pigs in blankets

This keeps coming up on Twitter and in the comments at other posts, so let's talk about (BrE) pigs in blankets/(more common in AmE) pigs in a blanket (singular for both: pig in a blanket).

Recipe at BBC Good Food
British pigs in blankets are small sausages wrapped in bacon (and cooked!). They are delicious. They're traditionally served alongside turkey as part of Christmas dinner. (For me, they almost make up for the fact that Brussels sprouts are also a traditional part of Christmas dinner in England.) The usual sausage involved is a chipolata, which we could call a BrE word because it's hardly heard in the US (16 UK hits on the Corpus of Global Web-Based English, but zero US ones). But then again, it's not that there's another word for it in AmE, so better to call it a UK-and-not-US thing, rather than a BrE word. Basically, all the non-imported sausages (and even some of the imported ones) are different in the UK and US.

These are (increasingly, I think) found in US cooking, but I haven't heard them called pigs in blankets in the US. My brother, with no prodding from happy me, has started serving them as pre-dinner snack at Christmas time, and we call them sausages wrapped in bacon. Now that he does that, pretty much the only thing I like better about UK Christmas than US Christmas is the fact that I don't have to travel for my pigs in blankets. (Sorry, mince pie fans.)


Recipe at food.com
In AmE, pigs in a blanket are usually small sausages wrapped in dough (and cooked!). They are delicious. When I was a kid, this usually involved (AmE) cocktail franks* (also cocktail wieners, little smokies, and general-English cocktail sausages) wrapped in the kind of Pillsbury dough that comes in a tube. I think that when I was a kid, this usually involved the dinner-roll dough, but nowadays I see most of the recipes online (including Pillsbury's) involve their crescent-roll dough. (Even though I should know better now, I'm still dangerous around a basket of freshly baked Pillsbury crescent rolls. There's no point in calling them croissants, though. A crescent roll is like a croissant that's been photocopied 100 times and then had hydrogenated palm oil added.)
* Note that on the Oscar Mayer package, the sausages are now wrapped in bacon. Trendy.

Recipe at BBC Good Food
The use of crescent-roll pastry, rather than a bread dough, takes American pigs in blankets a step closer to the British sausage roll, which is a sausage (often just the sausage meat) encased in puff pastry. But to my senses, US pigs in blankets and UK sausage rolls are very different things, due to the differences in sausage spicing, sausage/pastry ratios and coverage, shape, etc.). The ones in the photo here are 'mini sausage rolls', but a non-mini sausage roll contains as much sausage as a typical hot-dog-style sausage.





Recipe at Splendid Table
The final type of pig in a blanket is an American breakfast food: American-style breakfast links wrapped in an American-style pancake. They are delicious. This is the least common meaning for the expression, but one you used to be able to find on an IHOP menu. The key thing to know about these is that American breakfast sausages are nothing like any breakfast sausage in the UK. They have a lot of sage, are much slimmer than most UK sausages and sometimes casing-less, and are really well complemented by maple syrup. If you order sausage in a US breakfast diner, you may well be asked links or patties? If you've ever seen a Sausage McMuffin, you've seen a sausage (AmE) patty. You get those by slicing them like salami (but thicker!) from a big ol' package of sausage meat.

(This paragraph added in response to comments) The plural pigs in blankets is more common in BrE, while AmE tends toward pigs in a blanket. In the Corpus of Contemporary American English, the ratio is about 1:4. That said, I think the plural blankets is found more in print—the COCA examples include a lot of spoken ones and fictional dialogue. Looking at Google Books ngrams, pigs in a blanket seems to be a rather recent plural.)

Now comes THE BIG TWIST IN THE TALE. The term pig in a blanket is originally AmE, but it  had nothing to do with sausages at the beginning. The OED has its first recorded use of the term showing up in 1882 and referring to oysters wrapped in bacon. This dish shows up slightly earlier in UK cook(ery) books with the name it still has: angels on horseback. The first record of a sausage-related meaning is from 1926, and refers to a sausage in a roll, rather than one baked into dough, and that meaning continues on in the 1940s. (I've found additional examples as well as the OED's up to 1948.)  Apparently, the first known use of it in the "rolled in dough" meaning occurred in 1957 in Betty Crocker's Cooking for Kids. Essentially, it looks like the current AmE meaning coincides with the wide availability of packaged refrigerator doughs.

As for the BrE meaning, it's not hard to imagine the AmE term coming over to the UK and being re-interpreted. It would not have been needed for oysters-in-bacon, since BrE already had an equally weird term for that. Sausages, usually made of pork in the UK, make a lot more sense as a 'pig' than an oyster does.


