Kielbasa is one of many types of sausage you can purchase from your local grocery store or delicatessen. But what makes this Polish-style sausage different from other varieties? We’ll answer this question and discuss various options for cooking kielbasa so you can discover just how versatile and delicious this sausage can be. Try some new recipes or add kielbasa to old favorites for some rich, meaty flavor. With its smoky, garlicky taste, kielbasa is delicious by itself or included in various dishes.
What Is Kielbasa?
Kielbasa is the Polish word for sausage, so rather than a specific type of sausage, this term can refer to any Polish-style sausage. Sausage is an integral part of Polish cuisine, so the country produces numerous kinds, some of which come out of certain regional culinary traditions.
Some different kinds of kielbasa that are popular in Poland include:
- Kabanosy: Like the German landjaeger sausage, kabanosy is a type of hunter’s sausage. In other words, it’s more like what you’d think of as a meat snack stick rather than sausage you’d serve as part of a meal. Kabanosy is smoked and dried, so it’s shelf-stable, making it a great snack for outdoor adventures. Kabanosy is typically made from pork and features some mild and aromatic spices. Another variation, called kabanosy pikantne, is spicy.
- Mysliwska: Another hunter’s style sausage that’s smoked and dried is mysliwska. Rather than long and thin like kabanosy, though, mysliwska is shorter and thicker. This pork sausage’s signature flavor is juniper — a berry with a distinctive woodsy taste.
- Krakowska: Krakowska stands out in appearance since it has a larger diameter than most other varieties of kielbasa. It’s named after Krakow, one of the oldest cities in Poland. Like kabanosy, krakowska is typically enjoyed at room temperature rather than heated. Instead of being an on-the-go snack, krakowska is mostly used as a cold cut for sandwiches or deli platters. The flavor comes from typical kielbasa spices like garlic along with allspice and coriander.
- Biala: Biala kielbasa is white sausage. This sausage is a tasty favorite with Poles. It must be cooked since it’s uncured and sold fresh. The main flavor in this pork sausage is marjoram, along with more minor notes of garlic and pepper.
- Wędzona: Kielbasa wędzona is a cured pork sausage seasoned with garlic, sugar, salt and pepper. Some varieties contain marjoram, too. The sausage is smoked — in fact, the name simply means “smoked sausage.” This variety of kielbasa is similar to what those of us outside Poland think of as Polish sausage.
- Wiejska: Another smoked variety is wiejska kielbasa, which is an especially popular staple kielbasa. The name loosely translates to “country-style.” Traditionally, wiejska is made with ground pork or pork and veal and seasoned with garlic and marjoram. This sausage tends to be more garlicky than most other varieties.
- Podwawelska: Kielbasa podwawelska, or Vavel smoked Polish sausage, is named after the royal castle in Krakow, where the sausage is traditionally made. This sausage is made from cured pork with typical kielbasa spices — black pepper, marjoram and garlic. The sausage is cooked in hot water or steamed and smoked.
- Śląska: This pork kielbasa comes from Silesia, an industrial area in Poland. It has a relatively mild flavor, making it an all-purpose type of sausage many Poles enjoy. It’s steamed and lightly smoked, so it’s sold ready to eat.
- Piaszczańska: This semi-dry cured pork sausage comes from a particular village in Poland — Piaski Wielkie. Sausage makers marinate the meat in a special herb stock that includes spices like juniper, cloves, allspice and more. The mixture also contains rock salt. This unique sausage also gets some of its flavor from the smoking process.
To a Pole, “kielbasa” just means “sausage,” and as you can see, there are many kinds of kielbasa — even more than we’ve included in the above list. But in an international context and to us in the U.S., kielbasa tends to refer to one general type of Polish-style sausage.
This sausage may also be labeled Polska kielbasa at your local grocery store or delicatessen, which translates to “Polish sausage.” This sausage often comes in a signature horseshoe shape. It’s typically fully cooked and is often smoked, so you can eat it right out of the package if you want. Most people like to heat the sausage first and enjoy it in a variety of dishes.
