When I first moved to the Lowlands I remember pondering why the selection at my local grocery store was seemingly so poor. I couldn’t put my finger on what exactly was missing, but the cramped aisles certainly seemed to be lacking some of the essential food groups.

The problem eventually dawned on me: there was a disproportionate amount of shelf space being dedicated to completely useless and/or inedible items. City supermarkets in the Lowlands are small to begin with therefore there isn’t much space to lose! Yet, astoundingly, shops throughout the Netherlands seem quite willing to dedicate entire rows to...wait for it.Canned Sausages!

Given the amount of shelf space dedicated to these tubular treats one can only safely assume that Dutch people must eat these tiny sausages in absurd quantities!

Across the pond we, of course, have our fair share of hot-dogs. But it must be said that hot-dogs strictly appear on the menu in a handful of predefined occasions/locations. These being a) back yard bbq’s b) camp sites c) children’s birthday parties d) street vendor stalls. These occasions all have one thing in common: convenience! Let’s face it, in North-America you eat hot-dogs because it’s quick & easy, not because you necessarily want to.

Based on their dominance of super-market shelf space – we simply can’t figure out the Dutch dining rituals involving these mystery meats. Do the Dutch eat sausages for lunch? Dinner? At borrels? At parties with happy little Dutch flags sticking out of them? All of the above? Why are they in cans? And tins? And shrink-wrapped? And more importantly, why are they called cocktail sausages? 

Dear Dutch readers, enlighten us. Have we missed the mark? We understand what makes a warm German bratwurst so yummy… but what is truly so special about your wieners? 😉


62 Responses

  1. Roland

    They’re eaten during cocktail/drinks-hour, or after a night of heavy drinking

    There’s nothing special about these weiners. It’s 60% water, 20% fat, 15% spices and 5% meat.

  2. Jurri

    The sausages come in cans usually containing 10 sausages on water, you can heat them up by pouring the sausages with the canwater included into a pan and heating it up a bit, or you can eat them cold (warm is about 300% better though).

    I usually eat mine on a folded slice of bread, I put a couple of warm sausages in the fold, squirt some ketchup or mayonnaise over it (not both, that tastes horrible) and stuff it down my foodhole, for as far as I’m aware this is the most common way to eat these.

    You can also get proper hotdog buns to go along with them, but if you’re going that far for a proper hotdog you might just as well get some frankfurters with it for the optimal hotdog experience.

    it’s kind of a snack or lunch thing but not really appropriate for any meal in particular, they are often enjoyed on the 4 occasions you mentioned in your article as well though.

  3. Dick

    Your guess is as good as mine 🙂 ! But ‘Knak’ (don’t ask me for a translation because I wouldn’t know what to say. My best guess would be the sound it makes when you break them in halve ?) is not the same as ‘Cocktail’ sausages ! Cocktail sausages are much smaller than Knak sausages. ! Think of them as their ‘children ‘ . 🙂 Personally I can’t stand the measly things , I much rather have a German bratwurst. But that opens up a whole new can of worms. And speaking of worms ..

    • Carlos

      Come on!!! Everybody knows that Knak is the sound that they should make when you snap them 🙂

      • Lo

        I love the way Germans describe a nice, firm ass “knackig”. It’s really hard to translate into any other language, except maybe Dutch, amiright?
        -Foreigner living in Germany

  4. Stijn Verwijmeren

    Knakworsten are most often waren as being a hotdog or at parties. The main difference is that knacks have a softer taste. Especially The skin is much, much softer and.

  5. Marijn

    Having left the lowlands for over 5 years now, I still miss those awkward habits 🙂

    That said. I think the name comes from being food that accompanies a nice drink (borrel); much like another thing I haven’t had for ages, the borrelnoot. a coated (spicy) peanut.

    I guess those Dutchies (not me, I promise 🙂 like their drinks, and thus their cocktail sausages.

    Or… Another way of looking at it could be: We’re just like Germans, beer and sausage. But since we’re cheap and don’t like to pay much, our beer glasses and sausages are smaller. But that would not go down well, however true this is 🙂

    • KevInKobe

      German style sausage isn’t very popular in the Netherlands. I don’t know why though.
      I wouldn’t touch it either (being Dutch myself).

      Knakworsten are often put on a sandwich for lunch or sometimes if you don’t feel like cooking, you warm some and eat them as hotdogs/ sandwiches. They are eaten with ketchup or mustard usually.

  6. David

    On a side note on average an American eats 60 hot dogs per year(!)

