Italian sausage: What is It?

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  May 28, 2022

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Italian sausage is a type of pork sausage that’s popular in North America. It’s made from coarsely chopped, ground pork meat that’s seasoned with spices like fennel and anise. The sausage is typically sold in links, which are often red in color and can be used in a variety of dishes, such as pasta sauces, pizzas, and grilled dishes.

In this article, we’ll explore what Italian sausage is, how it’s made, and some of the ways it’s used in cooking.

What is italian sausage

Discovering the World of Italian Sausage

Italian sausage is a type of pork sausage that is popular in North America. It is made with coarsely chopped or ground pork meat and seasoned with a mixture of spices, including fennel or anise as the primary seasoning. This sausage is sold in links or as loose meat and is usually red or hot in color. It is a versatile ingredient that can be used in a variety of dishes, including pasta sauces, pizzas, and grilled dishes.

Cooking with Italian Sausage

Italian sausage is a versatile ingredient that can be used in a variety of dishes. Here are some ways to cook with Italian sausage:

  • Pasta sauce: Italian sausage is a popular ingredient in pasta sauces. It adds a rich and spicy flavor to the sauce and pairs well with a variety of pasta dishes.
  • Pizza topping: Italian sausage is a classic pizza topping that adds a bold and flavorful kick to any pizza.
  • Grilled dishes: Italian sausage is perfect for grilling. It can be served on its own or added to kabobs or other grilled dishes.
  • Charcuterie boards: Dry Italian sausage is perfect for adding to charcuterie boards. It pairs well with a variety of cheeses and crackers.

Tips for Buying Italian Sausage

When buying Italian sausage, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Look for sausage that contains a balanced amount of fat. Too much fat can make the sausage greasy, while too little can make it dry.
  • Choose sausage that is made with high-quality cuts of pork, such as the shoulder or butt.
  • Check the ingredients list to ensure that the sausage contains natural ingredients and no artificial preservatives or additives.
  • If buying loose sausage, ask the butcher to break off a small piece so you can taste it before buying.

Italian sausage is a popular item on menus worldwide, and there are many ways to enjoy this delicious food. Here are some suggestions to complement the flavours of Italian sausage:

  • Fry or grill the sausages and add them to your favourite pasta dish.
  • Add Italian sausage to your pizza toppings for a nice kick of flavour.
  • Italian sausage is a perfect addition to any DIY catering specials.
  • Enjoy Italian sausage as a standalone dish with some sides.

Whether you’re waiting for the annual sausage specials or pumping your own sausages through a grinder, Italian sausage is a nice way to start any meal.

Get Creative with Italian Sausage: Delicious Uses for this Traditional Ingredient

Italian sausage is a great ingredient to add to pasta dishes. The hearty combination of meat and spice complements the richness of the pasta. Here are some recipe ideas:

  • Spaghetti with Italian Sausage and Peppers: Cook spaghetti according to package directions. In a separate pan, cook sliced Italian sausage with sliced bell peppers until the sausage is browned and the peppers are tender. Add canned tomatoes and cook until heated through. Serve over the spaghetti.
  • Spinach and Sausage Stuffed Shells: Cook jumbo pasta shells according to package directions. In a separate pan, cook seasoned Italian sausage with chopped spinach until the sausage is browned and the spinach is wilted. Stuff the shells with the sausage mixture and bake in a casserole dish with tomato sauce and shredded cheese.

Master the Art of Cooking Italian Sausage with These Easy Steps

Once you have bought the Italian sausage, it’s time to prepare it for cooking. Here are the basic steps to follow:

  • If the sausage is in a casing, remove it by slicing it lengthwise with a sharp knife.
  • If the sausage is ground, form it into patties or meatballs.

Sautéing the Sausage with Onions

Sautéing Italian sausage with onions is a classic way to serve this dish. Here’s how to do it:

  • Slice the onions thinly and set them aside.
  • Heat a pan over medium heat and add a tablespoon of oil.
  • Add the sliced onions and sauté them until they are slightly browned.
  • Add the Italian sausage to the pan and stir occasionally until it’s cooked through.
  • Serve the sausage and onions together as a main course or as a side dish.

Serving Suggestions

Italian sausage is a good dish that can be served in different ways. Here are some serving suggestions:

  • Serve grilled Italian sausage with plenty of fresh vegetables, such as white or red onions.
  • Serve sautéed Italian sausage with a side of pasta or rice.
  • Serve boiled Italian sausage with a side of mashed potatoes or roasted vegetables.
  • Add additional ingredients, such as garlic or herbs, to bring extra flavor to the dish.

Should You Pierce the Skin When Cooking Italian Sausage?

Italian sausage is a type of sausage that is encased in a natural or synthetic skin. The skin serves as a barrier that keeps the meat and other ingredients inside the sausage. It also helps to retain moisture and flavor during the cooking process. The skin of Italian sausage is edible, but some people prefer to remove it before eating.

The Debate: To Pierce or Not to Pierce?

One of the most common questions when it comes to cooking Italian sausage is whether or not to pierce the skin. Some recipes call for piercing the skin, while others advise against it. Here are some things to consider:

  • Piercing the skin can release some of the juices and fat from the sausage, which can result in a drier and less flavorful sausage.
  • If you don’t pierce the skin, the sausage can burst during cooking, which can be messy and potentially dangerous.
  • Piercing the skin can help to cook the sausage more evenly, especially if you are cooking it on a grill or in a skillet.

