Spicy Italian Sausage
July 17, 2017 | Updated February 26, 2021
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Spicy Italian sausage has been a part of my life since I can remember being me.
I grew up in New Jersey, in a town called Westfield that supported more than a dozen Italian restaurants, serving a sizable Italian American population. Sausage, peppers, and onions was a staple dinner, spaghetti with sausage, pizza with sausage, stromboli with sausage… you get the point.
Always, there were two kinds: sweet and hot. Sweet looked more or less like any other link, but the spicy Italian sausage was always red — sometimes red from just chile flakes, sometimes because it had a little paprika in it. This made the easy to pick out in a big platter: Red ones spicy, white ones sweet.
I always found myself reaching for the hot ones. Spicy, but not crazy hot, Italian hots are more warming and zippy than blistering. Just enough spice to make things interesting.
Here is my version of that classic link. I do use paprika, or, rather, piment d’espelette, a mildly hot pepper powder not unlike Hungarian hot paprika. It helps to give the sausages a nice color and heats them up without resorting to cayenne, which is far hotter.
Pork is a must here. I use wild pork from feral hogs I hunt, mixed with domesticated pork fatback, which is the fat on the pig’s back. It is the best fat to use for sausages, as it is harder than belly fat or fat from within the shoulder; both are fine if you can’t get fatback.
How do you cook your spicy Italian sausage? You can cook them in a pan, or grill them, or just submerge the sausages in some spaghetti sauce. Me? I prefer my links in traditional sausage, peppers and onions. Here is a recipe for it that I developed with my friend Elise from Simply Recipes.
Incidentally, if you are looking for a sweet Italian link, here is my recipe for sweet Italian sausage.
New to making sausage? You can find my detailed tutorial on how to make sausages at home here.
Hot Italian Sausage
- 3 3/4 pounds pork or wild boar
- 1 1/4 pounds pork fatback
- 34 grams salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon black pepper
- 2 teaspoons ground coriander
- 2 tablespoons hot paprika or piment d'espelette
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
- 1/4 cup red wine
- 1/2 cup ice water
- hog casings
- Cut the meat and fat into chunks that will fit into your grinder. Mix this with the salt and sugar and refrigerate overnight, or up to 2 days. You can skip this step, but your sausage will not bind as well.
- Get out about 15 feet of hog casings and soak them in warm water. If you want, flush them with water; this helps the stuffing process and will let you know if you have any leaks.
- Mix the minced garlic, pepper, coriander, hot paprika and oregano with the meat and fat and grind through a medium (6.5 mm) die. Chill the mixture in the freezer until it is about 33 degrees Fahrenheit.
- When the mixture is cold enough, add the fennel seeds, red wine and ice water and mix well with your (very clean) hands for 60 to 90 seconds. Your hands will ache with cold. You'll know the sausage is ready when it coheres in one mass. You'll also start to see whitish streaks form on the side of the container you're mixing in. You can also do this mixing in a stand mixer on low.
- Pack your sausage into a stuffer and thread on a length of casing. Slowly ratchet down the meat to remove all air from the stuffer and the tube the casing is on. Leave about 4 inches of casing off the end of the tube; you'll use this to tie off later.
- Stuff one big coil of sausage rather loosely. If you have more sausage to stuff, keep stuffing large coils until you're done. To form links, take a coil and pinch off two links about 6 inches long -- the first link is the end of the coil, the second one up from the end. Roll this link away from you a couple times. Tie off the end of the coil. Now move down the coil and pinch off another link. Roll this link towards you a few times. Move all the way down the coil until you get to the end. Tie off that last link. Repeat with other coils. (This video shows how I do it.)
- Gently compress each link looking for air pockets. Use a needle or sausage pricker to pop any air pockets. Gently compress the links to fill that gap. This takes finesse not to burst the casing.
- When all you links are ready, hang them to dry. At room temperature, hang an hour or two. Ideally, you'll hang links between 33 and 39 degrees Fahrenheit overnight. Barring that, leave them uncovered in the fridge overnight before eating or freezing.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
Would you just x4 everything to make a 20 pound batch? Thinking of doing 75/25 venison and pork jowl mix. Good idea?
Andre: Yes, this recipe can be scaled like that.
Great looking recipe!! Can I just use 5 lbs of fatty pork shoulder for this as well as your sweet sausage recipe?? Thanks!!
Rick: Absolutely. That would be how it is made traditionally.
Any possibility of incorporating venison into this? If so, what would your recommendation be regarding how much?