Other sausage-related posts for your information, edification, or appetization: (Is that a word? It is now.)
on hot dogs
on red hots
on baked goods (pigs in blankets briefly mentioned)
on breakfast
on bangers
on pudding (including black pudding)

 PS: Nancy Friedman has shared this glorious picture of the 1957 Betty Crocker's Cook Book for Boys and Girls (Betty Crocker = an American institution), showing (a) that the use of mini sausages was a later thing, and (b) the traditional plural form. I love the hat-tipping wiener and frank—and the explanation of the difference.
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53 comments

  1. Did you search “pigs in a blanket”? To my American ears, “pigs in blankets” sounds British. I don’t think I’ve heard that very often in the US.

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    1. There are zero hits for 'pigs in a blanket' in the archive.

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    2. As another American, I agree that I'd say "pigs in a blanket" and that "pigs in blankets" sounds odd to me.

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    3. Yes, as an American I'm astounded that "pigs in a blanket" gets zero hits.

      BTW: Since I don't believe Betty Crocker sells refrigerated ready-to-bake dinner rolls of any kind I'd guess we have Betty Crocker to thank for the term and Pillsbury (which does make them) to thank for its perpetuation in the U.S. over the last 60 years.

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    4. I wasn't trying to claim that either of them made up the term (which existed before them both), but that that version of the dish coincided with certain developments in US food that would have allowed the new version of pigs to spread more easily.

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  2. Today's dinner reminds me, we have toad in the hole here (or at least my area - Yorkshire), which may be more similar to American pigs in blankets than sausage rolls. Like AmE pigs in blankets, it's sausages cooked inside dough, but it's a large Yorkshire pudding with multiple full-size sausages inside it.

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    1. We do mini toad in the holes using chipolatas in individual Yorkshire puddings, yum

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  3. I (an American) always used the plural "pigs in a blanket" instead.

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  4. I've added a paragraph about the plural—thanks for the comments.

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  5. When I was a kid, pigs in a blanket were made with Vienna sausages, not the kind actually from Vienna but the North American ones in a can. I never liked those much, so now I use all-beef hotdogs (kosher ones, though not because I keep kosher) cut into fourths or so.

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    1. Growing up in suburbs of New York city we also used the canned Vienna Sausages which are pretty gross. And we called them "pigs in a blanket".

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  6. I don't know when the term "pigs in blankets" was first used in the UK, but the first time I heard it was for pre-made ones on Christmas TV ads. At home we'd always called them "sausages wrapped in bacon".

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  7. We always made pigs in a blanket with (AmE)biscuit dough (OK, usually from the Bisquick mix.

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  8. 'Pigs in blankets' here (Eng) but 'kilted soldiers' or 'kilted sausages' according to my Scottish cousins.

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  9. I (Southern Br£, elderly) don't know when they started being called pigs in blankets, nor when they started being a Christmas thing (like when did red cabbage start being a Christmas thing? We never had it, but that was mostly because my parents disliked it); my mother would put slices of bacon on the turkey breast to help keep it moist, and sausagemeat stuffing in one end (chestnut stuffing in the other), but not wrapping the one in the other. There was a canapĂ© called "Angels on horeseback" which was prunes wrapped in bacon.... and one of my sisters-in-law once served liver wrapped in bacon, which was rather nice!

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    1. For that matter, was turkey always the Christmas meat? I'm sure I remember having chicken for Christmas dinner in the late fifties. In the post-war austerity period, and before the rise of battery farming, chicken was a luxury meat in our house, only served on special occasions.

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    2. BrE(Scot), in my mid 60s. Growing up in Scotland, Christmas was for children: once Santa had been, that was it. No special Christmas dinner, although we usually had a selection box each. (A presentation box of mixed chocolate bars. Does this term translate?). The traditional Scottish New Year’s Day dinner was steak pie.

      According to Wikipedia, angels on horseback are oysters wrapped in bacon. The prunes version (or, apparently, any other big enough dried fruit) are devils on horseback.

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    3. I didn't even know red cabbage was a Christmas thing. I've only ever had it pickled with beef stew.

      We usually had a capon or goose for Christmas. As Paul Dormer says, chicken was a luxury in the 50's & 60's.

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    4. I always remember having turkey, but then, from when I was about 5 we were usually gifted one from one of the farm workers who raised them (and I vividly remember being given a boiled turkey egg for breakfast one day, from the same source). I don't know what we had before then - as you say, chicken was a treat - as, indeed, a good one still is!

