A popular ingredient in dishes of all seasons and from all parts of the world, sausage is an incredibly versatile food. It complements a wide range of seasonings and ingredients, displaying unique flavors that pair well with many global cuisines. But with so many different types of sausage out there, how do you choose? Get to know the most popular types of sausage across regions so you can be the most knowledgeable one at the table, no matter what you're eating.
What is sausage?
A sausage is ground meat -- generally pork, beef or veal -- plus salt, spices and breadcrumbs that's enclosed by a skin. Sausages are preserved by curing, drying, smoking or freezing. Some are ready to eat after preservation, while those that need to be cooked are typically pan-fried, broiled or barbecued.
What's the difference between fresh and cured sausage?
Most often found on a restaurant's charcuterie plate, cured sausage is cooked, frozen or smoked and generally ready-to-eat. Popular dry sausages, like chorizo, pepperoni, salami and mortadella, are made from a more concentrated form of meat and a small amount of cure (known as Prague powder). The sausage is packed into the casing and then goes through a controlled and continuous air-drying process. Fresh sausages on the other hand do not use cure and are not smoked in a cold smoker, so they are cooked before serving.
Sausage is a popular food in many parts of the world, from Europe and Latin America to Asia and North America. How sausages are prepared, including flavors, spices and the meat used in them, varies from region to region.
Sausage has a vastly different preparation among European countries. In the UK and Ireland, fresh, raw sausages made from a mixture of meats are a popular part of the countries' diets. In Italy, sausages are often made of pure pork and are commonly dried. Germany boasts the widest range of sausages, including wieners, bratwursts, knockwursts and bockwursts.
Within Latin America, many regional sausage varieties and recipes exist, including blood sausages (morcilla), chorizo and salchichas (similar to hot dogs). The most common variety is chorizo, which is raw, rather than cured and dried as in the Spanish version. Even varieties among chorizo exist -- in Mexico it's generally fresh and deep red in color, while in the rest of Latin America, it's often served coarsely chopped and uncolored.
In Asia, sausage is most widely consumed in Thailand, which produces many regional varieties. In northern Thailand, sai ua, a grilled minced pork sausage with curry paste is popular. A northeastern region called Isan, sai krok Isan, is home to a fermented sausage with a distinctly sour taste. Thai sausages are commonly paired with sticky rice, fresh vegetables and Thai chili paste.
North America is home to a variety of different kinds of sausages, including two notable ones. The first is breakfast or country sausage which is fresh and commonly sliced into patties, pan-fried or cooked into eggs. The other, andouille, comes from the state of Louisiana. A staple in Cajun and Creole cooking, andouille is made mainly of pork and tends to be spicy in flavor.
From German bratwursts to Cajun andouille to Spanish chorizo, there's a myriad of countries (and cuisines) that celebrate the tastiness of sausage. Here are 15 delicious sausage dishes to inspire your next summer cookout:
A staple at the Asian eatery, spicy pork sausage and rice cakes at Momofuku Ssäm Bar are served up with broccoli and Sichuan peppercorn.
Showcasing the variety of ground meats that can be used to make sausage, Argentinian steakhouse Rural Society dishes out a selection of house-made grilled chorizos and sweetbreads made from beef, pork and lamb.
A beefy, fine-dining dish, the house-made sausage of the day at Boeufhaus is served over creamy polenta with root vegetable and jus (a light gravy made from the juices given off by the meat as it's cooked).
A common breakfast item on traditional American menus, the sausage at Sparrow Bar and Kitchen is a hearty way to start your day and pairs well with eggs, hash and waffles alike.
A smoked meat associated with Cajun cooking, andouille is made in house at Preux & Proper and served with gorditas (a small cake made with masa and stuffed with fillings), marjoram (an herb of the mint family with oregano-like flavor) and Sea Island red peas.
Kin Khao's signature dish is Khao Kan Jin, a popular street food from Chiang Mai, Thailand, made with steamed pork, rice and blood sausage wrapped in banana leaves and served with garlic chips, fried shallots, raw shallots, cilantro and lime.
A popular ingredient in Italian cuisine, sausage is featured all across the menu at Brigantessa, offered as an antipasti with crispy polenta, a topping on many different pizzas and a ragu over pasta.
Popular in both the Texas and Chicago barbecue scenes, hot links are aggressively seasoned sausages -- think sage and red pepper flakes -- that taste juicy and smoky. The Smoke Shop brings this BBQ staple to Boston, serving it as a sandwich with pimento cheese or as a meat with two side dishes.
Owen & Engine offers an authentic, British-inspired pub menu, including daily bangers and mash (a traditional British Isles dish made of mashed potatoes and sausages), Scotch eggs with pork sausage, and a charcuterie platter with house-made sausage and cured meats.
Delivering on its name, The Pig serves three German sausages -- a bierwurst (sausage made from pork, beef, heart, and bacon), knockwurst (smoked sausage made of pork and veal) and bockwurst (fat, mild white sausage containing finely ground pork with leeks and chives) -- with emulsions, marmalades and pickled vegetables to pair with each.
Offering meat-centric, dynamic American dishes, Freemans serves a pork and shrimp sausage -- a seasonal selection that pairs perfectly with mixed peas, Napa cabbage and ginger-ramp sauce -- on its summer 2016 menu.
To pair with fresh, local cheeses, Eat Drink Americano serves domestic meats, including cured sausages like finocchiona salami (pork with fennel seed), chorizo casero (slow aged) and Felino salame (Italian salami).
A cooked sausage traditionally grilled and served in a sliced bun, the hot dog at The Duck Inn is made with duck fat and prepared "Chicago style," which typically includes yellow mustard, chopped white onions, bright green sweet pickle relish, a dill pickle spear, tomatoes, pickled sport peppers and a dash of celery salt.
Offering the best of New England charcuterie, Townsman offers bresaola (salted beef), chorizo seco (pork sausage dry cured and aged for more than three months), coppa (traditional Italian pork cold cut), lomo (beef tenderloin) and soppressata (Italian dried salami) as a hearty appetizer platter.
Showcasing the versatility of chorizo, The Daisy uses the ingredient in a myriad of ways. The restaurant delivers homemade octopus sausage with pineapple marmalade, slow roasted pork belly over chorizo bean puree, and an octopus entree with chorizo and white lima beans.