What is Kielbasa? A Short History

What is Kielbasa? A Short History

The word kielbasa (keel-BAH-sah) ​is Polish for "sausage." It stretches far beyond the large smoked links commonly seen vacuum-packed in grocery stores. Polish sausage may be smoked, fresh, or cured, and include pork, veal, or any variety of meats; some types are from pork shoulder, and others use scraps or ground meat. Many varieties of kielbasa have flavoring ingredients like garlic, juniper, and marjoram. Traditionally used in Polish cuisine, kielbasa can be boiled, baked, grilled, or cooked in other ways, and there are several great recipes to explore.

What Is Kielbasa?

Kielbasa is Polish sausage and an integral part of Poland's culture and cuisine. Just as Germany is famous for bratwurst, Poland is known for kielbasa, but it does not refer to a single type of sausage. Instead, in the Polish language, kielbasa refers to all sausages. It typically includes a modifier that distinguishes a certain type of sausage, in the same way English uses "smoked" or "turkey" sausage, for example. In American markets, it's common to see packages labeled "Kielbasa Polska," which literally means "Poland sausage."

Butchers, sausage makers, and home cooks make kielbasa, most often with pork, though beef, lamb, and poultry may be stuffed into the casing as well. The amount of work that goes into making kielbasa depends on the variety, though grinding the meat and stuffing the casing can be a tedious task. Some kielbasa is uncooked, many varieties are smoked, and the meat may be mixed with herbs, spices, or other flavoring ingredients. Hunter's sausage refers to those types of kielbasa that are smoked and dried. The lack of moisture makes it resistant to spoilage and the perfect food for hunters in the field. Generally, kielbasa is an inexpensive protein, which is one reason why it has been a staple in the Polish diet for so long.

5 Popular Varieties

Biala Kielbasa

Biała kiełbasa (BEEYAH-wah), or white kielbasa, is fresh, uncooked, and unsmoked sausage. It is typically made from pork shoulder, sometimes with a little beef and veal. The kielbasa is seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic, and marjoram, although this varies from family to family.


Kabanosy (kah-bah-NOH-sih) is a type of hunter's sausage and the generic term for any thin stick sausage. It is usually made of pork, salt, pepper, garlic, allspice, and sometimes caraway. When made with crushed pepper, the spicy sausage is called kabanosy pikantne. It can also be made with chicken (kabanosy z kury) or other meats according to the village's customs.

Kiełbaski Myśliwska

Kiełbaski myśliwska (mish-LEEF-skah) is a thick hunter's sausage that is smoked and dried. It's made of pork with a touch of crushed juniper berries.


Serdelki (​sehrr-DEL-kee) are classic Polish hot dogs and more like jumbo frankfurters. They're usually made by stuffing natural casings with seasoned pork and veal that has been lightly smoked. They can be grilled, pan-fried, or warmed in hot water. It's common to serve them on a bun or with sauerkraut and potatoes. 

Kielbasa Czosnkowa

Kiełbasa ​czosnkowa (choh-sin-KOH-vah) is literally "garlic sausage." It's made from cured pork, salt, black pepper, marjoram, and liberal amounts of fresh garlic. Sometimes it includes coriander and paprika as well. The kielbasa is simmered in hot water and then lightly smoked. It's ideal for grilling, as a cold cut, with scrambled eggs, or in stews like bigos.

As adopted from Spruce Eats

Thanks for reading this week’s blog on a short history of Kielbasa! Order your Polish Sausage today at the link in our bio. 

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