Chicken sausage is a lean and tasty alternative to pork sausage. But it’s crucial to cook poultry to a safe internal temperature, or you run the risk of food poisoning. Here’s how to tell if chicken sausage is cooked, or if it needs more time on the heat.
How to Tell if Chicken Sausage is Cooked
Chicken sausage is done when it’s cooked to 165 degrees Fahrenheit all the way through. When this happens, its color should change from a translucent pink to white and opaque, with a crisp brown exterior. Though you might be able to guess when it’s approaching doneness, an accurate temperature readout is the only way to be sure.
About Chicken Sausage
Chicken sausage consists of ground chicken mixed with seasonings and other ingredients. It resembles pork sausage in terms of appearance and texture, but it’s typically much lower in calories and saturated fat.
Since chicken has such a mild flavor on its own, it’s easy to experiment with this type of sausage by adding bold ingredients. You can find chicken sausage made with spicy jalapenos, sundried tomatoes, garlic and lemon, spinach, or apples, to name a few.
When chicken sausage is made primarily from the breast meat, it can turn out a bit too dry. Some butchers will try to combat this issue by including leg and thigh meat in the recipe as well.
It’s also permissible to add lard to the mixture in order to boost the fat content. Even so, you can expect a serving of chicken sausage to contain about half as much fat as the same amount of pork sausage.
Chicken sausages are great on the grill, but they can also be pan-fried, boiled, or baked in a casserole. As such, they can add a welcome dose of protein to just about any meal.
Are Chicken Sausage and Ground Chicken the Same Thing?
No. Although both products use ground chicken as their base, there is a key difference between the two.
Ground chicken is simply chicken meat that’s been processed until it resembles a coarse paste. Depending on the size of the grinding plates, it might come out looking like a pile of skinny tubes, similar to ground beef.
In order to make chicken sausage, other ingredients have to be added to the mix. Without these flavorings, the mixture can’t be considered sausage—it’s just ground chicken.
Chicken Sausage Internal Temp Guidelines
Poultry products need to cook to at least 165 degrees before they’re consumed, according to the USDA. At this temperature, the bacteria that cause food poisoning will die off in a matter of moments.
In fact, you should cook all ground meat products to 165 degrees. Chicken sausage falls under both categories, so it should be easy to remember the recommended serving temperature.
Why is it so important to cook poultry and ground meat to 165 degrees, when you can consume a steak or pork chop at medium rare? As always, the answer comes down to science.
Chicken is white meat, which has a lower density than red meat like beef or pork. This means that any potential bacteria can burrow beneath the surface of the flesh, instead of just hanging around on the exterior.
Cooking chicken and turkey to 165 degrees—all the way to the center—is the only way to be sure that these bacteria have been eradicated. Conversely, with a steak, putting a nice sear on the outside should be sufficient to ensure food safety.
If you’re dealing with ground meat of any type, though, you should cook it to 165 degrees. When the meat is processed, the surface flesh becomes mixed in with the rest of it, so it’s impossible to tell where the bacteria might be lurking.
How Long To Cook Chicken Sausage
How long does chicken sausage take to reach the desired internal temperature? That depends on the cooking method, as well as the type of sausage you’re dealing with.
In The Oven
If you’re roasting chicken sausages, set the oven to 450 degrees. You want the exteriors to crisp up while the insides remain nice and juicy.
Pierce the fresh sausages all over with a fork. Coat them with a neutral oil, such as canola, and let sit at room temperature for 10 or 15 minutes while the oven is preheating.
Place the sausages on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast for 40 to 60 minutes, rotating them with tongs every 10 minutes or so, until they’ve achieved an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
Let the sausages rest for about 5 minutes before enjoying.
On The Stovetop
To begin, fill a stock pot with water and bring it to a boil. Make sure the water level is high enough to fully submerge the sausages. Pierce each sausage in several places using a fork.
When the water is boiling, add the raw sausages and cover the pot. Remove the pot from the heat and let the sausages sit in the hot water for 7 to 8 minutes.
After draining the sausages, pat them dry with paper towels. Heat a skillet over medium heat and drizzle the pan with oil.
When the pan is hot, add the parcooked sausages. Fry, turning each sausage frequently to ensure even browning, for 6 to 7 minutes.
When the sausages are fully cooked and golden brown, remove them to a plate and serve at once.
On the Grill
The key to perfectly grilled chicken sausage is to use indirect heat for the majority of the cooking time. That way, the meat will have a chance to cook through before the outsides become burned beyond recognition.
On a gas grill, turn the burners on one side of the unit to medium-high. If using a charcoal-fired grill, build a medium-hot fire on one side, keeping the other half free of coals.
When the grill is hot, oil the cooking grates. After piercing the sausages with a fork, add them to the cooler side of the unit. Grill the sausages, turning frequently, for about 8 to 10 minutes.
At this point, you can move the sausages to the direct heat portion of the grill. Continue to cook until the outsides are nice and crisp and the sausages are fully cooked, about 4 to 5 minutes more.
Let the sausages rest for 5 minutes, then serve as desired.
About Precooked Sausage
Be aware that the directions above apply only to raw chicken sausages. If the product is precooked, you don’t need to worry as much about heating it to a safe temperature, since this was already achieved during processing.
To reheat precooked sausages on the grill, set the heat to medium and oil the cooking grates. Pierce the sausages with a fork, then grill until they’re nicely browned and heated through. Serve immediately.
How Long To Cook Ground Chicken Sausage
While chicken sausages are typically sold in link form, you can find uncased sausage if you look hard enough. When the sausage is loose, it makes an excellent addition to soups and sauces.
Another bonus: chicken sausage in its original ground form will cook through much faster than the links will. Browning the loose sausage in a pan should take just 5 to 7 minutes.
As always, you’ll want to test the internal temperature of the sausage with a meat thermometer before deeming it safe for consumption. If you’re putting it in a casserole or other dish that will cook for a while before serving, this isn’t as important, but it’s still a good idea.
How Long Can Chicken Sausage Keep in the Fridge?
As a general rule, raw chicken doesn’t keep in the fridge for longer than 2 days. You can expect the same rules to apply to chicken sausage. In fact, since the grinding process exposes more surface area to the air, the product might spoil more quickly.
Cook fresh chicken sausages as soon as possible. Since you don’t need to bother with brining or marinating, this shouldn’t pose much of a problem. If you’re not going to cook them off within a couple of days, put them in the freezer instead.
After the sausage is cooked, you’ll have another 3 to 4 days to enjoy the leftovers before they start to show signs of spoilage. Again, freeze the sausages if you want to keep them around longer than that.
When storing raw sausage in the freezer, try to thaw and cook it within 2 to 3 months. Frozen cooked leftovers should retain their quality for 1 to 2 months, but after that, the meat will begin to dry out.
If you’ve purchased precooked chicken sausages, check the date on the package. This should give you a guideline with which to work. In general, it’s best to reheat these within a week. Once the package is opened, that window shortens to 2 to 3 days.
If you want to know how to tell if chicken sausage is cooked, there’s no substitute for a reliable meat thermometer. It’s just not safe to rely on appearance and texture alone, especially if you’re dealing with fresh sausages.