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March 29, 2010 2:54 AM   Subscribe

What's really in sausage?

No really, I want to know. I know it's supposed to make me shudder and everything, but I would like to know, specifically, what parts of the animal go into a sausage. Any sausage, really. For example, I had some Bavarian Weisswurst the other day, and it's really soft - is that all internal organs? And if so, what organs are fair game? Does brain go in there? Heart? Hot dogs are mostly soft but a little chewy - is that like connective tissues and organs? Any actual meat/muscle in there? I have only found vague answers in my cursory Googlings.

It doesn't really bother me. I think we should eat the whole animal, and sausage seems like the most pleasant way to do it.

So, if you know precisely what parts go into a certain kind of sausage, please, spill the beans.
posted by molecicco to Food & Drink (28 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Black Pudding is mostly blood.
posted by flabdablet at 3:09 AM on March 29, 2010

I guess the whiteness and softness in Weisswurst is because of the veal and green (uncured) bacon. Ideally, Weisswurst is a traditional handmade sausage which is eaten on the same day, the archetype of a non-creepy product really.

What would have to go into a decent pork sausage is none other than the minor cuts and enough fat to make it yummy and sausagy, varying amounts of ice water, onions and spices, and sometimes some filling agent like barley, depending on the recipe/tradition.
Minor Cut Supreme, as I would call it, is actually shoulder of pork (also the traditional cut for barbecue, If I'm correctly informed), since it in most cases has almost the right balance of fat and meat. But you can also find some less fatty (and a bit strong-tasting, I found) bits around the beast and stock up with pork fat to achieve the proper balance.
The problem with many commercially produced sausage is that they are no 'recipes' but rather 'products' which makes that a long and nauseating list of chemicals to be added, while the meat content often gets less (%...), and less controllable for the consumer. Or, in other words, Parts go into certain kinds of sausage that traditionally really oughtn't. If you want to know precisely what parts go into a certain kind of sausage, you would have to make it yourself, which is a very satisfying skill to learn.
posted by Namlit at 3:13 AM on March 29, 2010

I think what you're looking for, at least in terms of mass-produced cheap sausage and other meat products, is Mechanically Separated (or Recovered) Meat.

Moreso than other foods, you really should make sure you know the history of any processed meat product you eat. Alex Riley's programmes for the BBC are pretty good (if slightly sensational).
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 3:29 AM on March 29, 2010

Response by poster: Hmmm. Surprised to learn that it should be mostly meat in the sausage. I am asking because I live in Germany and am eating a lot of Bratwurst and regional sausages/salamis, so I'm not really dipping into the phoney-bologna baloney of North America.

So just to be clear, I'm not looking for info on processed meat products, I'm looking for info on traditional sausages. I assume they have all sorts of 'undesirable' bits since in previous times people would be less keen on just throwing away perfectly edible parts of the animal.
posted by molecicco at 3:46 AM on March 29, 2010

Most traditional sausages are made from fattier cuts like shoulder and belly, with additional back fat and maybe some kind of filler (for example, pinkel is filled with groaten oats). The only 'undesirable' bits are the intestines used for stuffing.

Weisswurst is made from pork and veal shoulder. It's white because the meat is pale and its emulsified at temps close to freezing, and sometimes because of added milk powder or cream. There's nothing remotely dodgy in pretty much any fresh sausage I can think of.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:52 AM on March 29, 2010

Once I was in a large bookstore. I found a cookbook: "How to Make Sausage". I opened it randomly to a recipe. The first ingredient on the list was, "one pig's head".

I closed the book and returned it to the shelf.
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 3:57 AM on March 29, 2010 [13 favorites]

I'm in the early stages of trying to make my own sausages (mostly gathering materials and tools), Charcuterie, the book by Michael Ruhlman, is a fantastic guide. What's in sausage? Meat, fat, salt and seasoning, at least in good sausage. I think the ratio is 70% meat to 30% fat. Bratwurst, which you mention, has, in addition to spices, powdered milk to add to the creaminess of the sausage. Ruhlman recommends using sodium nitrite as a preservative, and most commercial sausages list it in the ingredients.

