Sausage tastes excellent when it’s been smoked at a low temperature. In fact, smoked summer sausage is a staple in prepackaged gift boxes, which are especially popular around the holidays.
When you’re smoking sausage yourself, how long do you need to wait before you take the links off the heat? Our ultimate guide to smoked sausage internal temp has the answer.
Smoked Sausage Internal Temp
For food safety, products made from ground meat should cook to at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit. You should take the sausages off the heat at this point and allow them to rest until they achieve an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Summer sausage, which is made from beef and pork, can come off the heat at a few degrees below 160.
Smoking Sausage: A Temperature Guide
One of the best things about smoking sausage is that it doesn’t take as long as it does to smoke certain other cuts. The meat takes on smoke flavor quickly, and the links are small enough to reach a safe internal temperature in just a couple of hours.
In point of fact, it might not even take that long. We prefer to smoke meats at a low temperature of 225 degrees, just to ensure that they reach their maximum potential in terms of flavor. At this temp, the sausages should be ready in 2 to 3 hours.
Of course, there are other factors that might affect the total cooking time. If the weather outside is chilly, the smoker will likely struggle to maintain the set temperature. You should consider setting the temp a bit higher when it’s cold out.
The size of the sausages matters, too. Obviously, bigger and thicker links will take longer to cook through than small ones. You have to be careful when the links are on the small side, as they can dry out fast.
Smoked Sausage Internal Temp
Sausage is typically made with a ground pork mixture, though it can sometimes include beef. You can also make sausages out of ground chicken or turkey, which results in a leaner product.
No matter what type of meat you use, the rules regarding the internal temperature remain the same. All ground meat products need to be cooked to an internal temp of at least 160 degrees before coming off the heat.
Ground meat has to cook longer than whole muscle cuts because the bacteria that you’re trying to eradicate is on the surface of the flesh. When meat is ground into smaller pieces and mixed together, you can’t tell where the bacteria might be hanging out.
To be precise, the USDA recommends cooking ground meat to 165 degrees. However, the residual heat from the smoker should allow the sausages to reach this temperature before you serve them. At that point, any potential bacteria will be wiped out.
Preparing Homemade Sausage for The Smoker
When smoking sausage, you’ll need to use casings for the meat. Smoking loose sausage won’t work as well because there’ll be nothing to help the mixture hold its shape.
Casings can be made from animal intestines (typically a pig’s) or synthetic materials. We prefer to use natural casings whenever we can get our hands on them, as they result in a more flavorful sausage. Just be forewarned that they spoil quickly if unused.
When you make your own sausage, you have control over the fat content, as well as the amount of salt and other seasonings. Try using a blend of crushed mustard seeds, dried marjoram, granulated garlic, and black pepper.
As for the salt, it’s a good idea to go for a ratio of 1.5 to 2 percent. Be sure to use a coarse variety, such as kosher or sea salt. The former is less expensive, so it’s a better choice if you plan to make your own sausage on a regular basis.
Choosing Wood For Smoking
You always want to select the wood that will best complement the meat you’re smoking, and sausages are no exception. Some woods will impart a stronger smoke flavor, while others will produce subtler results.
Fruit woods, such as apple or cherry, are good choices if you enjoy those flavors. As a bonus, they’re mild enough not to overpower the meat. Pecan is another mild wood that imparts a nice nutty taste.
If you want something stronger, go for hickory. Pork and beef sausages will benefit from this type of wood, which imparts a flavor reminiscent of bacon. Take care if you’re using it for chicken or turkey sausages, though, as it can be overwhelming.
How To Smoke Sausage
To begin, preheat the smoker. As we pointed out, we like to use a smoker temp of 225 degrees Fahrenheit. If your smoker runs on the cooler side, or if it’s cold or windy out, set the smoker to 250.
When working with pre-made sausages, all you’ll need to do is remove them from their packaging. You might need to wipe off any excess moisture using paper towels, just to ensure that the links are dry when they hit the smoker.
If you’ve prepared homemade sausages, set them out so that they’re ready to go as soon as the smoker reaches its set temperature. Don’t leave meat out at room temp for any longer than 2 hours, or 1 hour if it’s hot outside.
Once the smoker is hot enough, arrange the links on the cooking grate, taking care to leave plenty of space between them. If the sausages are too close together, the airflow will be restricted, resulting in a longer cooking time and inhibited flavor.
Close the lid of the smoker and resist the temptation to check the sausages more than once per hour or so. The unit will lose heat and smoke each time you raise the lid, so it’s better to keep it closed as much as possible.
As they cook, the sausages should turn a lovely shade of brown. The only way to know when they’re fully cooked is to use a meat thermometer to test their temperature. When it’s reached 160 degrees, the links are ready to come off the smoker.
Do You Have to Grill or Sear Smoked Sausage?
As long as the sausages have cooked to the recommended internal temperature, there’s no need to grill or sear them over high heat afterward. But doing so will give them a crisp exterior, which contrasts nicely with their juicy insides.
Once the sausages are done, take them off the heat, then set them aside while you increase the smoker or grill temperature to medium-high. 350 degrees should do the trick.
Place the links back on the cooking grate and grill to your desired crispness. You don’t need to test the temperature again, but try to avoid burning the sausages, as this will dry them out and make them difficult to chew.
Summer Sausage Internal Temp
Summer sausage is a semi-dry sausage that’s traditionally made with a blend of ground beef and pork, though some recipes use beef alone. It’s called “summer sausage” because it was initially prepared during the winter months and saved to be eaten when the weather turned warmer.
The summer sausage that we see in gift baskets has been prepared with curing salts and meat cultures to keep it stable at room temperature. When making summer sausage at home, you’ll need to take these steps unless you plan to keep the links refrigerated.
It’s important not to cook the links past 160 degrees, or the meat will have an unpleasant texture. In fact, you can take summer sausages off the heat when they hit the 155 degree mark, since they’ll continue to cook as they rest.
The Bottom Line
Homemade smoked sausages require a bit of advance preparation, but they make an impressive addition to any barbecue. Since you can smoke them in advance and grill them later, they can save you a lot of time on the day of the event.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!