As a fourth-generation Chicagoan, I am genetically pre-disposed to enjoy sausage. I grew up in a house where there always seemed to be some weird European sausage hanging out in my fridge (mostly due to my father's affinity for Paulina Market) and hot dogs were pretty much on the menu every week. I say this so you know that it pains me deeply to admit I don't have a clue how to properly grill a sausage. My method can be described as elementary at best – fire up the grill, score the sausage, grease the grates, throw on the sausage, wait for char. That's it. Is it effective? Sure, if you like overcooked/burned tubesteaks. To up my sausage-grilling knowledge, I needed an expert.
Jered Standing is the head butcher at the newly opened Belcampo Meat Co. at Grand Central Market in Downtown Los Angeles and he knows sausage, only he really knows it. Belcampo is a boutique operation that actually raises and processes (read: slaughters) all of the animals they sell. I sat down with Jered at Belcampo's lunch counter for insider info on how to make your encased meats worthy of a trophy case.
- Bring your sausage to room temperature before cooking
This goes for all meats, but it's even easier for sausage because you only need to let it sit out for thirty minutes or so before you toss it on the grill. Allowing it to come to room temperature means your cooking time with be shorter and the results will be more uniform.
- Don't break or score the casing
If you're scoring a fresh sausage, you're doing it wrong. Like a Kelly Bundy-style dress on a club girl, that casing serves the very specific purpose of holding all of the good stuff in its place. As Standing says, “That casing is holding in all of the juices and fats and all the stuff you want in there.” Scoring the sausage not only allows the fat to escape, that lost fat can cause flare-ups which will char your sausage on the outside before the inside is completely cooked. With pre-cooked sausages, as you may imagine, you're free to act like Kevin Durant and score at will.
- Low to medium heat is best
The key to fully cooked sausage is to slowly bring it up to temperature. “Unlike a burger or a steak where you're trying to hit it with high heat, you're not trying to sear the outside,” says Standing.
- Caramelization, not char
This is an important distinction. Like a good steak, you want the outside of your sausages to turn a beautiful hue of deep brown — not black. In this matter, Standing declares: “Soot is not a seasoning,” and attributes the quote to Alton Brown. Control your fat loss and don't let the flames jump up and turn your brat into meat-coal.
- Making your own sausage? Necks and shoulders are what you want.
The stereotype of sausage is that it's made with "lips and assholes," but Standing actually recommends saving that stuff for other things (like the head cheese he serves on a cemita roll at Belcampo). Necks and shoulders have a perfect fat-to-meat ratio for sausage, so they're perfect to grind up and stuff in a casing whether you're using pork, beef or lamb.
- Gas wins over charcoal in terms of a heat source for sausage
“It's going to be easier to regulate heat on a gas grill,” Standing says. “I like a gas grill for everything, really.” If you're a charcoal purist, feel free to discount this advice, but a constant, regulated heat source leads to a better final product and once you bring your coals down to sausage grilling temp (300-350°), the temperature may drop even lower and get the job done. Gas fixes that problem.
- All the cooking doesn't have to be on the grill
Standing offers a genius trick if you're having a party: “What we don't want to do is char the outside before the inside is fully cooked. Another way to do that, if you want to be safe and know for sure that they're cooked, is to simmer them in boiling water for about six minutes. They should be pretty much cooked all the way through. Then just giving them some color on the grill will make them perfect.”
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