Though it was first created as a way of preserving meat into the summer, summer sausage is, ironically, a gift basket staple around the holidays. The shelf-stable (until sliced open) smoked sausage is a deliciously savory snack on a charcuterie board or on its own, bitten into like a banana.
Here’s the thing: You don’t have to receive a summer sausage as a gift to enjoy it. Nor do you have to give away every summer sausage you buy. You can purchase summer sausage and eat it at home just as you would any other deli meat. And you can even get some of the best summer sausage from the grocery store—no mail-order necessary. Now that you have my express permission to buy and eat summer sausage whenever you dang well please, the question is, which summer sausage? I can help you. I tasted 11 different summer sausages in search of the best beef summer sausage, turkey summer sausage, and jalapeño cheddar summer sausage. Here are the top five summer sausages to buy and eat (or gift, if you must).
- Johnsonville Original Summer Sausage
If you are a big salami fan, then you will like this summer sausage. It has a real salami flavor with a summer sausage texture. It’s also on the fattier end of the summer sausage spectrum, so slice it thin and enjoy how it nearly melts in your mouth. This is not everyday summer sausage; it’s special occasion summer sausage.
Credit: Merc / Instacart
- Johnsonville Beef Summer Sausage
Johnsonville beef summer sausage is the best summer sausage made with all beef that I tried. It tastes like beef, as it should. It seems like an obvious note to make, but not all beef summer sausage really tastes like good, classic beef. It’s well seasoned with just a hint of pepper on the end and enough fattiness to let you know you’re eating sausage. A few slices of this beef summer sausage with some classic orange cheddar? That’s 4 p.m. snacking, right there.
Credit: Merc / Target
- Johnsonville Jalapeño Cheddar Summer Sausage
I’ll be honest, I did not think I would be into a jalapeño cheddar summer sausage. I thought the cheddar would be gross and too creamy. I thought the jalapeño would be overwhelming. But I will always admit when I’m wrong. And I was very wrong about jalapeño cheddar summer sausage. Because this stuff is great. There are visible chunks of cheese and jalapeno in the sausage. The jalapeño adds a nice, grassy, pepper flavor. The cheese is sharp and just creamy enough. It’s like a charcuterie board cracker snack all in one bite.
Credit: Merc / Kroger
- Old Wisconsin Premium Summer Sausage
If you want a classic summer sausage that’s a mix of beef and pork, this is the best summer sausage out there. It’s very savory with lots of spices in the mix. The texture is somewhere between salami and bologna. It’s a real crowd-pleaser. Cut some thick slices and arrange them on a platter with some crackers and a fancy mustard. That’s really all you need for an appetizer.
Credit: Merc / Vons
- Trader Joe’s Natural Turkey Summer Sausage
Yes, a turkey summer sausage is the best summer sausage. Trader Joe’s summer sausage is different from any other summer sausage I tried, and that’s what earned it the number one spot. It doesn’t just taste like salami’s cousin. It tastes like its own meat product. It tastes like there are some pickling spices in the mix. And that touch of tang really makes it soar. Plus, it’s leaner than the other summer sausages on this list. If that’s not your preference, go ahead and pick up some Old Wisconsin summer sausage. But if you appreciate a leaner meat, like I do, then this is the best summer sausage to buy.
Best Jalapeño Cheddar
Best Beef and Pork
Best of the Best
Other summer sausage we tried: Simms Beef Summer Sausage, Simms Summer Sausage, Dietz & Watson Beef Summer Sausage, Dietz & Watson Beef & Garlic Summer Sausage, Hickory Farms Beef Summer Sausage, Hickory Farms Farmhouse Summer Sausage