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Tracing The Sausage Family Tree

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Jun 01, 2015

This week's episode of The Sporkful podcast is up! Listen through the player or iTunes/Podcasts app. (And please subscribe!)

Kevin Pang knows his way around a plate of meat.

The Chicago Tribune food writer used to have a Web show where he ate cheeseburgers around Chicago with chefs and famous people. It was a great show, but Kevin ate so many cheeseburgers that he doesn't even like them anymore.

"It still haunts me," Kevin (shown below) says of those heady days of The Cheeseburger Show. "It's like a scar that cuts really deep to an emotional level."

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This week on The Sporkful Kevin joins me to talk about one meat he does still love: sausage.

We start with Kevin's first sausage memory: Lil' Smokies:

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"The earliest sausage memory that I had was as a boy scout. We had Lil' Smokies…and it blew my mind," he says. "There’s something about that fake smoke. I ate, like, 40 of them."

Kevin still has a soft spot for those bite-size, campfire sausages of his Seattle youth. But as a food writer, he has discovered a brave new world sausages -- from flavorful Greek loukaniko (seasoned with orange zest) and tangy, fermented Thai sai krok Isaan...

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...to the satisfying snap and crunch of German knackwurst...

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...and New York's own Nathan's Famous wieners.

"There is that very satisfying snap when you bite into a Nathan’s famous wiener," Kevin says. "The snap and then that beefy juice. That to me is very satisfying."

Later in the show, Kevin and I debate some sausage fundamentals, like ideal sausage lengthgirth, densitytexture, and filling-to-casing ratio. I prefer a more coarsely ground sausage filling, where the bits of fat and meat and gristle are still distinctly discernible.

"You don’t want the interior of the sausage to be monochromatic," I argue. "You want see what goes into the sausage."

And Kevin agrees:

"My favorite sausages take a stand," he says. "They’re extremely tender or they’re really chewy -- something you can really sink your teeth into it."

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When it comes to eating sausages with buns, Kevin and I agree that less is more.

I advocate an innovative method that I like to call "sausage handles," which employs a small portion of the bun (about one-third) to grip the sausage and dip it into sauces and other condiments on a per-bite basis.

"So the bun is essentially the utensil?" Kevin asks.

It's more like an "edible napkin," Kevin -- but close enough:

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This brings us to the question of hot dogs and whether or not they belong on the illustrious Sausage Family Tree. I firmly believe that hot dogs are members of the Sausage Family -- though I think of them as "distant cousins" in an otherwise tightly knit encased meat family.

"[The hot dog] doesn’t come back to the reunions," I argue. "It kind of sold out and rejected the traditional methods and purity of its forebears, but it’s still descended from that same [sausage] lineage.”

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While Kevin ultimately agrees with me, this discussion summons some pretty heavy, family memories for him.

"Memories are flooding over me about my relationship with my father," Kevin says. "It's all starting to get a bit depressing."

What sausage-related topic gets Kevin all emotional? Listen to find out!

This week's episode of The Sporkful podcast is up! Listen through the player or iTunes/Podcasts app. (And please subscribe!)

Connect with me on TwitterInstagram and Facebook!

Interstitial music in this episode by BWN Music:

- "Funky Love Baby" by Steve Pierson

- "Funk Love" by Jack Ventimiglia

Photos: Chicago Tribune, Flickr/CC: Garret Ziegler, Flickr/CC: Ron Dollette, Flickr/CC: Ray, Flickr/CC: Allen Lee, Flickr/CC: JamesJustin, Flickr/CC: Christopher Craig

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