Technically, a link sausage is any sausage that is tied off into smaller segments called “links.” They are also called hot links or red links, depending on where you are or who you’re talking to. There is no fixed flavor profile for link sausage, as every region has its own variety and seasoning blends that they use for their links. In Texas, the link sausage or hot link is typically made from beef, spiced with paprika, mustard, coriander, and chili powder. They are usually eaten with a vinegar-based hot sauce and saltine crackers.
Link Sausage Trivia
- Links are usually made by twisting the sausage, giving it that linked appearance instead of one whole sausage.
- Texas hot links are usually cooked in indirect heat, letting the fat inside the sausage cook it from the inside without ripping off the casing.
- Pittsburg is the hot link or link sausage capital of Texas.
- They are called hot links because they are served hot, not because of them being spicy hot.
Link Sausage Buying Guide
Authentic Texan link sausage or hot links are usually sold cooked in family-owned diners. Each store or restaurant has its own twist to the hot link, so it’s tough to recommend which one is the best, it all boils down to personal preference. This is also the same with butchers who make hot links for people to cook at home; it is tough to pinpoint one flavor profile as no two butchers have the same process. In other words, there is no real standard for link sausage.
For commercially produced hot links, try to avoid the ones with listed ingredients that you don’t know the meaning of, like propyl gallate, BHA, sodium nitrites, and so on.
Link Sausage Production & Farming in Texas
Commercially Produced Link Sausage:
Commercially produced link sausages are relatively generic, and they are pretty much the same as any other commercially produced sausage with just minor variations in seasoning and texture. They use commercially grown animals with no regard for the source of the meats. One sausage may contain meat from a hundred different animals as they are produced in big batches as to save time and money. They also use a lot of preservatives, binders, flavorings, and other non-essential ingredients to ensure that their product tastes consistent and stays on the shelves for as long as possible.
Small Batch/Artisanal Link Sausage Production:
Small-batch link sausage production in Texas is often limited by what they can safely produce, cook, and sell in one day. Hot links or link sausages made the traditional way have no use for preservatives and other binders as they are cooked immediately after being linked.
There is no single gold standard for hot link production in Texas, as each area has its own favorite store to go to. Part of the appeal for these local producers is that these stores or restaurants have been there for years and have become part of the local culture. Specialty butchers will also sell link sausages for home cooking or for those BBQ cookouts. The quality of artisanal link sausages is incomparable with commercially produced link sausages.
Preservatives and Chemicals:
Small-batch link sausages usually have no preservatives and added chemicals to them as they are traditionally made, cooked, and consumed on the same day.
For commercially produced hot links or link sausage, here are some of the chemicals/additives that can be usually found on the ingredients panel.
- BHA or Butylated hydroxyanisole – This is added to keep the food from spoiling. While the FDA approves them as safe for human consumption, some studies have shown the BHA has carcinogenic properties that might be harmful in the long run.
- Propyl Gallate – This chemical is usually used in tandem with BHA. Propyl Gallate prevents fats and oils from becoming rancid and spoiling. Again, while this has been approved as safe for human consumption, some studies have shown that it might be carcinogenic.
- Natural Flavors – Due to the commercial production of sausages using all sorts of meats, it is hard to get the real flavor of the meat without resorting to the use of “Natural Flavors.”
Commercially produced link sausages are packed in vacuum-sealed bags to preserve freshness and maximize storage life.
For specialty store-purchased link sausages, they will be cooked (and hot!) most of the time so they will be packed in take out boxes.
For specialty butchers and those restaurants selling uncooked hot links, they can either be vacuum-sealed or just wrapped in plain wax paper.
Enjoying Link Sausages
Link sausages or hot links are typically consumed with a vinegar-based hot sauce along with saltine crackers and pickles.
For commercially bought hot links or link sausages, refer to the package for storage instructions as the storage time may vary per producer depending on the amount of preservatives used in the production.
For hot links that are purchased from a local butcher, it is best to cook them within three days of purchase as they are typically uncured and contain no preservatives. They can also be stored in the freezer for up to two to three weeks.
Cooked link sausages are best consumed immediately, but if there are leftovers, they can be stored in an air-tight container in the fridge for a few days.
Link sausages or hot links are best cooked in indirect heat or in the oven. This cooking method will allow the fat inside the sausage to slowly melt and cook the hot links from the inside. If indirect heat or oven cooking isn’t feasible, then they can be boiled on a pan for a few minutes to cook them all the way through before pan-frying them to get some nice caramelization on the skin.