It is one of the great American pleasures to stand by a gas pump in southern Louisiana in punishing heat and humidity, squeezing boudin into your mouth. The combination of fatty minced pork and mineral-bright liver and melting bell pepper and soft salty rice is otherworldly, and might make boudin the greatest sausage there is — except that boudin isn’t really a sausage as much as the product of a sausage-casing delivery system, a tube to discard once you’re done eating.
Boudin isn’t its shape. Boudin is what is within its shape, the mouthpaste that four out of five gastronomes recommend. Boudin is not sausage. It is of sausage.
So I stipulate, anyway, and for this exercise I can stipulate, for I am judge and jury, fierce prosecutor and wily defense attorney alike. These are the sausages of summer, ranked from worst to best:
10. Summer Sausage
This is the American cheese of sausage: a damp-dried and sometimes smoky palm-wide cylinder of beef or venison — larded with pork fat and caked with spices, tangy in flavor, extremely grainy — that you don’t have to refrigerate until you open it up and eat it with cheese. It is gas-station salami, essentially, mail-order homespun funk.
Pale and disturbing in countenance, these Bavarian veal-and-pork sausages are light and fragrant with lemon and onion, and are generally served steamed, alongside a pretzel. They’re delicious. But they are better eaten in autumn, with some chill in the air.
A featured player in Latin American barbecue culture, from the asados of the south to the parrillas of Venezuela, this dark and delicious sausage makes an excellent cookout accompaniment, and is terrific on sandwiches. Morcilla can, however, be a hard sell for those who discover that its principal flavoring agent is blood.
This coarse-grained smoked sausage is more ingredient than star. It wants to be in gumbo so badly that you can taste the ambition even when it’s been griddled or flame-kissed and sliced into a sandwich to be eaten in bare feet on thick grass.
This crimson-spiced sausage from the Maghreb, musky with cumin and fired by harissa, might be Exhibit A in a rundown of what the chef David Chang calls “ugly delicious.” But grilled and eaten alone, or crumbled into salad or dotted on pizza, it puts a diner on a patio in Nice with a view of the Mediterranean, so who cares?
Here now is the taste of New Bedford, Mass., Cape Ann, a cold breeze coming off Buzzards Bay and warm Portuguese spice squaring off against salty clams. Slice it and grill it, braise it in beer.
An endlessly adaptable sausage of Polish deliciousness. If you haven’t grilled coins of it and tossed them in barbecue sauce and eaten them piled on a deli roll like meat salad, you are missing out.
Some will rank these bangers higher, or lower, depending on their skill at the grill. But it is hard to beat their taste, sweet or hot, when they’re griddled on a flattop with onions and peppers, then served on hero bread, a champion of street fairs and state fairs alike.
The clear summer champion of the Midwest, and a faithful cookout companion all the way through the end of football season, this Wisconsin favorite is best simmered in beer with onions and butter, then grilled to a slight char. Were good ones available more widely across the United States, they’d be a shoo-in for top honors. Don’t br@ me.
1. Hot Dogs
These might be Hebrew Nationals to you, or Thumann’s or Sabretts. They could be red hots, white hots, half-smokes, skinless or cased, served Sonoran-style or Chicago-style, deep-fried or heaped, according to what Rhode Islanders call the New York System, with “wiener sauce.” You may love the Dodger dog best, or the Coney, or the corn dog, the veggie dog, even the classic Manhattan dirty-water dog with steamed bun and suspect mustard. But no great summer cookout is complete without a package of your favorite hot dogs spilled out onto a flaming hot grill to sizzle and crack and serve on a soft roll with whatever toppings you like. They are the taste of America.
Sam Sifton is the food editor, the founding editor of NYT Cooking and a columnist for The New York Times Magazine. He has also served as the national editor, the restaurant critic and the culture editor.