  7. Angela

    But by no means is the frakfurters in the can come close to an American hot dog…. So no compare!
    However I see these things too, and I got to eat some once at a party, on bread with various toppings. I have to say it was not horrible because I was really hungry but it was also not something I would buy or serve at any event.

  8. Sandy

    I would always serve them at my parties, cut in half or use the shorter ones. Very easy to heat up. Just dunk it in a pan and warm it. Put some mayo or mustard on the side, and all Dutchies at your party are happy!

  9. Fred

    First of all, “dinning rituals” probably needs to loose an ‘n’ somewhere 🙂

    And then… yeah, we do love ’em. Bring in a plate of the smaller ones (the “cocktailworstjes”) into the office, with or without flags (but DO include the mustard !) and you’ll receive much love from the collegues 😉

    The ‘cocktail’ is not because of the floating thing… more because they are often used as pass-around snacks during (cocktail) parties.

    Readers may or may not be familiar with the ‘kaasplankje’ (plate loaded with various cheeses) but, you guessed it when going through the ‘sausage aisle’ selection .. there’s also ‘worstplankjes’ which, obviously, have a selection of said sausages…… have at it, and please, pass me the plate !

  10. Linda

    To me they always seem like guy’s food: it’s meat (sort of), extremely easy to prepare, and they keep practically forever in their cans so you don’t even have to worry that they might go bad. Just have them at the back of your cupboard and throw them in a pan when you get the midnight munchies or your mates come over or you are hungover or something.
    Or kid’s food, of course. When I was little we used to put them on toasties (tosti’s). Or party/borrel food. We can never get enough of our borrel food.

    • Remy

      Or student food. Easy, cheap, great for hangovers, great with ketchup.

  11. Philip

    Knakworsten have been around for hundreds of years here, so why the Dutch love them might be down to genetics. The size is purely functional (is are a lot of things here), the smaller cocktailworstjes are just the right size for a cocktail stick, while the larger one fit perfectly in the ‘witte broodjes’. Witte broodjes being the famous Dutch white bread buns. The secret to understanding these sausages is not in the sausages themselves but in the combinations that can be made with them. Cocktailworstjes on a stick with a piece of Dutch cheese and a slice of gherkin are brilliant and are served at parties and receptions. Dutch children are brought up with knakworst on witte broodjes with ketchup which sometimes becomes the staple diet for them later on at college.

  12. marjolein

    Or, you can serve them somewhat more sophisticated.. Put small pieces of “bladerdeeg” (puff pastry) around them, bake for a couple of minutes in the oven until golden and voilá, a more luxuous version of the knakworst to serve on your borrel. Compare this with the “frikandelbroodjes” you can buy at supermarkets and train stations: puff pastry with sausages (and possibly also sauce) in it. We seem to love this.
    Knakworstjes are a great midnight snack, if you went to a bar or club, and you want to make eggs (I actually don’t know if this is a thing everywhere in the Netherlands, but in Brabant we eat eggs when we get home early in the morning), but if you don’t have eggs, you eat “Knakworstjes” with bread and mayonaise.
    And, last but not least, I guess they are also a cheap substitute of our dear “rookworst”.

  13. baasbraal

    We used to heat up 6 to 8 cans and serve them with small buns after we had been painting or done other chores. Very ‘gezellig’ I can assure you. They don’t taste very well, but it is the emotional feeling of having something warm and cosy. When I was a child, just after World War II, it was quite a treat!

  14. Peter the Shark

    In the USA the most important place we eat hot dogs is at baseball games. At children’s birthday parties we eat pizza.

  15. Remco G

    Kids love them, they’re not very chewy nor do they have a very pronounced taste. So the parents can eat steak and it’s not much work to heat up a can of these for the kids.

    • Angela

      LOL does not look taty at all while ther poured them in a pan… bah

      • Gido

        The commercials of knakworsten are pure nostalgia because every Dutchy knows how it looks like when you throw them from a can into a pan. They don’t advertise to have new consumers. They advertise so new parents buys them because they had them in their youth.

  16. Ramon Rijntjes

    hahaha Their you have a point!
    But Supermarkets in the Lowlands have a special way to let you buy things, they do not order their shop like; Children, Chips, Cheese, meat.
    No, everything is put everywhere so that the costumer has to find it and maybe buy some other syuff they don’t need.

    Cocktail sausages i eat maybe 1 time in the 2 or 3 years, and that’s because they come in a Christmas pressent from your boss.

  17. kerrermanisnl

    I sure love knakworstjes (especially unox). You can usually find them in the 4 places you mentioned above (though usually a camp site/bbq would be a “real” sausage). They’re often used in kid parties.

