How to grill sausages properly?
April 21, 2010 1:26 PM   Subscribe

I've come into possession of several bison sausages, but I'm awful at cooking sausages on a grill. How do I do this properly?

I know this must sound like a completely idiotic question, but I'm awful at cooking sausages on grills. They're always charred on the outside, raw on the inside. I've never done it properly, and I feel like I'm about ready to give up on it.

Fortunately, I've come across some bison sausages, and I promised my lovely wife tasty buffalo "hot dogs" tonight. I want to grill them on a charcoal grill outside, but I'm really awful at grilling sausages in general, and even worse on charcoal (it's what my apartment complex provides).

Any tips for grilling sausages? Parboil them first? Just throw them on? Call a licensed and bonded professional?

Any advice on grilling sausages properly is much appreciated, as is general grilling advice with charcoal.
posted by SNWidget to Food & Drink (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
i'm not a grill master, but if you're charring the outside and they're raw inside, your fire is too hot. once you get the charcoal going, push it to one side of the grill, then you will have a hot zone and a cooler zone. put your sausages on the cooler side, not directly over the charcoal.

you're not starting frozen, are you?
posted by nadawi at 1:33 PM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

If they're charred on the outside and raw on the inside, you're cooking over too high a heat. You can either simmer them (in water or beer) and then throw them on the grill for a sear, or put them on the hot part of the gill to get some nice marks, then move them to a cooler spot to finish cooking over lower heat. It should probably take you at least 15 minutes to cook them on the grill.
posted by sanko at 1:34 PM on April 21, 2010

It sounds like your biggest issue is heat control. Make sure your coals are evenly spread out once they're ready, so you have even heat.

Biggest thing I've found while cooking sausages and brats and such, even though I usually cook on gas, is to keep them moving. Keep an eye on them; you don't have to have one side completely cooked before you roll it. Put them on, let them sit for a couple minutes, and then judge your heat. Are they already starting to look burnt? If so you're probably a little too hot. Move them to the edges of the grill a little and keep giving them a quarter or half turn every couple minutes. Think like those rotating hot dog cookers in 7/11, only not as constant. Just enough to keep things even.

Mind flame-ups as well if you can, either moving them out of the way or by having a spray bottle to hit them with a little water (not a lot! no need to drown the coals.).
posted by The Mysterious Mr. F at 1:36 PM on April 21, 2010

You can also flay them, by cutting down the middle lengthwise without cutting the casing, and spread them out. They fit nicely into sub buns this way, and cook much more quickly and evenly.
posted by headspace at 1:36 PM on April 21, 2010

Charred on outside, raw inside = cooked at too high a temperature.

You need to raise the sausages so that they're further from the coals, or reduce the heat. Reducing the heat isn't always easy on a charcoal grill. Keep turning them as you cook them to ensure an even browning. Also, sausages with a high fat content tend to drip grease, which catches fire and causes extra charring, but you probably won't have that problem with bison, which is usually more of a lean, dry sausage.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 1:38 PM on April 21, 2010

You might also try not using as many coals or letting them burn a little longer to have the heat not be quite so high. nadawi's indirect option is also a good idea; that would help with flame-ups as well.
posted by The Mysterious Mr. F at 1:39 PM on April 21, 2010

Seconding the dual temperature zones the others have suggested. If you are adept at controlling the temperature of the coals by opening/closing the air slots on the grill, you can put the lid on to make it into an oven, which (combined with cooler charcoal) will cook the sausages nicely to the center.
posted by puritycontrol at 1:39 PM on April 21, 2010

When grilling, heat travels from the outside edges of the food towards the center. This takes time, and a higher temperature doesn't necessarily speed this up. If the outside is charred but the inside is raw, it means you're dumping on too much heat, too fast.

How thick are these sausages? If they're very thick, you'll have to give them more time so that the heat reaches the middle and cooks it...but you also need a lower temperature so the outside doesn't get charred in the meantime.
posted by The Lurkers Support Me in Email at 1:39 PM on April 21, 2010

Try poaching them first. That's where you heat them in water that's not quite a boil for 60 minutes. Then throw them on the grill to sear the outside.
posted by valadil at 1:41 PM on April 21, 2010

For grilling sausage I usually pre-cook them. Pour a bottle of beer into a pan, add a cut-up onion, add some water until you have about 1/2 inch liquid. Add the sausage and simmer for maybe 10-15 minutes. Then grill 'em only enough to brown the outside, so they look like grilled sausage.
posted by bondcliff at 1:42 PM on April 21, 2010

Boil them till done (or put them in a covered frypan at med/low heat 'til done), then slice them open butterfly-style and toast them on the grill or in an open pan.
posted by bonobothegreat at 1:42 PM on April 21, 2010

Everyone else has it -- you need indirect heat.

