Vienna sausages—along with (it must be said) potted meat—are the South’s signature blue-collar noshes, indispensable companions to the purple worms and Little Rebels in your tackle box, but it’s the rare household of any ilk in this part of the country that doesn’t have one or two pop-top cans of these little meaty treats stashed somewhere.
Like most iconic American foods, Vienna sausages were brought to America by immigrants, and it should come as no surprise that they hail from German-speaking Europe. Sometime around the turn of the last century, “wiener”—from Wien, the German spelling of Vienna—came to be used interchangeably with sausages like hot dogs and frankfurters. Properly speaking, the Vienna or Vienna-style sausage (Wienerwurst) is a frankfurter-style mixture of meats sold in braided links, but in America it transformed into a canned sausage, becoming an early example of convenience food.
Commercial canning of sausage came about in the mid-19th century and became mechanized in the 1860s. At the turn of the century Chicago-based Armour, Swift, and Libby, along with Hormel in Minnesota, dominated the market. The term “Vienna” or “Vienna-style” referring to a canned sausage—skinless after the 1950s—cut into two-inch lengths, appeared around 1900. In the South, where canned meats appeared in the 1890s, the first commercial meat processor in Mississippi, Bryan Packing Company of West Point, unlike northern companies, began canning sausages in oil. It wasn’t long before Bryan “vy-ennas” became legendary.
Vienna consumption has declined since its heyday in the middle of the 20th century; Armour, which introduced the pop-top aluminum can, remains the industry sales leader. Viennas—like Spam—seeped into international cuisines through U.S. military bases. The sausages are used in Filipino pancits, and a popular Cuban dish consisting of Viennas cooked with yellow rice (arroz amarillo con salchichas) no doubt came about courtesy of Guantánamo Bay.