Knackwurst, a classic German sausage, is what you wish you had been eating all of your life instead of hot dogs. While the flavor profile of knackwurst is similar to a good all beef hot dog, a knackwurst is much juicier.
This sausage is traditionally stuffed into casings in such a manner that the links are shorter and plumper than something like a bratwurst. The plumpness of the links causes the casing to stretch more than usual and it stretches even more when cooked. The end result is a sausage where the skin “cracks and pops” when bitten into.
The cracking skin is how this sausage got its German name. Some people call this sausage “knockwurst” but that is the result of translations gone bad.
These sausages are usually sold in the US as a cooked product that simply need to be reheated.
How To Cook Knackwurst
I’ll give you a recipe to make your own sausage from scratch below but right now I am assuming that you have a package of store bought sausages and want to know what to do with them.
Every knackwurst I have seen in the stores are already cooked and just need to be reheated. That being said, I prefer to simmer the sausage for about 15 minutes in a beer and onion bath until the sausage plumps up and warms through. I like using the gentle heat of a beer bath instead of grilling these over high heat because I don’t want to burst the skin.
There is nothing wrong with warming these guys up on a grill but pay attention and turn them frequently.
Knackwurst vs Hot Dogs
A knackwurst is essentially a fancy hot dog. Compared to a regular hot dog this sausage is usually shorter, plumper, juicer and has a slight smokey flavor.
The more complex flavor of the sausage makes it great to use in recipes like the one below from Rachael Ray.
How to Make Knackwurst
There are recipes for authentic knackwurst in Great Sausage Making Recipes and Meat Curing by Rytek Kutas and Charcuterie by Michael Rhulman & Brian Polcyn. Both books are amazing and must be in the library of anyone interested in making their own sausage.
The recipes in both books use a mix of veal and pork. I don’t do veal so I substitute with chuck roast what is what Len Poli uses in his recipe.
- 4 pounds beef chuck roast
- 1 pound pork butt
- 1 cup non-fat dry milk powder
- 3 tablespoons kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons ground white pepper
- 1 tablespoon smoked paprika (get the good stuff)
- 1 teaspoon mace
- 1 teaspoon pink curing salt (optional)
The pink curing salt is optional. The nitrite in curing salt inhibits bacterial growth in the sausage and is ESSENTIAL is sausages that are dry cured or cold smoked. However, we are going to quickly hot smoke these sausages and the role of the nitrite is purely color formation.
- Cut the meat into 1 inch cubes and mix with the other ingredients.
- Run the seasoned and cubed meat through your meat grinder and then run the ground meat through the grinder again.
- Mix the meat with up to a cup of ICE WATER until a smooth paste forms.
- Stuff the meat into casings and twist into links. (More information below)
- If you are using the curing salt then put the sausages in the refrigerator overnight to let the cure set the color in the meat.
- Smoke the sausage at 180-200F using a mild wood like apple.
- The sausage is done when it reaches an internal temperature of 150F. Start checking the sausage after it has been smoking for 90 minutes and expect the batch to take close to two hours.
What Casings to Use?
This can be as hard or as simple as you want to make it.
The most readily available casings, and the type used for the sausages pictured in this article, are hog casings with a diameter of 32-35 mm. If your local store carries hog casings then this is the most likely diameter. This is the sized that is almost always used for bratwurst and Italian sausage.
A “true” knackwurst will use a larger hog casing, typically in the 38-42 mm range. Rytek recommends the 38-42 mm hog casings (also known as hog middles) or small to medium beef rounds. Len Poli uses beef rounds tied off in 3.5 inch links for his version of this sausage.