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What Is Kielbasa? A Brief Guide to Polish Sausage




What Is Kielbasa? A Brief Guide to Polish Sausage

While browsing through the meat department or looking at recipes for your next family dinner, you may have come across kielbasa or Polish sausage. And perhaps you’re wondering what, if anything, differentiates the two.

Simply put, kielbasa is the Polish word for sausage, so the two terms are often used interchangeably. However, there are also differences between the two terms, depending on who you ask. Keep reading to learn all about the different types of Polish sausage, as well as some ideas on how to use kielbasa sausage at home.

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What’s the Difference Between Polish Sausage and Kielbasa?

That depends on who (and where) you ask!

While many people in the United States refer to the smoked Polish pork sausage as Polish kielbasa or kielbasa, this term can be misleading. If you head across the Atlantic and ask for “kielbasa” in Poland, you’d be met with confused looks. That’s because the term kielbasa translates to sausage.

In Poland, the term kielbasa can be used to refer to breakfast links, spicy Italian sausage, and smoked sausage flavored with garlic and marjoram. However, in the United States, “Polish sausage” and “kielbasa” are often used to refer to the same type of sausage.

Kielbasa and roasted vegetables in a bowl
Kielbasa makes for a great protein-rich addition to roasted vegetables.

The History of Kielbasa

The Poles began making their own version of sausage as early as the 14th century. During this time, kielbasa was made from a wide variety of meats, including wild boar, rabbit, and pork. The sausages were a must-have item during renowned dinners hosted by royalty, but smoked versions also helped feed everyday merchants during their travels across Europe.

Over time, pork began to become the meat of choice for making kielbasa. The recipes continued to evolve as butchers refined their recipes until they were just right. However, a big shift in kielbasa-making occurred in the 1900s. While many families and butcher shops had developed recipes they were proud of, the presence of communism prompted the government to develop standardized recipes, which many said produced kielbasa that was subpar in flavor and quality.

However, individuals continued to tinker with recipes and produce kielbasa they loved. It’s thought that Polish immigrants first brought kielbasa to the United States. Many Poles arrived in the United States in the late 1800s and early 1900s, which encouraged a boom in Polish-influenced foods, including kielbasa.

Types of Polish Sausage

While many people in the United States only know the smoked, U-shaped version of Polish sausage, there are many more varieties to choose from! If you’d like to expand your palate and try something new, keep an eye out for these types of Polish sausage.

Kielbasa Zwyczajna

This is the type of Polish sausage many people refer to when they say kielbasa or smoked kielbasa. It’s commonly found throughout Poland and eaten on a regular basis. In fact, the word “zwyczajny” translates to “ordinary.”

While it may be known as an ordinary sausage, that doesn’t mean it’s lacking in flavor. Recipes vary between towns, families, and butcher shops, but most contain a large amount of garlic as well as black pepper. Other common spices include marjoram and coriander.

When it comes to buying this ordinary sausage, you have plenty of options, including Coleman Natural’s uncured kielbasa. This version has all the spiced and smoky flavor you’re looking for without any of the added nitrates or nitrites you’d prefer to avoid.

Biala Kielbasa

Many types of kielbasa are smoked and ready to eat, but there are also fresh sausages that fit under the Polish sausage label. Biala kielbasa is one of them.

Also known as fresh kielbasa or Polish white sausage in the United States, it’s primarily made with pork and sometimes a bit of beef and/or veal. The spices are similar to smoked Polish kielbasa and consist of salt, pepper, garlic, and marjoram.

When it comes time to cook this fresh sausage, you have lots of options. You can brown it in a skillet, boil it in a water-filled pan, or throw it on the grill. Once it’s cooked, try slicing it and dipping it in yellow mustard or horseradish, eating it alongside mashed potatoes, or serving it with sauteed mushrooms and onions.


If you’re looking for a Polish sausage that’s made for snacking, seek out some kabanos. This long, thin smoked sausage is filled with an intense smokey and meaty flavor that quickly satisfies meaty cravings—think of it as the Polish version of the popular Slim Jim.

Its high protein and fat content means it’s a great snack for those following a Keto or Paleo diet.

onions, sauerkraut, and Polish sausage in a tan dish
Just add onions, sauerkraut, and Polish sausage, and you’ve got an excellent weeknight dinner!

How to Cook Polish Kielbasa

When it comes time to cook the Polish kielbasa found throughout grocery stores, you have lots of options. Since the sausage is already cooked, your goal will be to heat it to an appropriate temperature and pair it with ingredients that complement its rich smoky flavor.

Cook Low and Slow

If you want a delicious meal that’s ready at the end of a long day, turn to the slow cooker. As kielbasa cooks over low heat, it lends a rich and smokey flavor to the rest of the ingredients. Slow Cooker Beans with Kielbasa is a protein-packed meal that works well for those following Keto or Paleo diet plans, and Slow Cooker Polish Sausage and Cabbage turns winter vegetables and kielbasa into a comforting meal that will warm your insides.

Turn on the Stove

While you can cook kielbasa on the stove by itself, this sausage also features beautifully in other stovetop dishes.

Kielbasa Shakshuka uses the smoky sausage to put a new spin on the classic Mediterranean egg dish. This flavorful meal is also ready in less than 30 minutes, which makes it a great option when you’re looking for a quick and healthy meal.

Another option that’s great for weeknight dinners is the Quick Skillet Sausage and Cauliflower Risotto. By swapping rice for cauliflower, this veggie-packed dish becomes suitable for those who are following a Keto diet. And leaving out the cheese makes it Paleo-friendly.

Kielbasa with tongs on a grill
Kielbasa on the grill? Yes please!

Fire Up the Grill

Just as many types of sausage lend themselves well to the grill, so does kielbasa. You can quickly sear the sausage and enjoy it as-is or use the high heat to prepare a complete dish.

Quick Grilled Kebabs with Sausage and Vegetables offer an easy, healthy option that kids and adults alike can enjoy. While the recipe calls for peppers, onions, and tomatoes, feel free to swap these veggies for your favorites.

If you have a bit more time to spend in the kitchen, try out a Grilled Pizza with Sausage, Mushrooms, and Onions. The grill helps create an extra-crispy crust, and the kielbasa adds a smoky flavor that evokes nights spent around the campfire.

Start With All-Natural Kielbasa

No matter what you plan on making with your kielbasa, you’ll want to start with a high-quality Polish sausage that makes the meat, spices, and smoky flavor shine.

Coleman Natural’s Uncured Smoked Polish Kielbasa is made from pork that was raised crate-free and without added hormones or antibiotics. The sausage is naturally cured using celery powder and sea salt, rather than added nitrates or nitrates.

So grab a ring for dinner and maybe a second for your freezer. After all, you never know when a craving for kielbasa will strike!

To learn more about different types of meat, read these next:

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