Sausage buying guide
Use our producers directory of over 250 sausage producers to find a good producer near you. This page explains what makes a good sausage and what to look for when shopping.
- What makes a good sausage?
- Gluten free sausages
- Organic sausages
- Rare breed sausages
- Free range sausages
- How expensive are good sausages?
- What does high welfare mean?
A good British sausage is juicy and plump with high meat content (70% or more) and made from quality British meat, fresh herbs, breadcrumbs and natural skins. The best sausages are made by specialist sausage producers. These are either traditional butchers or a growing band who are both farmers (usually organic, rare breed or free range) and sausages makers.
Good sausages are made with high welfare meat. A happy animal makes for better meat and a better sausage. Sausages made with organic, rare breed or free range meat are usually good and are growing in popularity and availability. They are more expensive but are usually worth paying extra.
British pork has some of the highest standards in the world. You therefore want to see proof that you are buying British pork. Most butchers sausages will be made from local meat, often from 1 or 2 local farms. When buying packaged sausages look for a clear statement saying British meat, the Quality Standard Mark or the Little Red Tractor Mark.
With good sausages, "less is more", look for a short list of ingredients with few or no E numbers.
- Are plump and have shiny skins
- Are well packed with no air bubbles
- Are traditionally hand linked or coiled
- Don't shrink when cooked - the greater the shrinkage the lower the meat quality!
- Are made with high welfare, quality British meat. The best are usually made with shoulder and belly from either organic, rare breed or free range animals
- Are not excessively bulked up with cheap ingredients (bread, rusk and fat)
- Gluten free sausages are good because they are often 100% meat with no cheap filler
Gluten free sausages do not contain any wheat products such as breadcrumbs or rusk. They are therefore suitable for coeliacs (who cannot eat wheat). They are either made with a non wheat filler (such as rice or potato powder) or with 100% meat. The all meat sausages are often very good and are very similar to Italian or French sausages (which are made with less filler than traditional British sausages).
We list over 20 organic sausage producers.
Most organic sausages are certified by the Soil Association. Organic means high standards of animal welfare and environmental protection. Less intensive methods, fewer drugs, lower stress and a better diet mean good but expensive meat. Everything that goes into an organic animal must be certified as organic, this leads to high administration costs.
Many farmers rear animals to organic or near organic standards but do not obtain organic certification. These animals will still produce high quality meat. It's your choice: Do you want to pay more for the comfort of eating meat which is certified as organic?
We list over 60 rare breed sausage producers.
The most popular rare breed for sausage makers is the Gloucester Old Spot, but all are used. Rare breeds are the ancestors of the modern factory pigs. They mature slowly and because they live outdoors they need to develop the muscles and fat needed to survive outside. This gives them a higher fat content and a special taste and texture. Because of this they are unsuitable for modern factory farming methods.
Some consumers think that rare breeds carry too much fat. Fat gives taste and succulence and is essential in a good sausage. As a fan of rare breed meat I would suggest that you try a rare breed sausage, it may convert you!
The Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST ) currently recognises seven rare breed pigs:
- British Lop
- Large Black
- Middle White
- Saddleback; and
- Gloucestershire Old Spot
The RBST website contains more information on rare breeds and also lists accredited butchers which sell rare breed meat. A number of these butchers are included in specialist producers.
There has been a resurgence of interest in rare breed meat because people have realised how much better it tastes. This has been led by many of our top restaurants and chefs who use rare breed meat because of its superior taste. This was illustrated at the 2003 Great Taste awards where sausages made with rare breed pork won the gold medal (Savin Hill) and one of two silvers (Piperfield Pork).
Many sausage producers make sausages with free range meat. There is no legal definition of free range (this is problem and can lead to consumers being misled).
A simple definition is that a free range animal has lived outside for more than half of its life. Most free range pigs live on fields with shelters, food and water provided. It is generally accepted that the free range animals develop better muscle structure because they roam around more and eat a more varied diet (they can forage), also because they are outside they develop a better fat covering for insulation. Detractors argue that it is unkind to put modern breeds outside because they do not have the skin and fat to cope with summer heat and winter cold. Pigs are intelligent animals and if they have shelter will use it. What would you prefer - a shed (even a nice one with space and straw) or a nice field with the option of using a shelter?
Typically a good sausage will cost around �3 per pound (which is �6.75 per kilo). In comparison cheap supermarket sausages cost less than �2 per kilo. Top quality organic or rare breed sausages are around �4 - �5 per pound (which is �8.80 - �11.00 per kilo).
With most things, you get what you pay for. A clear trend we have noticed during our tests of supermarket sausages is that the cheaper sausages shrink more and release far more fat that the more expensive types.
Most sausages are made from factory farmed animals. This can mean a host of unsavoury practices such as:
- Overcrowding on concrete floors
- Restricted movement in metal pens
- Teeth clipping and tail docking
- Growth promoters and hormones
- Pre-emptive medication
- Leg problems due to rapid growth and lack of exercise
- Stressful slaughter arrangements
Factory farmed meat will generally be slaughtered and processed very quickly with little hanging time for the meat. Hanging the meat leads to better flavour and texture, but leads to weight loss.
Factory farming aims to produce cheap, lean meat. Without enough fat pork is dry and tasteless. High welfare tries to avoid these methods and is based on the premise that happy animals will produce better meat which will ultimately taste better - giving you a better sausage.
The proof for this comes from the supermarkets themselves - most of the pork they sell is factory farmed but nearly all offer a premium range which is invariably described as 'outdoor reared'.
Look at the specialist producers directory to find a producer of good sausages near you