Delicious Side Dishes to Accompany Your Italian Sausage

1. Pasta

There’s no denying that pasta is the perfect side dish for Italian sausage. Whether you prefer a creamy Alfredo or a tangy marinara, pasta is a great way to round out your meal. Try adding some sautéed mushrooms or fennel to your pasta for an extra burst of flavor.

2. Polenta

Creamy polenta is another great option to serve alongside your hearty Italian sausages. It’s easy to prep and tastes delicious with a little butter and cheese. For an extra twist, try adding some braised fava beans or mushrooms to your polenta.

3. Bread

A crusty loaf of bread is always a good idea when serving Italian sausage. It’s a great way to soak up any extra meat juices or gravy. Try serving a French baguette or a hearty sourdough alongside your sausages.

4. Salad

If you’re looking for something a little lighter to pair with your Italian sausage, a salad is a great option. A simple lettuce and tomato salad is always a classic choice, but you can also try a more exciting option like a pepperonata or a frittata salad.

5. Stew

For a complete meal in a single dish, try serving your Italian sausage in a hearty stew. You can add in your favorite vegetables like potatoes, carrots, and peppers, and let it simmer for a few hours to really let the flavors meld together.

6. Antipasto Board

For a more casual meal, try serving your Italian sausage on an antipasto board. You can include a variety of meats, cheeses, and vegetables, and let your guests create their own perfect portions. Add some mandarin oranges or marinated mushrooms for an extra burst of flavor.

7. Bean Salad

A bean salad is a great option to serve alongside your Italian sausage. Try mixing together some cannellini beans, roasted red peppers, and a tangy vinaigrette for a delicious and easy side dish.

No matter which side dishes you choose, be sure to serve them immediately alongside your Italian sausage for the best tasting experience. With these ideas, you’re sure to have an exciting and delicious meal that is sure to be the star of any dinner table.

Italian Sausage vs Pork Sausage: What’s the Difference?

Italian sausage and pork sausage are both made from ground pork, but the main difference lies in the seasonings and additional ingredients used. Italian sausage typically contains fennel, which gives it a distinctive flavor, while pork sausage usually consists of a simple mixture of ground pork, salt, and pepper. Other seasonings that may be added to pork sausage include coriander, onion, and garlic.

Types and Varieties

Italian sausage comes in two main varieties: sweet and hot. Sweet Italian sausage is typically seasoned with fennel and a little bit of sugar, while hot Italian sausage is spicier and may contain red pepper flakes. Pork sausage, on the other hand, comes in a wide variety of styles and flavors, depending on the country and butcher making it. Some common types of pork sausage include breakfast sausages, smoked sausages, and maple sausages.

Preparation and Cooking

Italian sausage is typically sold in link form and is often eaten as a main dish, either grilled or boiled. It is also a common ingredient in pasta dishes and rice dishes. Pork sausage, on the other hand, can come in both link and ground form and is used in a wide variety of recipes, from breakfast dishes to casseroles and stews. It can be boiled, grilled, or fried depending on the recipe.

Fat and Protein Content

Italian sausage is typically made with a little bit of fat, but not as much as some pork sausage varieties. This means that it may be a slightly healthier choice for those watching their fat intake. However, the protein content of both types of sausage is pretty similar.

Availability and Nature

Italian sausage is a specific type of sausage that originated in Italy and is now commonly found in American supermarkets. Pork sausage, on the other hand, is a more general term that can refer to any type of sausage made from pork. It is typically easier to find in supermarkets and comes in a wider variety of styles and flavors.

Italian Sausage vs Sweet Italian Sausage: What’s the Difference?

The primary difference between Italian sausage and sweet Italian sausage is the presence of red pepper flakes. However, there are a few other differences to note:

  • Sweet Italian sausage is a bit sweeter than regular Italian sausage.
  • Some makers of sweet Italian sausage may substitute pork with turkey to create a leaner sausage.
  • Sweet Italian sausage is perfect for grilling and is often served with onions and peppers.
  • Italian sausage is a bit spicier and is often combined with a tomato-based sauce for pasta dishes.

Which One Should You Use?

The choice between Italian sausage and sweet Italian sausage depends on the dish you are preparing and your personal preference. Here are some ideas:

  • If you love spicy food and want to create an authentic Italian-style dish, go for regular Italian sausage.
  • If you prefer a milder flavor or are preparing a dish that doesn’t require a lot of spice, sweet Italian sausage is a suitable alternative.
  • If you find it hard to choose, use a combination of both to get the best of both worlds.

In the end, the choice between Italian sausage and sweet Italian sausage comes down to personal taste. Both types have plenty of uses and can result in delicious dishes.


So there you have it, everything you need to know about Italian sausage. It’s a delicious pork sausage with a spicy flavor, and you can use it in so many dishes. It’s a great way to add some extra protein to your meal. So don’t be afraid to try it!

Also read: how to smoke sausage, a simple guide

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Lakeside Smokers is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with BBQ Smoking (& Japanese food!) at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.