it on websites selling Turkish and Middle Eastern foods and ingredients.
Sucuk freezes quite well and has a fairly long shelf life when kept in its original airtight packaging. Once the package is opened, you can keep it in the fridge tightly wrapped in plastic for about five days. The amount of time sucek can be stored largely depends on how much salt was used to season it and how long it dried. (Finely chopping, heavily spicing, and drying meat probably originated as a way of helping to preserve it.) If buying it packaged, check the expiration date; if buying fresh, ask the butcher how long it will keep without freezing.