What is Kielbasa? Guide to Polish Sausages

Acabonac Farms |

Welcome to the wonderful world of Kielbasa! This Polish staple food is wrapped in tradition and smoked to perfection. Kielbasa epitomizes the rich culinary traditions of Poland and is known for its distinctive smoky flavor and hearty texture. A beloved dish throughout Polish history, this sausage has a deep connection to heritage and community celebrations.

In this article, you’ll learn all about Kielbasa—from traditional types and methods of preparation to where to find pastured kielbasa, which offers a healthier alternative to conventional options. We will cover its historical background, key ingredients, popular Polish dishes that feature kielbasa, and practical advice on selecting, storing, and cooking this versatile sausage. 

Acabonac Farms, renowned for their commitment to sustainable and ethical farming practices, produce some of the world’s finest pastured kielbasa perfect for consumers looking to support environmentally responsible agriculture while enjoying a food that is both delicious and nutritionally superior. It’s a great way to enjoy healthier kielbasa!

Key Takeaways

  • Kielbasa refers to a variety of Polish sausages, available in smoked and fresh forms, with pastured kielbasa offering a healthier, sustainable option.
  • Originating in Poland, kielbasa is a beloved traditional sausage that has been part of Polish culture and cuisine for centuries.
  • Typically made from pork or a mix of pork and beef, kielbasa is seasoned with garlic, herbs, and spices, then smoked for its characteristic flavor.
  • Kielbasa stars in various dishes, from hearty stews like Bigos to simple grilled slices enjoyed with bread and mustard.
  • Choose kielbasa with natural ingredients and minimal processing; store it in the refrigerator for short-term use or freeze it to extend its shelf life.
what is kielbasa

What Exactly Is Kielbasa?

Kielbasa (pronounced "keel-bah-sah") is simply the Polish word for sausage and actually encompasses a range of sausages originating from Poland, each differentiated by their preparation methods, spices, and meats used.

If you’re in Poland, you can use the word "kielbasa" to refer to any sausage. In the United States, on the other hand, it is usually describing what might specifically be called "Polska Kielbasa" — a U-shaped smoked sausage made of pork.

Historical Origins Of Kielbasa

Kielbasa has roots tracing back to the 14th century, serving as a staple at Polish gatherings and celebrations like Easter and Christmas. It was often featured in traditional dishes like “żurek” and “bigos” during festive seasons (more on these classic dishes later in the article). Traditionally, making kielbasa was a communal activity, with recipes varying by region and family, each adding their own personal touch. No wonder the word kielbasa describes such a wide variety of sausages in Poland! 

Traditionally made from pork, kielbasa now comes in many varieties including beef and turkey. The traditional spices—garlic, marjoram, and salt—have remained constants, though the specific blend can differ from one region to another. As kielbasa gained popularity outside of Poland, it adapted to local tastes and dietary trends. This includes the introduction of pastured kielbasa, which meets a growing demand for sustainable and ethically sourced meat products that are more heart-healthy. 

Kielbasa vs. Polish Sausage

The terms "kielbasa" and "Polish sausage" are often used interchangeably. Outside of Poland, when people say "kielbasa" or "Polish sausage," they are often describing a specific type of smoked pork sausage that is popular in Polish cuisine. This is typically the smoked sausage that is curved into a U-shape mentioned before. So, if you’re in the United States, you can interpret both Polish sausage and kielbasa to be referring to this type of sausage. 

How Kielbasa Differs from Regular Sausage

Kielbasa is up there in popularity among famed sausages like sweet Italian sausage but differentiates itself from the crowd in its preparation and seasoning. It is typically made from pork, although it can also include beef or a mix of meats. That’s not really news though - what really sets it apart is the blend of spices used, which often includes garlic, pepper, and marjoram. This spice mix, especially the inclusion of marjoram, gives kielbasa its distinctive taste that is different from many other sausages which may use a broader variety of herbs and spices. Additionally, kielbasa is traditionally smoked, which imparts a delicious woodsy aroma not typically found in regular sausages. The smoking process enhances the flavor while also helping to preserve the sausage.

