Sausage. And fire. Two components of human happiness that can function as partners -- or bitter adversaries. Cook the former over the latter in a controlled manner and you get a crackling crisp casing, supernaturally moist ground meat, and fire and smoke flavors that endow the sausage with greatness. (Case in point: This must-try Mile Long Italian Pepper & Grilled Pepper Sandwich.) Combine them the wrong way and you'll turn the sausages -- and your grill -- into a conflagration.
One challenge comes from sausages' high fat content (as much as 50 percent depending on the type). Another challenge is the high pressure under which that fat shoots onto the fire should careless tongs -- or a barbecue fork -- rupture the casing. A third is to cook the sausage to a safe temperature inside without drying it out or burning the exterior.
To dodge those perils, sausage grillers resort to a number of strategies -- some well- intentioned, some folly. Since August is National Sandwich Month and Labor Day is coming up, I want to make sure you never let a dry or dull sausage touch a plate or a bun, so here are five techniques you need to know now for grilling the perfect sausage.
- Direct grill with care: Yes, you can direct grill sausages, and most of the world's grill masters do. The key is to work over a moderate fire and to move the sausages as needed to dodge the fat-frenzied flames.
- Do not prick: Likewise, there's no need to prick sausages with toothpicks or needles before grilling. Perforating the casing only releases flammable fats, juices, and flavor. Plus, you don't need to worry when you can't find the needle.
- Handle with care: The key to a juicy sausage is to keep the casing intact. If you use tongs, wield them gently.
- Indirect grill: This is my own heretical contribution to the art of grilling sausages. Set up your grill for indirect grilling and preheat to medium. Arrange the sausages over the drip pan away from fire and close the lid. If you're working on a charcoal grill, toss soaked hardwood chips on the coals. This gives you an unexpected and unbelievably enticing smoke flavor.
- Do not overcook: The safe internal temperature for ground meats -- sausages included -- is 160 degrees. The casing will be crisp and brown, the filling plump and bubbling. But the only way to check doneness for certain is to insert an instant-read meat thermometer through one end of the sausage toward the center.
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