how to turn pork breakfast sausage into italian sausage for recipes

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One of the things that takes some getting use to about living in the country is the concept that “I’m just gonna run out and grab this thing I need” is insanely impractical. We’re a good 40 minutes to the closest supermarket, and while we have a small mom and pop grocery store about 10 minutes away, it certainly isn’t open all the time and has a very small selection.

Because of this, I’ve gotten really good at making substitutions. It’s not ever ideal, but it does the job and saves us the gas money (and time) of a trip “into the city”.

My newest substitution achievement is turning pork breakfast sausage into pork Italian sausage.

pork sausage

For some reason, our CSA keeps us in near-constant supply of delicious, flavorful, local pork breakfast sausage. Our freezer is stocked. So when I went digging in our deep freeze the other day for some Italian sausage, and all I was met with was pounds and pounds of breakfast sausage, I knew it was time for some substitution magic.

In an ideal world, we’d use the highest quality Italian sausage from the most incredible little Italian shop you could find. But this isn’t ideal. This is the country, where we do insane things like chase off coyotes and turn breakfast sausage into Italian sausage.

italian sausage

Because breakfast sausage is loaded with all kind of its own flavorings (most of which we don’t want in the final product) it takes some herb and spice subterfuge to cover those up and bring out that nice, spicy, fennel-y Italian sausage flavor. So open up your spice drawer kids, we’ve got some work to do.

breakfast sausage spices

The mixture is easy, in a bowl, combine:

  • 1 pound breakfast sausage
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds (this is absolutely imperative, fennel seeds are what *make* Italian sausage)
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes (more if you like it hot)

Use your hands and get it really well-mixed and get all the spices distributed. Go on, get dirty. Once all the spices are mixed it, it’s ready to be used just like you would a store-bought pound of Italian sausage. I used mine in a tomato sauce over fresh pasta. Yum!


What’s your favorite kitchen substitution?

Cassie is the founder and CEO of Wholefully. She's a home cook and wellness junkie with a love of all things healthy living. She lives on a small hobby farm in Southern Indiana with her husband, daughter, two dogs, two cats, and 15 chickens.

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35 Responses
  1. Thank you so much for posting this! I was JUST looking at all the pork sausage we still have sitting in our freezer from our CSA, thinking “What am I going to do with all that?!?” I did use a package mixed with ground beef to make really good meatballs a few weeks ago–its nice to have another option though!

  2. I wish we could buy sausage like you do, over here sausages come ready made and if you want sausagemeat (which is what we’d call it) you have to remove the skins. I don’t really sub stuff for other stuff but that’s cause I live in a city where shops are open until 11pm!

  3. Athena R

    You can also do this by using plain ground turkey, pork or chicken too. It’s great. I love to substitute 1 cup of milk mixed with 1 Tbsp of white vinegar or lemon juice (let sit for 5 minutes) when a recipe calls for buttermilk and I don’t have any.

  4. Betsy

    Love Love this recipe! Just made it tonight and it was better than we expected! We have too much breakfast sausage and are sooooooo impressed with this transformation! So happy we tried it and have saved it for future use!!!!!!

  5. Trying this tonight….we have plenty of breakfast sausage and no Italian sausage. It’s a rainy fall day, perfect for soup and I don’t want to go out to the store. That just defeats the purpose of having soup and staying in!

  6. Rachelle

    Thank you! Thank you! I’ve been freaking because I live in rural Alaska and my friend bought breakfast sausage when she went to Anchorage for Thanksgiving shopping instead of italian sausage- the essential ingredient in my dressing! You’re my savior!!!

  7. Wendy

    I cannot believe how good this was!! Far better than Italian sausage (I’ve never been big on anything but breakfast sausage). I made sausage pizza tonight and used about a third pound of breakfast sausage and adjusted the ingredients (which I actually had on hand! Amazing since I detest fennel normally.) I browned the sausage while stretching the dough into the pan and then topped with sauce, sausage and cheese (I’m a toppings under the cheese kind of gal.) It was FABULOUS and I even just ate the last piece (1/3 lb was too much for one pizza) of sausage all by itself and loved it. Holy geez – you’re a genius!

  8. I had a pound of regular pork sausage in my freezer and wanted to make upside-down pizza, so I searched for a recipe to turn what I had into what I wanted and ended up here. It was delicious!

  9. Joy

    This mix was absolutely perfect! I had turkey breakfast sausage needing to be turned into “Italian” sausage and this did the trick and then some. Thank you!

  10. Sheila W

    I’ve been trying to find Italian sausage in the stores for months! They’re either sold out or no longer carry the brand I like. After buying fennel seed. I’ll definitely try this. Tanks!

  11. Theresa Lacko

    My lucky day! I’m making baked ziti and my husband got pork sausage because that’s all they had without casing. I live in the country, too, and don’t want to drive 15 min to get it.

