Polish Kiełbasa: Everything You Need to Know

Imagine hundreds of delicious meaty treats. Some made of pork, others of aromatic beef, venison or poultry… smoked, dried, or raw and matured… and seasoned to perfection.

Whew, that’s a lot of kiełbasa! I would like to invite you to take this opportunity to expand your sausage palate and learn about some of the best kiełbasy from Poland.

Today I’m going to show you:
⭐️ How kiełbasa is made.
⭐️ The very best kiełbasy that Poland has to offer.
⭐️ How to choose the best sausage and what to do with it.
Let’s dive right in.

Kiełbasa (pronounced: kyew-basa, plural: kiełbasy) is a general name for all Polish sausages, regardless of their type (and trust me, they’re hundreds). Internationally, this term is used only for a certain type of steamed, lightly smoked pork sausage – similar to the Polish Podwawelska or Śląska sausages.

How is Kiełbasa Made?

To produce kiełbasa – regardless of its type – the meat gets cured first. After about 48 hours, it goes into a grinding machine. Depending on the settings chosen, we’re getting coarsely ground, medium ground or finely ground meat. 

Next, the meat gets enriched with spices, herbs and other flavouring ingredients. Then this stuffing fills an intestine or artificial casing.

Depending on the subsequent steps, we’re distinguishing the following types of Polish sausages:

Steamed Kiełbasa (‘Parzona’)

This type of kiełbasa owes its name to the parboiling process it undergoes. Many such sausages are then smoked and/or dried. 

As a result of this last process, we’re getting semi-dried (podsuszana) and dried (suszona) sausages, strong favourites in many Polish homes – including mine!

Steamed: Szynkowa,
Steamed, then semi-dried / dried: Krakowska Sucha (Kraków-style), Myśliwska (Hunter’s Sausage)

Raw Kiełbasa (‘Surowa’)

Raw sausages are those that remain completely raw (and therefore need to be cooked), or those that undergo only a single heat treatment process: smoking. Thanks to this method, they keep the characteristic taste of meat, yet get infused with that special smoky aroma. 

A really special and valued delicacies are maturing kiełbasa sausages, which are inoculated with yeast starter cultures and hung up until they develop desired flavours.

Raw: Biała
Raw, then smoked: Polska, Tatarska, Metka
Raw, then matured: Palcówka

“Baked” Kiełbasa (‘Pieczona’)

Another, a bit niche category (but definitely worth mentioning) is baked kiełbasa, popular especially in Southern Poland. Despite the name, it’s not baked the way we traditionally understand. Instead, it’s smoked at higher temperatures of 70-80°C (158-176°F). 

Baked (smoked at high temperature): Lisiecka, Góralska

Another way to classify sausages is based on the % of water content in the finished product. That way, we get:
long-lasting kiełbasa (“trwała”: 25-30% water, eg. kabanosy),semi-lasting (“półtrwała”: 35-50% water eg. śląska) and short-lasting (“nietrwała”, around 70% water, eg. biała)

Kiełbasa Ingredients: Meat + Seasoning

In Poland, you’ll find an array of kiełbasy from a single type of meat: pork, beef, poultry (chicken, turkey) and – a slightly less popular – mutton, veal, venison and even horse meat.

Legally, if a sausage is called “wieprzowa” (pork) or “barania” (mutton), it should contain at least 75% of that particular meat. There are also mixed kiełbasy available, such as pork-beef and pork-mutton and many more.

The seasoning varies significantly, depending on the recipe and regional traditions. The most popular additions are: salt, pepper (black, white), garlic, mustard seeds, marjoram, all-spice, juniper, onion, caraway, nutmeg, smoked paprika, rosemary and many more.

Kiełbasa Glossary

Contents – Click on the name to learn more:
Biała (White)Bydgoska (of Bydgoszcz)DębickaJałowcowa (Juniper)KabanosyKaszanka (Blood Sausage)KindziukKrakowska (of Kraków)Lisiecka (of Liszki)MetkaMyśliwska (Hunter’s)PalcówkaPodwawelskaSalceson (Head Cheese) Toruńska (of Toruń)Śląska (Silesian)Żywiecka (of Żywiec)Other (Wiejska, Zwyczajna…)

Biała (White): Sold raw (“surowa”), cured (“peklowana”) or parboiled (“parzona”). Biała kiełbasa is a star of the Easter table. It’s served with Żurek soup, but also served separately, together with a dollop of horseradish. In the summer months, biała simmers on the grill.
Good for: Grill, Cooking, Soups

Bydgoska (of Bydgoszcz): It’s a thin, raw, medium-ground smoked pork sausage, with as much as 98% meat content. Delicate in taste, flavoured with natural spices: mustard, pepper, juniper and bay leaf. Perfect for serving warm.
Good for: Grill, Cooking

