If the ninth annual Smokin’ Sausage Showdown were not a tasting competition between hand-butchered Maine links, but rather a hoof- and footrace between the animals represented on the gridiron, the result, of course, would still be … utterly unpredictable, just farm animals milling around with no awareness of the finish line.
But still, who would you bet on? This year we had, naturally, pigs, but also cow and lamb in the competition. Chicken links have made strong showings in the Wildcard rounds of past Showdowns, but this year’s card filled up fast thanks to a new entrant, Solo Cucina Market, formerly The Farm Stand, in South Portland. The market, a collaboration between The Farm Stand and the couple behind the Old Port restaurant Solo Italiano (Chef Paolo Laboa and Mercedes Laboa), has a large selection of sausage from Maine farms, product you otherwise have to hunt down at farmers’ markets, in addition to their own daily grinds.
So Showdown IX took place over two sunny afternoons, during which the competitors were slow-smoked with maple wood for over three hours at an average temperature in the low-to-mid 200s Fahrenheit. The results are, frankly, scandalous.
For example, we had a little side competition this year among craft hot dogs: the big frankfurters made at Fresh Approach, on Portland’s West End, and Maine-famous red snapper–style dogs made at The Sausage Kitchen, in Lisbon Falls. As Mainer reported last month [“Saving The Sausage Kitchen,” July 2021], the legendary Lisbon Falls link-maker was Vegas odds-makers’ pick to win it all this year. Shockingly, their sausages, while quite good, failed to place, but their red snapper was so unexpectedly awesome — fantastic snap, deep pork flavor, juicy as fruit — that it ties for Honorable Mention overall.
Honorable Mention also goes to The Thirsty Pig’s blueberry sausage, even though the Old Port restaurant cheated by including a deliciously sweet/sour blueberry side sauce that turned the salty pork goodness of the berry-studded link into greatness.
The bronze medal in this meat Olympics goes to Colvard & Company, a craft sausage-maker in Southwest Harbor that sells its links at numerous natural-food markets in Maine (we found ours at the Portland Food Co-op; see colvardsausages..com for a list). Their sesame sriracha sausage was exemplary — big hit of sesame up front, followed by the heat. Seeing other varieties on their website, like the jalapeño cheddar with lime zest, coriander and cilantro, you know Colvard & Co. will be a top contender for years to come.
Second-place was also a tie. Among the finds at Solo Cucina was a pork sausage called “Aztec,” from Old Crow Ranch, in Durham. The pack was a bit looser than most of the competitors’, but the link was expertly made, and the flavor — hints of cumin, red pepper, and a subtle sweetness — was stellar. Old Crow also has other varieties that we’ll have to include in future Showdowns, and prides itself on its pasture-based, regenerative farming practices, which clearly give its sausages a competitive advantage.
The lamb merguez sausage from Pat’s Meat Market, on Stevens Ave. in Portland, was by far the most beautiful link (pre-grilling) in the competition, with a rich maroon-red color and attractively patterned casing. Its taste lived up to its looks — bold North African spices delivered with this neighborhood butcher shop’s signature fine grind — earning it a silver.
So a lamb nearly takes the gold, a hot dog gets honorable mention, The Pig cheated, and now, in a stunner, a cow saunters away with top honors in a Smokin’ Sausage Showdown!
Buckley Farms, a family-run operation in Leeds, and another Solo Cucina find, slayed with its pasture-raised beef, bacon and cheddar sausage. All three flavors were present in perfect harmony. The sausage was not too salty and plenty juicy, even after hours in the unforgiving smoke bath.
Bravo, Buckley Farms, and congrats to all our winners this year! Keep smokin’ ’em, folks — we’ll see ya next summer for Smokin’ Sausage Showdown X (Revenge of the Birds?).