So what sets Polish sausage apart from other sausage varieties? The sausage has a distinct flavor profile that comes from some of the staple ingredients we saw in many of the kielbasa varieties we looked at above, including:
- Pork: Kielbasa is usually made from coarsely ground pork. Some varieties may combine pork and beef or include other meats like turkey.
- Garlic: The main signature flavor that distinguishes kielbasa from other sausage varieties is garlic.
- Marjoram: Another common ingredient you’ll find in most kielbasa is marjoram spice, which gives the sausage a little warmth and sweetness.
- Smoke: Most kielbasa is smoked, which adds to the delicious flavor.
Kielbasa is most known for its garlicky taste. Since garlic goes well with so many dishes, kielbasa is a versatile sausage that’s just as tasty in a breakfast scramble or in cheesy potatoes as it is a traditional Polish soup.
How to Cook Kielbasa
With rare exceptions, kielbasa is sold fully cooked. That means you don’t have to cook the sausage before eating it. Some people may enjoy kielbasa cold, possibly with some cheese and crackers as a snack. But most cooks heat kielbasa to bring out the flavor and turn up the juiciness of this delicious sausage.
Here are a few common ways you can prepare kielbasa:
- Grill: One popular way to cook kielbasa is on the grill. It only takes around 10 minutes on a hot grill to give kielbasa a nice crispy skin and to heat it through. When grilling kielbasa, avoid piercing or slitting it so it can retain all of its juices.
- Roast: You can also roast kielbasa in an oven, either in slices or in whole links. Simply place the kielbasa along with any other ingredients you want on a sheet pan. Turn the kielbasa periodically while it roasts for an even cook.
- Pan-fry: Fry kielbasa on a skillet to bring out the flavors and add a bit of crisped texture. For this cooking method, you slice the kielbasa into pieces and fry them in some hot oil until the slices are heated through and browned on the outside.
- Boil: For fresh kielbasa, most cooks boil the sausage in water before adding it to dishes or putting it on a grill or in a skillet. You can also add fully-cooked smoked kielbasa to pots of boiling cabbage, soup or other dishes where the sausage will cook in liquid. This cooking method will let the sausage flavor permeate the whole dish.
How Can You Use Kielbasa in the Kitchen?
There are dozens of ways you can use kielbasa. It’s a highly versatile food that works for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks and works great in seasonal dishes for winter, spring, summer and fall. It’s no wonder this Polish specialty has become an American favorite. Let’s look at some of the ways you can use kielbasa:
- Charcuterie: Smoked sausage can be a delicious addition to any charcuterie board, and that includes smoked kielbasa. Line up thin, diagonal slices of kielbasa on the board or kielbasa and cheese snack sticks alongside a variety of artisanal cheeses and other delicacies, and you’ve got a fantastic spread for a party. Include some spicy mustard or horseradish, which both go great with kielbasa.
- Appetizers: Kielbasa can make a delicious appetizer by itself, too. Cook slices of kielbasa in your favorite sauce or sweet glaze like you would cocktail wieners, and you have a hot, sticky, delicious appetizer that’s sure to be a crowd-pleaser.
- Breakfast: You may gravitate toward the traditional staples of bacon and country sausage for breakfast, but Polish kielbasa is also an excellent option. Include it in a breakfast hash or scramble, or simply fry up some pieces to go alongside other breakfast foods. Kielbasa is a delicious source of protein and will smell so good frying, you won’t have any trouble attracting the whole family to the breakfast table.
- Soups and stews: Since it packs so much flavor, kielbasa works perfectly in soups and stews. Adding large pieces or small slices of kielbasa to the pot can bring that meaty, garlicky flavor to the whole dish. You’re especially likely to find kielbasa in Polish soups and stews, such as hunter’s stew or traditional cabbage soup.
- Pasta dishes: Slice up some kielbasa and add it to your favorite pasta. It’s so versatile it can work in nearly any pasta dish, whether it includes a tomato- or cream-based sauce. If you prefer less spice in Cajun pasta dishes, try substituting Andouille sausage in recipes with kielbasa.