Dębicka: Steamed sausage, coarsely ground, large in diameter. Made out of pork ham, it’s delicate in flavour – put Dębicka slices on your sandwich!
Good for: Cold Appetizer/Snack

Jałowcowa (Juniper Sausage): This juniper berry-seasoned kiełbasa has been present on Polish tables for centuries.
It’s made out of pork or a mix of pork and beef: medium ground, steamed then smoked and dried. Enjoy it on a sandwich or on its own, as a snack.
Good for: Grill, Cold Appetizer/Snack

Kabanosy (singular: kabanos) are a thin, long sausage carefully dried and smoked. The name comes from the Turkish word “kaban” meaning “a hog”. Although it is customary for kabanosy to be made from cured pork meat, there are many other on the market today. 
You will find them thicker/thinner, but also drier/moister – and even long-maturing! Perfect an easy snack, but also as a part of an elegant charcuterie board.
Good for: Cold Appetizer/Snack

Kabanosy: Polish thin dry sausage on a white background

Kaszanka (Polish Blood Sausage): Also known as kiszka or krupniok – depending on the region.
To manufacture traditional kaszanka, pork offal pieces (kidneys, liver, heart, skin, fat) are brewed and then mixed with cooked grains. It gets generously seasoned with pepper, garlic, savory, marjoram and salt. Then, animal blood is added to the mass. After mixing everything together, it gets packed into intestine casing, forming a sausage.

The flavour of kaszanka may differ. It depends on the offal proportions, but also on the type of grain used (barley or buckwheat). Kaszanka may be enjoyed cold, but mostly it’s grilled or fried. 
Good for: Grill, Cold Appetizer/Snack, Cooking

Kindziuk: It’s a hard, maturing smoked kiełbasa we “borrowed” from Lithuania, where it’s known as kindzukas (which means: stomach) or skilandis.
Traditionally, raw pork is chopped or coarsely ground and then stuffed into a pork bladder – although more and more often you’ll find kindziuk stuffed into thick pork intestines instead. Then the sausage matures and gets smoked. Kindziuk has a specific, slightly sour and peppery taste. Perfect addition to your charcuterie board aperitif. Look for: Kindziuk Podlaski, Kindziuk z Puńska.
Good for: Cold Appetizer/Snack

Krakowska (of Kraków): A thick smoked pork sausage, available steamed (“zwykła”) or steamed and dried (“krakowska sucha”). Enriched with aromas of ground pepper, caraway, fresh garlic, salt and a touch of nutmeg.
Often served as a cold-cut for sandwiches or snacking.
Good for: Cold Appetizer/Snack

Lisiecka (of Liszki): Smoked pork sausage, originating from Liszki and Czernichów in Lesser Poland. It’s often referred to as “pieczona” (“baked”), as it’s smoked in a higher temperature. Very delicate in flavour, seasoned with garlic and white pepper. Crafted with love, so make sure to buy a real deal!
Good for: Grill, Cold Appetizer/Snack, Cooking

Metka: Sausage made of finely semi-raw minced pork or beef with spices added. This type of kiełbasa is a regional treat of Upper Silesia and Greater Poland. Due to its soft consistency, it’s often used as a spread.
Good for: Cold Appetizer/Snack

Myśliwska (Hunter’s Sausage): Dry pork sausage, popular due to its smoky aroma and prolonged durability. Perfect for a hiking/hunting/fishing trip – it won’t go off in your backpack!
Myśliwska is easy to recognize at the store: short, dark brown (darker than most sausages), with an evenly wrinkled surface. Its taste and crispiness is achieved by smoking and extended periods of drying.
Perfect as a cold appetizer or as a sandwich topping.
Good for: Cold Appetizer/Snack

Palcówka: Raw pork kiełbasa, packed into a small intestine casing, dried and matured. The name comes from “palec” meaning “finger”, used to fill the casing by hand. Popular at the Eastern borderlands (Podlachia, Suwałki region).
Good for: Cold Appetizer/Snack

Podwawelska: Pork sausage, medium ground, smoked and steamed. Mildly aromatic with a touch of garlic. It tastes best when served hot after frying or roasting on the grill. Serve with mustard or a horseradish sauce.
Good for: Grill, Cooking

Podwawelska - Polish steamed sausage, perfect for cooking and grill. On white marble background

Salceson (Head Cheese): There are endless varieties of Salceson sausage: kruszewski, kurozwęcki, white and black of Greater Poland, kociewski with wild mushrooms, ozorkowy from Górki….
Generally, however, it is assumed that the composition includes the head (that is – peeled meat of pork heads) including ears, tongues, offal and rind, sometimes even blood (in the case of black salceson). Unfortunately, salceson has a bad rep in Poland. It’s often unfairly associated with a low quality product. Under Communist regime, it was purchased out of necessity – ham or pork sirloin was rarely available.
Don’t let that deter you – today, salceson (especially the regional varieties) is delicious!
Good for: Cold Appetizer/Snack