For specifics, you're looking at cuts of pork (because pork is the most common) that aren't very lean. One of the recipes calls for meat from the shoulder, loin and neck (pork neck is absolutely delicious sliced thin and grilled over charcoal, just so you know), mixed in with pure pork fat.

Offal, or the "undesirable" bits you mention are used in a lot of ways. Haggis, for example, uses kidneys and hearts. Sausage itself is usually packed into the intestines, though other parts can be used (for mortadella, for example).

As le Morte de Bea Arthur mentions, a lot of stuff out there is "recovered meat" which, well, has its place. With any luck, that place is far from my table, hence my desire to make my own bratwurst, chorizo, and andouille sausages.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:03 AM on March 29, 2010

Traditional British sausages are 70% meat, 25% fat and the rest breadcrumbs or other filler and herbs and spices (which vary a lot, giving regional variations - Cumberland sausage more peppery, Lincolnshire sausage has a lot of sage).

The contents of some named produced are protected/ensured by EU law.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 4:08 AM on March 29, 2010

you know traditionally sausages were made not to use up the 'dodgy bits' but to naturally preserve the meat so it can be stored at room temperatue for longer.

well not in all cases but in some.

Personally I think a quality sausage can be a thing of beauty and awe. And more interetign and tasty than a steak - particularly a poorly cooked steak.
posted by mary8nne at 4:54 AM on March 29, 2010

thermonuclear.jive.turkey: The first ingredient on the list was, "one pig's head".

You don't eat anything remotely resembling the entire head (no eyes or brains or anything like that). Typically, you braise it to let the meat and fat fall off. Cheeks and jowls, in particular, are delicious parts of the pig that come from the head.
posted by mkultra at 5:30 AM on March 29, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: There's a perfectly good wikipedia category for this:


Blutwurst: The most common variant of German Blutwurst is made from pork rind, pork blood and regionally different fillers such as barley. Though already cooked and "ready to eat" it is sometimes served warm, similar to the usage in France. In the Rhineland, where it is also traditionally made from horse meat, fried Blutwurst is a part of various dishes.

Blood Tongue or Zungenwurst is a variety of German head cheese with blood. It is a large head cheese that is made with pig's blood, suet, bread crumbs and oatmeal with chunks of pickled ox's tongue added.

Bockwurst is a kind of German sausage invented in 1889 by restaurant owner R. Scholtz of Berlin[1]. It is one of the most popular varieties within Germany, and can be found abroad. The sausage is traditionally made from ground veal and pork (tending more towards veal, unlike bratwurst). In modern Germany, however, it is made from different types of ground meat, such as pork, lamb, turkey, chicken and in rare cases even from horse meat. In Northern Germany there is also a version of bockwurst which is made from fish.

To make Kohlwurst, pork (often the remains of the carcass) and fat are minced; then a similar amount of raw, cleaned lights is also minced. It is then all mixed together and, depending on the specific recipe, seasoned with onions, salt, pepper, marjoram, thyme, Mustard seeds and allspice. Finally the sausage meat is loosely filled in casings of natural intestine and smoked for one to two weeks.
posted by zamboni at 5:34 AM on March 29, 2010

It was a sad day when I read the ingredients list on commercially available chorizo, one of my favorites.
posted by Durin's Bane at 5:51 AM on March 29, 2010 [4 favorites]

Just as an anecdote, when my father was a young boy in the 1950's in the Bronx, NY, he worked after school at a butcher shop sweeping the floor and running errands. The butcher made his own hot dogs on-site. My father refuses to eat hot dogs to this day. He won't go into details.
posted by CathyG at 5:57 AM on March 29, 2010

Another possible source of fear of sausage might be Upton Sinclair's book, The Jungle. When a book describing the Chicago meatpacking industry essentially causes the FDA to be established, the conditions have got to be pretty bad. The book is pretty famous for bleak and disturbing imagines, and might be where a lot of people get their first ideas of how sausage is made, seeing as (at least it used to be) it was a standard text in high school English courses.

Don't get me wrong, it's a great book. I'm just hoping that things aren't quite so bad anymore.