    I know I like to eat them for breakfast sometimes. I just grab a couple slices of bread, throw some mustard on there and put on some (warm!) knakworstjes. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one doing this 😉 Sometimes I eat them for dinner when I don’t have a lot of time (though nowadays I don’t eat them anymore).

  18. Odette

    You can also wrap them with bacon and bake them.

  19. Sietske van Schaik

    The cocktail variety is similar to the American ‘smokey’. Little short sausages served with toothpicks at birthdays and holiday gatherings. All that there’s to that.

    I know we had ‘broodje knakworst’ for dinner every once in a while. I preferred mayo and pickled pearl onions on mine, because I’m weird, even for a Dutch person 🙂 It’s a convenience meal and also something easy and non-perishable to bring along when on vacation. As you may or may not be aware of, Dutch folks love their yearly exodus during the summer months to the beach of woods, or even France and Spain. Along with their pop-up camper or caravan, you need cans of wienies *laugh* If you look around the grocery store, you will even find fully cooked, vacuum sealed meatballs and ‘beef burgers’. Hilarious, and terrible tasting.

    Americans know their share of wieners though.. vienna sausages, Spam (I suppose it’s not *really* a sausage…. but mysterious like a hotdog nonetheless), andouille, brats in a half dozen varieties, summer sausage, breakfast sausage in a dozen varieties, dozens of versions of bologna, smoked sausages in all varieties etc. etc.

    What I miss is bloedworst. A sausage similar to black pudding in the UK, even fairly hard to find in Holland, because it’s pretty old-fashioned. Panfried in some butter, eaten on some bread… HEAVEN.

    • Justaperson

      I was just about to say that the description of these things remind me of those Armor Vienna sausages. Those things are really salty and mushy I can’t eat them at all. The same goes for Spam and the worst offender has got to be deviled ham (canned meat spread…ewww). However a grilled Hebrew international or bratwurst is great.

      • Fence

        I also though immediately of Vienna Sausages – a ubiquitous canned cocktail weiner in the US. They are truly horrid. I tried to give one to the dog and he started licking his balls instead.

    • richard

      spam I finally found out what that stands for. Stuff Posing As Meat, meat doesn’t make that sound coming out of a can and meat doesn’t have Yello on top

  20. Pete

    I spent 2 years in Dutch school when I was a kid living in Holland. One of the coolest things they did was make sure everyone’s birthday was celebrated without fail. The birthday person brought snacks for every classroom to school and then got some friends together and walked around to each room and offered the teacher the party snacks and each class room sang “Lang zal ze leven”. Many different snacks were offered, but one of them were these odd mini wursts in a can with a toothpick through it. The other poplular items were After Eight chocolate mints, some cookies like Spekulaas or Stroopwaffels, or Gouda or Edam cheese on a cracker. Great memories about a strange but fun tradition.

    • Petrus Post

      In my old school you were practically required to bring home-made snacks, actually. No storebought food most of the time.

      Luckily my dad is great at making pancakes (real Dutch ones, not the fat American kind ;P), so I usually brought blueberry pancakes with me to school. They did very well 😉

  21. Lotte

    Well, I’m not sure about other Dutch people, but we eat them at lunch (on bread, cloaked in either ketchup or mayonnaise), at small get-togethers (mostly with family, or with friends when we’re playing games or doing homework), or in the evenings (as a snack and mostly when we’re out of potato chips or other tasty things). Why do we eat them? Because they taste good, especially when dipped in ketchup, mayonnaise or mustard-sauce, and they are extremely quick ‘nd easy. Also, children like them since they can suck on them and don’t have to chew.
    The canned ones don’t compare to real hotdogs, though. Us Dutchies are also big fans of HEMA ‘knak- en rookworsten’. They’re more of the real thing and great for lunch or a big snack when you’re out shopping. 😀

    • Angela

      Lotte you are right, the Hema has the BEST, when I first moved here every time we went to the city center I had to go by the Hema…!!!Maybe that spoiled me for the canned stuff!

      • Herman Bierens

        You are so right! The first thing I do after arriving in Holland (from the US) is to look for a Hema. Their “broodjes rookworst” are unsurpassed. My American wife loves them too.

  22. Kelly

    This is so funny. I’m dutch but never eat knakworstjes.. I don’t know why we have so much of them in the supermarket? We eat them when we’re kids on a party and when camping, that’s it basically, unless you like canned food but that’s not a specific dutch habbit!

  23. Invader_Stu

    I’ve never understood how my family in law can get so excited by knak worst in a tin but they do. They go crazy for it… but then again they are Dutch.