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    5. My memories of the late fifties/early sixties is that we had rabbit about as often as chicken. I can't remember the last time I had rabbit.

      I don't think I've ever had turkey egg. (And I've certainly never had rabbit egg. :-) )

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    6. The last rabbit I had was roadkill! I haven't seen any in supermarkets for ages.

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    7. I concur with Mrs Redboots and other Brits here - chicken for Christmas in the 1950/60s, possibly with a few chipolatas alongside - I've only had bacon-wrapped chipolatas in restaurant versions of Christmas dinner and they are usually too salty and fatty. At home I serve 'stuffing balls' wrapped with streaky bacon, where the breadcrumbs alongside the sausagemeat in the stuffing absorb some of the fat. Little chipolatas can be cooked separately, for those who feel they need even more meat on the day!

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    8. I use full size sausages now instead of chipolatas...

      I remember having capon for Christmas but that's another thing that seems to have disappeared in the UK. We'd have "ordinary" chicken (which was probably free range) as a treat.

      https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capon

      My dad told me that when he was a kid, they used to get live fowl and kill and pluck it themselves.

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    9. I’ve been told that in the 50s/60s, chicken was a relatively expensive meat, compared to today. It was therefore a bit of a treat. In Scotland, it was often boiled rather than roasted. I also feel that, in the U.K., cranberrry sauce is only a bit younger than red cabbage as a Christmas thing. When was the Delia programme that caused the shops to run out of cranberries? Incidentally, neither red cabbage nor parsnips (roasted or otherwise) were vegetables I ever encountered growing up.

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    10. I remember hearing an interview from someone who as a child had lived near a US army base in England in WWII. The Americans invited the local kids to a Christmas dinner. The kids wondered why jam was being served with the turkey.

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    11. My father (born in central Pennsylvania, 1921) told me that when he was growing up in the 1930s chicken was expensive and reserved for Sunday dinner, while, oddly, red meat was less expensive.

      Mr. Dormer: About "jam" being served with turkey: I'm guessing that serving cranberry sauce (which is runnier than jam) with roast turkey is another U.S.-only invention.

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    12. I'd guess so too. I don't think I'd come across cranberries with turkey until the seventies at the earliest.

      When I was growing up in the early sixties, our family tradition was to have a roast for Sunday dinner (which in certain regions and social classes in Britain is the midday meal) and it was usually beef, lamb or pork, with chicken only occasionally. Although sometimes as an alternative to a roast, it was boiled bacon.

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    13. You can still get chicken in France; it was also on the menu in a restaurant in Germany last year (I had to look it up, as "Kaninchen" sounded like puppies, which it couldn't have been), but we couldn't order it as they'd run out. As for jam with turkey - we used always to have bread sauce (yum), but also my mother very often served - as, indeed, she still does - blackberry-and-apple jelly with roast lamb or poultry. I think it was meant to be redcurrant jelly, but she didn't have redcurrants.... I made a sloe and apple jelly earlier this year which is lovely with red meat.

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    14. I am very tired this evening, which is why I managed to write "chicken" when what I meant, of course, was "rabbit"!

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    15. Chicken, rabbit, what's the difference. (Reminds me of the old joke which had the punchline "Well, I'm not going to send you to post a letter.")

      Accompaniments to roast meats. It was always horseradish sauce with beef, mint sauce with lamb and apple sauce with pork. (When I first started work in London in the seventies, I lived in a hostel in Notting Hill. There were a number of foreign residents who weren't familiar with British cuisine. One day we were served roast pork and I noticed one person had put the apple sauce in a dessert bow and covered it in custard.)

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    16. I learned to cook red cabbage as a vegetable when I spent the academic year 1973/4 in Switzerland. I like it with pork or sausages, but I have had it with Christmas dinner in someone else's house.

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    17. We had it last Christmas, but with duck breast and dumplings, Czech/German style. And very good it was, too (I buy it pre-made when I'm in Germany, as I can never quite get it how I want it when I cook it at home).

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    18. Discovered that the all-knowing, all-seeing Wikipedia covers all facets of pigs in a blanket (the UK, US and international versions) in its entry.

      What's more, the UK version is depicted in a photograph captioned "A Christmas dinner serving in the UK; the pigs in blankets are at top right". Interestingly, I clicked through to the original image on Flickr, where the image is titled "The anatomy of an Xmas Lunch (with notes)". If you visit the Flickr version and mouse over the image you'll find that the attached "notes" identify all items on the plate -- including cranberry sauce!

