What is Kielbasa?

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  • Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 17 October 2019
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Kielbasa is literally the Polish word for sausage, although native Poles consider it to be a generic term, much like asking for a non-specific soda in a restaurant. There are dozens of varieties available, so shoppers would need to know the specific name of the sausage they desire. In the United States, however, the term "smoked Polish sausage" has almost become synonymous with kielbasa when describing a precooked smoked sausage made with pork, garlic, marjoram, salt and pepper.

Many varieties of sausage sold in grocery stores are of the uncooked German variety, but a true kielbasa is sold precooked in a large hog casing. It is the smoking process that separates it from other pork sausages. Kielbasa is also seasoned with spices such as garlic and marjoram, not the sage or Italian spices often found in uncooked sausages.

Kielbasa is traditionally served with hearty vegetables such as onions, cabbage and red potatoes. It can also be used in conjunction with, or in place of, the smoked andouille sausage often featured in Cajun cooking. Gumbo recipes may call for cooked smoked sausage, and kielbasa makes a good addition to the traditional Cajun side dish of red beans and rice.


There are other dishes in which kielbasa may be an acceptable addition or substitute. Some cooks use it in place of meatballs or ground beef in spaghetti sauce, for instance. When boiled or grilled, it can be cut into bun-sized portions and served on hot dog buns like bratwurst or Italian sausages. Sliced kielbasa can be combined with sauerkraut in a large pot and heated through on a stove top. Because this sausage is precooked, it can be boiled, pan-fried, broiled or grilled without concern about raw or undercooked pork.

The product sold as Polish sausage or kielbasa in many grocery stores is not necessarily the authentic variety created in Poland and other eastern European countries. Sometimes cheaper cuts of pork, beef and chicken are combined with sodium nitrites and liquid smoke to create a more commercially viable form, but the ingredients of authentic kielbasa are simply the best cuts of pork seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic and possibly marjoram. It used to be "cold smoked" for a few days, but it is now "hot smoked" by placing the stuffed sausage casings in a smoker for several hours.


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Post 3

No, no, no! Writing to you from a family of Polish immigrants, in one of the largest Polish populations in the US, I have to tell you that a "true" kielbasa is not smoked. Ask any knowledgeable Pole about kielbasa, and they'll ask you whether you mean fresh kielbasa or smoked. Tell them you want the fresh, non-smoked version, which is much more garlicky, succulent, and delicious, and gets roasted until golden brown and crackling in the oven--they'll be impressed.

The smoked stuff is for non-Poles who don't know any better, or for cutting up into kapusta or soups in order to add more flavor. (Or, you know, for grilling and eating in a bun.)

Post 2

Having spent some time in Eastern Europe, what I find most interesting about sausage in general is that some people do not actually call kielbasa "meat"; for example, I was once offered bean soup, and I asked if it had meat in it, because I am a vegetarian; I was told no. When I put a spoon in it, however, I found that it contained small pieces of sausage. In general, when in a country with as strong a culture of meats as many Eastern European nations, you must be very specific about what you do and don't eat.

Post 1

While it may be the Polish name for sausage, many people in other European countries refer to sausage as kielbasa as well, especially among English speakers; in that case, people who know less about the specifics of sausage will refer to almost any sausage as kielbasa.

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