If you live in the U.S. (or anywhere else on the planet), you’re probably familiar with the hot dog, also known as the frankfurter—a nod to the city of Frankfurt, Germany, likely where its prototype was born. But you may not have heard of the hot dog’s delicious cousin: knockwurst.
Allow us to introduce you. Knockwurst is one of more than 1,000 varieties of sausage attributed to Germany, a country famous for its wurst. According to historians, sausage-making emerged as a way to preserve meat—and to get the most out of the animals that provided it.
So, what sets knockwurst apart from hot dogs (and all the other sausages available in grocery stores)? For answers to a few of our more pressing questions about the sausage, we turned to Kurt Gutenbrunner, world-renowned Austrian chef and restaurateur and expert in central European cuisine.
Q: What makes this sausage so special?
A: Knockwurst is short, stout, and loaded with flavorful seasonings. “Every butcher has a special mix that he’s proud of,” says Chef Gutenbrunner. “Some use more nutmeg, or more coriander, or more caraway seeds.”
Q: How do you eat knockwurst?
A: It can be eaten as finger food at parties, or with a piece of good bread and a condiment or two. Then there are more elaborate preparations. According to Chef Gutenbrunner, “in the summer, you can use it in wurstsalat”—literally “sausage salad.” (Yes, this is a thing.) “Sliced and mixed with red onions, peppers, apples, vinegar, and chives, it’s fantastic.”
Q: Where does this sausage come from?
A: “Like any wurst, knockwurst has a long history,” Chef Gutenbrunner explains. Germans have been making the sausage for centuries. In fact, before it even entered the mainstream in its native country, knockwurst was considered a delicacy among royalty.
Q: Where is it most popular?
A: While knockwurst is most popular in Germany, the sausage is also woven into the cuisines of its neighbors, like Alsace (a region in France) and Austria. “I grew up with knockwurst in Austria. We loved it and ate it all the time,” Chef Gutenbrunner recalls fondly.
Q: How did knockwurst get its name?
A: In German, it’s spelled “knackwurst,” which comes from “knacken” (meaning “to snap or crack”)—a reference to the unbeatable snap of the casing when you take a bite. “The texture alone is wonderful,” says Chef Gutenbrunner. “You can even just warm up the sausage up and enjoy that snap with a spicy or sweet mustard.”
Q: Anything else?
A: Chef Gutenbrunner wants you to know that when it comes to making knockwurst or any sausage, the key is quality meat. “It matters what you put into the casing,” he says. “It matters what we eat, what animal it came from, how that animal was raised.”