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I have recently come across several American recipes that call for an ingredient described as 'Smoked Sausage' or 'Smoked Italian Sausage'. Here in Australia, we try to be a little more specific, so is it a longer, skinny item like Cabanossi (Popular on pizza) or Kabanos, or one of a plethora of sausage products that are either smoked or cooked in a brine tank, or even both? Are they short or long? Are they relatively unspiced etc, or garlicky, peppery etc?

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    Hello Paull, and welcome to the site. I am not really sure what you are asking. Smoked sausages can come in all shapes, sizes, and flavors. It could be helpful if you share a recipe.
    – moscafj
    Feb 12, 2023 at 11:39
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    @moscafj I've certainly seen American recipes/cooks refer to 'Italian sausage' as in ingredient with what is clearly a relatively well-defined flavour profile, so I think asking what this corresponds to outside the US is a good question.
    – dbmag9
    Feb 12, 2023 at 12:19
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    @dbmag9...fair...but the OP asks about "smoked sausage" or "smoked Italian Sausage" in the context of "several American recipes." My point is simply that this has the potential to mean many things. An example or two of recipes, would help the OP get a more precise answer.
    – moscafj
    Feb 12, 2023 at 12:43
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    I find it pretty easy to understand what OP is asking. He is cooking a recipe he got from somewhere US based, and the recipe states "smoked sausage". Either that's too generic even for US cooks, or there is some 80% probability that it's some kind of sausage that most US citizens would understand. He needs a translation to some probably equally fuzzy class of ingredient in Australia. The fact that it can "mean many things" is the point. @moscafj
    – AnoE
    Feb 13, 2023 at 9:52
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    @AnoE I think it is pretty easy to see the issue I was pointing out given the answers thus far. With a one or two examples of recipes, the OP would have had a higher chance of finding the kind of sausages those recipes might be suggesting. On Seasoned Advice, it doesn't work so well when something can "mean many things". Suggesting a couple of recipes (or providing the links) narrows the options.
    – moscafj
    Feb 13, 2023 at 11:16

5 Answers 5

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This question is difficult to answer without knowing what region of the US the recipe came from, and how old it is.

Sausage making in the US for a long time was highly regionalized, with the sausage style based on where the people of that area primarily emigrated from, so they might be in a Germanic, Polish, or Italian tradition.

These days, however, and for the past 20-30 years, there are major national distributors (e.g., Hillshire Farms) who simply sell products labeled ‘beef smoked sausage’ and ‘smoked sausage’.

Unless you have any other information, assume that you can get away with any pre-cooked, moist (not dried/cured), lightly smoked but otherwise non-assertive sausage, as it’s more about protein and texture than anything else. It would likely be a medium grind (not a coarse sausage like soppressata, but not homogeneous like a frankfurter, either). It’s probably pork, or a blend of pork, chicken, and beef, as that would have been otherwise specified.

Update: I forgot to mention the size aspects. Smoked sausage is usually sold as a loop, which were 16oz until a few years ago. Due to shrinkflation, they’re now usually 14oz. It’s a single sausage, no casing, about 3cm in diameter. “Italian” typically means that there’s fennel seed, but it’s usually sold as a raw sausage (in links maybe 2.5 to 4oz each).

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    Italian sausage (mild or hot) is also often found in bulk, no casing.
    – Jon Custer
    Feb 13, 2023 at 17:18
  • In my experience, the national brands of "smoked sausage" and "polska kielbasa" are almost indistinguishable, and at least interchangeable on my table. I don't know any Polish people to ask if it's real kielbasa.
    – TecBrat
    Feb 15, 2023 at 6:38
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    In countries like Spain, the word sausage ( salchicha ) refers to a more "not as industrialised and processed" product, whereas a generic smoked sausage would be refered to as a frankfurt (be it german or not, we use it as a generic term). Salchichas usually come in the same containers as chicken breast, beef, pork, lamb in the butchery section, whereas frankfurts come in plastic vacumed sealed packages
    – M.K
    Feb 15, 2023 at 9:39
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I can’t comment what those specific recipes mean, but based on experience here in the US, ‘smoked sausage’ is pretty generic, albeit with some relatively consistent properties. In particular, ‘American’ smoked sausage usually:

  • Has pork as the primary meat, and if not is usually a blend of multiple meats.
  • Has the meat medium to finely ground.
  • Has a ‘medium’ casing (not super soft, but still pretty easy to cut with a decent knife, and still holds together reasonably well).
  • Is pre-cooked, not dried, and not cured.
  • Has a rather mild flavor with little in the way of spices or herbs involved.

In theory, any sausage you can source locally that meets all those points should work fine in most American recipes that call for ‘smoked sausage’. There are two special exceptions to this:

  • Louisiana Cajun and Creole dishes may assume Cajun Andouille sausage due to the extremely heavy French influence on that area’s cuisine. This is similar to French Andouille sausage, though typically double-smoked and often with a heavy helping of cayenne pepper as part of the seasoning. This will usually be called out explicitly, but is not always.
  • Some Hawaiian dishes may assume something closer to Portuguese linguiça. Portuguese cuisine had a major influence on modern Hawaiian cuisine, and this is one big way it still shows. Again, this will usually be called out explicitly, but is not always.

