I Tried Cooking Sausage 3 Ways—This One Was the Best
Sausage is popular among meat-eaters for its versatility, unique flavor combinations, and heartiness. In the midst of warm summertime weather and spirited backyard barbecues, now is sausage's time to shine. But with so many different varieties of sausage, it can be challenging to know which method offers the best results. I took one for the team and decided to test cooking smoked sausage three ways: in the oven, on a grill, and in a pan on the stove. Below are the juicy results.
1 Cooking Sausage in the Oven
To cook sausage in the oven, I preheated a conventional oven to 350°F and sprayed a nonstick baking sheet with canola oil. Since my smoked sausage was fully cooked as-is in the package, the purpose of cooking it is to thoroughly heat it through and add that desirable crispiness. I didn't have high hopes for this method, as it was the most hands off. While some meats are best left undisturbed while cooking, sausage requires a fair amount of tossing and turning to achieve consistent browning. Opening the oven every few minutes to check on the crispiness and sizzle would be counterproductive, as your oven loses 25° of heat every time it's opened. This would mean a constantly fluctuating oven temperature and inconsistent cooking. I tried to let the sausage do its thing while cooking and held my breath for good results by the end.
I started with five minutes on each side and checked it after a full 10 minutes of cooking. The casing wasn't nearly as crispy as I would have liked, so I put the sausage back in for another minute on each side. There was still a lacking crunch around the casing, but this seemed to be a compromise to overcooking.
Perhaps a higher temperature would have created a better outer crust, but I feared that too long in the oven at a high heat would dry out the entire rope of sausage. The resulting dish was moist, but was missing a few distinct qualities of this particular smoked sausage: intense smoky flavor and a crispy casing. The only thing this method is best for is easy clean-up (i.e., no oil splatters everywhere).
2 Cooking Sausage on the Grill
I was pleasantly surprised by how easy grilling sausage was. I used a Weber propane grill, which put to rest my visions of getting charcoal everywhere, waiting half an hour for the coals to heat up, and attempting to properly extinguish the flames.
After heating up the grill for five minutes, I placed the rope sausage in the middle of the grill on the lowest rack. Initially, I started on a medium-high heat but after a few minutes, the flames began to flare up momentarily, which caused the casing to break in a few small spots. I turned the heat down to medium for more consistent cooking. I cooked the sausage for six minutes exactly on each side (set a timer!) and rotated once, mainly in hopes of getting attractive, commercial-worthy grill marks. I used 18" stainless steel tongs to flip my sausage, which looked and felt excessively large but managed to effectively turn the sausage without breaking it in half. I took the sausage off after exactly 12 minutes.
Grilling the sausage definitely brought out the woodsy, smoky flavors of the smoked sausage. It was juicy, hot, and tasted like a campfire (in the best possible way). However, grilling did present a few issues, like the occasional flame flare up that caused the casing to split easily (and created inconsistent charring).
If you only own a tedious charcoal grill, don't have patience or experience with flare-ups, or don't own a grill at all, then this probably is not the right method for you. However, if you're a grill master attending a tailgate or making some delicious appetizers like Sausage and Potato Pockets or classic Sausage and Peppers, then I highly recommend this method. Flavor- and texture-wise, grilled sausage aims to please.
3 Cooking Sausage in a Pan
Cooking sausage in a pan on a stovetop seemed like the most accessible method for everyday meals. The sausage packaging recommended pan-frying it one of two ways—either by cutting the sausage into 1" medallions or cutting the rope in half for an even crisp. In order to have a fair, direct comparison to the other two methods, I pan-fried the full rope. I started out by heating a 12" nonstick pan over medium high heat then added the sausage and cooked for five minutes. I found that the heat was a little too high and the sausage was burning quickly, so I turned it down to medium and added in a couple tablespoons of vegetable oil to prevent scorching. I chose silicone-covered tongs to flip the sausage without risk of scratching the pan. Success! Using a small amount of oil not only protected the pan but also helped create a super crispy exterior crust.
However, I was curious to try the brand's recommended medallion method so I opened another package of rope smoked sausage and started cutting and frying. I followed a similar technique as round one: a nonstick pan, medium heat, and a little vegetable oil. Since I was working with much smaller pieces of sausage, I cut down the cooking time to three minutes on the first side and two minutes on the second side. The immediate oil sizzle looked promising, and once I flipped them, the golden-brown crust conveyed to me that we were in business. This was the shortest total cook time of all methods and resulted in consistently crispy, tender sausage bites.
Overall, pan-frying was a low-maintenance and delicious method for cooking sausage. This is perfect for when you don't want to break out the grill but still want a moist, flavorful sausage. The smoky flavors were not as prominent as they were from the grill, however the sausage remained juicy, tender, and crispy. The mini medallions are a perfect bite-sized appetizer and would be even more delicious if served alongside a honey mustard dipping sauce or an impressive homemade barbecue sauce.
4 The Final Verdict
If you own a grill and are able to operate it year-round (or don't mind grilling in your parka), then this method is ideal. While the finished product was less attractive due to a split casing and some inconsistent grill marks, it was by far the most flavorful smoked sausage. If you know the hot spots of your grill well and can execute a more consistent crispy crust than I did, you're going to be successful. Even if the casing does break a bit, high quality smoked sausage is so juicy that it'll be hard to dry it out. If grilling is outside your cooking capacity, then pan-frying your smoked sausage on the stove will still yield a moist, crispy product in a very manageable way.