By: Brian Campbell
Sausage is among the oldest European meat dishes and its varieties range widely — from mild British bangers to spicy Italian sausages and Poland’s smoked kielbasa to Germany’s dizzying array of sausages of nearly any kind. Happily, here in the United States, we eat a variety of cuisines that incorporate all kinds of different sausages. Here are some of the types of sausage you’re likely to encounter and five ideas for how best to prepare them.
Selecting Sausages 101
To select, start with a butcher you trust and ask what's fresh that day. Look for plump sausages with good color. Sausages can be easy to overcook — yielding less flavorful, dry meat — so keep a close eye on the temperature and pull them when the internal temperature approaches 150-160 F. Let sausages sit for 3 minutes before serving or cutting into them.
“Kiełbasa” is the Polish word for sausage and in Poland it can mean any kind of sausage. In the U.S., kielbasa (also known simply as “Polish sausage”) refers to a horseshoe-shaped, pork country sausage that is most often smoked, but is sometimes partially smoked or unsmoked.
Whatever kind you’re using, you’ll want to heat it because it tastes best that way. Partly smoked or unsmoked kielbasa will have to be cooked through.
How to prepare Kielbasa: This type of sausage is great on the grill or sautéed and served over your favorite Central European sides — boiled potatoes, braised cabbage or sauerkraut. Kielbasa also works well on a bun with mustard or sliced and served in soup.
Andouille is a spicy smoked sausage originally from France, but known mainly for its role in Cajun cuisine, where it is a key ingredient in jambalaya and gumbo. You can also use it in any recipe that calls for smoked sausage if you want a little heat.
How to prepare Andouille: Because it's smoked, Andouille is precooked and can be sliced and served cold as a snack or appetizer. When you’re cooking with it, simply slice and add to your dish; for added flavor, give the Andouille a quick toss in a hot pan to brown the edges.
Tip: If you’re lucky enough to find unsmoked Andouille sausage (pictured), cook it in its casing and slice it before serving, or remove it from its casing and cook it as you would ground beef.
Tip: Like this guide? Check out our tips for selecting and preparing beef here.
Bratwurst comes to us from Germany, where there are more than a dozen varieties. In the U.S., however, it’s typically made of pork and veal, and seasoned with salt, ginger, nutmeg and caraway.
How to Prepare Bratwurst: Here, as in Germany, bratwurst (or brats) are usually grilled or sautéed.
For grilling: Pile coals on one side of the grill so that you have one hot side and one cooler side. The trick is to get the brats hot enough to cook through but also keep them from being charred by grease flares or heat bursts. Start them off on the side without coals while some of the grease cooks out, and then move them toward the middle to allow them to cook through.
For sautéing: Set brats and a small drizzle of oil in the pan before you turn the burner on and let them come up to temperature with the pan. At first, nudge brats often so they don’t stick to the pan. Ease the heat up to medium-high, until the bratwursts are sizzling.
Keep a close eye on the heat so it doesn't get so high that the casings split. Cover the pan if your brats aren’t cooking all the way through. Pull when temperature reaches 150 F and then let sit for 3 minutes.
Tip: Like this guide? Check out our tips for selecting and preparing pork here.
4. Italian Sausage
Italian sausage comes in two varieties — hot and sweet. Hot sausage is typically made from pork and seasoned with salt, garlic, anise seed and red pepper flakes. Sweet sausage omits the pepper flakes but is otherwise the same. These types of sausage are interchangeable; it just depends on your spice preference.
How to prepare: Italian sausage can be used in a variety of ways. Grill or sauté the Italian sausage as you would a bratwurst and serve on a roll with onions and peppers, or served sliced, sautéed sausage on top of a pizza. Italian sausage can also be added to tomato sauce — either sliced and sautéed or removed from its casing altogether — and served over pasta.
In the U.S., chorizo usually refers to the Mexican variety, which is uncured and flavored with chilies, garlic and spices, although the exact ingredients can vary.
Most often sold in casings, chorizo is generally removed from them and cooked prior to use. Simply sauté it as you would ground beef and use it in enchiladas, tacos, burritos, soups or stews.
Tip: Find this guide helpful? Check out our guides to selecting and preparing fish, shellfish and poultry.
Brian Campbell, along with his wife Elizabeth Stark, writes the blog Brooklyn Supper — the story of a family eating with the seasons in Virginia and Brooklyn. They believe strongly that good, local food and wholesome meals should be for everyone.