The Home Cook’s Guide to Cooking Sausages

Published Categorized as Cooking Tips
Sausages cooked to perfectionvell /123RF

Here’s how to cook the juiciest, most delicious sausages you’ve ever tasted—on the stove, in the oven, or on the grill.

There’s more than one way to cook a sausage, and which one to go for comes down to personal preference. Some cooks prefer boiling or frying them on the stove, while others roast or grill them.

All of these cooking methods result in sausages with unique flavor profiles. To help you decide which one is right for you, we will dive deep into the science and technique behind them, as well as the outcomes of each.

Boiled sausages are quick and easy to make, but they lack browning—and browning creates flavor. Grilled, pan-fried, and roasted sausages are golden brown and deeply flavorful when cooked over moderate heat, which is why many cooks opt for these cooking methods.

When in doubt, tailor your cooking method to the variety of sausage you’re about to make:

American hot dogs and German brätwursts taste their best when they are boiled. They will retain their moisture in the simmering water, coming out plump and juicy, with a slight snap when you bite into them.

Andouille sausages, a common addition to Cajun stews, should be browned briefly over medium-high heat on the stove, then cut up into bite-sized pieces and boiled with the rest of the ingredients in the stew.

Breakfast sausages taste great when pan-fried in a generous drizzle of unsalted butter or cooking oil over medium heat. For extra sweetness, add a sliced onion or two to the pan mid-cooking.

Fatty and hot, Mexican chorizo must be fried over gentle heat in a cast iron skillet with a pour spout, or roast on a sheet pan fitted with a wire rack.

Use the pour spout to drain off some of the melted fat mid-cooking. The wire rack will keep the sausages separated from the fat as it pools in your sheet pan in the oven.

Garlicky and spicy, Italian sausages are a highly versatile sausage variety. They can be pan-fried over medium heat, roasted in a 350°F oven, or grilled low and slow over indirect heat.

How to Pan-Fry Sausages on the Stove

Bring the sausages to room temperature. Fridge-cold sausage cooks unevenly and sticks to the pan, especially if you’re preparing it in stainless steel. Frozen sausages mustn’t be pan-fried and should always be thawed before cooking.

Usually, I do this by taking the sausages out of my fridge and leaving them on the counters for 10-15 minutes, keeping the packaging intact until the time comes to cook them.

Add oil to the skillet. Since you’ll be frying the sausages over gentler heat, any cooking oil will do. My pantry staples are avocado oil for a neutral flavor, olive oil for a peppery flavor, and rice bran oil for a caramelly flavor.

Most of the time, 1-2 tablespoons of cooking oil are enough. You can drizzle it directly onto the pan or apply it to the bottom and sides with the help of a paper towel; either will work.

Once you’ve greased the pan, turn the knob up to medium and give it a good preheating (exact instructions listed below).

Ceramic and non-stick pans should be preheated for 20-30 seconds since they’re made of aluminum, and aluminum heats up fast. Skillets made of carbon steel, cast iron, or stainless steel take 2-3 minutes to get up to heat.

Fry the sausages, occasionally turning them with a spatula until they’ve turned golden brown on all sides. If the sausages start to blacken on the surface or the oil in your pan begins to emit excessive smoke, adjust the knob on your stovetop; that’s a sign that you’re using too much heat.

Depending on their size and the amount of heat you use, the sausages should cook in anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes. You know they are done when you test their internal temperature with a meat thermometer—and it reads at least 160°F (70°C) for beef, pork, or lamb sausages, and 165°F (74°C) for sausages containing poultry.

Searing sausages vs. browning sausages in the pan

Searing sausages in a skillet is not the same thing as cooking them through in it. Knowing the difference can make or break your home-cooked meals.

You sear sausage briefly, usually for no longer than a minute or two, over medium-high heat to give it a golden-brown color and enhance its flavor before finishing it in the oven or cutting it up into a stew.

You pan-fry sausage over medium heat to cook it fully through, which can take you anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes depending on the size of the sausage and the heat capacity of your skillet.

In other words, use medium-high heat to sear and always pan-fry over medium heat.