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    19. Yes, cranberry sauce is "traditional" now, but it wasn't when I was growing up. But I'm not entirely sure when it started making its appearance on the Christmas dinner plate. The seventies at the earliest, I'd say.

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  10. I grew up in Pittsburgh, and in my family pigs in a blanket were stuffed cabbage.

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    1. I grew up in NE Ohio, and folks around there used this meaning too. My New England parents were so confused

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    2. I grew up in east-central Illinois and "pigs in a blanket" was a term passed down to me from my grandparents whose grandparents were pioneers. Also, in the little coal mining town I grew up in the population of coal miners and their families were immigrants from Europe... Poland, Hungary, Lithuania, Germany, Italy. This term always referred to "stuffed cabbage" or galumpkis in Polish. I'm pretty sure they brought this term with them and I'm pretty sure it was commonly used before breakfast sausage links and pancakes were popular. Know what I mean?

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  12. I was always taught by my Dutch grandmother that this was a Dutch thing and that the translation to American pigs in blankets was only sort of representative of the Dutch. I unsurprisingly come up with these in Michigan-based blogs when I try to google it due to the diaspora there. http://michigancottagecook.blogspot.com/2012/04/how-to-make-dutch-pigs-in-blanket-6000.html

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  13. Yes, whenever my mom made pigs in a blanket growing up in Canada for a special dinner treat, it was with hot dogs (regular size) and Pillsbury crescent dough. Yum.

    Your comment "we call them sausages wrapped in bacon" caught my eye, because I'm fairly sure I've only ever heard "bacon-wrapped sausages". I wonder if it's a geographic difference, or if I've just noticed the "bacon-wrapped [sausage/scallop/anything]" construction more since it's a been a trendy food presentation lately.

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  14. I love your definition of a crescent roll

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  15. I've just noticed your "cocktail sausages"; now, for me, those would be those pre-cooked mini-sausages you buy in packs of 20 or 50 in the supermarket and serve, either as is or hotted up, using a cocktail stick to transfer said sausages to your mouth. Frankfurter-style sausages, while they have their place, would more likely be found in a Bridge roll at the sort of party where hot dogs were served, not at the sort where cocktail sausages were! And a chipolata is a skinless, thin sausage, for those Americans who may have been wondering - the mini-sausages to which I'm referring are, I think, technically mini-chipolatas.

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    1. Chipolatas have always been thin, ordinary sausages to me. Like these: https://www.tesco.com/groceries/en-GB/products/251523740


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  16. "Sausages, usually made of pork in the UK" this sentence absolutely blew my mind. Are sausages really not normally made of pork in the US? What is the "typical" US sausage composition if so?

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    1. Even in the UK, we get beef sausages, although a Muslim friend once told me that you couldn't guarantee sausages labelled beef didn't have pork in them.

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    2. Breakfast sausages are generally pork. Hot dogs depends on where you are/if you have good taste. ;)

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    3. "you couldn't guarantee sausages labelled beef didn't have pork in them"
      Or horse meat...?

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    4. Oh, I know you can get sausages made with other meats but pork being the default is so "obvious" to me that having to specify it seems wrong.

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    5. What I would like to know is where you buy small sausages in the USA that are not Vienna and not small hot dog style sausages. But ones that in the UK we would use for pigs in blankets.

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  17. Incidentally, some friends of mine hold an annual Christmas/birthday party where sometimes they serve venison sausage. Very nice.

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  18. I was in Texas and there they have extended the filling choices for kolache to include sausages. So, they look just like pigs in a blanket.

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    1. I was reading the comments to see if anyone mentioned this. This has happened in the last 15-20 years and it drives me nuts. I grew up in a Texas German/Czech town, and lived in Prague in the early 2000s, and when I returned all of a sudden everyone was calling sausage rolls kolaches (I would hesitate to call them pigs in a blanket either, because to me those are the second thing Lynne described above, but it’s better than kolache).

      Kolaches are flat-ish pastry with fruit or cream cheese (ish) topping. https://www.dessertfortwo.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/czech-kolaches-720x540.jpg The sausage rolls are klobasniky.

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  19. I'm a bit surprised that no one has made the obvious connection from the BrE version (sausage wrapped in bacon) to the "Sonoran hot dog" (full-size frankfurter wrapped in bacon and topped with, I think, refried beans), popular in the southwestern US from Arizona to southern California.

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Abbr.

AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)