Knockwurst sausage is a typically short and fat sausage with zesty seasoning featuring a large amount of fresh garlic. It was allegedly a favorite of the Hapsburgs, and it continues to be a popular food in Germany and in many others parts of the world today. Traditionally, it is eaten by hand, and it is a common offering at street stalls and fairs, along with an assortment of condiments. Knockwurst can also be purchased at markets and butchers' shops for home preparation.
The “knock” in knockwurst is derived from the Middle High German knacken, “to crack,” a reference to the crackling that this sausage makes when it is bitten into. Wurst means “sausage” in German, so technically “knockwurst sausage” means “crack sausage sausage.” These sausages are designed to work as finger foods, with thick casings which do not allow ingredients to escape, and a short, fat design which makes them easy to handle.
Both beef and pork are used to produce knockwurst sausage, and specialty meats like veal may be used in gourmet versions. In addition to fresh garlic, the sausage may be spiced with peppers and other ingredients to make it fiery in flavor. The food can be found in both fresh and lightly smoked versions; some people prefer smoked knockwurst because it can have a more complex flavor.
Traditional German accompaniments for knockwurst sausage include sauerkraut, potatoes, or bread. Spicy mustard may also be added, and in some regions knockwurst is served in rolls. Especially in the United States, knockwurst is popular on rolls or buns, and it is eaten like a hot dog with mustard and mayonnaise, and sometimes a hint of relish or sauerkraut as well, depending on the region.
There are a number of ways to prepare knockwurst. It is often roasted on a rotisserie in street stands, as the rotisserie heats the sausage through slowly to ensure that it is thoroughly cooked without drying out. It can also be heated in a pan; puncture the sausage with a fork to prevent it from exploding, and use a thick cast iron pan with dry heat. Knockwurst sausage can also be cooked on the grill, or chopped up for use in a variety of recipes. In some regions, you may be able to find knockwurst mix for recipes which call for small chunks of knockwurst, sparing you the trouble of chopping up a sausage.