If you’re at the supermarket and see a product labeled “ground pork,” is that the same thing as sausage? And if not, what’s the difference? Fortunately, once you’ve learned the distinction, it should be easy enough to remember.
Is Ground Pork The Same As Sausage?
Ground pork is plain, unseasoned pork that’s been fed through a grinder. To make sausage, butchers add various herbs and seasonings, as well as a nice helping of fat. Sausage can be made from other types of meat, but pork is most common. The product is available both raw and fully cooked, whereas ground pork is always sold raw.
About Ground Pork
When butchers feed whole muscle cuts of pork through the meat grinder, they wind up with ground pork. That’s all it is—just meat that’s been ground up until it resembles a pile of small tubes.
When combined with ground beef, ground pork makes an excellent addition to meatballs and meat loaf. It has a lighter texture and flavor that help to offset the richness of the beef. It also provides a nice backdrop for stronger herbs and seasonings.
Is ground pork the same as sausage? After all, most sausages are made from ground pork. Doesn’t that make them interchangeable?
Interestingly, the answer is no. Ground pork consists only of pork meat and a bit of fat, whereas sausage has other spices and seasonings added. You can turn ground pork into sausage by mixing in other ingredients, but they’re not exactly the same product.
The word “sausage” is derived from a Latin term that means “seasoned with salt.” The process allowed earlier civilizations to preserve meat products without refrigeration. Today, the practice continues mainly because the results are so delicious.
When it comes to pork sausage, a meat-to-fat ratio of 80 to 20 is preferable. Some butchers and home chefs take it a bit farther, aiming for a ratio of 75 percent meat to 25 percent fat. This results in a juicier sausage.
Not all sausage is made from pork, although that seems to be the default setting. You can make sausages out of chicken, turkey, beef, or lamb as well. It’s even possible to mimic the flavor and texture of sausage by using plant-based ingredients.
Sausage comes in many different varieties. Much of the time, the product is intended to showcase the flavors of the region in which it was made.
When To Use Ground Pork vs. Sausage
If you’re making burgers or meatballs, ground pork is a good bet. It doesn’t have much flavor of its own, so it will allow the seasonings and sauces to take center stage.
In addition to having a bold flavor profile, sausage is typically higher in fat than plain ground pork. It’s better to allow this product to take center stage.
When sausage is enclosed in a casing, it’s great on the grill. Serve the links with toasted buns, grilled onions, and various mustards. If the sausage isn’t in a casing, form it into patties and sear it on a flat-top griddle.
Can You Substitute Ground Pork For Sausage In Recipes?
Although ground pork and sausage aren’t interchangeable, you might be able to substitute one for the other, depending on what you have in mind.
If a recipe calls for ground pork and all you have on hand is fresh raw sausage (or vice versa), check the ingredient lists. As long as the flavors won’t interfere with the rest of the dish, you should be able to get away with making the swap.
This technique won’t work with all types of sausage. Fresh chorizo, for example, has a very specific flavor profile. If you try to put that in a soup or casserole that calls for plain ground pork, your results could be disappointing.
How To Make Your Own Sausage
If you want to make your own sausage, start with the freshest ingredients possible. Although raw pork can keep in the fridge for 3 to 4 days before it starts to spoil, it’s better to get to work on the same day you bring the meat home from the store.
Keep all your ingredients cold. The pork and fat need to be well chilled when you add them to the meat grinder. Otherwise, the fat will start to render through contact with the machinery, which will clog up the works.
It’s a good idea to put your equipment in the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes before you begin. This step is especially important for the blade, grinder plates, bowls, and push tool.
Wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling raw pork products. Once a bowl or cutting board has come into contact with the raw meat, you’ll need to clean it before you use it again.
It’s permissible to use a food processor to make homemade sausage, but we don’t recommend it. The machine will grind the meat too finely, resulting in a mushy mess. If you intend to make sausage on a regular basis, a meat grinder is the only way to go.
Cut the meat into thin strips before you add the seasonings. In addition to allowing for a more even distribution of spices, this will help prevent clogging.
We recommend running the meat through the grinder twice. The first time, use a coarse grind plate, then run it through a second time using a plate with smaller holes. This will give the sausage a smooth uniform texture.
Should Sausage Have Casings?
Casings are the thin membranes that hold sausage links together. The natural casings are made from animal intestines, but there are artificial casings available that are made from collagen, cellulose, or plastic.
Natural casings will allow the flavor of the sausage to shine, but they’re not always easy to find. Moreover, they spoil quickly, so unless you’re making huge batches of sausage at one time, they could end up going to waste.
If you opt for artificial casings, your sausages will have an impressive uniform appearance. Not all of them are edible, though, so make sure the ones you buy can be safely consumed.
Finally, it’s important to note that sausages don’t need to be in a casing at all. It’s preferable to put them in casings if they’re going on the grill, but otherwise, feel free to skip this step.
Where To Buy Pork Fat For Sausage
As we mentioned, pork sausage should have a decent amount of fat included in the recipe. You can save your own pork fat trimmings in the freezer until you have enough, but it’s also possible to buy pork fat as needed.
Whenever possible, look for frozen pork fat instead of fresh. It doesn’t take long for the fat to turn rancid, and you want to make sure the flavor of the sausage isn’t compromised in any way. Opting for frozen fatback also allows you to buy it in bulk.
If you still haven’t cultivated a good relationship with your local butchers, now is the time to do it. They might even be able to direct you to a reputable pig farmer, from whom you could buy the product directly.
Another option would be to look for fatback at the supermarket. Check the labels to see if the hogs were pasture-raised and/or hormone-free. The treatment of the pigs is essential in terms of meat safety, and it has a direct effect on the flavor as well.
If you can’t find pork fatback in any of your local markets, try scouring the internet. We would recommend seeking out small specialty outlets whenever possible, but Costco, Kroger, and other big-box stores might offer the product at a budget price.
Does Sausage Need To Be Cooked?
It depends on the type of sausage you’re dealing with. If you’ve made your own sausage at home, or if you purchased a product made from raw meat, then it needs to cook to at least 160 degrees.
In fact, this is true of all ground meat, whether it’s been turned into sausage or not. Unlike whole muscle cuts, like pork chops and steaks, ground meat should be cooked to at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit to eliminate the risk of food-borne illness.
It’s especially important to cook the sausage thoroughly if it’s a non-pork substitute made with poultry. Chicken and turkey need to reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees before they’re deemed safe to consume, according to USDA regulations.
On the other hand, if the sausage was cured or smoked beforehand, there’s no need to cook it to 160 degrees. Heating it to 145 should be sufficient. Some products, such as summer sausage, are shelf-stable and can be eaten cold.
As a rule of thumb, remember the following: raw sausage always needs to be thoroughly cooked before it can be safely consumed, but cured or pre-cooked sausages only need to be heated to 145 degrees.
The Bottom Line
Once you’ve cooked with ground pork and sausage enough times, you’ll be able to tell when it’s suitable to substitute one for the other. In the meantime, remember that they’re two different ingredients, and that each one comes with its own set of benefits.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!