Kielbasa’s shape also makes it unique, as it is most commonly found in a characteristic U-shape (though it can be available in links or loops as well). Lastly, the texture of kielbasa is generally denser and coarser than many regular sausages, which can be softer and more finely ground. 

Types of Kielbasa

In America, smoked Kielbasa found in U-shapes is what you’ll most likely encounter. Nonetheless, kielbasa is a rich category of sausage and encompasses a variety of flavors, preparations, and ingredients. Let’s learn about some of the most common types found both in Poland and internationally, including the increasingly popular pastured kielbasa.

Smoked Kielbasa

Smoked Kielbasa is perhaps the most well-known type outside Poland. It is typically made from pork, seasoned with garlic and other spices, and then smoked over wood which imparts a deep, robust flavor. This type of kielbasa is fully cooked and can be eaten as is or added to various dishes like stews and casseroles.

Fresh Kielbasa

Fresh Kielbasa, or "biala kielbasa," which means "white sausage" in Polish, is a raw sausage made from pork and seasoned with garlic, salt, and marjoram. Unlike its smoked counterpart, it needs to be cooked before consumption. It is traditionally boiled and often served during Polish Easter celebrations with horseradish or mustard.

Specialty Varieties

Krakowska: Named after the city of Krakow, this sausage is known for its coarse texture and peppery flavor. It’s made primarily from lean cuts of pork and seasoned with pepper and garlic before being smoked.

Kiełbasa Wiejska: Another specialty variety,  “Kiełbasa Wiejska” translates to "village sausage" and is known for being a mix of both pork and beef. Seasoned with marjoram and garlic, it is a favorite for grilling.

Pastured Kielbasa

Pastured Kielbasa is the most nutritious and sustainably sourced variety of this traditional food. Made from animals that are raised on open pastures without the use of antibiotics or hormones, this type of kielbasa is not only better for the environment but also for health. Pastured meats are less fatty, contain higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, and provide a richer, cleaner taste compared to conventional meat products. Acabonac Farms is known for their high-quality, pastured kielbasa, which offers these benefits, making it a superior choice for health and environmentally-conscious consumers looking to enjoy kielbasa to the fullest.

How is Kielbasa Made?

The process is quite similar to how other sausages and hot dogs are made, with a couple extra steps. It all begins with selecting the right cuts of meat. Once you’ve chosen whether you’re going to use pork, beef, turkey, or a mixture, you’re ready to start making kielbasa!

Meat Preparation: The meat is ground to the desired coarseness. For some types of kielbasa, especially those that are smoked, a coarser grind is preferred to give the sausage a more chunky robust mouthfeel, characteristic of traditional kielbasa.

Spicing: Next, the ground meat is thoroughly mixed with a specific blend of spices. Common base spices include garlic, salt, and pepper. Other spices like marjoram, paprika, and sometimes mustard seed are commonly added depending on the recipe.

Stuffing: The spiced meat mixture is then stuffed into casings, traditionally made from the intestines of pigs, but nowadays often synthetic. The filled casings are twisted at intervals to create individual links.

Curing and Smoking: Many types of kielbasa are smoked, which not only enhances flavor but also preserves the sausage. The smoking process involves hanging the sausages in a smokehouse where they are exposed to smoke from burning woods such as hickory, maple, or cherry.

Cooking: Some kielbasa varieties are sold fresh and need to be cooked by the consumer, while others are pre-cooked during the smoking process and can be eaten as-is or lightly reheated.

Common Ingredients in Kielbasa

Kielbasa's flavor and character come from its blend of meats and spices. Here’s a more detailed look at the common ingredients found in different types of kielbasa:

  • Pork: The most traditional base for kielbasa. It provides a fatty, rich flavor that carries the spices well. For some regional varieties, such as Kiełbasa Lisiecka, which comes from the Lesser Poland region, pork is the exclusive meat used.
  • Beef: Often mixed with pork to create a leaner sausage. Beef is typically used in Kiełbasa Krakowska (Krakow sausage), known for its lean texture and bold garlic flavor.
  • Turkey: Used in lighter kielbasa varieties. Turkey kielbasa is lower in fat and has a milder flavor, making it a popular choice for those looking for a healthier option.
  • Garlic: A key ingredient in nearly all kielbasa recipes, providing a strong, aromatic flavor that is characteristic of these sausages.
  • Salt and Pepper: Basic yet essential for seasoning. The right amount of salt enhances the meat's natural flavors, while black pepper adds a subtle heat.
  • Marjoram: Particularly popular in Kiełbasa Wiejska (village sausage), marjoram adds a slightly sweet, citrusy flavor that complements the fatty richness of the meat.
  • Paprika: Adds a smoky flavor and vibrant color, especially in varieties like Kiełbasa Śląska (Silesian sausage), where a hint of smokiness is desired.
  • Mustard Seed: Found in Kiełbasa Biała (white sausage), mustard seeds contribute a spicy, tangy element that contrasts nicely with the rich meat.
Cooked polish kielbasa pastured

Kielbasa in Polish Cuisine

There’s a reason why kielbasa is one of the most consumed foods in Poland (the country’s national dish even features it) - it's delicious and versatile! From specialty dishes to everyday meals and snacks, here’s a look at how this beloved sausage spices up Polish dining tables.

Examples of Traditional Polish Dishes Featuring Kielbasa

Bigos (Hunter's Stew): Poland's national dish, Bigos is a hearty stew made with kielbasa, various types of meat, sauerkraut, fresh cabbage, onions, and a blend of spices. Kielbasa adds depth and a smoky flavor that compliments the tanginess of the sauerkraut.

Żurek (Sour Rye Soup): This sour rye soup is a Polish favorite during Easter and other celebrations. It typically features slices of kielbasa, which add a rich, meaty texture and robust flavor to the soup, balancing the sourness beautifully.

Kapusta z Kiełbasa (Sauerkraut with Kielbasa): A simple yet flavorful dish combining sauerkraut and kielbasa, often seasoned with onions, garlic, and sometimes apple for sweetness. It's a popular side dish that showcases kielbasa’s ability to pair well with tangy flavors.

Kielbasa z Grilla (Grilled Kielbasa): Grilled kielbasa is a staple at Polish barbecues and family gatherings, served with a dab of mustard or a slice of rye bread. Grilling brings out the sausage’s smoky flavor, making it a crowd-pleaser.

Pierogi z Kiełbasa: These are dumplings stuffed with kielbasa and sometimes mixed with cheese or other fillings. They are boiled and then fried for a delightful combination of textures.

In daily Polish cooking, kielbasa can fit right into any meal. For breakfast, it's often fried with eggs. At lunch or dinner, it can be added to pastas, stir-fries, or casseroles. Kielbasa also makes for a simple, flavorful snack when sliced and served with cheese and crackers. 

Choosing and Storing Kielbasa

When choosing high-quality kielbasa in stores, start by checking the ingredients list for simple, recognizable items with meat as the primary ingredient and minimal fillers or artificial additives. The sausage should have a firm texture, consistent color, and a pleasant, meaty smell; any sour or strange odors are a sign to steer clear. Also, ensure the packaging is intact without any tears or holes to avoid spoilage. 

For storage, keep kielbasa in the refrigerator if you plan to use it within a few days, ideally in its original packaging to maintain freshness. If you need to store it longer, kielbasa can be frozen effectively. When freezing kielbasa, follow these three tips:

  1. Wrap the sausage tightly in butcher’s paper or plastic wrap, then overwrap with aluminum foil or place it in a heavy-duty freezer bag to prevent freezer burn.
  2. Consider cutting the kielbasa into meal-sized portions before freezing to make it easier to thaw only what you need later. 
  3. Like when thawing larger cuts of meat, kielbasa is also best thawed in the refrigerator, not at room temperature. This minimizes the risk of bacterial growth and provides a more even thaw. Properly wrapped and frozen, kielbasa can maintain its best quality for several months.

What Is The Best Way To Cook Kielbasa?

Cooking kielbasa correctly is essential to bring out its rich flavor and ensure it's enjoyable to eat. Here are the preferred methods to cook kielbasa, how to tell if it's cooked, and typical cooking times.

