As with breads and beers, cured meats—hams and sausages—are essential components of German cuisine. You can find close to 1,500 varieties of sausages across the country, while hams are divided into two main categories: the air-dried, prosciutto-like “raw ham” (Rohschinken) and the boiled, pink “cooked ham” (Kochschinken).
Both “raw” and “cooked” hams are frequently featured as ingredients in German cooking, for example White Asparagus with Black Forest Ham or mixed into the comfort-food classic Stuttgarter Spaetzle. Ham is also used much like it is in the US, in sandwiches for the casual German evening meal (Abendbrot), along with mustard and fresh tomatoes, pickles or cucumbers.
The quality and ultimately the price of hams depend on how long they have been smoked and air dried. A distinction is then made between Knochenschinken (ham on the bone), Nussschinken (fillet ham), Rollschinken (rolled ham) and Schinkenspeck (bacon), depending on the way in which the ham is cut, spiced, smoked, dried, or stored.
An important note: the original Black Forest ham is actually a Rohschinken (“raw” prosciutto-like ham), not a cooked ham as it is sold in the US. This ham owes its unmistakable smoky flavor and dark red color framed by a white layer of fat to the fact that the ham is de-boned before it is cured and then smoked over pine wood. This process gained the EU Protected Designation of Orgin (PDO), which means a ham cannot be called Black Forest ham, if it wasn’t produced in the Black Forest region under regulated conditions and using time-honored methods.
Dark Smoked Ham (Rauchschinken)
Dark smoked cooked ham, off the bone, smoked over beechwood chips.
Light Smoked Ham (Gekochter Schinken)
Light smoked ham. A real traditional German cooked ham. Smoked over beechwood and very mild.
Black Forest Ham (Air Dried Black Forest Ham)
Cured only with sea salt and matured for 10-12 months. This lean, air-dried ham is sold in wafer-thin slices. Very mild.
Katen means “barn” in German, indicating that this ham is made farmhouse-style. It is cured, smoked and cooked.
Westfalian Ham (Westfaelischer Schinken)
Westphalian smoked ham. A gently flavored ham smoked over juniper wood and left to mature for several weeks.
A great number of German states, cities, or even towns have their own signature ways to mince, mesh, and stuff meat, bacon, salt and spices into a casing made from intestines or other materials. Germans differentiate between three types of sausages: Kochwurst (cooked—over 350 types), Brühwurst (scalded—over 800 types) and Rohwurst (raw sausages—60 types ) These are all prepared in various ways and consumed either cold, warm or hot, and whole or sliced.
Brühwursts are the most common type. Made from raw pork or beef, bacon, and finely crushed ice, which are finely minced and mixed with salt, pepper and other spices, such as coriander, paprika, nutmeg, ginger, or cardamom. The name “scalded sausage” (Brühwurst) comes from the fact that these sausages are scalded in hot water or steam. They need to be refrigerated and eaten as soon as possible. The most common varieties are: Fleischwurst, Bierwurst, Jagdwurst, Bierschinken, Paprikawurst, and Zigeunerwurst (literally, “gypsy sausage”).
The most famous of Germany’s sausages are the “Würstchen.” Würstchen can be eaten any time and anywhere; they are filling, taste great and are good not only as a between-meal snack. One could say they are the original convenience food. There’s a huge variety of würstchen, including Bockwurst, Frankfurter or Vienna sausage, Nurnberger or Thuringian sausage—eaten hot or cold, singly or in pairs, grilled or fried. And what would Munich’s annual Oktoberfest be without the world-famous Weisswurst? Real Bavarians eat this scalded sausage variety, which contains lots of fresh parsley, before noon, with sweet mustard and fresh pretzels and, of course, a real Bavarian beer. Here are the most famous varieties:
A mildly smoked sausage. Serve sliced or added to pasta, soups and salad.
Blood Sausage (Blutwurst)
Blood sausage is a sliceable cooked sausage (Kochwurst), also known as Thüringer Rotwurst, Grützwurst, Zungenwurst, Speckblutwurst, or Flönz (in the Rhineland). They contain chunks of lean meat, tongue, bacon, lard and offal from pork or beef in varying proportions, as well as rind and fresh blood. Cloves, marjoram, thyme, and cinnamon add flavor. Thuringian Rotwurst, which originated in the eastern part of Germany, is known as the “queen of blood. Other well known examples of this group include “Beutelwurst” (literally: sausage in a bag) from northern Germany and Hausmacher Blutwurst from the Frankfurt area (made according to a traditional family recipe) which is also sold as an air-dried variety.
Beer Sausage (Bierwurst )
Flavored with a little garlic and spices, and as the name implies it is often served with beer.
Made from finely minced and spiced pork and beef, then smoked.
Frankfurter (Frankfurter Würstchen)Possibly the world’s most famous sausage! Made from finely minced pork, then cold smoked. These type of sausages originated in Frankfurt in 1592 to be served at the coronation of King Maximilian. Contain only the best, lean pork. Cooked in vacuum sealed glass to be shelf stable. Lower in sodium than regular hot dogs.
Wiener (Wiener Würstchen)
Sometimes in the 17th century, a sausage maker from Frankurt emigrated to Vienna and set up shop in the Habsburg empire capital. He know how to make a good frankfurter, but that may not have sold well among the Viennese. So he put the finely chopped sausage met into a crunchy casing and, voila, called it the Wiener. Some century later, another German emigre, Oscar Mayer, successfully marketed the products and the name in the United States.
The ultimate German street and barbecue food. Thick and juicy grilling sausages served in warm, crusty rolls.
Liverwurst (liver sausage) is available in a wide variety of forms and flavors. All of them must contain at least 10 percent liver—the best varieties have over 25 percent. Varieties include Kalbsleberwurst (veal liver sausage), Palatinate liver sausage (Pfälzer Hausmacher Leberwurst), Plunze—a mixture of liver sausage and blood sausage, Braunschweiger, and Pomeranian goose liver sausage with walnut-sized chunks of goose liver. Liver sausages may also be flavored with herbs, anchovies, shallots, or tomatoes. At one time, liverwurst and blood sausages were luxury foods that would only be eaten on festive occasions.
Tea Sausage (Teewurst)
Teewurst is made from very finely ground pork meat and belongs to the family of spreadable fresh sausages. Other varieties are Pfeffersäckche (literally: little pepper sacks), minced ham sausage, and onion-flavored minced pork sausage. The best known variety is a spread made according to a traditional Brunswick recipe (Streichmettwurst nach Braunschweiger Art). These products contain more fat than their firmer counterparts, which makes them spreadable.
Poultry Liver Sausage (Geflügelleberwurst )
This sausage is low in fat and high in protein and a great spread on whole grain breads.
Similar to their counterparts from other countries, these sliceable sausages contain minced beef, pork and bacon, seasoned with spices and smoked. This family of sausages also includes German salami, cervelat sausage, and garlic sausage. Salami and cervelat sausage are the absolute favorites in their category.
Summer Sausage (Sommerwurst)
A mildly seasoned salami specialty, dried and matured and smoked over beechwood.