  24. Maartje Meering

    I think they are named that way not because you have to put it in your drink, but because you eat them during a ‘borrel’ while drinking a cocktail.
    It is a ‘borrelhapje’ (cocktail snack) just like cheeseblocks with musterd or ‘bitterballen’ (some sort of little round croquettes)

    But we also do eat this because it is easy, not because we really want to.
    Well, oke we sometimes want them, but that is after we decided we aren’t really into cooking that evening, so again, it is just ‘easy food’.

  25. Martijn

    The attraction of knakworstjes is almost entirely in their convenience. And kids love them, which makes them perfect for children’s birthday parties. Every Dutchman with any taste for food (which is a minority, I admit) knows that these thingies aren’t even remotely comparable to a good German Bratwurst.

  26. Lynn

    hey used to be cheap too, but that was long ago in a far away time.
    I used to eat them instead of dinner when my mom had cooked something I didn’t like. (Yes, I was finnicky about my food and I was a spoiled brat). I’d make mashed potatoes, heat up some coctail sausages or knakworstjes and add a serving of sweet peas (one of the only 2 vegetables I would eat). Dress liberally with ketchup! Never need to go hungry with a can in the pantry.
    And at parties we would serve them dressed up on sate-sticks. Cut up loads of cheese, ham, salami in cubes, cut up some gherkins (augurken), open a bottle of pickled pear onions and another of olives, and the best: cut up canned pineapple slices in chunks. Everythiing should be about the same size, for esthetic reasons. (We might be eating cheap filler meat, but se still got some standards!)
    Spear one of each on the satay stick, and stick the whole bunch on an apple to serve.
    That’s a party for me from age 4 through 104 !
    See a pic of a slightly lesser quality spies here: http://www.retrohapjes.nl/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/spiesjes.jpg

    • Peter

      @Lynn: I used to eat them instead of dinner when my mom had cooked something I didn’t like. (Yes, I was finnicky about my food and I was a spoiled brat).
      I remember those times. For me the 50s. Oh yes, I was finnicky too. Brussels sprouts, endives (also called Brussels lof then)! Juck! Bitter. Not wanting to eat dinner? No problem. And nothing else to eat. Next morning, breakfast. And guess what? You get it.
      Of course, now I love Brussels sprouts and endives.
      Thanks to GMO the bitterness has been eliminated and now they taste just like everything else. Bland.

  27. Stoner Cuisine Guru

    I’ll tell you an old, obscure and forgotten legend that involves these sausages. (well, not really that old actually)

    Some have said (this legend begins in the seventies) that when one has contracted the munchies as a result of the use of high quality “nether-herbs”, there is one food-item you could eat that would grant you the greatest gastronomical experience of your life.

    One would take 1 Krentenbol, slice it in half, add good dollops of mayonaise (calvé is preferred these days) and curry-ketchup, add half a slice of old gouda on top of that, add any (leftover) meat (porkchops, chicken fillet and ham would all suffice)
    It would then be topped with a TINY sprinkling of salt and the top krentenbol-bun.

    The knakworst would be the ideal sausage for this as it has a certain dynamic with the mayonaise that really aids in getting the flavors out the combination (chicken is your next best shot)

    The curry-ketchup forms an alliance with the krentenbol, meaning the entire sandwich will have a distinct sweetness to it while the meat, cheese and salt set the hearty base for the flavors.

    If you are daring enough, and i hope you are, you have to try this.

    • John

      OMG, that sounds so good. I love knaks (yeah, I’m Dutch) and will definately try this.

  28. cereal

    Always fascinating how the tastes and social issues vary in countries with otherwise many similarities and shared history. In the US these and their ilk are called Vienna Sausages, Little Smokeys, or Cocktail Weenies. And their consumption pretty definitely marks you as “white trash,” meaning lower-middle class (or poor), rural, probably southern or hokey midwestern… or if you prefer to look on the positive side for terminology, a Real Normal Amurrican and not some hifalutin’ city-dwellin’ latte-sippin librul vegan pretentious farm-raised organic free-range sausage eating weirdo. Growing up in a university town I distinctly remember noticing strong differences between the families of my friends who lived there “for real,” and the friends whose parents were university professors or researchers. The first dressed a lot like Andre Hazes and his buddies in the Unox ad and loved their weenies. The second would rather have died.

    I love it that here they are really mainstream, though I did meet a local dad a while ago who was adamant that his toddler would never, ever be fed a knackie, him considering that tantamount to child abuse…though he was kinda yuppiefied and I do see him at the organic market a lot… so maybe, not so different after all.

