There’s a whole wide world of sausage, and some of it is hard to tell apart. Like, what is the difference between Italian sausage and sweet Italian sausage? (And how about hot Italian sausage? And mild Italian sausage?) And can you use them all interchangeably?

Italian sausage, as it’s referred to in the United States, is most often a pork sausage that is made with fennel seed or anise. It packs a ton of flavor, and can be seasoned with fresh or dry herbs. It’s the usual type of sausage that you’ll find in most pasta sauces, as a pizza topping, etc.

But what, exactly, is sweet Italian sausage? Sweet Italian sausage, also known as mild Italian sausage, is simply the less spicy version of the two. “Sweet” and “mild” are used interchangeably, and what’s known as hot Italian sausage contains a dash or two of hot red peppers flakes that gives it some punch.

Yes, as long as you like the taste of both! In any recipe you can safely substitute “sweet” sausage for “mild” sausage, and vice-versa, without concern. If you don’t mind some heat, you can use hot instead of either too. And if your recipe calls for hot but all you can find is sweet or mild, just add some crushed red pepper from your spice rack!

You sure can. While the average home cook will probably want to leave stuffing sausage links to the pros, if you’re using bulk sausage (the kind you buy loose by the pound from the butcher), or planning to remove the meat from the casings to crumble it into a dish, you can always just buy ground pork and add your own seasonings instead. Homemade Italian sausage recipes commonly call for fennel, garlic, parsley, sweet paprika, and oregano, among other spices. Red wine vinegar frequently appears as well. Add crushed red pepper for a hot version. Try an Italian seasoning blend for a shortcut.

And if you don’t eat pork, you can use ground chicken for your homemade sausage instead.

It’s a great addition to soups, stews, pasta, and pizza, and if you remove it from the casing, you can crumble it and use it similarly to ground beef. It’s great grilled on a bun in place of bratwurst, though it has a stronger flavor. And while it’s not usually recommended in place of breakfast sausage (the latter has a strong sage flavor), nothing’s stopping you from trying it.

What About Italian Sausage in Italy?

As you might have guessed, there’s no “Italian sausage” on the menu in Italy; it’s simply sausage (or salsiccia). And there are many different types of actual Italian sausage. Fennel is a common flavoring, but it’s not always in the mix.

Use your favorite version of Italian sausage in any of these dishes.

Quick Italian Sausage Bolognese

The Italian sausage in this recipe makes for an incedibly flavorful and rich Bolognese sauce that takes no time at all (compared to your usual Sunday gravy, especially). Try it with your favorite shape of pasta and add more hot red pepper flakes if you like a kick. Get our Quick Italian Sausage Bolognese recipe.

Italian Sausage and Sauteed Onion Jalapeño Poppers

If you love jalapeño poppers, this rendition will really blow your mind with the addition of Italian sausage and some sautéed onion. The sweet sausage is a great juxtaposition to the fiery jalapeño. Get our Italian Sausage and Sauteed Onion Jalapeño Poppers recipe.

Orecchiete with Sausage and Broccoli Rabe

The sweet Italian sausage in this recipe is a great counter to the spicy and sometimes bitter broccoli rabe. Garlic, red chile flakes, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and fresh bread crumbs make for a dinner-party-worthy dish that you can assemble in minutes. Get our Orecchiete with Sausage and Broccoli Rabe recipe.

Italian Sausage Panini

A good Grilled Italian Sausage with Peppers and Onions is always satisfying, but those same ingredients also make a fine panini filling. Bonus: gooey melted cheese! We suggesting making the grilled sausage and adding a few extra links with the intention of having these sandwiches for dinner the next night! Get our Italian Sausage Panini recipe.

Pesto, Sausage, and White Bean Soup

This rich winter soup not only boasts sweet Italian sausage, but chunks of chicken too; you can skip the poultry if you like, or use leftover rotisserie chicken. Pesto swirled into the soup boosts the fantastic flavor, while creamy white beans and tender zucchini round it out. Get our Pesto, Sausage, and White Bean Soup recipe.

Italian Sausage Stuffed Shells

Italian sausage and plenty of cheese (ricotta, parmesan, and mozzarella) fill plump pasta shells in a rich tomato sauce, but three cups of spinach means you’ll get your greens too. This dish can be made ahead and kept in the fridge so all you have to do at dinner time is pop it in the oven. Get our Italian Sausage Stuffed Shells recipe.

Italian Sausage Calzone

If you prefer your carbs in the form of bread, this stuffed dough roll is a perfect option for dinner or a party snack. And since we call for store-bought pizza dough, it’s nowhere near as hard as it looks. Get our Italian Sausage Calzone recipe.