Toruńska (of Toruń): As the name suggests, this kiełbasa originated in Toruń – the capital of the historical lands of Kuyavia, Dobrzyń and Chełmno. It’s a pork sausage, medium ground, smoked and steamed, seasoned with pepper, garlic and marjoram. 
Good for: Grill, Cooking

Śląska (Silesian): A flagship pork kiełbasa, steamed and lightly smoked. Medium ground, mild in flavour. A hit of every BBQ party!
Good for: Grill, Cooking

Żywiecka (of Żywiec): A thick smoked pork (and often with some beef added) sausage, steamed and dried. Similar to Krakowska, but has no nutmeg and less garlic. Although the name suggests it’s made in Żywiec (a town in south-central Poland), it’s actually manufactured and sold all-over Poland. Great on a sandwich!
Good for: Cold Appetizer/Snack

Other: There is a number of other kiełbasa names used by various manufacturers to label their products. In essence, they’re all similar to Podwawelska or Śląska – steamed, lightly smoked, good for grilling and cooking.
Here’s a list of popular names: Domowa, Grillowa, Krajana (Fellow Countryman’s) , Swojska (Homey), Starowiejska (Old Country Style), Wawelska (of Wawel), Weselna (Wedding Sausage), Wiejska (Country Style), Zwyczajna (Common).
Good for: Grill, Cooking

Polish kielbasa sausage types - illustrated infographic drawn by Kasia Kronenberger
Illustration: Kasia Kronenberger

Kiełbasa Brands

Kiełbasy are manufactured by large-scale meat manufacturers, but also by local artisan butchers.

Popular national kiełbasa brands include (in alphabetical order): Balcerzak, Duda, Indykpol, Henryk Kania, Krakus, Madej Wróbel, Morliny, Olewnik, Sokołów, Tarczyński.

If you get a chance, I would encourage you to try kiełbasy made by regional manufacturers. The easiest way to try them would be at Polish food festivals and Farmer’s Markets.

Regional Sausages in Poland

Each Polish region has its own meaty delicacy. Local butchers secretly guard their original recipes. Many of these special sausages are listed on the official “List of Traditional Products” (pol: Lista Produktów Tradycyjnych) run by the Polish Ministry of Agriculture.

Some of the regional kiełbasy are sold only in the local vicinity, others are widely available. I drew out a map to show you where to find them.

Posters, canvas and art prints with this map are available to purchase here.

But wait! I know this might be hard to believe, but…
I’ve only managed to fit a certain number of the regional sausages on the map above. There is more. Way more!

That’s why I would like to encourage you to visit a local butcher shop wherever you go. You never know what kind of delicious kiełbasa you’ll stumble upon.

Infographic/Hand drawn Map of Regional Polish Kielbasa Sausages. Illustrated by Kasia Kron
Illustration: Kasia Kron

Posters, canvas and art prints with this illustration are available to purchase here.

Kiełbasa FAQ

How to Pick the Right Kiełbasa?

Have a look at the kiełbasa types above. Pick a type based on how you would like to serve it – each sausage has a serving/cooking recommendation underneath.

In terms of quality, as a general rule of thumb – pick a sausage with the highest meat content and the shortest ingredients list.

How to Cook Kiełbasa?

Kiełbasa can be boiled in water, fried, grilled or roasted in the oven. The exact method depends if kiełbasa is completely raw or is it precooked (steamed). You can learn more on how to cook kiełbasa here.

Is Kiełbasa Healthy?

Yes, but only if you select a high quality sausage. Not all kiełbasy are created equal – some low grade ones contain less than 65% of meat (shock, horror!)

A healthy kiełbasa:

  • is from a well respected manufacturer,
  • has a high meat content,
  • has a short ingredients list (the shorter – the better!)

If you’re limiting fats in your diet, opt for poultry-based kiełbasa with a lower saturated fat and salt content. Just remember – fats are a key part of mouth feel and flavour, therefore a fattier sausage will be more tastier!

What to Serve with Kiełbasa?

If you’re serving Polish sausage as a cold starter or a beer snack, go for dried kiełbasa, such as Jałowcowa, Kabanosy, Krakowska, Myśliwska or Żywiecka. They taste great with sliced bread topped with lard, pickled cucumbers or a potato salad.
You could also serve them as a part of a charcuterie board, together with some crackers, grapes, veggie sticks, cheeses, olives or nuts.

If you’re frying or grilling kiełbasa, it’s good to serve it with something filling (potatoes, bread) and a side salad/warm veggies. Make sure the condiments are available to your guests as well (ketchup and mustard is often enough).

Kiełbasa can be used in various dishes as well – it’s great for casseroles, soups, tarts, one-pot dishes and scrambled eggs. I chop it finely, fry and serve as a topping for pierogi ruskie or kopytka dumplings.