Best Cooking Methods

Grilling: Grilling is excellent for enhancing kielbasa's flavor with a smoky char. Preheat your grill to medium-high heat. Place the kielbasa on the grill and cook for about 4 to 5 minutes on each side, turning occasionally, until the skin is slightly charred and crisp.

Pan-frying: If you're cooking indoors, pan-frying kielbasa in a bit of oil over medium heat works well. Cook it for about 4 minutes on each side until it's browned and crispy on the exterior.

Boiling: Boiling is ideal for fresh kielbasa. Simply place it in a pot of water, bring the water to a simmer — not a rolling boil — and cook for about 20 to 25 minutes.

How to Tell if Kielbasa is Cooked

Kielbasa is cooked when it reaches an internal temperature of 160°F (71°C). Use a meat thermometer to check the temperature by inserting it into the thickest part of the sausage. Additionally, the kielbasa should be evenly browned on the outside, and when sliced, the juices should run clear, not pink.

Cooking Time

The cooking time for kielbasa depends on the method:

  • Grilling typically takes about 8 to 10 minutes.
  • Pan-frying requires approximately 8 to 10 minutes.
  • Boiling fresh kielbasa takes about 20 to 25 minutes.

Best Kielbasa Recipes & Dishes

Kielbasa is wonderfully versatile and can be the star of a ton of unique dishes. Here are some recipes that showcase its flavor alongside ingredients that complement it well. Each recipe serves four:

Kielbasa and Sauerkraut Skillet


  • 1 lb kielbasa, sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 2 cups sauerkraut, drained
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 apple, cored and chopped
  • 1/2 cup white wine (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp caraway seeds (optional)


  1. In a large skillet, sauté the onion in a little oil until translucent.
  2. Add the kielbasa and cook until browned.
  3. Stir in the chopped apple, sauerkraut, and white wine. Bring to a simmer.
  4. Season with salt, pepper, and caraway seeds. Cook over medium heat for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Serve hot with crusty bread or over mashed potatoes.

Grilled Kielbasa with Peppers and Onions


  • 1 lb kielbasa, whole or sliced into pieces
  • 2 bell peppers, sliced
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Hoagie rolls, for serving


  1. Preheat your grill to medium-high heat.
  2. Toss the bell peppers and onions in olive oil, salt, and pepper.
  3. Grill the kielbasa, turning occasionally, until heated through and marked, about 10 minutes.
  4. In a grill basket, cook the peppers and onions until soft and charred, about 10 minutes.
  5. Slice the kielbasa if grilled whole and serve on hoagie rolls topped with grilled peppers and onions.

Kielbasa, Potato, and Green Bean Bake


  • 1 lb kielbasa, sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 lb potatoes, diced
  • 1 lb green beans, trimmed
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp thyme


  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C).
  2. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients and toss to coat evenly with olive oil and spices.
  3. Spread the mixture onto a baking sheet in a single layer.
  4. Bake for 35-45 minutes, stirring halfway through, until the potatoes are tender and the kielbasa is browned.
  5. Serve warm, garnished with fresh parsley if desired.

Cooking Tips and Techniques

Slice Diagonally: When pan-frying or grilling, slice the kielbasa diagonally. This increases the surface area, allowing for more caramelization and flavor.

Avoid Overcooking: Kielbasa that is already smoked just needs to be heated through. Overcooking can make it tough and dry. Heat until it’s just done to keep it juicy.

Use Medium Heat: Whether you’re grilling or pan-frying, cook kielbasa over medium heat. This allows the sausage to heat through without burning the exterior.

Add at the End in Soups and Stews: If you’re adding kielbasa to a soup or stew, add it towards the end of cooking. This keeps its texture intact and flavors vibrant.

Where to Buy Kielbasa Online

Kielbasa, Poland's gift to the world of sausages, offers a unique smoky charm in dishes from stews to grills. For those craving authentic quality with health and sustainability in mind, Acabonac Farms is your go-to source. 

Our delicious pastured kielbasa is available to buy online and made from animals that roam free — with no antibiotics or hormones in sight — you’re guaranteed to enjoy a guilt-free kielbasa experience like no other. 

buy pastured kielbasa online

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