Goetta is a breakfast sausage of likely German-American origin that is popular in the greater Cincinnati area. It is primarily composed of ground meat (pork, or pork and beef), pin-head oats and spices. Pronounced gétt-aa, ged-da or get-uh Americanized pronunciation, this dish probably originated with German settlers from the northwestern regions of Oldenburg, Hannover, and Westphalia who emigrated to the Cincinnati area in the 19th century. The word “Goetta” comes from the Low German word grötte. North of Cincinnati, specifically in the region surrounding Mercer, Shelby, and Auglaize counties, goetta is often known by the term “grits”, not to be confused with hominy grits. This usage of the word “grits” stems from the High German word “grütze,” which is an equivalent of the Low German grötte.
Goetta was originally a peasant dish, meant to stretch out servings of meat over several meals to conserve money.
Glier’s Goetta, the largest commercial producer of goetta, produces more than 450 metric tons annually, around 99 percent of which is consumed locally in Greater Cincinnati.
While goetta comes in a variety of forms, all goetta is based around ground meat combined with pin-head or Steel-cut Oats. Usually goetta is made from pork shoulder or “Cali”, but occasionally contains equal parts pork and beef. Goetta is typically flavoured with bay leaves, rosemary, salt, pepper, and thyme. It contains onions and sometimes other vegetables.
While similar to scrapple in that it contains a grain product and meat for the purpose of stretching out the meat over several days, goetta looks very different. Scrapple is made with cornmeal while goetta uses steel-cut or chopped oats. The oats in goetta are much coarser than the fine powder used in scrapple and add texture to the dish.
Goetta is typically formed into small loaves, and then cut into squares and fried, often in the oil left over from browning the meats or in bacon drippings. Traditionally a breakfast food, goetta is often served with apple butter, ketchup, mustard, syrup, grape jelly, honey, or eaten by itself.
More recently, goetta has become an all-purpose food eaten with any meal. New goetta products in the Cincinnati area include goetta burgers, goetta dogs and goetta pizza. As the meat in goetta is precooked during the process of making the loaves, goetta can be kept in the freezer.
Due to the popularity of goetta in the Cincinnati metro area, a number of commercial distributors produce and sell it in the parts of Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana near Cincinnati. The most popular of these brands is Glier’s Goetta,the largest producer of goetta in the world. Glier’s Goetta, established in 1946, is based in Covington, Kentucky, part of the greater Cincinnati area.
In the Greater Cincinnati area, there have been annual celebrations since 2004 with the central theme of goetta.
The “Original Goettafest” is an annual cultural and culinary celebration held every June in Covington, Kentucky, just across the river from Cincinnati. Covington has a rich heritage of German immigrants and this festival is held in MainStrasse Village, an area of Covington a few blocks from the Ohio River.
“Glier’s Goettafest” is a similar annual event held every August near Newport, Kentucky’s “Newport on the Levee”(an entertainment, shopping and restaurant complex) on the Ohio River waterfront. The festival celebrates both the dish and Greater Cincinnati’s German American heritage. While the main focus of the festival is goetta, served in many different ways, it also typically includes music, dancing, and other public entertainment.
Glier’s markets goetta as the “German Breakfast Sausage”, creating the wrong impression that it is something commonly eaten for breakfast in Germany. In fact, the vast majority of Germans have never heard of goetta. However, an equivalent food known as Knipp can be found in the present day in Bremen and surrounding areas. This can be spread onto bread or pan fried like goetta. It is also often served with apple sauce, paralleling the apple butter which is served alongside goetta. Although in modern times in most parts of Germany, eating warm sausage for breakfast or a hot breakfast in general is not common, historically Knipp was eaten for breakfast, often in the winter.