Not sure what makes each type of spicy sausage different? A pro butcher helps us find the missing link.
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variety of sausages on white platter
Credit: Christopher Baker

Affordable, quick-cooking, and fast to thaw from the freezer, sausage is a great protein to keep on hand for speedy weeknight meals. If you're someone who likes their links on the spicy side, then keep reading to learn more about which varieties to look out for. To help us understand the subtleties between some common spicy pork sausages, we tapped Melissa Khoury, proprietor of the Cleveland-based butcher shop Saucisson, for insight and cooking tips.

Sausage 101

The typical sausage is made with a base of ground meat that is then mixed with fat, salt, and miscellaneous seasonings. Proteins can vary all the way from chicken to veal—here, we're focusing on a handful of spicy pork sausages. There are many different styles available: fresh, smoked, pre-cooked, and cured, just to name a few. These differences are important to be aware of for substitution purposes; after all, a fresh sausage will have a very different texture than a pre-cooked or cured sausage.

Hot Italian Sausage

Fresh sausages like hot Italian will bring bold, complex flavor to easy recipes like our 30-Minute Spaghetti and Meatballs or our Sausage and Rice Stuffed Peppers. Khoury, whose shop specializes in hand-cured meats and specially spiced sausages, has a soft spot for the simplicity of this variety. "Italian cuisine, including sausage, uses the simplest ingredients and adheres to the seasons. The spices in fresh Italian sausages are basic—fennel is an absolute must. And the most notable difference between sweet and hot Italian sausages are simply crushed red pepper flakes," she says.

It's common for recipes to call for the fresh sausage to be removed from its casing before cooking, like in this weeknight-friendly Sausage-and-Peppers Pasta with Almond Frico. You can simply push the sausage out with your fingers or go the pro-route like Khoury and use a paring knife. "I have found the easiest way to remove casings is to slice along the length of the sausage with a small knife to create a split, then folding back and pushing the meat out of the casing into your pan or bowl." The sausages can also be cooked as whole links. For this, Khoury recommends going low and slow to avoid any unfortunate eruptions. "As the meat starts to cook, moisture will be looking for an escape, if your heat is too high, the liquid is looking for a quick way out and will lead to your sausage splitting," she says.

Spanish Chorizo

Spanish chorizo is a heavily seasoned sausage that owes its signature red color to large doses of paprika. Heat level can vary per brand of chorizo based on the kind of paprika being used, so we advise looking at the packaging for any clues to whether or not you have an especially spicy link in your hands. Khoury likes traditional Spanish-style chorizo for its versatility. "You can eat it as is or dice it up and add it to any cooked dish. Typically, adding it early in the cooking process will allow the flavors to come out more in the finished dish." We especially like how it enhances this Tortilla Espanola, and it certainly livens up a pot of spicy mussels like nothing else can.

Andouille

The type of andouille sausage (pronounced ann-DOO-ee) you will find in American supermarkets has roots in the Cajun cuisine of Louisiana. This spicy sausage comes cooked, having been double smoked during its production process—this not only imparts great flavor, but also helps to preserve the links. Most of its heat can be attributed to the generous amounts of garlic added to the pork mixture, but cayenne is also a common addition that gives this sausage a sharp and spicy reputation. Try out andouille in a recipe that will balance its assertive flavor out with more mild ingredients, like this dish of Shrimp and Andouille with Grits. As this recipe suggests, you can certainly substitute a different smoked sausage like kielbasa, but it won't bring nearly the same amount of spice and heat as this famous Cajun sausage will.

Soppressata

If you're already a fan of pepperoni, then you'll love soppressata, its spicier relative. According to Khoury, a standard soppressata will be made with peppercorns and chiles, but may still be milder than what you are looking for if you love hot dishes. "Another option would be Calabrian salami—it's similar to soppressata, but uses different chiles," she says. Since soppressata is a cured sausage, it's best when sliced as thinly as possible. From there, you can serve it as a spicy addition on an antipasti platter, bake it into a cheesy pull-apart bread, or use it as the meat in a great Italian sandwich.

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