“What kind of sausage is on an English breakfast plate?” an inquisitive Reddit commenter asks in a recent thread, going on to lament what he (or she) takes to be the sorry state of breakfast sausages in the United States. How do the breakfast sausages differ between countries? It’s a valid question. Although the answer isn’t exactly a straightforward one, there are certain characteristics—in terms of shape, texture, makeup and flavor—that help distinguish American from British breakfast sausages (otherwise known as “bangers”).
“The basic distinction would be the rusk,” a type of wheat-based filler, says an employee at a major sausage manufacturer in New York who asked that I not use his name. “The rusk added to a banger is what makes them pop and what gives them that bang in the pan. That's where the name came from.”
Indeed, during World War I, when meat was scarce, the Brits had to get creative with their sausages, which is why bangers historically contain less meat than other sausages, though the name is now pretty much just a blanket term for all breakfast sausages.
Classic American breakfast sausages don’t normally contain cereal filler—plenty do, says the employee, but it’s not traditional—more often having nonfat dry milk powder, which, combined with ingredients like cloves and brown sugar, give them a sweet flavor. Bangers, on the other hand, are more savory, containing a greater quantity of herbs like thyme, sage and marjoram, which is one reason why they go so well with mashed potatoes and gravy.
Then there’s the shape, which seems to be more variable in the States. Cased link or unadorned patty? Depends on where you go; there’s no common standard, it appears. Walk down the frozen food aisle in your local supermarket and marvel at the variety—Jimmy Dean, Bob Evans, Banquet— though maybe not the elegance, of each sausage. Sausages across the pond, which typically contain pork, like their American counterpart, are more tied to geographical regions.
According to the website of the English Breakfast Society, a non-profit, the most famous British sausage is probably the Cumberland sausage, meaty in texture, long and coiled, which has a hearty 500-year history in the county. Lincolnshire sausages are probably the other most well-known sausage in the United Kingdom, sage-filled, with a classic banger shape, plump and stout.
There are others, too, like the Manchester and the Marylebone sausage, though Lincolnshire and Cumberland are the default, much in the same way that, in America, the most popular sausage is the hot dog. Ask for a banger, and you're likely to get one of the first two.