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Summer sausage is any sausage that can be kept without refrigeration. Summer sausage is usually a mixture of pork and other meat such as beef or venison. Summer sausage can be dried or smoked, and while curing ingredients vary significantly, curing salt is almost always used. Seasonings may include mustard seeds, black pepper, garlic salt, or sugar.

Summer sausage, like many sausages, uses leftover scrap meat and organ meat that would otherwise be wasted. However some brands of summer sausage do not use scrap meats.

Traditionally, summer sausage is a fermented sausage with a low pH to slow bacterial growth and give a longer shelf life, causing a tangy taste. The distinctive taste can be copied using citric acid as a shortcut to keeping cultures to ferment the following batch.

In Spain, summer sausage is known as "salchichón", and is a sausage cured for three months elaborated with Iberico pork, chopped in thin bits of lean meat and fat, seasoned with salt, pepper, nutmeg, oregano, and garlic and then inserted in thick natural pork intestines.

A summer sausage popular in North Dakota occasionally adds cheese. This type is smoked and is best kept and eaten cold, though it can be cooked.