Let's talk about tubular meat. Sausage stuffs itself with so much juicy, savory protein that it can snap when bitten. Undress that sausage from its casing, and it still wows, especially when it crumbles into pasta and eggs. So when your recipe calls for sausage and you already have Italian or breakfast sausage on hand, does it really matter which one you use? Sausage is sausage, no? Of course not! In one sense, the distinction between the two is simple: spices. But let's cook and eat with all our senses.
For the long answer, let's assume we're talking about pork sausage here for both. Fennel, that licorice-scented herb, asserts itself in Italian sausage. American breakfast sausage typically features sage, sometimes supported by nutmeg too. Both sausages incorporate more than these spices, but those are the most forward flavors.
A typical sausage consists of ground meat that's combined with fat, flavorings, and preservatives, and then stuffed into a casing and twisted at intervals to make links, according to A Cook's Thesaurus. Pork is the most common, but butchers also use beef, lamb, veal, turkey, chicken, or game, and sometimes also fillers like oatmeal and rice to stretch the meat a bit. Casings vary too: Besides intestines or artificial casings, butchers sometimes use stomachs, skins, or they sell the sausage with no casings in bulk. After assembling a sausage, a butcher can either sell it as fresh sausage, or else cure, dry, or precook it in some way.
Cultures worldwide have claimed sausage styles for their own, from Sweden and Britain to Portugal and Mexico. This beloved ground, encased meat also has versions in China, Germany, Lebanon, Poland, North Africa, Spain, and Scotland — even Pennsylvania Dutch.
Breakfast sausages are little link sausages eaten in the United States in the morning with pancakes, eggs, and toast. They can come in small patties instead of 3-inch links, and are usually fried before eating. These sausages are heavily seasoned, yet some people like to pour maple syrup on them just like they do on their waffles or pancakes. Jimmy Dean is a large American manufacturer of pre-made, frozen or refrigerated, breakfast-style sausages, in links, patties, and loose. The company's namesake was a country music singer and TV host in Texas who started the business in 1969.
Italian sausage — shocker — is the pork sausage you add to pasta sauces. It comes in a sweet (the same thing as mild) Italian variety, which is primarily flavored with fennel and garlic. Hot Italian sausage contains the same spices, but with a shake or two of chile pepper. The choice is up to you, depending on your love or distaste for heat. You'll find Italian sausages in large, 6-inch links, sometimes coiled, or in bulk. Not patties. Make sure to cook this sausage thoroughly, unless you get dried or smoked versions dangling from your Italian butcher shop's ceiling. Those are safe to eat with no cooking.
The Italian and breakfast varieties of sausage might just be the most common sausages you'll see in the grocery store, but you'll notice so many more kinds in supermarkets and specialty shops, such as: Andouille, banger, chorizo, blood sausage, bratwurst, cotechino, hot dogs, cocktail wieners, kielbasa, lap cheong, linguica, morcilla, pepperoni, pinkelwurst, potato korv, Scrapple, and Vienna sausage. Oh, and tofu. That counts too, if we're being all-inclusive here.
Try some of our favorite Chowhound recipes that call for breakfast or Italian sausage.
We up the breakfasty nature of an already breakfast-filled type pub snack of boiled eggs encased in sausage. With cornflakes instead of breadcrumbs, you really got yourself a breakfast meal in a compact form. Get our breakfast sausage and cornflake Scotch eggs recipe.
This is a savory, filling dish to make ahead for brunch or any time you're feeding a bunch of people. It can be a special breakfast for holiday mornings. Get our cheesy sausage breakfast casserole recipe.
These are two ingredients you may not think of to put in your muffins, but that's what we're here for, to give you unexpected ideas and to help you with the classics. Get our breakfast sausage and sweet potato muffins recipe.
This is a tried and true way to use sausage in pasta. The fennel-spiced sausage complements bitter broccoli rabe. It totally works. Get our orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe recipe.
The red peppers are sweeted by roasting and match well with spicy sausage. Remove the casings and crumble the meat. Get our roasted pepper and spicy sausage grilled pizza recipe.
You can use either sweet or spicy Italian sausage in this recipe with adds flavor to the already flavorful soup. It's just enough to make the chicken breast even better. Get our pesto, chicken and white bean soup recipe.