‘Italian sausage’ is trickier. What most Americans think of as Italian sausage is a fresh, coarse-ground, pork sausage seasoned primarily with fennel, typically with some black pepper and occasionally with sweet basil or cayenne pepper flakes (I believe it’s mostly based on Italian luganega, but I’m not certain about that). It’s almost never smoked though, so I’m not sure if it is what these recipes are calling for or not. In theory, Bologna sausage would fit the description of ‘smoked Italian sausage’, and it’s readily available in the US, but that’s probably not it since most Americans don’t even know it’s sausage (we largely just use it as a cold-cut for sandwiches under the name ‘baloney’).


After digging a bit further, I’ve learned that apparently some places in the US that make smoked meats actually smoke American-style Italian sausage and sell the result as ‘Smoked Italian Sausage’, and some people go about making these themselves as well. I’ve never had these myself (let alone seen them sold anywhere), but my guess is that they are what the recipe is calling for when it says ‘Smoked Italian Sausage’. From what I can tell, these sausages are usually hickory-smoked like many other smoked meats in American cuisine that don’t call out a specific wood used for the smoking.

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    If there’s significant cayenne or crushed red pepper in Italian sausage, it’s usually called out as ‘hot Italian sausage’. Without it, it’s either sold as ‘Italian sausage’, ‘sweet Italian sausage’, or sometimes ‘fennel sausage’. Also, although the standard American ‘baloney’ is like mortadella without the pistachios and chunks of fat, there’s also regional variations of balogna. In Pennsylvania, there’s “Lebanon Balogna” and “sweet Balogna” which are a coarse ground beef sausage of similar thickness which is lactofermented (and then smoked?) also ‘ring balogna’
    – Joe
    Feb 13, 2023 at 1:51
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    This must be where those regional differences/preferences come in. In my experience, most recently in Texas smoked sausage is beef and if you want pork sausage you have to ask/look for it. I'm in RVA now and there is about an equal split between beef and pork when it comes to sausage, at least from what I have seen... Feb 13, 2023 at 16:16
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    This is what most of us think of as "smoked sausage": hillshirefarm.com/products/smoked-sausage/smoked-sausage (Though personally, if I encountered a recipe calling for that, I'd substitute Kielbasa, from the same manufacturer.)
    – Marti
    Feb 13, 2023 at 17:56
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    @Marti Which fits all the points I listed (even with pork being the primary meat). Quoting specific products like that is less than useful for people internationally (the OP explicitly mentions they are in Australia), as they are often not reliably available internationally (which is, ironically, part of why American perceptions of ‘Italian sausage’ are what they are). Feb 13, 2023 at 19:02
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    It's not so much quoting a specific product as "a picture is worth a thousand words".
    – Marti
    Feb 13, 2023 at 22:52
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In typical "southern style" American cooking a smoked sausage can mean anything between a Kielbasa and a Bratwurst. I normally lean more toward the Keilbasa.

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The catch on any American sausage like that is the marketing terms vary wildly, even in the US. Sausage, in general, can encompass

  • Uncased or small cased (0.5" diameter) spiced pork (uncooked, usually served with breakfast)
  • Cased luncheon meat (refrigerated and commonly 3-4" in diameter)
  • Cased 2-3" shelf-stable meat (short tubes, names vary, but sometimes called "summer sausage")
  • Cased 0.5-1.5" diameter cooked refrigerated meat. Usually sold in longer length

It's that last one that "smoked sausage" usually falls into. Hillshire Farms (US brand) has an entire section of their website devoted to the category, but you'll note that they all fall into that range of 1-1.5" in diameter

Smoked sausage

If you can't find "smoked sausage", you can find variants that fit the size requirements. This can include sausages like

  • Kielbasa (common in the US)
  • Kranski/Kransky
  • Polish Sausage (as in it's labeled this)
  • Polish Wiejska
  • Polish Staropolska

I made sure all of the above are available in Australia.

The one catch here is I would avoid poultry-based "smoked sausage". In most cases, the recipe is expecting a fatty meat like pork or beef. They're generally not as concerned with the smoke flavor. My wife likes to use sausages like this to "fatten" up bean soups and add a meat flavor.

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  • Not sure I'd go for the Polish sausages in a recipe specifically calling for "Italian" sausage. Unfortunately, the only places I typically see anything described as "Italian sausage" is as a pizza topping, where it's already crumbled into little pieces, so it's hard to say what it looked like when it was still in full-sausage form. So-called "Polish" sausage tends to hold its shape more and not crumble to pieces. (I'm sure none of it is actually either Polish or Italian, we just call it that.) Feb 15, 2023 at 20:25
  • @DarrelHoffman Most US recipes asking for "Italian sausage" are not going to specify "smoked", because such a thing would be hard to find (I can't see I've ever seen a supermarket carry such a thing). Most US Italian sausage falls into my first category of uncooked sausage
    – Machavity
    Feb 15, 2023 at 21:06
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We don't know, either. A bit tongue in cheek, but, I think, that's the literal truth, and the actual intention of the recipe author, too, with an American audience. There really is no coast-to-coast "American sausage" preference. Another answer stated smoked sausage is usually pork but for my whole life I have always bought the ones that are "100% beef". (The ones that don't say "100% beef" are often a mix of beef and pork, but could be 100% pork, or any kind of pork-chicken-beef mix. I will just throw it out there that Americans do not have anything like a standard concept of what a sausage is, beyond the most vague generalities.)

With that in mind, I believe recipes like this are intentionally being vague because you are meant to "insert your own personal favorite smokey sausage here". They know that New Yorkers may use something very different than Texans, but it's meant to work out fine provided it brings some variety of smokey meat flavor to the dish.

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