It’s summertime in Portland, which means it’s time for another Smokin’ Sausage Showdown, The Bollard’s almost-annual meat-tube competition. This year, three of the top Portland-area contenders from past Showdowns faced off on the grill-iron against sausages from two butcher shops in the Lakes Region: Hoggy’s Market, in Windham, and Prime Cut Meat Market, a bit further along the Roosevelt Trail, in Raymond.
As before, we used an indirect smoking method: coal and wood on one side, sausages on the other. I like to keep the temperature at 225° or just below. The competitors were smoked for about four hours and judged by Bollard staff.
In the Sweet Italian category, Pat’s Meat Market (484 Stevens Ave.), an underachiever in past Showdowns, turned in a juicy link with a great, meaty texture and a nice, mild flavor. Grade: A
Prime Cut’s entry had a little fennel, but no other distinguishing character aside from a slightly unpleasant greasiness. Grade: D
Fresh Approach (155 Brackett St.), a two-time winner in the Sweet Italian category, had a sausage bursting with herby goodness. Speckled with oregano and a generous amount of fennel, the West End market’s entry had the makings of another victorious link. Grade: A
Colucci’s, the market on Congress Street atop Munjoy Hill, pulled a hamstring and was sidelined from last year’s Showdown. This year they returned with a solid Sweet Italian. This kielbasa-sized link shot juice all over when cut. It was a little less coarse in texture than usual and a tad saltier, but still delicious. Grade: B+
Hoggy’s was sold out of Sweet Italian the morning we shopped for the Showdown. In retrospect, that may have been a sign the locals prefer it to their Hot Italian, which was grainy textured and too salty. Grade: D
Prime Cut’s Hot Italian packed very little heat and had the greasiness we disliked in the Sweet. Grade: D
The Hot Italian from Pat’s wasn’t much hotter than its Sweet, but like that sausage, we enjoyed its texture and juiciness. Grade: B
Fresh Approach’s Hot Italian had a good blend of red and black pepper. The link was juicy and meaty, with fennel throughout. Grade: A
Colucci’s, which tied for first with Pat’s in the Hot Italian category back in 2007, did not disappoint this year. Its link was nicely hot, perfectly seasoned, and had the chunky, meaty texture the judges love. Grade: A
Colucci’s only sells Hot and Sweet Italian varieties (both of which, unlike the rest of the competition, are frozen, so plan ahead). Thus, they sat out the Wild Card category.
The garlic link we picked up at Hoggy’s wasn’t overly garlicy and had a meaty texture with decent juice. Grade: B
At Fresh Approach, we skipped the Schlitz and onion this time and picked up a jalapeno cheese link for the Wild Card. It had a tasty, unique flavor, with flakes of jalapeno and just the right amount of cheese. However, the sausage was too loosely packed and its grainy texture cost it points with at least one judge (yours truly). Grade: B
Prime Cut’s Wild Card was a link called Wild Wally’s, named in honor of the shop’s founding butcher. It was surprisingly tame. Grade: C
At Pat’s, we had to go off-species to get a Wild Card entrant, and we’re glad we did. The Sicilian-style chicken sausage we picked up was slightly spicy, with bits of green, yellow and red pepper throughout. Technically speaking: yummy. Grade: A-
So, to recap the results of Smokin’ Sausage Showdown III, in the Sweet Italian category, it’s a tie between Pat’s and Fresh Approach. Among the Hot Italians, Fresh Approach and Colucci’s tie for top honors. And in the Wild Card category, Pat’s wins by a snout (or, rather, a beak) with its mobbed-up chicken link.
Congrats to all the contestants this year. And to those planning their own Showdowns this summer, happy smokin’!
— Mort Viande