When cooking sausage, can you tell whether or not it’s done just by looking at the color? If not, what’s the best way to go about it? By the time you’ve finished reading this guide, you’ll know how to tell if sausage is cooked or not.
How To Tell if Sausage is Cooked
All ground meat products, including sausage, are considered fully cooked when they’ve reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Test the temperature using an instant-read meat thermometer, and remove the sausages from the heat when they’ve cooked to 160 degrees. The temperature will rise slightly as the sausages rest.
Why It Matters
You probably already know that meat products need to be cooked to a certain temperature in order to be safe to eat. The question is, why is that? And what is considered a “safe” temperature?
The answer varies depending on the type of meat you’re cooking. Beef and pork, for example, can be safely served when cooked to just 145 degrees Fahrenheit. You can actually go even lower than this for beef, as long as it’s a whole muscle cut.
Poultry products such as chicken and turkey, meanwhile, need to cook longer. 165 degrees is the recommended internal temperature for poultry. You can’t eat chicken medium rare the way you would a steak.
Here’s why. The bacteria that might make you sick are found on the surface of the flesh, if they’re present at all. Searing beef and pork on the outside is sufficient to destroy these bacteria.
Poultry is white meat, which is much less dense than red meat. That means the bacteria could have burrowed deeper beneath the surface. Since these pathogens are invisible to the naked eye, the only way to ensure food safety is to cook the meat thoroughly.
By now you might be wondering: If the sausage is made from beef or pork, does that mean it only needs to cook to 145 degrees? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
Sausage is made from ground meat. When meat is fed through the grinder, it gets all mixed up together. Any bacteria that might have been hanging around on the surface could be anywhere in the mixture—even lingering on the tools used to make the sausage.
That’s why the USDA recommends cooking all ground meat products to 165 degrees. It’s fine to stop cooking once the internal temp hits the 160-degree mark, since carryover cooking should take care of the rest. But if the temp is any lower, the sausage isn’t done yet.
How To Tell if Sausage is Cooked
A meat thermometer is an inexpensive and reliable tool that will tell you exactly when the sausage has cooked to the ideal temperature. There’s no reason not to invest in one, no matter what you’re putting on the grill.
It’s best to use an instant-read thermometer. That way, you’ll be able to tell whether the sausage is done within just a few seconds. Since you want to be very careful not to overcook the sausage, those few seconds can be critical.
Fully cooked sausage has a couple of other telltale signs, but they’re not foolproof. That’s why it’s best to use a thermometer, just in case.
For example, the sausage should turn from a translucent pinkish color to an opaque brown once it’s cooked. But the sausage might be slightly pink even after it’s fully cooked. On the other hand, it could also turn brown before it’s achieved the proper temperature.
The juices should provide another clue. Once the sausage is cooked, the juices should run clear. The problem with this method is that you don’t want to poke too many holes in the sausage, or it will lose all that lovely moisture before you serve it.
Finally, you can use the firmness (or lack thereof) to determine whether the sausages are approaching doneness. If they’re still limp like cooked noodles, they need to cook longer. If they’re reasonably firm when you stand them on end, they’re probably close to being done.
How Long To Cook Sausage Links
Let’s assume you’ve decided to grill the sausages. How long will it take, and what’s the best way to do it?
You don’t want to grill fresh sausages too quickly over high heat. That will result in burnt casings and meat that’s still not cooked all the way through. If the casings burst, you’ll also be dealing with dry sausage, which is never a good thing.
Your best bet is to set up a two-zone fire. This will allow you to cook the sausages slowly at first, then move them to the hotter section of the grill to crisp them up. There’s no secret to this method—it just requires a bit of extra work at the outset.
For gas grills, all you need to do is turn one or two of the burners to their highest heat setting, then turn the others to their lowest setting. In fact, if your grill runs hot, you might be able to get away with leaving the others off altogether.
It’s a little trickier to pull this off on a charcoal grill. You’ll need to bank the coals on one side of the bowl before lighting them. That way, there will be high heat on that section of the grill, but the other side will retain only gentle heat.
Once the grill has had a chance to heat up, clean and oil the grilling grates. You don’t want to skip this step, otherwise the sausage casings might stick and make the links harder to turn.
Set the sausages on the indirect-heat portion of the grill, then close the lid. Allow them to cook for 4 to 5 minutes, then turn them over and replace the cover. Let the sausages cook for 4 to 5 minutes more.
At this point, you can remove the lid and transfer the sausages to the direct-heat zone. Grill for an additional 5 to 6 minutes, turning frequently, until they’re nicely charred on the outside and have reached an internal temperature of 160 degrees.
Let the sausages rest for 5 minutes before serving. The resting period allows the juices to redistribute while the sausages finish cooking. Don’t cut into them too soon, or they’ll be too dry.
Tip: If you don’t want to bother with the two-zone fire, you can boil the sausages in water for 10 to 15 minutes before grilling them over direct heat.
How Long To Brown Bulk Sausage
What if the sausage is loose instead of formed into links? This type of sausage makes a great addition to soups, stews, and casseroles, but you’ll need to brown it first.
It takes 8 to 10 minutes for loose ground meat to reach the optimum temperature. That’s assuming that you’re using medium-high heat and stirring the meat frequently with a spatula to allow for even browning.
Again, you’ll want to test the temperature of the sausage before serving it. If you’re adding the meat to a dish that needs to cook longer, this step isn’t necessary because the extra cooking time will bring the sausage up to the proper temperature.
The Bottom Line
In time, you should be able to tell when the sausage is getting close to done. The color and consistency of the meat will change as it cooks, letting you know when it’s time to test the internal temperature.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!