- Casseroles: Kielbasa also makes its way into some casseroles, especially ones that contain potatoes. Potatoes lack flavor on their own, but they can really sing in a casserole combined with the rich flavor of Polish sausage. Add some cheese and other ingredients, and you can make a show-stopping casserole for your next potluck.
- Sandwiches: Grilled kielbasa can make a great sandwich star. Essentially, you can eat it just like you would a bratwurst. Add some sauteed onions and peppers and some mustard or pile on the sauerkraut, and you’ve got a delicious spin on your typical cookout fare.
- Hot side dishes: Kielbasa can add richness and flavor to all sorts of vegetable side dishes. One popular kielbasa side dish, which can also serve as an entree, is sauerkraut flavored with slices of kielbasa. You can also add kielbasa to green beans, fried potatoes and more.
- Salads: You can also include kielbasa in cold salads, such as potato and pasta salads. For these dishes, slice the kielbasa or dice it into chunks. If you love the taste of kielbasa or simply want to mix things up, try substituting the ham or other cured meat your favorite salad recipe calls for with some kielbasa.
Across kielbasa recipes, you’ll notice a few ingredients popping up time and time again. These ingredients include potatoes, bell peppers, onions, cabbage and sauerkraut — which is fermented cabbage. All of these ingredients pair well with kielbasa, but you can think outside of the box, too.
There’s a myriad of ways you can prepare kielbasa, as we’ve seen already. See which of the following recipes appeal to you and your family and give them a try to discover firsthand just how delicious kielbasa can be. Of course, for any of these recipes, it’s best to start with high-quality kielbasa.
1. Sweet and Spicy Kielbasa Bites
For a tailgating food or appetizer that’s surprisingly easy and totally delicious, add some thick slices of kielbasa to your slow cooker. Flavor that with barbecue sauce for some tang, brown sugar and honey for sweetness and red pepper jelly for spice. You can also add red pepper flakes for more spice. After a nice, long cook in the slow cooker, the result will be deliciously caramelized, sticky kielbasa bites flavored with a delicious combination of sweet and heat.
2. Kielbasa Breakfast Hash
Kielbasa and potatoes are a match made in heaven, and they taste especially great when browned in a skillet. You can create a breakfast hash with all your favorite ingredients, using kielbasa and shredded or diced potatoes as the stars of the show. Don’t forget the green onions for garnishing, too. This dish comes together quickly in just one skillet. Crack an egg on top for some extra protein and more of a breakfast flare.
For a colorful breakfast that can help you start your day right, try using sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes. Throw in some diced red bell pepper and frozen corn and sprinkle in your favorite seasonings for a dish that is bursting with flavor and nutrition.
3. Kielbasa Summer Salads
Do you want a summer salad that’s an exciting departure from your usual go-to recipes? Try making a cold salad with diced-up or sliced kielbasa. Toss the kielbasa with fresh ingredients and a tangy dressing — featuring ingredients like mustard and apple cider vinegar — and let it chill for several hours. Some ingredient combinations to add to your kielbasa and dressing include:
- Black-eyed peas, apple chunks, chopped green bell pepper and thinly sliced green onion
- Red potato chunks, shredded cabbage and chopped boiled eggs
- Pasta, corn, chopped red bell pepper, sliced avocado and baby spinach
These salads are easy make-ahead sides that will excite your guests at your next backyard cookout or party.
4. Sweet and Smoky Baked Beans
Baked beans always make a great side dish. Adding kielbasa makes this favorite side even tastier. Instead of using canned baked beans, try mixing a few different types of beans for some variety along with other ingredients that add to the flavor. In addition to the Polish sausage, some smoky, meaty flavor can come from diced bacon.
There are many different combinations of sauce ingredients that home cooks swear by for their baked beans. A popular combination is apple cider vinegar, barbecue sauce and brown sugar. Mix your beans, sauce and kielbasa together in a baking dish and let them bubble away in the oven until thick and browned on top. Baked beans with kielbasa is a sweet, smoky and filling side dish that will fit right in at a barbecue.
