There’s a big difference between cooking fresh sausages versus fully cooked sausages on the grill. You’re looking for the same result with each, but how you get there requires different paths.
When moisture and heat combine to create steam within a confined environment with limited expansive capacity, something’s got to give. In the case of sausages, it is the casing that holds everything together.
In fact, Banger sausages get their name from the sound they make when they cook. Their name dates back to World War II when small rations of pork were extended in sausage-making with additions of breadcrumbs. Bangers also contained a fair amount of water and tended to explode with a “bang!” when they were cooked.
When that burst happens near the beginning of the cooking process, much of the fat and moisture drain out, the sausage becomes dry, and the filling loses its shape altogether. Some like to pierce the casing first so the steam can be released. However, that trade-off is unacceptable to others.
With too much heat, the casing begins to shrink before the filling is cooked thoroughly. With the correct level of heat, the interior will cook at a more even rate without swelling up so rapidly, thus leaving the casing intact when it reaches the optimum internal temperature of 150°F degrees.
A bit of char in the bite is pleasant and can be achieved first or last in the grilling process using direct heat for a minute or so. If the casing breaks at the end of cooking, little will be lost because the juices are already trapped in the meat.
Fully Cooked Varieties
Fully cooked sausages are easy to identify. They are firm to the touch and have a more opaque appearance than fresh sausages. Most smoked sausages are fully cooked and need little more than browning. Browning sausages in a pan on the stove requires a different technique, regulated by turning the dial on your burner. On a gas grill, you regulate the heat in much the same way. But with a charcoal grill, you can control the heat by the proximity of the sausage to its heat source.
Indirect grilling is best for fully cooked sausages because you can bring the entire sausage up to temperature. Browning first over moderate direct heat is fine as long as you take it slow. If you want to sear your sausages first, build your fire on one half of the grill and sear over that, then move the sausages to the cooler side and put the lid on to finish them.
Alternatively, put the sausages on the cooler side first. When they reach temperature move them to the direct heat side for a minute or two to get a little char.
Fresh sausages can be identified by their translucent casing and soft, squishy feel. Fresh sausages should be poached before hitting the grill. At this point they can be treated the same as fully cooked sausages on the grill with indirect heat.
Sausages can be simmered in a pot of water or in a bath comprised of beer and such flavorings as onions, mustard, thyme, or other herbs. If using onions, saute in oil or butter before adding the beer and other ingredients. For every pound of sausage, slice one large onion and add 6 to 8 ounces of beer and other flavorings to taste. Simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the sausages are firm and the casing has become crisp and opaque.
Do you prefer fresh sausages or fully cooked sausages? Do you have a favorite recipe for simmering fresh sausages? What’s your favorite type of sausage to grill? Do you sear first or add char last?