Guts-n-Links: The Place of Sausage in the Barbecue Pantheon

From the sauce-stained keyboard of guest blogger Adrian Miller. Although Adrian hails from Colorado, this week he takes a two-step through Texas. 

Say the words “hot link” and a lot of folks will think that you’re talking about the latest smartphone app. Barbecue heads know better. Hot links are coarsely ground, cayenne-pepper-spiced sausages usually made with beef and/or pork that are stuffed into casings and tied off into links. Hot links can have a reddish hue that seems, um, unnatural. These raw sausages are then thrown on a grill and smoked along with other standard barbecue meats. (For the lowdown on all-beef sausages, check out Daniel Vaughn’s Lone Star Dispatch on that topic.)

Czech and German immigrants who settled in central and eastern Texas in the late 1800s are often credited for introducing and popularizing hot sausages. Two Texas cities, Elgin and Pittsburg, are now synonymous with hot sausages. Pittsburg in east Texas uses the “hot links” moniker, but at Elgin in central Texas, their version is called “hot guts.” I’ve had both, and I don’t think they’re the same. To me, hot guts have a finer texture, browner color and are less spicy than hot links.

The mighty Z burger.

Hot guts have essentially remained a central Texas specialty, but hot links have spread across the country. Hot links often show up on menus as a stand-alone item, as a sandwich, and increasingly, as a sandwich topping. On a recent trip to the Double Z Bar and Bar BQ in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, I tried the “Z Burger”—a cheeseburger topped with a hot link. Very tasty.

B-b-b-bad to the bun: Elmer’s badwich. Photo courtesy of urbanspoon.

If the hot-link-as-sandwich-topping has a Platonic form, it’s probably at Elmer’s B.B.Q. in Tulsa, Oklahoma—home of the “Badwich.” A taste-tester for Southern Living magazine once said of this unique sandwich, “You take all of the food groups and pile them on one sandwich—it’s got chopped meat, hot links, bologna, and jalapeno peppers on the side. It’s a real killer.” Now, that’s one hot link sandwich that I’d like to have in my gut right now.

Follow Adrian Miller on Twitter at @soulfoodscholar