If you're nervous about any of this, maybe you could ask around, try to find butchers and restaurants that are known for their handmade products and transparency in production.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:11 AM on March 29, 2010

So just to be clear, I'm not looking for info on processed meat products, I'm looking for info on traditional sausages. I assume they have all sorts of 'undesirable' bits since in previous times people would be less keen on just throwing away perfectly edible parts of the animal.

I think that the thing that is making the answers of 'meat is in sausage' not feel right is the idea that organ meats are the 'undesirable' parts of a carcass. :) It's only a very recent (less than a hundred years) American phenomenon that people turn their noses up at any part of an animal other than muscle. Organs, because of their high nutritional content, their distinctive flavors, and their comparative rarity (only two kidneys per animal, and they aren't exactly huge), were the 'best part' of the carcass, and not only eaten but eaten eagerly. Liverwurst, for example, was a very expensive and luxurious sausage, and the liver in it was a selling point, not something to hide.

Somewhere in the 1950's in the US, eating organ meats and bone marrow went from being the privilege of the rich to being the province of the poor, and those parts became 'gross' instead of 'awesome'. I think that part of it was the movement of Americans away from the realities of where meat comes from, and so the less recognizable the chunk of meat on your plate is as an animal body part, the better. We also got a lot shyer about strong flavors, which offal certainly is.
posted by Concolora at 6:28 AM on March 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Just don't ask about scrapple.
posted by qwip at 6:37 AM on March 29, 2010

But why not, qwip? Scrapple is just another use for offal. As Concolora astutely points out, it is not something to be feared. Plus, scrapple made by some Amish guy is probably better than a commercially made hot dog; after all, he's not likely to include any mysterious "mechanically separated" meat in his product.
posted by cabingirl at 6:59 AM on March 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Yeah, I checked the scrapple link and it looks totally fine to me. I would give it a try for sure. The cheeks are supposed to be tasty - I've heard they go in Chorizo too (although I didn't know about the salivary glands!).

That scrapple link took me to the unfortunately named Groaty Pudding.
posted by molecicco at 7:12 AM on March 29, 2010

yeah honestly once you try some of these less scary forms of offal you won't make a big deal out of whats in sausages.

I had the most delicouis lambs tongue the other night. mm .. had a depth of flavour that is just not there in other lamb cuts.
posted by mary8nne at 7:19 AM on March 29, 2010

The pervasive Scrapple-fear astounds me. "Head, heart, liver, and other scraps" are perfectly good sausage-making ingredients.

I'll eat all kinds of organs, but I stay the hell away from mechanically separated meat whenever possible.
posted by desuetude at 8:12 AM on March 29, 2010

Best answer: There's a really amazing passage in Little House on the Prairie where she describes the process of butchering the hogs and making sausage and headcheese. I read that entire series of books when I was a kid, and this is the part I still remember.
Uncle Henry went home after dinner, and Pa went away to his work in the Big Woods. But for Laura and Mary and Ma, Butchering Time had only begun. There was a great deal for Ma to do, and Laura and Mary helped her.

All that day and the next, Ma was trying out the lard in big iron pots on the cookstove. Laura and Mary carried wood and watched the fire. It must be hot, but not too hot, or the lard would burn. The big pots simmered and boiled, but they must not smoke. From time to time Ma skimmed out the brown cracklings. She put them in a cloth and squeezed out every bit of the lard, and then she put the cracklings away. She would use them to flavor johnny-cake later.

Cracklings were very good to eat, but Laura and Mary could only have a taste. They were too rich for little girls, Ma said.

Ma scraped and cleaned the head carefully, and then she boiled it till all the meat feel off the bones. She chopped the meat fine with her chopping knife in the wooden bowl, she seasoned it with pepper and salt and spices. Then she mixed the pot-liquor with it, and set it away in a pan to cool. When it was cool it would cut in slices, and that was headcheese.

The little pieces of meat, lean and fat, that had been cut off the large pieces, Ma chopped and chopped until it was all chopped fine. She seasoned it with salt and pepper and with dried sage leaves from the garden. Then with her hands she tossed and turned it until it was well mixed, and she molded it into balls. She put the balls in a pan out in the shed, where they would freeze and be good to eat all winter. That was sausage.