  12. I halved the recipe and ate the gravy over whole wheat toast. The next day I heated up the gravey to go over a plain egg omelette. Tasted great both ways. Thanks 

  13. Gail M Gillespie

    Does anyone know how to make an all beef sausage that can imitate a taste of an old fashion .jimmy dean breakfast pan sausage? NO PORK RECIPES PLEASE.

  14. KarenB

    Making meatballs tonight. Just have ground chuck and 5 lbs of jimmy dean regular. Just checked my cabinet and there sits an EMPTY spice bottle labeled “Fennel” Argh! It means it’s on the list to buy at the spice store to refill the jar.. so, HELP? ANY suggestions to making it Italian without fennel? And oh, we are in a 55+ golf course community, and our grocery store I’d 1.5 miles away and open 24 hours. Lol. But our town is small. Cuz 2 miles the other way are cows. And they bring sheep and goats to keep the weeds down naturally. All night long I hear baaaa. Baaaa at this Time of year. Lol. 30k people. Coyote and bunnies and geese cross the road. California living. Lol. 50 min to Tahoe.

  15. Ali

    Score!!! I just purchased 11 one pound packages of jimmy dean original breakfast sausage on sale for $3 each and had a $2 coupon for each making it $1 a pound . I was searching for recipes to turn breakfast sausage into Italian sausage and found your site. Love it!!! Thanks!

  16. Are you me? I also live 10 minutes from a small store and 40 miles from a supermarket (and from the bank/pharmacy/most everything else).
    I also have a freezer full of pork breakfast sausage from the pig we slaughtered last year. Thanks for the help. My chili recipe appreciates it! 🙂

    1. Julie @ Wholefully

      The fennel is the main seasoning that gives the sausage its trademark flavor – so it will still taste good if you leave the fennel out, but it won’t necessarily taste like Italian sausage.

  17. Zoe Stone

    Thank you, Cassie. I took plain pork Scottish
    sausage out of the casing and had erything except rosemary, but it was still magic. I’ll be
    doing this a lot. Clever girl you are!

  18. Jenni Graham

    I live in the U.K. and had seen a recipe for a baked pasta dish, which I wanted to make, it called for minced (ground) beef and Italian sausage, which I’d never even heard of! So I turned to the trusty internet, and up popped a link to this recipe ? Again, we don’t have breakfast sausage in the U.K., so I just used pork sausages, cut the skins off and proceeded as per the recipe. The result was delicious!! Thank you for posting this.

  19. Joan

    I did a change up on this recipe. I bought 1 pound chubs of breakfast pork sausage for 25 cents each. They needed to sell it by expiration date. I bought 10. Then as I walked by their breads, they had kaiser 8 pack buns for 5 cents each. A very good shopping day!! I used this recipe and made hamburger type patties. This recipe made excellent burgers. I served with vidalias, mustard, etc. and salads. Quite a nice meal for a few cents..

  20. Judy

    Thank you…I’m so excited to find this recipe with so many positive comments. I looked for this recipe because my family loved the Olive Garden copycat Zuppa Toscana recipe I made, but the Italian sausage was SO much more expensive than regular sausage. Great to know I can make it for less.

  21. Sandra

    Thanks for the recipe. Pork sausage is much cheaper than Italian.. This recipe is great. thanks for saving my planned meal that required Italian sausage

  22. zanoni V

    i was given a huge amount of precooked breakfast sausage caseless links and was thinking about trying to get an Italian flavor in it. I know how to make Italian sausage fresh but this will be interesting. so, I am going to toast the fennel, rosemary and then pound the poop out of it in my mortar and pestle. then i will add it to the sausage when I brown it before I put it in my recipe (a soup). i’m just putting this out there in case someone else is stuck with precooked links and want to do something but think that because it is precooked you can’t.

  23. Glennie

    Thanks to Google and YOU, I now have delicious spaghetti sauce! Due to covid it’s really hard to find Italian sausage these days. Fennel is THE most important ingredient and fortunately I always have a jar on hand because it always goes on my home made pizzas. Thank you SO much!

  24. Kathy

    Thank you so much! I also live a distance from a store and believe in making do! So your my kind of gal! I also have sausage and need Italian so I’m going to give this a go!
    Thank you!

  25. Susie Quentin

    You saved the day! I thought I had Italian sausage in the freezer, and all I could find was bulk pork sausage. I was making a kale-sausage soup and it came out great. Thanks!

  26. I don’t know that you’ll see my answer in time, but I’m wondering if I need to grind the fennel seeds or add them to the mix whole. I soooo looking forward to making this sausage. In the stores IS is quite pricey, then adding to injury, my butcher of choice doesn’t turn out a good Italian sausage (the seasonings are off). Thank you!

    1. Danielle @Wholefully

      Hi, Julie! We use whole fennel seeds in this and mix them right in with everything else. We hope your sausage turned out just the way you wanted!

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