“Wait, we’re doing sausages enough? But we’ve already done hot dogs! And sandwiches! When will the madness end?”
~AFFotD’s Research Staffers
About once a year, the staff of America Fun Fact of the Day decide they want to take on a really ambitious project. Well, really, our editor-in-chief goes on a weird peyote trip and is like, “Man, what if we wrote about every kind of sandwich in America” or has the rest of us scour the internet for every goddamn regional hot dog or what have you, and when the boss man says, “Jump” we say, “Ugh, fine, can we have a few drinks first, at least?” And now that we’re nice and entrenched in 2016, we apparently are overdue for our latest unnecessarily ambitious article series—sausages! That’s right, we’re going to tell you about every fucking sausage, for the small, small price of “our sanity.”
Now, we are going to keep this list at least somewhat manageable by only sticking with sausages that were invented in America, or those that have a distinctive “American” version. That means Italian Sausage, while invented in Italy (really!? You don’t say!) still counts, because there’s an American variation of that sausage, but we can’t really go with chorizo, since the chorizo we eat tends to be either a Mexican or Spanish style. It also, thankfully, means we don’t have to write about vegetarian sausage, as the Germans invented that in 1916, possibly as a continuation of the World War I chemical warfare research that brought us mustard gas.
Also unfortunately (or fortunately?) we can’t include Scrapple, which some people consider a sausage, but which is technically a nightmare pudding that mushes together pork offal with corneal and buckwheat and forms it into a loaf. If we wanted to write an article of “America’s horrific attempts to mimic haggis” we might include Scrapple, but until then they don’t make the cut. Basically, we stuck with encased meats of a very specific type. We’re not going to go generic, so a specific kind of meat, in a sausage, on its own isn’t enough to make the list. That’s right, chicken sausage, get right the fuck out of here. Otherwise, we will follow these basic rules until our researchers get lazy and we don’t. But strap yourself in, as the next few weeks you’ll get to learn way more about dick-shaped food than you’d have any reason to know in a thousand lifetimes. Sausages!
American Sausage Series Part 1: Typical American Sausages
Before we go into detail describing some 25 or so different sausages while trying and failing to not make too many penis jokes (heh, sausage) let’s actually set a baseline for what a sausage really is. A sausage, quite basically, is ground meat, seasoned and encased in a skin—usually some form of intestine, but a synthetic skin isn’t a disqualification. That’s it. Encase some meat and spices (and, let’s be honest, all the salt) and you’re golden. Sausages are pretty magical, because everyone loves them (unless you’re a vegetarian, in which case get the hell out) to the point that those who gets grossed out at the mere thought of eating animal intestines immediately adds the caveat of “Well, it’s fine with sausages, but otherwise, gross.” Now, a food that meets that definition that will not make this list is the hot dog. We’d normally include them in the list, except that we’ve already done that shit to death. So you’ll have to make do with a hot dog-less sausage list.
Sausages have been around so long their existence basically dates back to “when we started butchering meat.” They are prime examples of human creativity and adaptability—early humans would take the meat they liked, and then realize, shit we have all these perfectly good animal bits left over. Why don’t we preserve all this with some salts and tie it up somewhere so we can eat it later? The first forms of sausage came from roasting intestines and stuffing them into stomachs, so congratulations, haggis, you’re using a recipe older than agriculture. By 500 B.C. they were prevalent enough that someone wrote a Greek play named after sausage, and Homer made mention of blood sausage in his plays. In the ensuing millennia, sausages have evolved, or at least we’ve figured out how to make more than just blood sausage (apparently Romans were crazy about blood sausage). There’s really a limitless amount of ways you can make a sausage, though this first segment is devoted to types that we consider to be “typical” sausages you encounter in America. These include…
In true American fashion, while Italy makes literally dozens of sausages, we decided to tinker with one particular type, add our own flare to it, and sell it as an Americanized “Italian Sausage” because anyone acting like cultural appropriation is new to this country hasn’t tried Chinese food outside of the Midwest. You can find this Italian sausage at any grocery story, sold as “hot” or “sweet” (the latter is called mild in some areas), and they are delicious. They are pork sausages, seasoned with fennel and/or anise (and red pepper flakes for the hot varieties) though commercially you might find paprika and salt doing a lot of the heavy lifting.
The Italian sausage as we know it came from Italian-American immigrants, who brought over their heavily flavored sausages for the rest of America to realize that, huh, sausages are delicious. It’s one of the more versatile and heavily used sausages we have outside of hot dogs—you can cook it with peppers for a hardy meal, or you can crumble it up and put it on your pizza. It’s pretty much one of the best sausages you can find without having to look too hard, and for those of you that have already agreed to shave 10 years off your life for food reasons already know, it’s absolutely fantastic when combined with Italian Beef.
While this sausage technically originated in France (eww, gross) the French variant is actually very different from the good old fashioned American version that we associate with Cajun cuisine. France’s andouille had no spice to it, was made primarily out of tripe, and was served with a mustard sauce, which is not the most appealing sounding thing in the world if we’re being honest. Of course, the Creole population in Louisiana took one look at this sausage and thought to themselves, “Okay, okay, so how about we do that, but instead of having a mustard-dipped stomach sausage, let’s make a spicy sausage of pork and garlic, season the shit out of it with cayenne and pepper before encasing it, and smoke it over pecan wood and sugar” which basically is an entirely different sausage, but is also fucking delicious. French andouille is known for its “distinctive odor” which is not a word we really like to see when describing food, while American andouille is known for being spicy and delicious, proving once again that America is even better at France than food, the one thing they claim to be good at (xenophobia doesn’t count, France).
