Texas Barbecue and polish sausage - A Rich History
by Chef Dan Wilk | Barbecue At Home Culinary Team
Smoked Sausage, Kielbasa, and Polish Sausage have A Rich culinary History in Central Texas cuisine
Central Texas has a long-standing history with Polish and Czech communities, and the food culture has been heavily influenced by these communities as well. The sausages that have been enjoyed as an integral part of these cuisines have been embraced and incorporated into the barbecue culture of Texas.
How did Polish and Czech food culture arrive in Texas?
The first Polish families arrived in Texas in 1854. Today, Polish Texans are one of the largest ethnic groups in the state, which is the second most ethnically diverse state in the nation. The first Czech family also arrived in the 1850s, and Czech and Polish cultures thrived in Texas from that point on, forming settlements still thriving today. Their rich culinary traditions and recipes have had an influence on developing food culture in Texas, especially when it comes to sausages and barbecue. In addition to bringing traditional smoking techniques from Poland and Czechoslovakia, these cultures brought their recipes and intense flavors to Texas sausage making.
What makes Kielbasa and Polish sausages different from smoked sausage?
Kielbasa is the Polish word for sausage. The two terms are both synonymous with each other but also can be used to mean two different types of sausage. When you see a sausage labeled “kielbasa” in America, it means Polish-style sausage, whereas in Poland, “kielbasa” can mean a variety of sausages as it is the generic word for sausage. In America, kielbasa refers to a u-shaped or loop of sausage, and Polish sausage typically refers to the shorter or links of sausage.
Traditionally, kielbasa is made with pork, but today is made with pork or a mix of pork and beef. A pork-based sausage such as this will remain juicy with the fat content. There are dry and normal varieties of Kielbasa and Polish sausages. Kielbasa and Polish sausage are heavily garlic-based flavors and rely on the spice marjoram, and usually not smoked or if so, very lightly smoked. Kielbasa and Polish sausages both use very coarsely ground meats. Czech-style sausages typically use these five ingredients: garlic, salt, black pepper, beef, and pork - with a coarse grind on the meat.
Smoked sausage is a generic term for sausages that are first cooked and then smoked. These are typically leaner cuts of meat, can be more finely ground, and slightly drier than the Polish sausages with a much smokier flavor. They are fully cooked, so can be eaten cold or reheated or grilled/broiled. The flavor profiles of smoked sausages can vary wildly.
What types of flavors do you find in Polish sausage?
Polish sausages have many variations in traditional flavors, handed down through generations from as far back as the late Middle Ages where the first use of the word kielbasa was recorded. One traditional type of Polish sausage that Texas barbecue has adopted is called wiejska, which is a u-shaped sausage made from pork and veal and spiced with marjoram and garlic. Another type, myśliwska, is a short, brown-skinned curved sausage around 6 inches in length. These sausages are often sold in a pair of links.
Marjoram is the most unique ingredient used in traditional Polish sausages. It is a member of the mint family and is also called sweet marjoram. It is similar but slightly milder than oregano in flavor, although drying the spice brings out more intense flavors. Marjoram has many health benefits known to us today, including being highly anti-inflammatory and aiding digestion.
Modern-day kielbasa sausages take inspiration from traditional sausages and include a variety of ingredients. Texas cuisine uses chili peppers and cheese quite often, both of which have found their way into modern Polish sausage recipes. Beer is a popular addition to kielbasa as well, heavily influenced by German and Texas cuisine alike.
How are Polish sausages cooked and eaten?
In central Texas, where the barbecue traditions have melded with Czech and Polish food culture, Polish sausages are often smoked over mesquite, oak, or pecan chips to add smokiness that compliments the marjoram. Kielbasa can be heated in a pan, grilled, or broiled in the oven. It is important to heat Polish sausages slowly, which allows the oils from the higher fat content to come to the surface without the skins bursting. Cooking “low and slow,” which refers to low heat for a longer time period on a grill, pellet smoker, or the oven, will keep the kielbasa juicy and tender, and the skins intact.
Whether you’re choosing a type of Polish sausage with a strong garlic profile or one with a more modern Texas and Polish or Czech flavors, the ways you can eat sausages are as varied as the flavors. Many Texas-style barbecue recipes call for the use of Polish sausage since it has become a staple in the food culture. The sausages you will see on the menu at pit barbecue restaurants will frequently be kielbasa, either the sausages alone or served in sandwiches topped with grilled onions and more. Sliced sausages added to casseroles and omelets are also popular choices.
Smoked sausage is a versatile ingredient
Since smoked sausages are fully cooked, they can be eaten cold, sliced, and added to hot dishes or salads. Smoked sausages are also a staple in central Texas barbecue, tossed on a grill or even smoked a second time. Similarly to Polish sausages, it is important to heat smoked sausages slowly to keep the skins intact. Use low heat and a longer cooking time regardless of the cooking method chosen. Flavors can include intense heat and spices like habanero or nacho, roasted onion, and some smoked sausages even incorporate other types of Texas barbecue such as brisket burnt ends into the meat blend used in the sausage.
80 years of sausage-making history!
Our parent company, Dickey’s Barbecue Pit, has been crafting our own polish sausage, kielbasa, and smoked sausages for over 80 years, using many traditional recipes as well as incorporating new and exciting flavors and ingredients, with respect to the long-standing Polish and Czech food cultures in central Texas. We’ve created new combinations and added flavors like bleu cheese, nacho, French onion flavors, or intense heat to our smoked sausages and kielbasa. The sausages are made in our own factory in small batches, shipped to you frozen and ready to reheat and incorporate into your own family’s barbecue traditions. In addition, our kitchens have created delicious recipes to incorporate with our sausages, as well as side dishes that complement our unique flavors.
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Dickey's has been making small-batch craft smoked sausages for 80 years.
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