Smokin’ Sausage Showdown X – Mainer

photo/Chris Busby

The very first Smokin’ Sausage Showdown was held in the summer of 2007 in my South Portland backyard. That year, Pat’s Meat Market and Colucci’s Hilltop Superette tied for honors in the Hot Italian category, and future Maine Sausage Hall of Famer Fresh Approach won gold in the Sweet Italian and Wild Card categories, the latter for a masterfully sweet sausage.

For this year’s memorable 10th Showdown, we pulled out all the stops. The preliminary qualifying rounds started this spring, as soon as it was warm enough to sit around the grill without a winter coat (most of the time). It’s all Wild Cards these days – butcher shops like Pat’s on Stevens Ave. in Portland, and Fresh Approach in the West End have so dominated the Italian categories over the years that we have stopped trying to top them. From those early rounds this spring, three ties advanced to the finals last month.

One was a Cajun boudin sausage made by The Sausage Kitchen, in Lisbon Falls. As we reported last summer [“Saving the Sausage Kitchen,” July 2021], The Sausage Kitchen changed hands when Jedi butcher Maurice Bonneau retired and sold it to another local family, who continue to craft links using Maurice’s recipes. For this sausage, however, new owner Kerry Conroy-Morongell said she adapted a recipe straight from the Bayou, minus an unnamed ingredient or two that she didn’t think we Yankees would like.

Pat’s made the finale with a Sicilian chicken sausage that blew us away in the early rounds. Birds, beef and even lamb have all beaten pork competitors in past showdowns, so this chicken tie, with its remarkable ability to stay juicy after hours of smoking, got a real hit this year.

The third new runner-up was Kennebec Meat Co.’s Louisiana Hot Link, a new butcher shop in Bath located in the former home of Beal Street Barbeque downtown. The judges were very excited about this rookie, as their mild Italian sausage also performed well in qualifying.

To mark this important Showdown, we’ve also brought a few former champions into this year’s endgame. Last year’s winner was a Beef, Bacon and Cheddar Sausage from Buckley Farms, Leeds, which we found at Solo Cucina Market in South Portland. This year Solo Cucina had a “steak and cheese” variety from Buckley Farms that we added to the grill. We’ve also brought back the Showdown XIII winner, the Swedish Potato Dinner tie made famous by Mr. Bonneau.

So, without further ado, the results…

In third place, Louisiana Hot Link from Kennebec Meat. The heat and salt levels were perfect, it had a complex, thick grind, and even after three hours in a 250 degree average smoke bath, it was juicy as hell.

Among those who tied for money was Pat’s Meat Market’s Sicilian Chicken, with its chunky chunks of green, orange and red peppers, distinct fennel flavor and slight spiciness. It’s like a meal inside a box, as was another silver medalist this year, The Sausage Kitchen’s Cajun blood sausage, with its wild rice and what Maine barbecue legend , Jonathan St. Laurent, calls “naughty bits” inside. This sausage also had a pleasantly lingering heat. The Buckley Farms “steak and cheese” tie was also good enough for second place. The cheese tasted like finely aged Velveeta, the steak grind remained decently juicy, and it took the maple and oak wood smoke well.

So the winner, in a daze and by only half a snout, was The Sausage Kitchen’s Swedish Potato Sausage. Granted, it’s not as flashy as its spicier competitors, but damn it, that exquisite flavor! It is reminiscent of liver sausage, and the subtle way its ingredients are highlighted – among them pork, beef, bacon, onion and, of course, potato – marks this connection as product of a true master.

Stay tuned sausage fans for next year’s Smokin’ Sausage Showdown XI aka Can Anyone Beat Maurice?

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Edward L. Robinett