When Butchering Time was over, there were the sausages and the headcheese, the big jars of lard and the keg of white salt-pork out in the shed, and in the attic hung the smoked hams and shoulders. The little house was fairly bursting with good food stored away for the long winter.
You can find a present-day account of headcheese-making here. There are also some great instructions on traditional sausage-making in the hog-dressing section of the Foxfire I book (Foxfire is a series of oral histories collected in Applachia that cover all kinds of traditional arts).
posted by ourobouros at 8:43 AM on March 29, 2010 [4 favorites]

Friends of mine in the Tuscan hills told me they were about to butcher one of their two pigs (called Pranzo and Cena), and did I want to help. I didn't want to help, but I went along to see what happened. They needed the next-farm neighbour as well, it was quite a muscular, dog-and-pony-show event. At the end of the afternoon, there was nothing left but the tail and some bones: everything which could be presentable on a plate at table was cut up and frozen (and shared with the helpful neighbours); almost all the rest (including most of the blood) went into sausages, and there was some dog-food left over. It seemed to me that making sausages was the best way of using up all the parts that didn't look particularly appetising on a plate.

The strong flavour seemed to be mainly due to the amount of spices (particularly pepper and fennel seeds) that went into the sausage mix to cover/mask any unwanted "offal" flavour. Quite apart from the salt for preservation (although these home-made sausages were also frozen, not made long-term storable with industrial additives). And I took a lot home with me, too.

But I'm still ashamed to admit that many kinds of offal put me off my appetite, and this is almost totally caused by upbringing/childhood habits. Where I live (in Rome), tripe is a prized speciality, but I can't take more than a mouthful before the texture leaves me feeling nauseous. Which is perfectly ridiculous, because my favourite cuttlefish has almost exactly the same texture. All in the mind. I'll still eat lots of (genuine) sausage, because it's a cheap way of eating perfectly nutritious kinds of meat without the offal-effect.
posted by aqsakal at 9:17 AM on March 29, 2010

Chorizo; Botifarra; Sobrasada; Longaniza. have you visited Sausage.org or wedlinydomowe? I,m on a diet at the moment so this is harshing my mellow.
posted by adamvasco at 11:04 AM on March 29, 2010

The only thing that ever grossed me out was the casing itself is usually made of intestine. A friend recently returned from Paris and claimed he ate sausage that was actually stuffed with intestine... blargh.

Go veg!
posted by chairface at 12:42 PM on March 29, 2010

A friend recently returned from Paris and claimed he ate sausage that was actually stuffed with intestine

Andouillette (not to be confused with the marvelous Cajun andouille) is a French chitterling sausage that is famously...challenging...to even the most jaded and world-traveled of palates. All traces of feces are removed from the chitterlings before preparation, but the aroma lingers in the sausage.

I'll describe certain cheeses as having a whiff of barnyard and mean it as a good thing, but andouillette just stinks. Like poop.
posted by desuetude at 2:18 PM on March 29, 2010

Kosher beef sausages, like kosher beef in general, tends to only include meat from the front quarters of the animal, due to restrictions upon meat near the sciatic nerve. This exclusion of the hindquarters means that your kosher sausages will be free of anus, which I personally find a great and awesome bonus.

Also, since organ meats are very rich in blood, they would not be used in sausage making. Nor would any actual blood be added. The fat surrounding the organs can't be used, either.

I ate lots of interesting and tasty nonkosher sausages while living in Catalunya, by very calmly and deliberately NOT thinking about the ingredients.
posted by elizardbits at 5:36 PM on March 29, 2010

elizardbits is right to point out kosher beef sausage as "safe" from fears of organ meats. Once you realize that the FDA has legal/acceptable limits on the amount of insect/rat filth in sausage, it can be pretty hard to eat factory produced sausage. Kosher sausage can't really have rat filth in it. It wouldn't be kosher if it did.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:08 PM on March 29, 2010

chairface: The only thing that ever grossed me out was the casing itself is usually made of intestine. A friend recently returned from Paris and claimed he ate sausage that was actually stuffed with intestine... blargh.

Intestine is actually a terrific casing. It's totally clean. I'd wager you've probably eaten quite a bit more of it than you think if you eat homemade sausage.
posted by mkultra at 8:47 PM on March 29, 2010

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