The best andouille available in Bay Area markets

When a recipe calls for andouille sausage, don’t even think about using a substitute. Andouille isn’t mild, like a Polish kielbasa. It’s spicy, but not like a hot link. It’s a full-on, flavor-packed bite of smoke, red pepper, garlic and thyme.

Andouille, a fully-cooked sausage that originated in France, is integral to traditional Cajun dishes such as gumbo, jambalaya and shrimp and grits. But you can use it so many ways — in soup, stuffing, red beans, cassoulet, mac and cheese or omelets.

In France, the sausage is made with oddball parts of the pig, but here in the U.S., it’s typically made with smoked pork shoulder — there are a few chicken versions as well — that’s heavily seasoned, then smoked again to build its distinctive texture and flavor.

Great andouille sausage is slightly chewy, thanks to minimal grinding of the meat, and notably dense due to the double-smoke process. A single bite should deliver a blast of flavor that’s bold, but balanced. Bad andouille is fatty and flabby and no better than a spicy hot dog.

Here are the details on the most savory andouille sausages to be found outside a smokehouse and the links to leave behind. Nutrition info refers to 90 grams or 3.2 ounces, about 1 link of sausage.

Aidells Cajun Style Andouille Sausage

The herb note in this smoky, spicy, chewy sausage makes it the best we found at any market. Made in San Lorenzo, this brand yields every flavor needed in a great andouille. 169 calories, 12 g fat, 731 mg sodium, 16 g protein. $4.98 for 12 ounces (four links) at Walmart. (4 stars)

Dibrova Andouille Sausages

The spice and tang are in perfect balance in this flavorful sausage. It’s salty, herby and super smoky — and up to the task of delivering huge flavor in Cajun dishes. 190 calories, 9  g fat, 410 mg sodium, 17 g protein. $7.99 for 1 pound (five links) at Safeway. (3½ stars)

Hempler’s Smoked Andouille Sausage

If you peel the extra-tough casings off these links, they’d get a higher rating, as the meat inside delivers a bold kick of heat and a dash of smoke. 190 calories, 13 g fat, 640 mg sodium, 15 g protein. $7.49 for 1 pound (five links) at Safeway. (3 stars)

Whole Foods Organic Andouille Cajun Style Chicken Sausage

It’s hard to ignore the pale color of this chicken sausage, but the flavors are nicely balanced, and the salt is in check. It lacks the flavor depth of links made from pork, but it’s inarguably delicious.159 calories, 11 g fat, 667 mg sodium, 16 g protein. $7.99 for 12 ounces (four links). (3 stars)

Hillshire Farms Cajun Style Andouille Smoked Sausage

Made with a combo of pork, beef and turkey, this sausage works. It’s seriously salty and lacks the texture and smoke of true andouille, but it’s OK. 289 calories, 26 g fat, 852 mg sodium, 11 g protein. $5.99 for 13 ounces (rope style) at Lucky. (2½ stars)

Silva Andouille Smoked Sausage

This sausage looks the part and has a pleasant chew thanks to the smoking process, but it is short on garlic and herbs. 209 calories, 14 g fat, 546 mg sodium, 9 g protein. $7.19 for 11 ounces (rope style) at Raley’s. (2 stars)

Bilinski’s Organic Cajun-Style Andouille Chicken Sausage

These skinny links are seasoned with a wild hit of black pepper. They’re tasty and extra-tender, thanks to no sausage casing, but be aware that they will need extra herbs and smoke if you’re making a Cajun dish. 106 calories, 4 g fat, 728 mg sodium, 17 g protein. $6.99 for 12 ounces (five links) at Sprouts Market. (2 stars)

The Butcher Shop Chicken Andouille

Hot dog! Yep, this is a hot dog situation. It’s garlicky, juicy and more delicious than most hot dogs on the shelf, but it’s not even close to andouille. 159 calories, 7 g fat, 791 mg sodium, 20 g protein. $6.49 for 12.8 ounces (four links) at Sprouts Market. (1½ stars)

Good & Gather Andouille Smoked Chicken Sausage

Kudos for the smack of spice, but this sausage is sorely lacking in herbs and garlic. 138 calories, 5 g fat, 604 mg sodium, 17 g protein. $3.99 for 12 ounces (four links) at Target. (1½ stars)

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