In two short sentences, 19th-century Prussian statesman Otto von Bismarck saddled sausages with a hard-to-shake image problem.
“Sausages are like laws. It’s better not to see them being made.”
Today, Bismarck would be eating his words.
Sausages no longer come stuffed with the mystery meats – glands, head meat and tails – that prompted Bismarck’s scorn.
Modern-day sausages are filled with ground pork, beef, chicken, veal, salmon and more, with herbs and spices added for flavor. The result: fat and juicy links that take the humdrum out of summer grilling.
“There’s nothing mysterious about our sausage, and I can say with certainty that sausage is no longer an inferior meat. Every year, we sell more, especially for summer grill parties,” says Nancy Schiller, owner of Schreiner’s Fine Sausages in Phoenix.
Grilling links, although new to some, has been done for centuries. Homer makes reference to the Greek soldiers roasting sausages in “The Odyssey,” written more than 2,600 years ago.
“The reason we like sausages off the grill is that not only are they packed with flavor, but they are easy to grill,” says Judith Fertig, who, along with partner Karen Adler, writes grilling cookbooks and travels nationwide promoting grilling (www.pigoutpublications.com).
Chances are those skeptical about cooking sausages on the outdoor barbecue are those who don’t know how to grill them properly. Grill too quickly and the sausage links will turn out as dry as burnt toast. Ditto for parboiling too long.
“Sausages are so easy that you can put a little more effort into the sides to make a summer barbecue or party really special,” Fertig says.
For additional variety, experiment with the newer types, such as chicken basil, tofu, chicken habanero and smoked Southwest turkey.
Schreiner’s customer Mike Koteck of Avondale, appreciates the newfangled choices, but the Milwaukee native is a traditionalist.
“I grew up on brats, and they remain my favorite,” he says.
And how does Koteck cook the links?
“There’s no other way than to simmer in beer and finish off on the grill,” he says. “Sausage doesn’t get any better.”
MAKING SENSE OF SAUSAGE
Many nations and regions have sausages they call their own, and few will argue against a wide range of choices. But for novices, the multiple classifications and numerous varieties can be confusing.
Fresh sausage is made from fresh uncured meat, such as pork, beef, veal and chicken, and must be cooked thoroughly before eating.
Fresh smoked sausage is made from fresh or cured meats and is lightly smoked. It, too, should be fully cooked before eating.
Smoked sausages are fully cooked and then smoked for additional flavor.
Andouille: This is a spicy, smoked Cajun sausage. Don’t confuse it with the milder French andouille sausage.
Banger: A mild British pork sausage.
Bauerwurst: A chunky German farmer’s sausage, it’s traditionally grilled and served on a bun with sauerkraut.
Bockwurst: This is a mild, white German sausage made with veal, pork, milk and eggs, and seasoned with chives and parsley.
Bratwurst: This is made with pork and sometimes veal, and seasoned with subtle spices. A favorite at tailgate parties, it’s traditionally simmered in dark beer before grilling.
Italian: Varieties range from sweet or mild, which is flavored with garlic and fennel seed, to hot, which is notched up with crushed chili peppers.
Kielbasa: Smoked Polish sausages made with pork or beef and flavored with garlic, pimento and cloves. They come already cooked but should be heated on the grill before serving.
Knackwurst or knockwurst: These smoked beef sausages are seasoned with lots of garlic and should be heated before eating.
Linguica: This is a fairly spicy Portuguese smoked garlic sausage. Grill before serving.
Potato korv: This is a Swedish pork sausage with potatoes added.
Weisswurst: These are mildly seasoned German veal sausages, very light in color.
COOKING AND CONDIMENTS
Nancy Schiller, and formerly with her late husband, Gary, has sold sausages made fresh daily at Schreiner’s Fine Sausages in Phoenix since the 1960s. She shares these tips:
• Simmer fresh sausages before placing them on a grill. Bring a few inches of water or dark beer to a boil. Reduce heat, add sausages and cover, simmering for eight to 10 minutes.
• Place cooked sausage directly on the grill and slow cook on low to medium-low heat about 10 minutes on each side.
• Grill about 4 inches above the coals and turn with a spatula or tongs, not a fork. Be careful not to pierce the skin and release the juices into the fire.
Cookbook author Judith Fertig suggests jazzing up sausages with flavorful glazes such as almond honey, or grilling on cedar planks. Other tips:
• Consider grilling condiments at the same time, from onions and peppers for Italian sausage to apples for chicken-apple sausage.
• Serve hot off the grill or on a roll. For variety, dice grilled sausage and toss with a bed of baby greens and fresh summer produce. Or use leftovers for pizza toppings or a quick dinner omelet.
• Cole slaw and potato salad are standard side dishes for any sausages, and, again, Fertig recommends unorthodox flavors that complement the bold flavor of sausages, such as blue cheese coleslaw and grilled new potato and fennel salad.