With tailgate season upon us, we are, on certain Saturdays, called to the grill to become our own top chefs, to sample the offerings of local sausage-makers that adorn the tastiest tailgates. Current went shopping, grilled our sausage purchases, and put them to the test. Here’s what we found:
420 Miller Ave
A purveyor of quality meats in Ann Arbor since 1952, Knight’s supplies several area restaurants with high-end cuts of beef, pork and chicken. Still in its original location on Miller Ave., the specialty meat market also operates as a neighborhood grocery store. We sampled the Spicy Italian sausage and handmade hot dogs. The verdict – terrific. The sausage was juicy and flavorful, the casing crisped perfectly on the grill and the spices definitely added a kick. If you’re a fennel fan, you’ll be in fennel heaven. The hot dogs were a huge hit with the younger crowd. One twelve-year-old, who considers himself an elite hot dog connoisseur, devoured three and pronounced them ‘delicious.’
1919 S. Industrial Hwy
If you’re a fan of grilling sausages, you’re in luck at Lucky’s. The selection of in-house creations is plentiful and the butchers offer enthusiastic recommendations. We sampled a pork green chili sausage, a cherry apple ginger chicken sausage and a chicken bratwurst. All were fabulous. The pork green chili sausage featured chilis of substantial girth threaded throughout, not just a smattering or hint. It was spicy, fragrant and tasty. The cherry apple ginger chicken is not for those who like to keep things plain and simple, but if you’re up for a mixture of sweetness, tartness and sausageness all in the same bite, then it’s fabulous. One taster described it as an “explosion of colors in my mouth.” After these two concoctions, it was a delight to discover that the plain old chicken brat was also full of flavor. Moist, juicy and plump, it earned the highest overall marks of all the sausages we tasted.
Fresh Thyme Farmers Market
2895 Washtenaw Ave, Ypsi
New to Ypsilanti this year, Fresh Thyme certainly adds to the area’s sausage game. Amidst a wide variety of bratwursts and sausages, we chose the Chipotle Jalapeno Chicken concoction and it absolutely achieves stand-alone status. You wouldn’t want to add a lot of condiments to drown its sharp, juicy tang. It’s lighter than standard beef and pork brats, but still satisfying. Pair it with a beer like (Marshall MI’s) Dark Horse Kamikaze Kaleidoscope and make it a tailgate staple.
407 N. 5th Ave
Located in Kerrytown, Sparrow definitely throws down with some quality sausage. We sampled the bratwurst and wild mushroom sausage and they did not disappoint. Each jumbo link is about a foot-long and comes connected to a twin; each set of double-links could satisfy a family of four. Both were described as “really good” and “serious” by our tasters, while the brat demonstrated a “subtle complexity” and the mushroom sausage an “earthier” taste. These large links take a little longer to grill so give yourself some time and try adding mustard and sauerkraut to really bring out the savory flavor.
Busch’s Fresh Food Market
2240 S. Main St., 2020 Green Rd.
At Busch’s we went for the Polish Kielbasa. The texture was thick, the taste pleasurable. Definitely a kid-friendly option. This sausage also does well with sauerkraut, mustard, relish, and perhaps a poppy seed bun. It provides a solid base flavor to build on with additional fixin’s and won’t overwhelm with a mix of too many spices.
1643 S. State St.
A short walk from the Stadium, Biercamp, an establishment dedicated to hand-crafted sausage-making, boasts a wide selection that reflects that emphasis. Innovations include the chili, cheese and bacon brat which was a strong-flavored hit with our tasters, one of whom described it as “robust with an independent spirit,” while another, with admiration that approached a sense of awe, declared it “nachos in a sausage.” We also sampled a jalapeno cheddar brat, which offered a lovely contrast between spicy zest and cheesey goodness. If you love sausage, Biercamp (which also brews its own beer) will make you a happy camper.
All in all, it’s hard to go wrong with any of these house-made wonders. Ranging from spicy hot, to creamy smooth, fruitily sweet, or unadulterated and meaty, you can opt for beef, pork, chicken, or even salmon. Fire up the grill, and eat your fill!