Do you remember those family barbecues that Tony Soprano had around his backyard pool? He’d hold court over the grill that was covered with T-bones. But if you looked close, you could see — curled like snakes on the back of the grill, were piles of Italian sausages. They were browning, sizzling and succulent. You could almost smell them: hot, mild and sweet, probably purchased from Satriale’s Pork Store Meat Market.
Is your mouth watering yet? If you want to know how to cook Italian sausages, so they end up brown and crispy on the outside and cooked all the way through without burning them or losing all the juices and half the meat because the casing split – then you’ve come to the right place.
How to Cook Italian Sausages: Why Do Sausages Split?
Heat causes the fat to melt and the juices to boil and expand. If there is no place for the liquid and steam to go, the pressure builds up and it’s that pressure that will split the casing. While nothing could really ruin the taste of a good Italian sausage, the site of a split sausage is not aesthetically pleasing. And if you’re cooking on a grill, you lose all your juices as well as some of the ground sausage onto the fire.
So there’s a pork product conundrum. You must poke a few holes in the casing of the sausage or it will blow up and split. However, if you pierce the casing, juice is going to leak out and you’ll not only be losing the moistness, you’re losing a lot of flavor.
How to Cook Italian Sausages: The Perfect Pork Product
Success when cooking with fresh Italian sausages starts with purchasing the best product you can find. Almost every city and town has a butcher shop that makes its own special sausages. Over the last several years, Americans have embraced the smaller, Artisanal foods and locally grown, locally ground Italian sausages are gaining in popularity.
The key to any great tasting sausage is the amount of fat ground up with the meat. Janet Fletcher, for the San Francisco Chronicle wrote, “Lean sausage, which many calorie conscious shoppers think they want, is about as satisfying as a salt-free pretzel.” If you’re trying to cut the fat out of your diet, then do it with something other than your Italian sausages. Either don’t eat as many or don’t eat them or as often, but please steer away from low-fat Italian sausages.
Most of the best tasting fresh sausages have between 25-28 per cent fat. To really get the full flavor, don’t purchase anything with less than 20% or it will just end up tasting like beef stick.
Any way you cook Italian sausages will be yummy. Just remember that it’s pork. You need to cook it to 180 degrees or until the juices run clear.
How to Cook Italian Sausages: The Stove Top Method
The goal is to cook the inside of the sausage before you cook the outside, without splitting the casing.
To keep the hot, mild and sweet flavors separate and distinct, use a separate skillet for each flavor. The hot sausage will really change the taste of the mild and sweet. On the plus side, you can infuse more heat if you wish by adding Tabasco or Louisiana Hot Sauce or even some cayenne pepper to the water.
Start with a heavy duty skillet. Turn on the heat to medium low. Pierce the sausage in a few places with a skewer or knife tip. Pour about one tablespoon of olive oil in the pan and add your Italian sausages. Then add enough water to ALMOST cover. Do not cover with a lid because you want the water to cook off. Simmer the sausages. You don’t want the sausages to boil. Simmering is when tiny bubbles run up the sides of the pan. The water and steam will keep the casing moist and pliable while letting the inside of the sausage cook.
When the water evaporates, there is a little olive oil and the sausages’ own juices left in the pan. This will aid in the browning process. Brown on all sides.
How to Cook Italian Sausages: The Parboil/Grill Method
Unless you’re an experienced grill master, it’s hard to just throw an Italian sausage on the grill and get great results. The sausage juices drip and cause flair ups creating blackened casings. And just when you think you’ve got them charred to perfection, you cut into one and it’s pink.
Until you’ve grilled a couple of hundred yards of sausage, the easiest and safest method is to parboil the sausage first. Again, start with a heavy skillet, over medium heat. Pierce the sausage with a knife tip a few times. I add about ½” of water to the skillet and then place my sausages in the pan. The water insures that the sausage won’t stick to the pan and tear the casing. Then I add more water until it almost covers the sausage. Simmer until the water is almost evaporated. About 10-12 minutes.
Now it’s time to take your Italian sausages to the grill. Place them over a hot, direct fire. DO NOT OVER-GRILL. Remember, your sausages are already cooked. All you’re doing here is adding a little char flavor and crisping the casing.
How to Cook Italian Sausages: Low and Slow Grilling
The trick is getting the juices heated up and the fat starting to melt. Some grill masters do not pierce the skin and claim that when you grill low and slow, there is no reason to.
Over a high and direct heat, lay out your sausages. Give them 1-2 minutes, which is just enough time to wake them up. If you have a gas grill, turn it to medium and move your sausages as far away from the heat source as you can get. And if you’re cooking over charcoal do the same. It’s helpful to have an aluminum pan under the sausages to catch the drips. Rotate the sausages every few minutes until they are brown and crispy on all sizes.
Grill until the inner temperature of the sausage is 160 degrees. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell exactly where the tip of the thermometer is. Steve Raichen of BBQU fame recommends that you insert an instant read thermometer parallel to the sausage, running along the length of the sausage, not up and down.
How to Cook Italian Sausages: Now What?
What do you do with perfectly cooked Italian sausages? While cut in chunks and gnawed off a fork is sublime, you can gild the lily. On the best hoagie roll you can find place your Italian sausage. Spoon a few tablespoons of hot homemade marinara sauce. Cover with grilled or sautéed onions and/or peppers. Cover with a few more tablespoons of marinara. You can add some mushrooms if you’ve got them. Top your masterpiece with a generous sprinkling of parmesan cheese and/or a handful of mozzarella. Bueno appitito.