  29. Eva

    For students and other people with little to spend at the end of the month (my paycheck is always a few days shorter than the month) it is a good basic ingredient to add to pasta. Just cut them up, add some pasta sauce and the pasta end you will have a stomach filling with all foodtypes. Also they are convinient to keep because they last long. When getting unexpected visitors, you will have something to serve. Ran out of things to eat and your guest are not leaving…. have some canned sauges on a plate. Do not forget to add mustard when serving on a plate with or without bread.

  30. John Smith

    Packaged food here sucks. Don’t question it!

  31. Pim

    I am dutch, and in a lot of ways, your articles carry a form of odd truth that i never really paid attention to! But I have to disagree on this characteristic thing about knakworstjes being adored by the dutch. Many of my friends and family don’t eat them. Not once in the last 10 years have I stumbled upon a plate with knakworstjes, not at my parents place, friends, parties or borrels! I must admit that I have eaten them when I was younger, at someone’s birthday with lemonade. But this traditional thing is dying, Today it’s french cheese on sesam crackers with sweet white wine or Grolsch. And on the other side “borrelnootjes” and “frituursnacks” with euroshopper (now known as AH Basic) beer or schultenbrau.

  32. Rogier

    first of all same dont call it a German bratwurst you can eat in in a sandwich or not, its up to you

  33. Jan Salim Thasing

    Before America was aware of anything ‘pink slime’ related, dutch butchers already had a way to put to use all the meaty unmentionables. The fine graded pieces ended up in the ‘knakworsies’, and the coarser meats developed themselves into the infamous ‘frikandel’.
    Supposedly knakworst and cocktails mix very well, especially if the amount of alcohol warrants hunger for something salty and remotely warm. If properly intoxicated it is not any problem to stuff interesting amounts of the suspicious little sausages into a cocktail partier. The fact that those sosages live in cans, warranties the being devoid of harmful bacteries and other troublemakers.

  34. Matthijs

    — Why do I always feel the need to comment 🙂 —

    Here some application for the folks who do not understand knakworsten/knakworstjes/knaks/partyknaks.

    1. Partyknaks; the small ones. Those can be served at birthday parties. For example, a birthday party for the family where everyone sits in a circle (this circle might be split up according to age or common interests; one in the living room and one around the dinner table). It is traditionally served at a plate, accompanied with ‘mosterd’. For those who are not satisfied with ‘mosterd’ alone put ‘mayo’ (mayonnaise or frietsaus for Belgium people) and ‘curry’. The next round might be ‘bitterballen’.

    2. Knakworsten; the relatively long ones. Those sausages fit nicely in between ‘puntjes’. Puntjes is a small soft type of white bread fresh from the bakery. I prefer to put mayo, curry and mosterd on it. Other combinations are very common too. Though I’m not a hotdog specialist, I choose a ‘broodje kanworst’ over a hotdog sandwich. This is probably because of the fresh bread.

  35. Peter

    We don’t eat canned sausages for breakfast or lunch or dinner. They are snacks and almost always combined with other things (though children will eat them straight from the can if they get a chance).
    As for borrelhapjes. For me they have to be hot. I’m not a fan of those small onions, gherkins or olives.
    I cannot remember the last time I’ve eaten knakworst.
    In case you want to know why knakworst is called knakworst watch http://www.npo.nl/de-wilde-keuken-van-wouter-klootwijk/18-10-2013/NPS_1226030
    The specific part about knakworst runs from minute 07:50 – 11:40 (in Dutch).

  36. Mattijs

    The knakworsten are invented for one soul purpese… And that is CAMPING. Those badboys are at there best when heated on a little burner ( no need for pots and pans because of the tin can) in the evening or morning… or midday for that mather. Served on a white bun with curry. But at home they are pretty good as wel.

  37. Rob

    The tinned knaks are horrible! Some butchers make the real knakworst, they taste much better and really make a “knak” sound when you eat them, hence the name.

    The real knakworst is made from pig-meat, cow-meat with spices and herbs and some salt, not as much salt a in the tinned knaks though. Ingredients are grinded into a paste and pressed into sheep-gut, then smoked. A treat, really!!

    Only after the second world war the atrocity everybody now believes are knakworst on the market. Children don’t even recognize real knakworst. Or bloedworst (black pudding) or balkenbrij (google this)

  38. Dutch Courage

    I think you could have figured this one out by yourself … you basically already gave the correct answers. One, knowing how we value birthday parties, it should be quite obvious kids eat these there too. And yes, we do eat them at some ‘borrels’ with little dutch flags in them (but then the mini-variant of them) nice with some mustard. And, i rated these fairly high on the scale of ‘what to eat after a night of drinking/clubbing’, if that didn’t involve shoarma.


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