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Sausage City: Gilbert's Craft Sausages

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[Photograph: Blake Royer]

"Honest ingredients, unique recipes, no funny stuff!"

That's the slogan of Gilbert's Craft Sausages, a small-batch craft sausage maker manufacturing in Denmark, Wisconsin whose product is slowly making its way into fine Chicago markets (it's currently available in dozens of stores across the city, including Costco). Their sausages combine original ideas, innovative packaging, and plenty of whimsy that adds up to a pretty solid collection.

Gilbert's currently offers four varieties: two traditional (a Sheboygan bratwurst and an all-beef hot dog) and two inventive ("Ouisconsin" smoked beef sausage with morsels of blue cheese and "Catalana" smoked pork sausage with chipotle and lime). I picked up all four for a taste test.

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All of Gilbert's sausages come fully-cooked, which comes with the huge benefit of shelf life; these are even individually packaged and then cooked in their bags, which means they'll last for months. I'm sometimes suspicious of products like these—can a pre-cooked sausage ever have the same richness and juiciness of one you cook yourself?—but there are some kind of sausage which are always sold fully cooked. The hot dog, for example.

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And while I quite liked Gilbert's Catalana—a nice blend of smoke and spice—far and away the best sausage was indeed the Froman, their all-beef hot dog. While the official stance on hot dogs here at Sausage City is always in favor of natural casings (skinless dogs just don't have the right "snap" when you bite into them), they're not always easy to find for home cooking if you don't visit the Vienna Beef factory store.

Besides getting its name from the beloved, if fictional, "Sausage King of Chicago," The Froman lands somewhere between skinless and natural, using a beef collagen casing instead. And Gilbert's founder Chris G. Salm claimed via email that the collagen casing "gives us a better snap than natural casings without the tough chewiness." Could it be true?

Truth be told, the collagen actually has an impressive bite to it, and it also means the Froman is truly "all beef," whereas a natural casing comes from lamb. The sausage itself was perfectly spiced and textured.

But I've got to run. Ferris Bueller's Day Off is about to start.

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