Smokin’ Sausage Showdown II
Two years ago, in the Summer 2007 issue of The Bollard, we published the results of the first Smokin’ Sausage Showdown. Links from three local, independent butcher shops went head-to-head on the grill iron with three supermarkets’ products, and the indies generally kicked pork butt. Pat’s Meat Market, on Stevens Avenue, tied Colucci’s Hilltop Superette, located at the apex of Munjoy Hill, for top honors in the Hot Italian category. The West End butcher shop, grocery store and Schlitz shrine Fresh Approach aced the Sweet Italian category, and its Cajun link edged out a blueberry sausage from Whole Foods to win the Wild
The supermarkets performed so poorly in the previous Showdown that they failed to qualify for this summer’s competition. And, unfortunately, shortly before grill time, Colucci’s pulled a hammy and was forced to watch the competition from the sideline wearing street clothes (a funnel for their sausage machine went missing in mid-June, so their stock was depleted when we arrived to shop; it’s since been found).
Accordingly, this year’s contenders are Pat’s, Fresh Approach, Moran’s Market on outer Forest Avenue (whose links were the subject of a Showdown follow-up published online in June of ’07), and The Meat House, a regional chain with about a dozen locations in New England (we procured sausages from the South Portland shop). In addition to myself, the judges were Bollard editor Chris Busby, art director The Fuge, and fellow food critic Zachary Barowitz.
The categories and format have remained the same. We cooked the links using a hot smoke method, starting with 15-to-20 coals on one side of the Weber and the sausages on the other. The coals were replaced five or six at a time while chunks of dry apple wood provided the smoke. (Any hardwood will do if you want to host your own showdown.) I’ve come to find that a temperature range of 180 to 210 degrees is ideal for this process. The sausages were cooked for between four and four-and-a-half hours on a warm, sunny Saturday afternoon.
Fresh Approach won this category once again with its herby and flavorful Sweet Italian. Sporting plenty of fat content, this sausage was juicy and delicious. Grade: A
By contrast, Pat’s Sweet Italian was bland, flavorless, with an unusual hotdog–like texture. Containing mere hints of fennel and salt, this thick-skinned product did not impress the judges. Grade: C
Before cooking the Sweet Italian from Moran’s, I was a bit intimidated by this dark brown, ominous link. We were told the sausages in the case are made twice a week, but I feared this little piggy had at least seven days under its belt. Though we appreciated its chunky texture on the heels of the grainier Pat’s link, the Sweet Italian from Moran’s had an almost artificially sweet blandness and an unpleasant aftertaste. Grade: D
The Meat House’s Sweet had an even coarser cut (akin to the award-winning texture of Colucci’s sausages) and a surprisingly spicy kick. It didn’t taste much like an Italian sausage, more like a very spicy kielbasa. Grade: B-
Fresh Approach’s Hot Italian was appropriately spicy and finished with a nice burst of heat. As with the Sweet, it also had great juiciness. Grade: B+
Pat’s entry in this category had the same hotdog-like consistency and thick (but not snappy) casing. Plus, it came up short in the heat department. Grade: C
The Meat House Hot Italian actually had less kick than its Sweet Italian, but again, we liked its course, meaty texture. Grade: B-
After the first Showdown, some judges thought the Hot Italian from Moran’s was the best of all. This year, it was unanimous. This monster had an instantly juicy, peppery burst, but without the blistering heat we expected from that first bite. It had a nice combination of coarse and grainy textures, and left a lingering heat the others didn’t. Grade: A
The Wild Card is our favorite category. This is the one in which sausage makers can go beyond the confines of Italian varieties and let their porky freak flags fly.
The obvious choice at Fresh Approach was their new Schlitz and Onion variety, which has garnered an enthusiastic, cult-like following this summer. We’re not sure how this sausage was created, but eating it was like getting a mouthful of warm, liquid margarine. No Schlitz, no onion, just margarine. Grade: D
The judges found it hard to agree on the Lithuanian link from Pat’s. I personally found this kielbasa-like sausage a bit too grainy, but others enjoyed its consistency. Most concurred that it had a nice, unique flavor, with the herbs and mustard seed cutting through. Grade: B+
The beer brat from The Meat House was a good representation of the tailgate staple. A simple sausage, not as complex as its Italian brother, it was flecked with mustard seed and fennel and had the solid consistency we’d by then come to expect. Nice job. Grade: B
The “Green Onion” sausage from Moran’s was way too salty and hotter than the Hot Italians we’d sampled. We liked the meaty texture, but green onion was nowhere to be found. Grade: D