Sausage: The Center of the Plate

This flavorful ingredient is getting its moment in the spotlight

Over the past few years, diners have seen their menu options change. Thanks to expanding palates and an increased willingness to explore new taste combinations, we’re no longer living in a world where the only choices are chicken, steak, or fish. Case in point: more and more chefs are putting sausage on their menu, and diners have been saying “more, please.”

Thanks in large part to its versatility, including its use as a flavorful ingredient, sausage has been edging its way onto the plate—not just as an appetizer or for breakfast, but as a great center-of-the-plate option.

There are several areas of ongoing growth in the sausage category as a whole. We continue to see a core group of sausage lovers seek big, authentic flavors driven by emerging regional and ethnic cuisines, such as Italian sausage, bratwurst, and chorizo. As more patrons see sausage appear on menus, a wider audience begins to understand the appeal of sausage, and new sausage enthusiasts are created.

Some foodservice patrons, along with many non-commercial operators, are also seeking a “better-for-you” sausage choice while retaining the strong flavor and taste they expect from a breakfast, lunch, or dinner sausage. And because sausage can play within every major meal occasion, a sausage option can be designed for any menu offering, depending on the core customer group an operator is serving.

Starting a new trend in the kitchen

The growing popularity of independent, chef-driven restaurants that often feature sausage on the menu has brought more attention to the category. Initially, we saw chefs making their own sausages, playing with flavors and spice to customize a dish specifically for their kitchens. As diners recognized the possibilities of sausage, chefs took their offerings one step further by introducing charcuterie to the plate. The sharable, customizable experience of a charcuterie plate gave both chefs and diners the chance to have fun with flavors, while still being able to stay within the comfort zone of their choosing.

In addition, the explosive growth of small, regional craft breweries and brew pubs in the United States has helped sausage achieve “center-of-the-plate” status. A new generation of eaters at these local brew pubs is driving an interest in beer and food pairings—and sausage certainly plays a role.

There is also a growing interest in sausage in kitchens of all sizes. For larger kitchens, there is interest in providing fully cooked and recipe-ready sausage products to operators that are easier to use and more versatile in back-of-the-house settings. Many manufacturers have large product portfolios featuring a variety of quality sausages that are easy to prepare and pre-seasoned to reduce cost and time in the kitchen.

A meat for all meals

Although sausage is appearing more frequently at the dinner table, we can’t forget that sausage first gained its popularity in the breakfast daypart. Breakfast sandwiches that include a protein are rising in popularity. For example, the use of smoked sausage on breakfast sandwiches is gaining traction as a convenient and flavorful solution for on-the-go consumers in the morning.

An operator can easily take the same sausage they purchased for dinner and translate it into a breakfast dish, and vice versa. The versatility of the protein allows for countless flavor combinations for any daypart and allows operators to purchase smartly. If a sausage works for breakfast, why not try it in a different dish for dinner with a starch and vegetable? If you’re using chorizo in a breakfast hash with eggs and potatoes, you can transition the sausage to one of my personal favorite dinner offerings by using the chorizo in a broth with tomatoes and olives to steam mussels, creating a spicy and unique flavor pairing.

Sausage versatility goes beyond flavors. Many kitchens cater to certain regional preferences, dietary restrictions, or specific demographics, and with so many variations and flavor combinations, it’s easy to adapt a recipe to fit your needs. Preferences come in waves, and right now, spicy flavors continue to rise in popularity among regional and ethnic cuisines, particularly with Andouille and Chorizo sausages.

The star of the plate

Sausage as a center-of-the-plate protein option has been trending. Now more than ever, diners are not only ready for it, they are craving it. For an operator, the relative cost-effectiveness of sausage—and its ability to deliver a more flavorful taste experience compared to shrimp or chicken—translates to a better protein ingredient for appetizers, soups, sandwiches, and entrées.

If an operator is interested in exploring a sausage entrée as a menu option but is unsure how it will perform, I recommend introducing a flavorful (but not spicy) dish as a special menu item for a limited time. This way, an operator will be able to gauge diners' interest in the protein without overcommitting themselves to the product.

There are endless possibilities when it comes to sausage as a center-of-the-plate option. It’s important to understand your customers and bring sausage to your menu in a thoughtful and exciting way. By introducing sausage as a protein option item, you’ll be feeding your diners, as well as your bottom line.

The opinions of contributors are their own. Publication of their writing does not imply endorsement by FSR magazine or Journalistic Inc.

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