5. Sausage and Peppers Pasta
Kielbasa is also a great way to add flavor and protein to pasta dishes. In a skillet, saute some slices of kielbasa with diced bell peppers and onion and any other veggies you want to include. Then toss in some minced garlic and cherry or grape tomatoes and let them cook briefly. Add in some broth and pasta to finish it off before letting the whole thing cook and meld together.
If you want to make the pasta creamy, stir in some cream cheese. As a final touch, grate some parmesan cheese or your favorite hard cheese over the top.
6. Kielbasa and Pierogies
Pierogies are a staple in Polish cuisine, so pairing kielbasa and pierogies is an excellent idea. Traditionally, pierogies are boiled, but you can also toss them in oil or butter and allow them to cook in the oven, pan-fry or grill them. When you cook them with any of those methods, the pierogies become crisp on the edges, which gives them a different taste and texture than you may be used to. Pair your pierogies with kielbasa and seasoned baked or grilled veggies for a quick and easy dinner.
Also called hunter’s stew, bigos is a traditional Polish meal you’ll find many recipes for, each with its own spin on the hot and hearty favorite. Generally, this stew consists of some sort of meat with a combination of fresh cabbage and sauerkraut.
Start by cooking sauerkraut in a pot. In a skillet, saute onion and mushrooms, seasoning with salt and pepper. Then empty the pan and fry slices of kielbasa. Add chopped cabbage and carrots to the pot of sauerkraut and allow it to cook for a few minutes before adding in your onion, mushrooms and kielbasa. Add tomato paste, red wine and a variety of spices to taste. You can also add in thick cubes of bacon for more flavor. Let the mixture cook until it’s developed a rich flavor.
8. Cabbage, Sausage and Potato Soup
Another warm meal perfect for fall or winter is cabbage, sausage and potato soup. It’s a simple soup with a vegetable or chicken stock base. It starts with browned slices of kielbasa in the bottom of a stockpot. Then add in celery and carrots and dump in plenty of chopped cabbage. Add in diced potatoes and pour enough stock into the pot to cover the ingredients. Sprinkle in Italian seasoning, garlic powder, salt and pepper, and give it a good stir. Simmer until the potatoes are tender and serve hot.
In this hearty soup, the kielbasa adds richness and depth to ingredients that may otherwise be bland on their own, like cabbage and potatoes. It’s a delicious soup to have on the side or to serve as a main dish when you’re craving something warm and comforting.
9. Fried Potatoes and Kielbasa
Make a wonderful homey side dish of fried potatoes even tastier with the addition of kielbasa. Fry slices of potatoes and sliced or diced onion in oil in a hot skillet. Season with garlic, salt, pepper and paprika — a popular spice in Poland. Turn the potatoes every few minutes so they get nice and browned on all sides.
With the potatoes fried, you can add in slices of kielbasa to brown. The result is a simple dish perfect for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Even though this dish features Polish sausage, it’s right at home in Southern cuisine, so pair it with some other Southern favorites for a complete meal.
10. Maxwell Street Polish Sausage Sandwiches
Maxwell Street Polish sausage sandwiches are named after the street in Chicago where they were first sold. These sandwiches remain a popular type of Chicago fare today. Simply grill up some juicy Polish sausage links and place them inside poppy seed buns. Add some yellow mustard, caramelized onions and a few pickled peppers, and you have a Chicago classic. Try making these sandwiches at your next barbecue alongside the usual hot dogs, and your guests will love the variety.
Try Artisanal Polish-Style Smoked Kielbasa From S. Clyde Weaver
Even if you aren’t planning a trip to Poland any time soon, you can enjoy delicious, high-quality smoked kielbasa at home when you order from S. Clyde Weaver. For a century, S. Clyde Weaver has been using traditional recipes and authentic processes to create meats, cheeses and other delicacies that bring the tastes of Lancaster County — and of the world — to your table. Try our Polish-style smoked kielbasa and our unique kielbasa and cheese snack sticks to experience rich, traditional flavors.
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