Bratwurst v. Italian Sausage: What Are The Differences?

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The Germans against the Italians. Although similar, Bratwurst and Italian sausages have a lot of different characteristics.

Let’s take a closer look at these two popular types of sausage and see which team you’re on.

Table of Contents

sausages and bratwursts on a grill

Intro to Sausages

Sausages are one of my favorite foods to eat and to cook. There are so many different types of sausages you can never get bored.

Sausages have been around for thousands of years. It’s very cool to think that just about every culture on earth has figured out how to take leftover scraps of meat, stuff them in an animal intestine and make them taste delicious.

Sausages were invented out of necessity but have evolved into a delicacy.

Some sausages are made with natural casings and some are made with artificial casings. As noted above, the first ones are usually made with animal intestines. On the other hand, artificial casings are usually made from collagen or cellulose.

The type of meat varies from one sausage to another. A typical sausage is usually made with pork, beef, veal or chicken combined with various spices. There are also sausages that use a combination of meats in their recipes.

Different Types of Sausages

The list of sausages could go on forever, but here is a small list you’ve probably seen in the grocery store.

Polish kielbasa: First of all, “Kielbasa” is the Polish word for sausage. The Kielbasa we’re used to seeing is a Polish sausage that is usually made with pork and various blends of spices. It can come uncooked but you’ll usually find it smoked and vacuum-sealed in its famous U shape at the supermarket.

Spanish chorizo: This sausage is made of chopped meat that is cured and seasoned with lots of paprika. You will find it on charcuterie boards at Spanish restaurants.

Mexican chorizo: The Mexican chorizo is an uncooked sausage made of ground meat that is sold in links and must be cooked before you eat it. It is common to find it served with eggs or rolled up in a burrito at your favorite taqueria.

Andouille sausage: The French version is a sausage made with offal, spices, and wine. You’ll find it in and around Normandy. The Cajun andouille that you are probably thinking of is common in Louisiana and is made with pork, garlic, peppers, onions and spices. It is a smoked sausage that is commonly served in Jambalaya and Gumbo.

You can even add breakfast sausage and hot dogs to the list! 

Today we are going to learn about the differences between Bratwurst vs Italian sausage.

What is Bratwurst?

bratvurst vs sausage on a grill

Bratwurst is a traditional German sausage that is made with ground pork.

It has a long history as it’s been around for several hundred years. It’s not quite clear what part of Germany first started making Bratwurst, but it’s certainly a staple all over the country today. There are several varieties of Bratwurst that come from Franconia which is an area of Germany located mainly in Bavaria.

There are different varieties made with veal or beef but they are not as common.

A Short List of Bratwurst Types

Bratwurst recipes vary depending on the areas where they are made. Below is a small list of Bratwursts that you may come across in your culinary travels.

Fränkische Bratwurst: This is a Bratwurst from the Franconia region of Germany. It is a thick sausage made with coarsely cut pork. It is served with sauerkraut and potato salad. Many Germans frown against putting mustard on this sausage.

Coburger Bratwurst: This sausage is found in Coburg, Germany. It is supposed to contain 15% veal and is traditionally grilled over a fire made of pine cones which adds to the sausage’s flavor. Eat it in a sandwich as the Germans do.

Kulmbacher Bratwurst: These are from the city of Kulbach in northern Franconia. They are a mix of veal and pork. They are a type of link sausage that comes in long, thin links and can be pan-fried or grilled on a fire. They are served with mustard.

Spices Used in Bratwurst

One of the things that differentiate Bratwurst from Italian sausage is the spices used. While they can vary depending on the type of Bratwurst being made, here is a list of spices that can be blended with the fresh pork mixture.

White Pepper: White pepper is similar to black pepper, but milder. It comes from the same plant as black pepper, but it’s processed differently.

Coriander: Coriander is a spice that is ground from a seed. It is in the parsley family.

Mace: This spice is the protective layer that grows around the nutmeg seed. It has the flavor of a milder nutmeg.

Cardamom: Cardamom comes from a pod and has a flavor that gives off a hint of menthol or mint.

Caraway: Caraway is a seed that tastes similar to licorice or anise.

How to Cook Bratwurst

Bratwurst is a pork sausage that is common to see served at an Oktoberfest event or at a football tailgating party. If you want to make some Bratwurst at your next party, try these cooking methods:

Grill: Preheat your grill to medium-high and place your sausages off of the direct flame. Your sausages will cook slowly and evenly. This will avoid having a burnt outside before the inside of the sausage is done.

Cast Iron Frying Pan: Fry the sausages in some oil and butter. Get a good sear on the outside of the sausages and finish them off in the oven.

Dutch Oven: Sear your sausages in the Dutch Oven with some butter. Add chopped onions and let them caramelize a bit. Add some beer and let the sausages and onions braise in the liquid on low.

What is Italian Sausage?

If you ever visit Italy be prepared to get overwhelmed by the different types of sausage you come across. There are fresh sausages, cured sausages, dried sausages, sausage made with ground pork, beef, veal, and lots of other meats.

Here in the United States, when someone mentions Italian sausages, you probably only think of two kinds. The popular sausages we know are Sweet Italian sausage and hot sausage. These are the ones we’re used to seeing sold outside of baseball stadiums and at the family cookout, but they’re not the only types of Italian sausage that you could find in a salumeria.

Short List of Italian Sausages

From Northern Italy to Sicily, Italian sausages are made in a variety of ways. Local butcher shops will have both fresh link sausages and sausages that are dried and cured.

Some of these shops will even make “tagliere” which are boards filled with slices of meat, hunks of cheese and bread. Let them choose what to serve you, because they are the experts and will want to show off the natural flavor of their products..

Here is a small list you should explore on your next sausage adventure in Italy.

Luganega: This is a fresh sausage made in the Northern part of Italy. It comes in a long roll and is normally grilled at barbecues. It can sometimes contain garlic and white wine.

Mortadella: You know we love our mortadella, so how could we not include this in our list? It comes from Bologna and is made with very finely ground pork infused with spices, cubes of pork fat, and pistachios. It should be sliced thin and served in a sandwich or on a charcuterie board.

Salsiccia alla Pizzaiola: This is a Sicilian sausage made with ground pork mixed with onions, garlic, and spices.

Speaking of that…

Spices Used In Italian Sausages

While it’s hard to say exactly what spices are used in so many different kinds of sausages made in Italy, below are a few. They should all be easy to find in your favorite grocery stores.

Fennel: These seeds from the fennel plant are common in many Italian sausages and taste like sweet licorice.

Anise: Anise seed is related to fennel and has a similar licorice flavor.

Rosemary: This leaf is usually dried and used in cooking for its flavor which has a hint of pine and lavender.

Chile pepper: Also known as peperoncino, there are many different varieties that are grown in Italy. They can be used dried or fresh to add a bit of heat to sausages.

How to Cook Italian Sausages

There are a variety of ways to cook Italian sausages, but I figured I will give you a few of our favorites.

Grill: Preheat a grill on high and cook the sausages off the flame with onions and bell peppers. Allow them to cook evenly. Cut peppers and onions, toss in olive oil and place everything in a crusty roll to make a delicious sandwich.

Frying Pan: Saute sausages with olive oil, garlic and broccoli rabe. Add salt, pepper and white wine. Allow it to simmer and enjoy with a glass of red wine.

In the Oven: Place sausages, onions and potatoes in a baking dish. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Bake in a 400-degree oven for about 45 minutes.

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