Chicken Sausage, Apple Butter and Fontina Panini with Caramelized Red Onions

Raise your hand if you’re new to apple butter…am I the only one? I never heard of it until last year when I was preparing a recipe that called for it, but I’ve since learned that apple butter is pretty popular in some parts of the country (evidently not so much in California). Once I got past my surprise over it being a lot more like applesauce than actual butter I realized its bold, concentrated apple flavor would be a perfect panini condiment, especially in autumn.

For my Chicken Sausage, Apple Butter and Fontina Panini with Caramelized Red Onions, I matched the intense flavor of the apple butter with some equally bold smoky, nutty and sweet flavors. It’s a true sweet and savory mouthful – they were terrific. I grilled these sandwiches on ciabatta but any nice, crusty bread would be ideal.


Chicken Sausage, Apple Butter and Fontina Panini with Caramelized Red Onions

Prep time: 15 minutes | Cook time: 55 minutes | Total time: 1 hour 10 minutes

Yield: 4 panini


  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 medium red onions, halved and sliced thinly
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 fully-cooked chicken-apple sausage links (such as Aidell’s)
  • 8 ounces Fontina cheese, shredded
  • 1/2 cup apple butter, either store-bought or homemade
  • 1 ciabatta roll, divided into 4 sections, or 4 small ciabatta rolls


  1. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, season with salt and pepper, and cook the onions for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat and continue to cook until the onions are soft, deep burgundy in color and caramelized, another 20 minutes.
  2. Preheat the panini grill to medium-high heat.
  3. Slice each chicken-apple sausage link in half lengthwise without slicing all the way through, then fold open the sausage. Place the sausages, cut side down, on the panini grill. Close the lid and grill the sausages for 4 to 5 minutes until they are heated through and grill marks appear.
  4. For each sandwich: Slice the ciabatta in half lengthwise to create top and bottom halves. Sprinkle cheese over the bottom half of bread and spread apple butter inside the top half. Top the cheese with the grilled sausage caramelized onions. Close the sandwich with the top half of bread, apple butter side down.
  5. Grill the panini until the cheese is melted and the bread is toasted, about 4 to 5 minutes. Cut in half and serve immediately.



KathyPanini Happy, online since 2008, is more than just a sandwich blog. Here, you'll find hundreds of my original panini recipes, my guide to choosing a panini press and a whole lot of other creative uses for the panini press.
~ Kathy Strahs
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  1. looks delicious!

    Posted 10.2.11 Reply
  2. omg my mouth is watering

    Posted 10.3.11 Reply
  3. Jill wrote:

    I want to eat this NOW!

    Posted 10.3.11 Reply
  4. Heather B wrote:

    What a delicious combination of flavors! Going to the store today to get these ingredient so I can make this week.

    Posted 10.3.11 Reply
  5. Kalyn wrote:

    I know about apple butter, but I think putting it on a panini is just brilliant!!

    Posted 10.3.11 Reply
  6. Amy wrote:

    I actually just made apple butter ebelskivers for breakfast yesterday. Love apple butter. And now I have another use for it. Printing…

    Posted 10.3.11 Reply
    • Kathy wrote:

      How perfect! Now I have another use too. 🙂

      Posted 10.3.11 Reply
  7. Oh man – those chicken apple sausages are my favorite and I recently made apple butter! This sounds soooo good…oh how I wish I had a real kitchen up here! I do have my panini maker though…so I may have sacrifice the caramelized onions, but this panini will be made ASAP!

    Posted 10.3.11 Reply
    • Kathy wrote:

      Are you in school, Rachel? I’ve been wondering if kids in college have panini makers…I sure wish I did!

      Posted 10.3.11 Reply
  8. Wenderly wrote:

    That panini has all of my favorite flavors! Sound positively *perfect*!

    Posted 10.3.11 Reply
  9. I usually like making apple butter more than eating it, but I can imagine the flavor with the chicken sausage — ooooh yum.

    Posted 10.3.11 Reply
    • Kathy wrote:

      I’d love to try making some soon. I’ve seen some good slow cooker recipes!

      Posted 10.3.11 Reply
  10. I am LOVD wrote:

    You never cease to amaze with your Panini Posh!!! I just made some simple grilled cheese sandwiches for some girlfriends that were over yesterday and they were amazed at the Panini’s Prowestt. Neither have Panini makers, but they will…soon!!!!

    Posted 10.4.11 Reply
  11. Juan wrote:

    Ahh apple butter is great! I haven’t tried this one yet but I imagine it would provide a nice interesting flavor when compared to the rather bland meat that usually goes into such sandwhiches. I know that Panera had a sandwhich with has sweet and spicy peppers with a humus sauce and I always loved the hint of sweetness when ever I had this sandwich

    Posted 10.4.11 Reply
  12. Karen wrote:

    Apple Butter….mmm, we had it all the time during the summer growing up. They had it on my grandfather’s camp tables morning, noon and night, alongside the real butter and peanut butter. I will say, the name is a bit misleading as it doesn’t really taste buttery enough. This panini sounds fantastic though! (Then again, anything with caramelized onions does if you ask me!) Good idea!

    Posted 10.4.11 Reply
  13. Kate Stewart-Taylor wrote:

    I grew up making and eating apple butter. There is also butter pear butter, apricot, cherry, plum, tomato grape (in my neck of the woods scuppernong or Muscadines) and pumpkin butter. It was mostly a way to keep fruit through the winter without needing to use lots of sugar or pectin.

    I grew up eating apple butter and peanut butter sandwiches.

    Posted 10.5.11 Reply
    • Kathy wrote:

      Wow, that’s quite the medley! I’ve definitely got pumpkin butter on my radar to try on a sandwich soon. Trying to decide what would go well with it…

      Posted 10.5.11 Reply
  14. naomi wrote:

    OMG, Kathy, my mouth is watering. I’ll trade you dessert, any kind for one of these.

    Posted 10.6.11 Reply
    • Kathy wrote:

      You’re on!

      Posted 10.6.11 Reply
  15. grace wrote:

    i adore apple butter; i think it’s my favorite condiment-type item. that said, i’ve never ever paired it with sausage or cheese, much less the two together. magical!

    Posted 10.7.11 Reply
  16. Gavin wrote:

    Thank you for this recipe, I made it last Thursday for about 20 people. It was excellent, everyone greatly enjoyed it and especially liked the addition of apple butter for more sweetness. I hadn’t tried putting chicken apple sausage on a sandwich before, and it was a good idea I will have to use it again.
    Thanks again!

    Posted 11.12.11 Reply
    • Kathy wrote:

      That’s terrific to hear, Gavin – I’m glad you all enjoyed it!

      Posted 11.12.11 Reply
  17. Christina wrote:

    There is a town in California that makes apple butter. It is called Julian, California it’s a small town in the mountains of San Diego. They make apple butter, apple pies, and other apple-based goodies and they ship!

    Posted 3.31.17 Reply
    • Kathy Strahs wrote:

      I’m a former San Diegan and know it well! Fond memories of Julian apple picking and pie eating. 🙂 ~ Kathy

      Posted 3.31.17 Reply