Max: Absolutely. You can make this with up to 50% venison and it will still taste good. Just make sure you have enough pork fat overall, though.
Hank, thanks for a great recipe. Can n I use center cut pork loin for this, or would it be vey inferior to butt/shoulder?
Al: You can, but it seems a waste of such pretty meat for sausage! Also you need fat, so if you use loin, you will need to make up for its leanness with extra fat.
This is the perfect hot Italian sausage recipe. The spice ratio is perfect as it is and just spicy enough to warm the tongue. I personally double the hot paprika for my family’s tastes. The sausage and peppers recipe is also great. I’ve made this 6 times and it always brings me back to carnival food in eastern PA.
Could I make this with duck/goose, and what about smoking them?
Stan: Yes, but you will still need pork shoulder or pork fat. And yes, you can smoke them.
Made this recipe for the first time and found it the best hot Italian sausage I have ever made. A little too salty for me, as I’m on sodium restriction. So I’ll cut it down next time. Can you put the salt in tablespoons or teaspoon as you have done on the sweet Italian for future reference?
If you got a similar message from me earlier disregard on it this one. To much advertising while trying to message you and not sure if the previous message went thru x
6.75 Teaspoon = 3 Tablespoon+ 1 Teaspoon (round to 3, I don’t like it salty either)
It is best to measure salt by mass or weight rather than volume because total amount used will vary based on the size of the salt granules.
Best italian sausages.Do you have Mazzafegati salati,no orange zest,from Umbria,Italy.They are super testy.My dad used to buy from Gaggioli in Citta di Castello,Umbria.
Hi Hank. You might want to check your hot italian sausage recipe. After saying how ALL italian hot sausage has red pepper and garlic, you left the garlic out of your recipe. I’d also like to make a suggestion: crack your fennel seed before adding it to your meat. Put it in a plastic bag and run a rolling pin over the seed. It will distribute more evenly in the sausage and cracking releases the flavor.
Jayebe: Ha! Good catch. I usually add a tablespoon of minced garlic. Fixed the recipe. Thanks!
Giving this on a try today- I did add minced garlic and some pepper flakes, cause well I can’t have hot Italian sausage without it! This recipe is going head-to-head against a recipe that we’ve used for years, we made 10lbs of each today..
Hanks sausage recipes are really good- we’ve tried several of them and they are all very good. Great job!
I’m new to the world of sausage and am starting with your sweet Italian recipe this weekend. Since I don’t own a stuffer at the moment, I’ll be leaving a couple pounds as ground and then making patties with the rest.
Love the recipe! I have a question that may be slightly off topic, but I wanted to get your thoughts on using the Kitchenaid sausage stuffer attachment? Have you had any luck with it or would you recommend using a standalone stuffer?
Dylan: The stuffer attachment SUCKS. I am OK with using the grinder for small tasks, but it is a terrible, terrible stuffer.
Hey Hank: Your comment before the recipe says all hot Italian sausage have red chile pepper, but then I don’t see red chile pepper in the recipe itself. Am I missing something, or did you replace it with the hot paprika / piment d’espellette?
Will: Yep, that’s what I did. Red pepper flakes are more usual here, and straight up cayenne is OK, but a little hotter than most people like it. The best Italian hot sausages I’ve eaten were “warm,” not overly spicy hot.
Thanks for that I’ll give it a go
You mentioned garlic at the top and that most recipes have it. If we were to add garlic how much would we add
Lule: To this recipe? Your choice. If it were me, I’d add a tablespoon of freshly minced garlic.
I was looking for a spicier sausage on your site and thought I might try this one.. Do you think it would be ok to do a 75-25 % mix of venison and pork shoulder with this recipe?
Steve: Yes, so long as it’s very fatty pork shoulder.
So…All you are using for heat (spicy ness) is hot paprika? No chili flakes
Jeff: Truly hot paprika is hotter that chile flakes, but you can use either.
If I were to go half venison and half pork, what other changes would you suggest?
Glendora NJ here. Mouth watering!!!!
Hi Hank, I’ve read to keep everything cold even freezing the head of your grinder, I thought that was to prevent bacteria, but you hang at room temperature when done. So I’m thinking it’s for a different reason. Could you enlighten me? Thanks for what you do!
Wayne: It is to prevent “smear,” the fat melting slightly and coating the meat. You need them separated, so that the protein network (myosin) forms a tight web around the fat bits, which gives you the bind you need in sausage. Think of myosin like gluten, the protein network that holds bread together.