by Rochelle Bilow
Here at the Bon Appétit headquarters, we've been obsessing over sausages from around the world. As talk turned to the U.S. sausage of choice (hot dogs, duh), a fiery friendly debate broke out over whether they should be grilled, steamed, or boiled. Now, the jury's still out -- more on that in a minute -- but it got us thinking about all of our other favorite international sausages. We realized we desperately needed some sort of primer when it came to cased meat -- so, we turned to the Bon Appétit test kitchen about when to steam or boil your sausages, and when to fire up the grill.
"Any fresh, emulsified sausage -- like a bratwurst -- should really be boiled," says test kitchen contributor Alfia Muzio. Other emulsified sausages -- essentially, a mixture of finely ground meat, fat, and water -- include hot dogs (or, as they're known in Germany, where they originated, frankfurters), weisswurst (a mixture of veal and pork), knockwurst (all beef or beef and pork, with plenty of seasoning), and serdelki (also veal and pork, from Poland). Boiling sausages keeps them moist, explains senior associate food editor Alison Roman, because no fat is rendered in a pan or on a grill -- any fat that went into the sausage stays there, and when fat's a major player, it should really shine.
Emulsified sausages are frequently found on street carts in Europe -- and, in cities like New York (think hot dog carts!) and Chicago (Chicago-style dogs are traditionally boiled) but if you're boiling them at home, assistant food editor Claire Saffitz and senior food editor Dawn Perry recommend you use stock or broth, beer, wine, or tomato sauce. "If you boil them in water," Saffitz explains, you're wasting an opportunity to add flavor."
Here's the thing: You can pretty much always grill a sausage (we're not going to stop you, anyway). Remember those emulsified sausages from above? If you're buying them in a supermarket, chances are pretty high that they've already been boiled or pre-cooked for you -- in other words, they're ready to eat. But who wants to snack on a cold sausage straight from its package?
Here's where you have some creative license: Because the sausages have already gone through the cooking process, you're really just reheating them. How you do so is up to you, but, as Saffitz mentioned above, it'd behoove you to add some flavor to the process. Grilling, where you can achieve a nice char and smoky essence, is a solid choice. And since someone else has taken care of the boiling, you don't have to worry too much about the sausages splitting open. (That said, throwing a sausage directly on a screaming hot grill will cause the casing to contract around the meat, so take things a little slower and lower.)
Non-emulsified sausages with a coarser texture -- like sweet or spicy Italian sausages, for example -- also fare well on the grill. You'll often find those raw, so the cooking responsibility lies on you. Grilling makes for a snappy bite and depth of flavor.
As for ready-to-eat sausages that've been cured by smoking or air-drying, if you'd rather do more than slice and place on a cheeseboard, you can definitely toss those on a grill as well. Smoky, spicy chorizo is particularly tasty after hitting the grates.
Do Something Different
Just because everybody else is boiling or grilling their sausages, doesn't mean you have to, too. Perry remembers the hot dogs of her youth as being split in half lengthwise then broiled. "They got all curly that way," she says. You too, can broil your sausages, or pan fry them, or roast them, or even take them out of their casings and use them in a stuffing.
When in Doubt...
If you've found yourself in possession of a mysterious sausage and aren't sure of your next move, go for the method that's easiest and adds the most flavor -- keep this advice from Perry in mind: "When in doubt, grill it," she says.
More from Bon Appetit: