Move over hot dogs and brats, chicken sausage is gaining ground.
Take a look around the supermarket and you'll find more brands of chicken sausage as an alternative to pork-based sausages.
The National Chicken Council says sausage is the fastest growing chicken product. And it's showing no sign of slowing.
"We have seen double-digit growth and expect double-digit growth for the next few years," said council spokesman Bill Roenigk. "Especially with the gourmet or upscale flavors or exotic ingredients."
Even those who make pork sausages are venturing into the chicken-sausage business. Johnsonville now has four varieties of chicken sausage, introduced over the past year or so. And new this year, Hillshire Farms introduced Gourmet Creations, a line that includes a chicken sausage. Many area stores also make and sell their own variations.
Curt Ducharme, meat director and buyer at Michigan-based Hiller's Markets, says the grocery chain has made its own fresh chicken sausage for about five years.
"It was slow moving at first, but now it's probably up 500 percent," Ducharme said.
Charles Bass, meat team leader at Whole Foods Market in Ann Arbor, Mich., said, "Increasingly, customers are substituting chicken sausages for pork sausages since the chicken has less fat."
Typically chicken sausage is made of dark meat, but many fresh versions contain chicken breast. Chicken sausage typically has fewer calories and less fat than pork sausage and full-fat beef hot dogs.
But how do they taste?
To find out, we put 12 chicken sausages to an unscientific taste test. The three categories were fresh, fully cooked apple varieties and fully cooked Italian varieties. The tasters rated them on taste, texture and aftertaste.
Our panel of taste-testers included Charley Marcuse, famed Comerica Park singing hot-dog man and senior sales associate and assistant buyer at the Claymore Shop in Birmingham, Mich.; Neil Sobeck, owner of several Chicken Shack stores and part owner of the chain's products division; Lynn Novak, a Bloomfield Hills, Mich., stay-at-home mom and regular buyer of fresh chicken sausage, and Tracy Lybik of Wyandotte, Mich., who says she eats chicken at least four times week.
And how did the sausages stack up?
The panel said that the fully cooked chicken apple sausage varieties were the best, followed by the fresh varieties. The fully cooked Italian varieties scored lowest on flavor.
In the apple category, the top-rated Hillshire brand had "herb bits that looked nice and had a strong flavor," Marcuse noted. Lybik commented on its nice flavor combination of apple and cheese.
In the fresh Italian category, Coleman Natural brand came out on top, followed by Hiller's.
Coleman Natural got high marks for flavor and texture.
Lybik said it was "very good in texture and overall taste," and Novak described it as having the "most Italian taste with a nice fennel flavor and best texture."
In the fully cooked Italian category, Meijer Sweet Italian with Fire Roasted Peppers got the highest marks, followed by Aidells Italian-Style.
Tasters said the Meijer brand had decent texture and nice flavor.
It had a "good amount of spice," Novak said.
Serves: 4 (2 slices each)
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes
2 to 3 links favorite fully cooked chicken sausage
1 package (13.8 ounces) pizza crust, such as Pillsbury regular, thin or whole wheat
2 tablespoons pesto
5 mini red, orange or yellow peppers, sliced
1/2 cup sliced red onion
1 cup (or more as desired) Italian-blend cheese, divided
1/2 cup grape tomatoes, halved
Freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Slice the chicken sausage into 1/4-inch slices on the diagonal. Set aside.
Press the pizza dough into a round pizza pan or shape on a baking sheet.
Brush the pesto over the pizza crust. Arrange peppers and onions on crust. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of the cheese. Arrange chicken sausage slices and grape tomato halves on top. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese and few grinds of freshly ground black pepper.
Bake about 13 minutes or until crust is browned both on the bottom and edge and the cheese is melted. Remove from the oven, let sit 5 minutes before slicing and serving.
From and tested by Susan M. Selasky in the Free Press Test Kitchen. Analysis per 1 slice: 235 calories (38 percent from fat), 10 grams fat (4 grams sat. fat), 24 grams carbohydrates, 13 grams protein, 662 mg sodium, 42 mg cholesterol, 1 gram fiber.
Makes: 8 kebabs
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Total time: 25 minutes
Use any variety of fully cooked chicken sausage.
6 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
4 fully cooked favorite chicken sausages, each cut into 6 pieces
24 mini bell peppers
24 pieces (about 1 1/2-inch chunks) fresh pineapple
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat or prepare the grill for medium-high heat. In a small bowl, whisk together mustard, honey and mayonnaise; set aside. Thread 3 sausage pieces alternatively with 3 peppers and 3 pineapple pieces onto each of 8 skewers. Place on a baking sheet. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Grill skewers until vegetables are lightly charred and crisp-tender and sausage is heated through, turning occasionally and brushing with mustard mixture during last 1 or 2 minutes, about 8 minutes total.
Arrange skewers on platter. Brush with any remaining mustard mixture or serve the mustard mixture on the side.
Adapted from www.epicurious.com. Tested by Susan M. Selasky in the Free Press Test Kitchen. Analysis per 1 kebab: 156 calories (41 percent from fat), 8 grams fat (2 grams sat. fat), 17 grams carbohydrates, 8 grams protein, 538 mg sodium, 43 mg cholesterol, 2 grams fiber.