The Art of Grilling Sausage

How to Keep the Flavor and Prevent Burning

Grilled sausage

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Sausages are thin or thick cylindrical pieces of meat made out of ground pork, beef, or veal. Most often, sausage is packed with salt, spices, and other flavorful seasonings. The term sausage is derived from the Latin word salsus which translates to "something salted."

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Types of Sausage

There are several types of fresh, cooked, and dry sausages:

  • Cooked sausages are made fresh and then cooked. They may also be smoked and eaten hot or cold. Examples of cooked sausages include hot dogs, liver sausage, kielbasa, and mortadella.
  • Fresh sausages are made out of meats that haven't been cured previously. Before eating, they must be cooked. Many breakfast sausages and Italian pork variations are included in this category. Smoked and cured sausage can also be fresh, like that of Mettwurst and Teewurst.
  • Dry sausages are cured, fermented, and dried. They may be smoked and are often eaten cold. Examples include salami, Slim Jims, and summer sausage. 
  • Alternative sausages may include bulk sausage, which is a type of raw, ground, and spiced meat (also known as sausage meat). There are also vegetarian sausages made out of soy, tofu, herbs, and spices.

The challenge with grilling sausage is getting them cooked completely through—without drying out the casing, having it burst open, or burning the outside.

Breakfast sausage links are typically made on the stovetop, but cooking large sausages on the grill, like kielbasa and bratwurst, takes some work. Thankfully, there are several sausage grilling methods that prevent burning and keep flavor.

Split and Grill 

Cut the sausage lengthwise, about 80 percent of the way through. Then, fold it out and lay it flat. This is a great way to get the insides cooked quickly: you can lay it skin-side up and the skin won't dry out. Of course with this method, you're opening up the sausage to let the juices drip out, which tends to dry them out. This is a leaner way of cooking, but it also leaves sausages lacking in flavor. If you're cooking a recipe that calls for sausage, like a jambalaya, then go for it. Otherwise, try another method that keeps sausages juicy.

Boil and Grill

Parboil sausages by partly cooking them through boiling. For instance, you can put sausages in half water and half beer before putting them on the grill. Adding something to the water enhances the flavor and gets sausages partially cooked before grilling time. If you use plain water, you'll pull flavor out of the sausages:

  • To parboil first, drop sausages into boiling liquid long enough to tighten the skin. When you pull the sausages out, the fat inside should be just starting to liquify.
  • Next, place the sausages on a hot grill over a medium-low fire and finish cooking. This method gives you juicy sausages and is a popular way of grilling them. Plus, it's one sure way to keep the casings from hardening.

Straight Grill

Place sausages right on the grill and cook them the old-fashioned way. The biggest problem with this is that people often use high heat and burn the surface before the middle gets cooked. The other issue is when a sausage cooks and leaks juices that cause flare-ups and burns. To eliminate these potential issues, keep the fire low. This increases the cooking time but lets the sausage cook gently (while holding in its flavor). Some cooks will advise you to puncture the skin, but that will let the juices out more which can lead to a fire. Thus, it's best to keep the sausage casing intact with low heat.

Serve the Sausage

How you serve and eat sausages is important to the method of cooking. If you're going to be chopping the sausages up for another recipe, then any method that holds in the flavor will do. However, if you want to serve the sausages straight up, take care to cook them gently. This will preserve the appearance as much as the flavor. Plus, it will ensure that the casing on the sausage doesn't turn into an impenetrable barrier.

You can make sausage into breakfast patties, pasta ragu, skewers, or even a sloppy chili dog. If that doesn't fancy you, make a sausage roll, use it as a pizza topping, or stuff it in a pastry dough as an empanada.