Trail Bologna vs. Summer Sausage: Which One to Choose?

If you’re a fan of cured meats, you’ve probably heard of trail bologna and summer sausage. 

These two types of sausages have similarities but also distinct differences that set them apart from each other. 

In this article, we’ll explore the differences between trail bologna and summer sausage, including their history, ingredients, flavor profiles, and uses.

Trail Bologna: A Unique Midwest Sausage You Need to Try

This unique sausage hails from Trail, a small settlement in Ohio’s Amish country. Despite its humble origins, Trail bologna has gained a nationwide reputation for its distinctive flavor and texture.

What Makes Trail Bologna Unique?

Unlike mass-produced bologna, Trail bologna doesn’t rely on typical fillers such as corn syrup, soy protein, or MSG. Instead, it’s made with simple ingredients such as lean beef, salt, pepper, and spices.

Another unique aspect of Trail bologna is its leanness. While most bologna sausages are made with pork, Trail bologna is made exclusively from beef. 

How Is Trail Bologna Cooked?

Trail bologna is a precooked sausage that is conveniently ready to be savored without any additional preparation. The manufacturers cold smoke it for two to three days to give it a smoky flavor. 

Summer Sausage: History, Meat, and Cooking

This sausage originated in Europe, and the reason it’s called summer sausage is that it was created to be preserved without refrigeration during the hot summer months. 

Nowadays, this sausage is enjoyed year-round, and it’s one of America’s favorites.

The most common meat used in summer sausage is beef, but pork and venison are also used. 

The pork provides a little bit of fat, making the sausage less dry. However, beef-only sausages are also available for those who prefer their meat to be dry. 

Summer sausage is usually seasoned with garlic, mustard seeds, and black pepper, but variations with coriander, ginger, or allspice also exist.

Summer sausage can be cooked in various ways. It can be grilled, smoked, or baked, and it can also be added to casseroles or other baking dishes for added flavor. 

However, smoking is the best way to bring out its tangy taste.

Exploring the Main Differences Between Trail Bologna and Summer Sausage

Meat: The Main Differentiator

One of the most significant differences between trail bologna and summer sausage is the type of meat used. 

Unlike summer sausage, which can feature an array of meat varieties like chicken, turkey, pork, beef, venison, or blends of two types of meat, Trail bologna is exclusively crafted from high-quality beef.

Moreover, trail bologna is generally leaner and thinner than average sausages. Some trail bologna brands also add cheddar cheese to the meat. 

In contrast, summer sausage has a higher fat percentage and includes seasonings like garlic, clover, coriander, ginger, and black pepper. The different meat types and seasonings give summer sausage a unique flavor and texture.

Cooking Process

The cooking process is another critical factor that sets trail bologna and summer sausage apart. 

Trail bologna is pre-cooked and cold-smoked by manufacturers for two to three days. You can enjoy it straight out of the box by microwaving or boiling it, or even deep frying it for a smoky and tangy flavor.

To make trail bologna, you can mix spices like white pepper, paprika, garlic, cardamom, etc. with the meat and smoke the sausages at 140°F, gradually raising the temperature every hour until they reach 170°F.

In contrast, summer sausage can be grilled, baked, or even boiled, but the best way to make it is to smoke it to get that alluring smoky flavor. 

You should maintain your smoker’s internal temperature at 160°F and smoke the meat for three hours. For a two-meat mix of pork and beef, you can keep it 75% beef and 25% pork for less fat or 60% pork and 40% beef for juicier sausage.

Best Paired With

Both trail bologna and summer sausage are versatile and can be paired with various foods. 

Trail bologna goes well with any savory dish, but it’s best served with cheddar cheese. When pan-fried and served with eggs and toasted bread, or tucked into a sandwich, trail bologna transforms into a mouth-watering breakfast treat.

On the other hand, summer sausage pairs perfectly with green salads, cheese, and crackers, adding a great flavor to your sandwiches. It’s also ideal for BBQs and lazy Sunday dinners.

Taste: Earthy or Tangy?

The distinct taste of trail bologna is characterized by its smoky notes, which are accompanied by a delightful garlicky-peppery kick. In addition, it has an attractive earthy flavor that makes the sausage appealing to your nose and mouth. 

On the other hand, summer sausage has a salty-spicy-tangy flavor like other sausage types. The tangy flavor comes from fermentation, which lowers the pH level, slowing bacterial growth in your meat, making it last long without refrigeration.

Serving: Cold or Warm?

Trail bologna is usually cold-served, whereas summer sausage can be served either warm or cold. No matter how you serve it, both of these cured meats are delicious every time.

Here is a comparison table between Trail Bologna and Summer Sausage:

FeatureTrail BolognaSummer Sausage
OriginOhio, USAEurope, particularly Germany and Italy
MeatBeefBeef, Pork or a mixture of both
TextureCoarse and chunkySmooth and uniform
FlavorSmoky and savoryMild and slightly tangy
AgingSmoked and aged for several weeksDried and fermented for several weeks
ServingSliced thinly and eaten coldSliced thinly and eaten cold or used in cooking



What Makes Bologna Different from Trail Bologna?

The primary difference between regular bologna and trail bologna is the type of meat used. While regular bologna can be made from pork, beef, or turkey, trail bologna is made exclusively from lean beef. 

The meat used in trail bologna is also leaner than the meat used in regular bologna. 

Additionally, trail bologna often has a coarser texture and a smokier flavor due to the way it is traditionally prepared in the Appalachian region of the United States.

Can You Eat the Skin of Ring Bologna?

Yes, you can eat the skin or casing of ring bologna. In fact, all sausage casings are edible, including the natural casings that are typically used for ring bologna. 

Natural casings can be made from materials like collagen or fibrous casings, and they are safe to eat. If you bite into the sausage and feel a chewy texture, it could be the casing, but there is no harm in consuming it.

Why is Bologna Bad for You?

One is that it typically contains a large amount of nitrate, which can be detrimental to your health in high quantities. In addition, bologna is high in both salt and fat. 

For example, a single slice of bologna contains around 7.9 grams of fat and 302 milligrams of sodium, which is roughly 13 percent of your recommended daily intake of sodium.


The main difference between trail bologna and summer sausage is the meat used and the cooking method, which results in different flavors and textures. 

However, both types of sausage are delicious and can be a great addition to your BBQ menu. 

Despite their differences, both trail bologna and summer sausage share the similarity of being tasty options for a variety of dishes. 

So, don’t hesitate to include them in your next BBQ feast!

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