About the only way you can improve on high-quality bologna sausage is to give it an extra kick of spiciness to cut the fat along with some smoky char to crisp the edges. You don’t have to go farther than your backyard, either. Bologna comes fully cooked and only needs about an hour in a regular backyard barbecue set up for low-heat smoking to give it the finish it needs.
Use High-Qualty Bologna
Start with high-quality, true bologna. Bologna, made the Italian way, is based on mortadella, and it bears little resemblance to the packages of sliced bologna or, less commonly, “baloney,” you find next to the hot dogs in the supermarket. Bologna is a high-fat, whipped forcemeat similar to pate that uses pork as the primary flavoring ingredient and beef as the secondary flavoring ingredient. Bologna has a flavor similar to German frankfurters, and both share several common spices, including marjoram, mace and mustard seeds. You can find Italian bologna in delis and supermarket deli counters. Buy at least 3 to 4 pounds of unsliced mortadella bologna for smoking.
Mix a Spice Rub
Smoke rubs are where you take control of the final taste of the bologna. Since you can’t change the bologna’s base flavor, create a rub that accentuates, contrasts or otherwise marries it with the smoke. Bologna has a lot of creamy fat, so you need something to drive a spike into it, and acid and spice are a natural fit. Build the heat you need with pungent spices, such as Hungarian paprika, regular paprika, chili powder and black pepper. Balance the base flavor and spice with herbs, such as oregano, rosemary and sage, which gives the bologna some welcome floral notes. Coat the bologna with mustard to add acidity and to give the spice rub something to adhere to.
Prepping the Bologna
Take the bologna out of the refrigerator 30 to 45 minutes before you want to smoke it and make 5 or 6 slices down the length of the roll; space each slice about 2 inches apart and make them about 1/2 inch deep. Brush a layer of mustard on all sides of the bologna and coat it with the spice rub. Let the bologna sit at room temperature while you set up the grill.
Prepping the Grill
You can use a smoker set to 200 degrees Fahrenheit and smoke the bologna for 1 to 2 hours, or you can use a barbecue. Fill a heavy-duty aluminum pan half full of water and place it on one side of the charcoal tray; light 2 layers of charcoal on the other side. Close the grill and let it heat for 20 minutes and drop 3 or 4 hardwood chips on the lit coals. Use a mild to moderate wood, such as apple, cherry or cedar. Close the grill’s bottom air vent, but leave the top vent 1/3 open. Lay the bologna on the grill above the water and smoke it for 1 to 2 hours, turning it every 20 to 30 minutes. The bologna is ready when it develops the amount of char and the taste you want, so try a piece to check doneness.
References and ResourcesNational Hot Dog and Sausage Council: A Guide to Sausage Varieties
Serious Eats: Smoked Bologna
Serious Eats: Guide to Grilling: Smoking on a Charcoal Kettle Grill