There are a number of different precooked sausage products on the market. That can be overwhelming when you’re trying to decide which one to buy. To help make your choice easier, let’s take a look at kielbasa vs smoked sausage.
Kielbasa vs Smoked Sausage
Kielbasa is a Polish sausage, usually made from pork, that utilizes the bold flavors of garlic and clove to give it a distinctive flavor. Smoked sausage may be made from beef or pork, and relies on wood smoke to flavor the meat. While kielbasa may be smoked, that’s not usually the case.
The word kielbasa means sausage in Poland. As you might imagine, that means that this type of sausage originated in that country. In other parts of the world, kielbasa is used as the blanket term for Polish sausage.
Like many sausage varieties, kielbasa uses ground pork as its base. Flavors of garlic and clove are prevalent, though there are other herbs and spices used as flavoring as well.
The kielbasa you find in the supermarket is precooked, sometimes by smoking the meat at a low temperature. It’s not always smoked, though, so be sure to check the label if you’re looking for a smoked meat product—or even if you’re not.
You can recognize store-bought kielbasa by its distinctive U shape. It’s a light orange-pink on the outside and mainly pink inside, with an almost creamy texture. Kielbasa is a common ingredient in soups and stews, but it’s also delicious grilled on its own.
Dried kielbasa is also available. This product has a sharper flavor and a chewier texture than the regular kind. Again, check the package to ensure that you’re getting the product you want.
About Smoked Sausage
Smoked sausages are made from ground meat—usually pork, beef, or a combination—that’s been stuffed into casings, then exposed to wood smoke until it’s fully cooked. As a result, the meat is very flavorful.
Often, food processors will add liquid smoke to the ground meat mixture to intensify the flavor. You might want to take this step yourself if you’re making smoked sausage from scratch.
The seasonings used in smoked sausage may vary. Popular additions include black pepper, ground coriander, and paprika. Using paprika gives the finished product a lovely rosy hue in addition to improving the taste.
Kielbasa vs Smoked Sausage: Breaking it Down
So, what’s the difference between smoked sausage and kielbasa? In truth, there are several qualities that set the two apart from one another.
If kielbasa is smoked, then technically it’s a type of smoked sausage. However, not all smoked sausage can be classified as kielbasa, so the terms can’t be used interchangeably.
Here are the key differences between these two popular grilling staples.
Type of Meat
As we mentioned, kielbasa is traditionally made with a pork base. Smoked sausage, on the other hand, more often uses ground beef as its primary ingredient.
Summer sausage is a prime example. This smoked sausage is cured so that it’s stable at room temperature, making it a popular option for gift baskets. While it sometimes contains pork, beef is the common base ingredient for summer sausage.
Kielbasa is distinguished by its horseshoe shape—at least, that’s true of the type you buy commercially. Meanwhile, regular smoked sausage is usually formed into straight links.
Kielbasa and smoked sausage may contain different seasonings as well. Paprika and black pepper give smoked sausage its kick and a hint of color, while kielbasa contains the bolder flavors of garlic and clove.
Pimento is often added to kielbasa as well. Also known as allspice, this seasoning is prevalent in Polish cooking and lends a lovely herbaceous note to the sausage.
Method of Preparation
In order to qualify as smoked sausage, the product needs to be cooked at a low temperature while exposed to wood smoke. As a result, that smokiness is often the most prevalent flavor.
Though kielbasa may be smoked, that’s not always the case. It’s just as often prepared grilled or boiled, or used as an ingredient in another dish.
It’s also worth noting that even if kielbasa is smoked, the woodsy flavor will be less pronounced than you might expect. If you buy smoked kielbasa, it might still benefit from a stint on your own smoker to boost the flavor.
Kielbasa is made with a coarser grind than most smoked sausage. If you were to take a bite of kielbasa and then follow it up with a bite of summer sausage, you would likely notice the difference.
That’s not to say that one is better than the other. On the contrary, both types of sausage are a pleasure to eat if they’re made correctly. But the discrepancy in their textures makes it easy to tell them apart.
As you might imagine, smoked sausage tastes primarily of smoke. That’s its defining factor, after all. Though you can taste the beef or pork, along with the other seasonings, the first thing you’ll notice will be the taste of wood smoke.
With kielbasa, you’re bound to taste the garlic before anything else. Hints of clove and allspice will be in the background, but the pungent garlicky taste takes center stage.
In this matter, kielbasa and smoked sausage are more alike than different. You can serve either of them at any temperature, depending on the situation.
Smoked sausage is always hot when it’s initially prepared. However, if you buy prepackaged smoked sausage, there’s no need to reheat it—unless your recipe calls for this step.
Similarly, kielbasa is sold fully cooked. It can be served cold, hot, or at room temperature. We think the flavors are more pronounced when the sausage is heated, but that’s true of most smoked sausages as well.
How Do You Know When Sausage is Fully Cooked?
Like we said, most commercially prepared kielbasa is already cooked before it’s packaged for sale. If it’s not, you’ll be able to tell by the texture—cooked ground meat is firmer and less malleable than raw product.
Similarly, if the package contains the words “smoked sausage,” you can assume that the product is already cooked. Otherwise, it would just be “fresh” or “raw” sausage.
When smoking sausage at home (including homemade kielbasa), make sure the meat reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit before you stop cooking. Ground meat products need to cook thoroughly to ensure the destruction of any potential bacteria.
After you take the sausages off the heat, let them rest for at least 5 minutes. During this time, their residual heat should allow them to cook to a safe temperature of 165 degrees.
Try not to let the sausages cook past 165 degrees. If they’re overcooked, the meat will toughen up and dry out, effectively robbing the sausages of all the qualities that make them a pleasure to eat.
The Bottom Line
Once you understand the differences between kielbasa and smoked sausage, you’ll be able to choose the one that works best for your recipe. The more you eat them, the better you can appreciate the fine qualities that distinguish them from other types of sausage.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!