That said, since you've had trouble in the past and this is a special occasion, I'd simmer the sausages in beer til done, and then sear them on the grill. That way you can be sure they come out perfect.
posted by vorfeed at 1:44 PM on April 21, 2010

With charcoal, make sure it's gotten past the original very hot burn. Don't try and cook before the coals are mostly gray/white. Then wait another five or ten minutes. Burned on the outside and raw in the middle means your fire was too hot. Take at least one [refreshing beverage]'s worth of time while the coals get going.

Don't overload your grill with charcoal. Four 1/4 pound sausages need less than a two-litre bottle's worth of charcoal, and if it's a really small grill, you can probably get by with half that.

Finally, pile the charcoal to one side of the grill. Then you've got a range of temperatures from really hot right over the coals, to cooler indirect heat on the other end of the grill. Start on the cool side of the grill, and slowly move the food toward the hot side if it's taking too long.

I tend to cook sausages / dogs / whatever so that they'll cook about 4-5 minutes per "side" with 1/4 turn in between, and they'll be done after 15-20 minutes. Lid on in-between turnings, and you'll want to turn when the dog starts looking nice and browned, with the skin on it having gotten tight. And yeah, that means on one of the "sides" you're trying to stand them up in a way that doesn't seem physically possible. Balance and lean them against their neighbors. And use the force.

Good luck and good eats!
posted by DaveP at 1:44 PM on April 21, 2010

My favorite way to grill sausages came out of Cooks Illustrated last year some time August of 2008, and involves preparing onions to go along with brats (or Italian sausages). It's the only way we do it now. Delicious as can be, since you're cooking the onions in the sausage fat. Since the fat has rendered into the pan, there's less to cause flare-ups.

Herewith the ingredients:

2 large onions, halved and cut pole-to-pole into 1/4" slices
1 tsp. fresh thyme
1/2 tsp table salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1 13 x 9 aluminum roasting pan
2 lbs sausage links (sweet or hot Italian)

Start your grill and scrape things clean. While it's heating up, combine the onions, thyme, salt and pepper in a medium bowl and microwave until the onion tips turn translucent (4-6 minutes, stirring once halfway through). Dump the onions into the roasting pan, put the sausages on the layer of onions and wrap the pan tightly with foil.

Put the pan in the center of the grill, cover and cook for 15 minutes. Move it over to one side, carefully remove the foil cover and pull the sausages out. Place them on the grate directly over the coals. Grill them, uncovered, turning every 1-2 minutes until golden brown on all sides. Move them to a platter and tent loosely with foil. Cover the grilll and keep cooking the onions, stirring occasionally, until the liquid evaporates and the onions begin to brown, 5-10 minutes longer. Serve with a coarse grain mustard and beer.
posted by jquinby at 1:52 PM on April 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

Thanks for the advice so far. To answer a question asked very early - no, I'm no starting frozen.

I may end up cooking them inside first, then letting them crisp outside. I want to get better at this, so this summer may be the "Summer of Sausage."
posted by SNWidget at 2:04 PM on April 21, 2010

Bison tends to be lower in fat than pork or beef sausages and will tend to be dry if you're not careful, so nthing the boil-them-first and sear on the grill suggestions.
posted by Runes at 2:15 PM on April 21, 2010

IF they are frozen, you will want to defrost them in the fridge overnight. Otherwise, the outside will be disgustingly overdone by the time the middle is cooked. Use that Cook's Illustrated method. It's a good one. If you want to keep it simple, buy a disposable pie pan, put it on the grill, empty a can of beer into it, and simmer your sausage until cooked through. Sear it and serve it.
posted by Foam Pants at 11:58 PM on April 21, 2010

Simmering beforehand is a really good idea, but you want to make sure that it's just a simmer, not a boil (you just want a few tiny bubbles). At a full boil, the casings will burst, you'll lose a lot of flavor and juices in the water, your sausages will dry out, and you'll have lots of dripping and flareups on the grill.
posted by svenx at 11:27 AM on April 22, 2010

Well, I tried the "simmering them in beer, finishing them on the grill method." The simmer in beer worked well, but my open charcoal grill is awful, and the heat never got warm enough to actually give me good grill marks or char on my sausages. So they were slightly warm and with a charcoal flavor, but that's about it.

Oh well.

I think I just need more practice with an open charcoal grill - without being able to cover it, I'm a little unsure about various heat issues. I guess practice makes perfect. They were tasty, if not a little dry.
posted by SNWidget at 10:49 AM on April 25, 2010

You got no lid for your grill? Oy, that makes it much harder. You've pretty much, as you've noticed, either got direct heat or nothing that way. Get thee to a liddery!
posted by DaveP at 4:55 PM on April 25, 2010

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