What Is A Summer Sausage? [Everything You Need To Know]

Summer sausage is a top-rated dried meat product for the winter holidays, although its name tends to suggest otherwise. This versatile sausage is a perfect supplement to various sausage and foods. However, many of us are left wondering where this unique name came about and what yummy ingredients lie within this peculiar delight.

Summer sausage is cured, semi-dry meat, stable at room temperature. In addition, summer sausage mainly consists of lean pork, beef, or a combination of both. The most common spices include ground black pepper, white pepper, red pepper, mustard seed, garlic, coriander, and nutmeg.

what is a summer sausage

Let’s deep dive into what lies in summer sausage’s casing and how this festive treat got its unique name.

What Is Summer Sausage?

Despite its common name. Summer sausage is more of a salami than an authentic sausage. It is cured, semi-dry meat, stable at room temperature, and ready to enjoy without cooking. In addition, it’s mostly about six to eight inches long and two inches in diameter. 

Summer sausage is generally deep rosy pink with tiny fatty white flecks. Then it is mostly wrapped in a waxy, papery maroon casing that you peel away as you cut off slices. 

Summer sausage is soft and slightly moist − similar to the texture of bologna − with a somewhat tangy, sweet, and spicy flavor.

Pork, followed by beef and venison meat, was often used to make summer sausage; however, today, you can find a mixture of all three to provide a unique flavor. Apart from the meat, very little goes into prepping summer sausage. The sausage is ground, seasoned, cured, and stuffed into animal casings.

While there are various summer sausage varieties on the market today. Traditional German-style summer sausage tends to be less dry and slightly softer than the modern, ready-to-eat summer sausage sold at your local butchery.

The moist summer sausage is primarily due to the German climate, requiring less water removed for the meat to stay fresh through the summer.

Why Do They Call It Summer Sausage?

While we aren’t entirely sure of the precise origin of summer sausage’s name. We can tell you that this delicacy originates from Germany − the long-lived tradition of making these sausages has lasted for hundreds of years!

The famous recipe for summer sausage first came to the United States when the German immigrants settled in the Midwestern United States during the late 1800s. 

Traditionally, summer sausage was developed in Europe before refrigerators. After the late autumn slaughters, the settlers made dried meat and summer sausages from the leftovers to preserve the meat to last for the year ahead since the meat would quickly spoil if left uncured.

In the past, summer sausage was made to consume the following summer while working the field during the wintertime. Using various preservation methods allowed the Europeans to make sausage that wouldn’t spoil without refrigeration during the summer months − hence its name.

Curing was the most efficient way to use their livestock without wasting the meat. 

Why Does Summer Sausage Last So Long?

Summer sausage undergoes various preservation processes that lengthen its storage life dramatically. Properly prepared summer sausage can last for months without refrigeration, making it a perfect item for food gift baskets accompanied with delicious cheese and jam.

The first method involved a lactic acid fermentation process similar to sauerkraut and kimchi; this process introduces certain “good” bacteria and lowers the meat’s pH, inhibiting harmful microbial activity. The fermentation is the main contributing factor to summer sausage’s tangy taste.

The second essential process is curing, typically a combination of table salt and sodium nitrate. Salt helps remove some of the moisture and unwanted microbes, while nitrate further inhibits bacterial growth. 

After curing and fermenting, summer sausage is smoked for several hours to prevent bacterial growth and add that delicious rich, smoky flavor.

Combining these processes allows us to keep summer sausage at room temperature. But, more so, it ensures that summer sausage is as dry and hard as salami. 

What Is In Summer Sausage?

Summer sausage usually consists of lean beef, pork, or a mixture of both. It also contains muscles and about 30% of fat and fatty trimmings.

Summer sausage usually doesn’t contain a lot of seasoning. Traditionally, salt is a mandatory seasoning, both in the curing process and to enhance its rich meaty flavor. In addition, nitrate or citric acid is essential to drop the pH value of sausage.

Other spices include ground black pepper, white pepper, red pepper, mustard seed, garlic, coriander, nutmeg, or allspice. While cayenne pepper and paprika are occasionally added for a touch of heat, traditional summer sausage typically has a milder flavor.

Then, fibrous, natural, or laminated casings are used to stuff the sausages in. While some casings need discarding, most are perfectly safe for consumption.

Do You Have To Refrigerate Summer Sausage?

Once summer sausage is cured and smoked, the meat develops bacterial growth extremely slowly and remains shelf-stable for several months. The production process, smoking, and spice combination contribute to the summer sausage’s longevity.

You can safely store unopened dried summer sausage in the pantry or a dark, dry, and climate-controlled environment for two to three months. However, summer sausage can stay fresh for six months in the fridge and up to a year in the freezer before losing its taste and quality. 

In comparison, opened summer sausage should maintain the best quality for about three weeks in the refrigerator. After that, however, freeze summer sausage to extend its shelf life further; ensure you pop it into the freezer before the refrigerating number of days elapses.

Even though summer sausage was traditionally processed to require no refrigeration, modern recipes aren’t always as safe to store uncooled for months on end. So, while many summer sausage brands are perfectly safe to leave out of the cooler, some varieties need refrigerating to stay fresh.

Consider reading the packaging for the manufacturer’s advice regarding recommended storage. For example, if the packaging says “Refrigerate summer sausage after opening,” you’re safe to keep it in your pantry until you’re ready to use it. However, if it says “Refrigerate,” toss it in your fridge immediately after purchasing the sausage. 

Final Word

There you have it. Summer sausage was traditionally prepared in the winter but got its famous name from the convenience of needing little to no refrigeration, thus lasting well into the warmer summer months.

The true beauty of summer sausage lies in the fact that it’s ready-to-eat and tastes delicious as is. So enjoy your summer sausage on your next picnic, or garnish your charcuterie boards with thinly sliced summer sausage and cheese.

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