How to Roast Sausages in the Oven

Preheat your oven to 350-375°F (180-190°C) for 15-20 minutes. The longer, the better; a preheated oven has fewer hot and cold spots, so it cooks your sausages more evenly.

In the meantime, whip out your sheet pan and take the sausages out of the fridge. Room-temp sausages brown better than fridge-cold sausages. In any case, you should never try to roast frozen sausages, which makes thawing a non-negotiable.

Put a wire rack on your sheet pan and space out the sausages. The wire rack, a useful roasting accessory to have around, will lift the links and keep them from coming into contact with the bottom of the pan.

Readers who don’t have a wire rack and/or don’t intend on owning one can use parchment paper—not wax paper and not butcher paper as they are not safe to use in the oven—instead.

Roast for 20-30 minutes depending on the size of the sausages, turning them over to the other side mid-cooking. Some cookbooks will tell you to spiral-cut the sausages; don’t do it. The fats and the juices will flow out, causing the meat to come out stiff and dry.

How to Grill Sausages

Always grill sausages over indirect heat. Otherwise, the dripping juices will flare up your grill, and the surface of the sausages will get burnt beyond salvation.

When grilling over charcoal:

Ignite the coals and let them burn for 20-30 minutes until they’ve turned white/grey and ashy. Put protective gloves on, lift the grates, and rake the coals to one side. Put the grates back on and cook your sausages with the lid off over the other side (the one that’s free from coals).

When grilling over gas:

Light the grill, turn the knobs to high, and preheat for 15-20 minutes with the lid off. Turn off half of the burners, grease the grill grates with oil, and lay the sausages over indirect heat. Cook for 5-6 minutes per side or until the meat reaches the minimum internal temperature for safe consumption.

Why Do I Always Burn Sausages?

janmika /123RF

The secret to cooking sausages to perfection—whether you’re sizzling them on a skillet on your stovetop, roasting them on a sheet pan in your oven, or grilling them on the kettle barbecue in your backyard—is to use moderate heat.

Sausages must be cooked over moderate heat. This equates to medium heat on your stove, 350°F in your oven, and indirect heat on your grill, gas or charcoal.

If you try to cook sausages over high heat, they will blacken and burn on the outside while staying raw and bloody on the inside.

Sausages that have been overcooked on the outside and undercooked on the inside not only taste acrid but, because the meat hasn’t been cooked to the safe minimum internal temperature, can actually make you sick.

To learn more on the topic, check out my best tips for telling if sausages are done, with or without a meat thermometer.

Why Do Browned Sausages Taste So Good?

The answer comes down to something known as “the Maillard reaction.”

The Maillard reaction, which most chefs refer to as “browning,” is a chemical reaction that takes place when the temperature on the surface of your food exceeds 284°F (140°C).

When that happens, the proteins and the carbohydrates clash, break down, and then fuse—forming hundreds of new aromatic and flavorful compounds as a byproduct. These compounds make your food smell and taste better.

The Maillard reaction is responsible for the meaty aroma and savory flavor of browned sausages. It’s also the culprit behind the inimitable smell of roast coffee beans and the delicious aftertaste of toast bread.

The inability to trigger the Maillard reaction in water (in the conditions of your kitchen, boiling water will never get hotter than 212°F) is the reason why boiled sausages taste bland compared to their grilled, pan-fried, or roast counterparts.

Brown the sausages, don’t burn them

Browning, or the Maillard reaction, occurs at temperatures of 284°F (140°C), which cookbook authors often refer to as “medium heat.” As the heat rises, it accelerates, but there’s a limit.

Once your food gets heated to a temperature of 356°F (180°C) and above, the Maillard reaction halts and is replaced by pyrolysis. (“Pyrolysis” is the scientific term for burning.)

Burning forms carcinogenic compounds in your food, destroys the naturally-occurring aromas and flavors in it, and imparts it with a badly acrid taste.

By Jim Stonos

When Jim isn't in the kitchen, he is usually spending time with family and friends, and working with the HCW editorial team to answer the questions he used to ask himself back when he was learning the ropes of cooking.