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What Is Ground Sausage? The Best Explanation!

What Is Ground Sausage? The Best Explanation!

When we think of sausage, we immediately think of cylindrical-shaped meat stuffed in casings that are a staple at our meal tables.

When we hear ground sausage, it can understandably throw us off for a moment and wonder what that is. What is ground sausage and how is it similar or different from regular sausage meat? And how is it different from typical ground meat?

What Is Ground Sausage?

Ground sausage is sausage filling that is not stuffed into casings. While usually made with pork, it can be made with beef, chicken, turkey, veal, lamb, or a combination of meats. It is seasoned and flavored the same way that regular sausage is, except without the casing.

What Is Ground Sausage?
What Is Ground Sausage?

Ground Sausage vs Regular Sausage

Ground sausage is sausage meat that is not stuffed into casings. It is prepared, seasoned, and put together like regular sausage.

While sausage may just look like ground meat that is stuffed into a casing and then packed and sold (maybe low quality, commercial sausages are prepared that way but not real sausages), there actually is a little bit more that goes into this process of sausage-making, that many have transformed into an art form.

How Is Sausage Made?

The process will probably be slightly different depending on the sausage maker but in general, sausage is made in the following way:

1. Selection of Meat

The kind of meat you choose will make a huge difference in your final product. For a good, juicy sausage, there needs to be a fat-to-meat ratio of about 30%.

Pork shoulder is a good cut of pork to use for making sausage. For those who want to be precise with their proportions, lean meat may also be used and the fat added separately.

Fat is important for binding, flavor, and texture and makes the sausage meat easier to work with.

2. Grinding, Salting, and Seasoning Meat

The meat is cubed or coarsely ground, and then salted and allowed to rest. Salt in this step denatures the proteins and allows the meat to properly absorb flavors and to bind properly. It also flavors and acts as a preservative to protect against microbial spoilage.

Some like to salt and season prior to grinding, while others like to grind the meat first before salting and adding the spices and seasonings.

Both approaches are taken by sausage makers, and both work, it just ultimately depends on the one making it.  

In both cases, the sausage is given time to rest and absorb salt and seasonings before proceeding to the next step.

Salting ground meat denatures proteins, allows it to absorb flavor, and helps with binding.
Salting meat denatures proteins, allows it to absorb flavor, and helps with binding.

3. Sausage Filling is Stuffed Into Casings

After salting, seasoning, and mixing, some cooks grind their meat a second time, before stuffing it into the casing of their choice.

In this step, it is imperative that there are no air pockets or space in the sausage and that it is packed tightly, as air pockets can cause problems with your sausage later on.

4. Drying, Curing, Smoking

After this, sausages are either cooked, cured, fermented further or smoked. What happens depends on the type of sausage and the preference of the sausage maker.

Of course, the steps given are just a general overview of the process of sausage making, and a lot more can go into the process. As with other art forms, the process reflects the personality and the preferences of the one making it.

Given this, ground sausage then goes through roughly the same process as regular sausage, except that it is in a different form and is not stuffed into casings.

Ground Sausage vs Ground Pork

Ground sausage and ground pork may look similar in that they are both ground meat, but the similarities stop there.

Ground pork can be any type of pork that is ground. Ground sausage, while most commonly made of pork, can also be made with meat from beef, poultry, lamb, or veal, and can be a combination of those meats.

Ground pork can also be made with lean pork, while ground sausage is normally made with fattier cuts of meat, or would have added fat because sausage meat typically requires about 30% fat in the mix to get the right texture and juiciness.

Ground pork is plain and unseasoned, while ground sausage is salted and seasoned with herbs and spices. Spices like sage, thyme, fennel, cumin, coriander, pepper, paprika, and others are common additions to flavor sausage.

As we can see from these things, there are quite important differences between ground pork and ground sausage.

Ground pork is plain and unseasoned pork.
Ground pork is plain and unseasoned pork.

