The very first Smokin’ Sausage Showdown took place in the summer of 2007 in my South Portland backyard. That year, Pat’s Meat Market and Colucci’s Hilltop Superette tied for top 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 mild andouille.
For the momentous 10th Showdown this year, we pulled out all the stops. Preliminary qualifying rounds began this spring, as soon as it was warm enough to sit around the grill without a winter coat on (for 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, so dominated the Italian categories over the years that we stopped trying to top ’em. From those early rounds this spring, three links 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 boudin, however, new owner Kerry Conroy-Morongell said she’s adapted a recipe direct from the Bayou, minus an unnamed ingredient or two that she didn’t think we Yankees would like.
Pat’s made the finals with a Chicken Sicilian sausage that blew our minds in the early rounds. Birds, beef, and even lamb have all bested porcine competitors in past Showdowns, so this chicken link, with its remarkable ability to remain juicy after hours of smoking, had a real shot this year.
The third new finalist was the Louisiana Hot Link from Kennebec Meat Co., a new butcher shop in Bath located in the former home of Beal Street Barbeque downtown. The judges were quite excited about this rookie, as their mild Italian sausage also did well in the qualifiers.
To mark this milestone Showdown, we also brought a few past champions into this year’s final round. Last year’s winner was a beef, bacon and cheddar sausage from Buckley Farms, in Leeds, that 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 gridiron. We also brought back the winner of Showdown XIII, the Swedish Potato Dinner link made famous by Mr. Bonneau.
So, without further ado, the results…
Coming in third was Kennebec Meat’s Louisiana Hot Link. The heat and salt levels were perfect, it had a complex, chunky grind, and even after three hours in a smoke bath averaging 250 degrees, it was juicy as hell.
Among those tied for the silver were Pat’s Meat Market’s Chicken Sicilian, with its sizeable pieces of green, orange and red peppers, distinct fennel flavor and slight spiciness. It’s like a meal inside a casing, as was another silver-medal winner this year, The Sausage Kitchen’s Cajun boudin, with its wild rice and what Maine BBQ legend Jonathan St. Laurent calls “naughty bits” inside. That sausage also had a pleasantly lingering heat. Buckley Farms’ “steak and cheese” link was also good enough for second place. The cheese tasted like finely aged Velveeta, the steak-y grind remained decently juicy, and it took the maple and oak woodsmoke well.
Thus the winner, in a stunner and by only half a snout, was The Sausage Kitchen’s Swedish potato sausage. True, it isn’t nearly as flashy as its spicier competitors, but damn, that exquisite flavor! It brings liverwurst to mind, and the subtle way its ingredients come to the fore — among them, pork, beef, bacon, onion and, of course, potato — marks this link as a product of a true master.
Stay tuned, sausage fans, for Smokin’ Sausage Showdown XI next year, a.k.a. Can Anybody Beat Maurice?