Ask a Chef: The Right Way to Cook Sausage

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I once met a person who didn't like sausage. They said it was a texture thing, and while I respect everyone's choice about what they put in their bodies, something was broken in our friendship that day. Because if you eat meat and don’t like sausage, there may be something fundamentally wrong with you. It’s got everything a meat-lover could want: skin that snaps open when you bite down, a perfect balance of fat and flavor, and an endless combination of flavor possibilities, with the occasional dick joke thrown in.

There are few better equipped to talk about sausages in all their glory than Ben Turley, co-owner and "Sausage Maestro" of Brooklyn's The Meat Hook. The hardest part about cooking sausage, according to Turley, is finding quality tube meat in the first place. "Just about everything in the supermarket does not use fresh ingredients. The only company I know of that's putting out a great product that also takes care in what they produce is Olympia Provisions," he says. Turley suggests looking for a smaller producer if possible, where you'll have a better chance of quality ingredients and sustainable practices. Or you can keep going with the dollar pack of hot dogs, we're not your dad.

Grilled hot dogs with various condiments like barbecue sauce, pulled pork, coleslaw, sauerkraut, pretzels, tzatziki, cucumber and kalamata olives

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If quality is important, you can always try making sausage yourself. You'll need some equipment, namely a meat grinder, a sausage stuffer, and casings. First, the meat mixture should be about 70% lean and 30% fat (don’t go trying to make it healthier, you'll just wind up with a dry sausage). An easy meat to go with is pork butt, which is usually a 70/30 ration, and if you don't have a grinder, you can get the butcher to grind it for you. Then, add all the flavorings you want, like fresh garlic or a mixture of herbs. You just want to make sure it has the right texture. "When binding, think about making bread. You want the dough to bind and stick to itself, not your hands. The same can be done with sausage."

Whether you've made or bought your sausage, Turley says the worst thing he sees home cooks make is not being patient. "The biggest mistake I see when grilling is putting the lid on. Sausages are a sensitive thing. Trapping them in a 500ºF grill isn't going to do anything except make them burst," he says. "Patience is the key. Go light on heat, take the time, and you reap the rewards of a plump, fatty sausage." And while a grilled sausage really screams summer, cooking sausage in a pan where it's easier to control the heat is just as good and definitely easier. "Keep it on low/medium heat and turn it every 3 to 4 minutes until the sides are firm." However, if your sausage has cheese in it (and why shouldn’t it?), the oven may be your best bet for even-heat dispersement. Turley says 15 minutes at 350ºF should do the trick.

As for what you should be eating with your sausage, it's pretty much anything you want. "The best sausage I ever ate had potato salad and baked beans on it as well, so really sky's the limit," says Turley. "Ever had pasta salad on a smoky hot dog? That shit is real." 

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