Andouille sausage most commonly appears in classic Cajun dishes, such as gumbo, jambalaya, red beans and rice, and étouffée, but honestly it’s good anytime you want to have an extremely flavorful smoked sausage that packs a kick. And as a bonus, if you call a French person “Andouille” it actually serves both as an insult, and as a way to taunt them for being better at sausage making than they are. Ha ha, take that, froggies.
Mortadella has been around in Italy for centuries, made from finely ground pork with at least 15% of the sausage being comprised of small, visible cubes of pork fat. In the United States, however, it was flat out illegal to have mortadella between 1967 and 2000, due to an outbreak of African swine fever in Italy that, apparently, lingered for a helluva long time. This ban was apparently quite a big deal, considering that they made a movie about it starring Sophia Loren called Lady Liberty. Yes, that’s right, someone made a romantic comedy about a woman who demanded to import a sausage into America. The 70’s were weird.
Anyway, you all grew up with bologna, and probably can recognize mortadella when you see it, and you might be saying, “But bologna doesn’t look much like mortadella, morotadella has obvious globs of stuff in it, while bologna has the sheen and consistency of edible plastic.” And you are right—that’s because bologna is the closest we can try to come to mortadella without breaking our own weirdly specific, relatively archaic food laws. Bologna has to fall in line with a hot dog, in that you’re not allowed to have any visible chunks of anything “non-uniform” from the rest of the sausage, which is why you’re left with slices of eerie pink meat disks that, now that you think about it, kind of taste like cold hot dogs, which might explain why you liked it so much as a kid.
Bologna typically uses pork, but can be made with other meats, and is seasoned with black pepper, nutmeg, allspice, celery seed, coriander, and myrtle berries. Myrtle berries, apart from being the one ingredient item on this list most likely to make you ask, “Wait, the fuck is that?” also imparts the unique taste that both mortadella and bologna are known for. It is probably most famously produced by Oscar Mayer, who made that obnoxious, “My bologna has a first name, it’s O-S-C-A-R” jingle all the way back in 1974, and while it’s generally (and not necessarily wrongly) known as the cold cut you put on your sandwich before your taste buds have actually developed, it does have a rich tradition as a staple in the American diet back before we realized that “eating good food” could be a hobby back around 2002.
Yeah that’s right, we’re including Slim Jims. Yes, fucking Slim Jims. There was a pretty heated debate in our office if the fact that it can be referred to as a “smoked sausage” is enough to allow its inclusion on this list, or if they gave up their right to be written about on this site the moment they made those weird ass “eat me” ads. So yes, we’re going to include Slim Jim. It’s a sausage, technically, and it’s definitely American. Because this is American made, as opposed to just American adapted, we actually have a pretty good idea of its history. It was invented, which is a terrifying word to apply to a food product, in 1928 by Adolph Levis (unrelated to either Hitler or jeans) who eventually sold the company in 1967 to General Mills. The original recipe has since changed, and all of the ingredients can be found on its Wikipedia page, which is kind of hilarious to us.
If you’re curious, and want to accidentally poison yourself make your own Slim Jims at home, you just need to find the right mix of beef, mechanically separated chicken, corn and wheat proteins, lactic acid starter culture (the lactic acid ferments the sausage, lowering the pH and firming up the meat, but you’re not here for a fucking bio chem lesson), dextrose (shrug?), salt, sodium nitrate, and hydrolyzed soy. And while that sounds like a pretty unappetizing list of ingredients, be honest with yourself—you’re reading an article series about sausages. Sausages exist so that we can all agree upon the deliciousness of horrifically unhealthy foods where the manufacturing process actively looks like something you’d see in one of the Saw movies. Sausages are the ultimate “ignorance is bliss” foods, and anyone who has reached for a Slim Jim while hungover in a gas station can attest to that.
But we can’t close this first entry on the note of “Slim Jim—horrible, in that kind of weirdly tasty way.” So let’s take it to something a bit more universally beloved.
Oh, lovely, lovely pepperoni. Back in the early 20th century, America looked over at Italy, eating their fucking salamis like they’re so fucking smug, and said, “We can do that, only we won’t use any animal guts, and ours will taste much better on pizza, which by the way we also now do better than you.” So we mixed some beef and pork together, gave it a relatively fine grain (which, while an accurate way to describe the consistency of the inside of a sausage, is still not the most pleasant), cured it some sodium nitrate (which gives it its red color) and spices and then put it inside an artificial (read as, non-intestine) casing, where it is then air-dried. It first started popping up in Italian-American butcher shops, restaurants, and pizzerias in the early 1900s, and the first recorded usage of the word “pepperoni” to describe this sausage was in 1919.
You might think to yourself that pepperoni sounds like it’s an Italian word, and you’d be correct. In Italian, pepperoni simply means…well, it means a large pepper. Which…listen, we’re good at stealing food ideas from cultures and improving them, but we’re not the best at naming, especially when we’re tying one hand behind our back by not using English words.
Pepperoni is now the most common ingredient you’ll see on pizza, except for cheese, crust and sauce for those of you who felt the urge to offer one of those in a smartass rebuttal. And it makes sense. It’s smoky, spicy, and just seems to make pizza complete for people who definitely want a topping on their pizza, but who also see a pizza with three toppings and goes, “Woah, let’s not get crazy here” because they don’t take risks in life. And it’s pure American. Something to be proud of.
And proud we are. So help yourself to a pepperoni pizza next time you’re out (or, you can order like a real American, stop being a pansy, and get a meat lovers) in order to tide you over until our next article, where we will continue to talk about sausages without saying “tee hee, sausages look like dicks” a single time in the article. Oh, dammit.