Hot dogs have a special place in our stomachs and hearts, but on special occasions, you have to bring out the big guns. And by big guns, I mean sweet, girthy Italian sausages. But if you’re going through the trouble of serving up a noble weenie, you best cook it well. So let’s rank cooking methods from worst to best.
Before we begin, though, Joel Young, a professional butcher and multi-platform meat influencer, makes a good point about personal taste: Calling one cooking method “better” than another is inherently debatable. Thus, I support whatever way you choose to cook your Italian sausage, even if I personally rank it poorly.
One other conundrum we should address before starting is whether you should cut your Italian sausage into coins before cooking. The pro of doing so is that you gain more surface area for a better sear. The con is that you potentially lose moisture and flavor in the process of cooking, which is also why you shouldn’t prick an Italian sausage. Again, it’s personal preference, but if you slice your Italian sausage, it helps to put them in the freezer for 15 to 20 minutes beforehand — that way, they’ll be easier to cut and retain more moisture.
Okay, let’s begin. (Keep in mind that none of these methods are exclusive to Italian sausages — you can use them for all your encased meats needs.)
The Worst Method: Over an Open Fire
While roasting an Italian sausage over an open fire has its advantages — feeling closer to nature, learning to appreciate a real stove, spending time outside for once — it has more disadvantages. Namely: It’s a very imprecise method of cooking. You can’t control the heat well. Also, mosquitoes.
The Second-Worst Method: On a Roller Grill
Roller grills are good for the lazy weenie cooker, but they’re not great at cooking an Italian sausage. For one, the non-stop rolling means your sausage won’t have a chance to caramelize. Not to mention, Italian sausages typically have a slight curve to them, which roller grills don’t account for, since they’re made primarily for straight wieners. Perhaps worst of all, cooking an Italian sausage on a roller grill will inevitably infuse it with the cheap aura of a 7-Eleven Big Bite. (I appreciate a good Bite Bite, but not when I’m cooking an Italian sausage.)
Middle-of-the-Road Methods: Boiling, Steaming, Grilling, Frying or Baking
Any one of these approaches will do a fine job of cooking an Italian sausage. Young says so long as you go with medium-low heat, you should end up with a great-tasting hog, since you’ll lose less flavorful fat and “lower the risk of bursting the skin on the sausage.” Boiling takes around 12 minutes, steaming about 10, grilling 12, frying 12 and baking 25, turning the Italian sausage every now and again. (You want an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit.) But you’ll benefit from babysitting them to make sure they’re to your liking.
Boiling and steaming Italian sausages keeps them extra moist, because no fat is rendered in the pan or on the grill. Grilling, frying and baking, on the other hand, make for a snappy bite and a nice, smoky char. So, you can choose the right method for you depending on your personal sausage preference.
The Best Method: Boiling or Steaming, Then Grilling, Frying or Baking
If you really want an amazing hog in your mouth, you’ll have to combine cooking methods. Simmer or steam them until they’re cooked through, then plop them on the grill, in a pan or in the oven (or broiler) on high heat to achieve a quick, solid sear.
You’re heading out to roast them over an open fire, aren’t you? Fuck it — pass me a roasting stick.