Ground Sausage vs Italian Sausage

Italian sausage is a sausage typically made with pork, strongly flavored with fennel or anise. It can be “mild”, “hot” with the addition of peppers, or “sweet”, with the addition of sweet basil.

It is most often prepared with the filling encased but can also be made without casings and shaped into patties or meatballs.

Italian sausage that is prepared without casing can be considered a type of ground sausage. Ground sausage on the other hand, would cover other varieties of sausage made with a different blend of spices or a different mixture of meats.

Is Ground Sausage Always Pork?

Not all ground sausage is made with pork as it can be made with beef, chicken, duck, lamb, veal, turkey, or a mixture of any of these meats. Pork is just the most common meat used, but ground sausage can be any type of meat.

Sausage is usually made with pork but can be made with beef, chicken, duck, turkey, lamb or veal or a combination of those meats.
Sausage is usually made with pork but can be made with beef, chicken, duck, turkey, lamb or veal or a combination of those meats.

How Long Does Ground Sausage Last

According to the USDA, fresh sausage only lasts between 1-2 days in the fridge and 1-2 months in the freezer. Because the meat is ground, there is more surface area for bacteria to proliferate, making the shelf life shorter than whole cuts of meat.

It is important to not let your ground sausage sit and cook it right away, or else store in the freezer for later use. It is also important to store it in airtight containers specifically designated for raw food or properly keep it in freezer bags to avoid cross-contamination.

Ground sausages only last 1-2 days in the fridge and 1-2 months in the freezer.
Ground sausage does not have a long shelf life and must be used immediately or stored in the freezer for later use.

How To Know Ground Sausage Is Bad

Ground sausage has gone bad if it has a strong off-putting odor, a slimy texture or if it has any mold or discoloration on its surface. 

As ground sausage has more surface area for bacteria to thrive in, it can be hard to determine this with 100% accuracy.

There may be bacteria that may be lurking in areas of the ground sausage that we cannot see. This is why it is important to properly store them and keep within the recommended storage and temperature timelines.

Do not consume ground sausage that has been sitting around in the fridge for longer than two days or ground sausage that has any strange smells, appearances, or texture, even if it is just on one part of the ground sausage. It should be immediately discarded.

Risks of Eating Bad Ground Sausage

Eating bad ground sausage can lead to a host of food-borne illnesses, with symptoms ranging from mild to severe.

Especially if the sausage is contaminated with pathogens like salmonella, trichinella, E.coli, or listeria, which are commonly present in meat, you can get seriously sick. 

Usual symptoms of food poisoning from eating spoiled meat include:

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach and abdominal pain and cramps
  • Fever

More severe symptoms can develop and may cause dehydration, dizziness, and other neurological and physical symptoms that may require hospitalization.

Definitely not worth experiencing in any way, shape or form, for eating sausage that probably isn’t good anyway.

Frequently Asked Questions to What is Ground Sausage?

Is Ground Pork the Same As Ground Sausage? 

Ground pork is not the same as ground sausage. Ground pork is plain and unseasoned. Ground sausage is salted and seasoned and aside from pork, can be made with beef, chicken, duck, turkey, veal, lamb, or other meats.

How To Make Ground Sausage?

Ground sausage is made from any meat, usually pork, with a fat content of about 30%. It is salted, seasoned, and flavored with desired spices and ground. It is similar to making regular sausage except it is not stuffed into casings.

Conclusion to What is Ground Sausage?

Ground sausage is sausage that is not filled into a casing to form what we typically know as sausage. It is usually made from pork but other types of meat may be used too.

It is similar in form to ground pork but it is prepared and seasoned in a way similar to regular sausage, just without the casing.

Daniel Iseli (Head Chef)

Hi, my name is Daniel and I am passionate about cooking and have made it my mission to answer as many open questions related to cooking and food as possible. I am by no means a professional cook. But cooking is a hobby that I have loved for the past 20 years and I am getting better by the day.