For Labor Day: 10 Indispensable Tips for Grilling Sausage from Jake Klein
Labor Day is fast approaching (after a weekend Project Smoke marathon on Create TV). Our approach? Keep it simple. That means sausage, lots of sausage. Interesting sausage. And when it comes to sausage grilling expertise, I turn to our house authority, my stepson, Jake Klein.
Jake owns Jake’s Handcrafted, a Brooklyn sausage gastro-pub, where all the sausage is made and smoked on the premises. Traditional sausage, like Jake’s celebrated pepper- and mace-scented bratwurst. Over-the-top sausage, like a double brisket sausage packed full of burnt ends. Totally out-of-the-box sausage, like Jake’s lamb satay sausage lavished with peanut sauce, or his Tokyo chicken “brat” with sansho pepper and sweet soy sauce.
But don’t take my word for it: “His menu is at least as original (the house-made banana mustard is improbably delicious) as in some restaurants where I’ve paid four times as much for dinner,” wrote New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells.
I asked Jake to share his 10 indispensable tips for grilling sausage this Labor Day.
- When grilling fresh (raw) sausages, let them come to room temperature before cooking. This will help keep them from bursting.
- Pierce the casings of raw sausages a couple of times with a needle stuck in a cork (the cork keeps you from losing the needle—not a good thing when cooking). This will also help keep them from bursting.
- When direct grilling, work over a moderate fire and take your time. A raw bratwurst or sausage of similar size requires about 6 minutes per side (12 minutes in all).
- Indirect grilling is an even safer way to cook raw meat sausages. You don’t want your grill too hot. I like a 4 to 5 Mississippi count (about 350 degrees).
- Yes, smoke your sausages. Set up your smoker following the manufacturer’s instructions. Use your favorite wood—I like apple for the nice red color it gives. Smoke raw sausages at about 250 degrees. To smoke cooked sausages, like bockwurst or weisswurst, keep the temperature as low as possible to prevent moisture loss. (I use just enough charcoal to keep the wood smoking.) Smoking time for raw sausages will be 60 to 90 minutes. Cooked sausages take 40 to 60 minutes—longer if you like your sausages super smoky.
- Dry your sausages on a wire rack in front of a fan for about 30 minutes before smoking. This helps give you a nice, even patina.
- For large parties and challenging grilling scenarios—public parks, beaches, multiple item menus, etc.—blanch raw sausages, including pinwheels, in a 145 degree F water or beer bath for 30 to 45 minutes, or until they reach an internal temp of 142 degrees F. Then shock them in an ice water bath. This sets the filling, making it more resilient. This gives you perfect sausages for direct grilling alongside burgers, steaks, and chicken breasts.
- When smoking or grilling sausages, always use tongs or a spatula. Never a fork. Piercing allows the juices to bleed out.
- To check for doneness, use an instant-read meat thermometer. Insert the metal probe lengthwise through one end of the sausage deep into the center. The USDA recommends cooking raw sausages to an internal temp of 165 degrees F. If you don’t have a thermometer, use a metal skewer or the tine of a carving fork in the same manner. When you pull it out, touch it to your bottom lip. It should be very hot, but not scalding.
- Once grilled or smoked, rest your sausages for a few minutes before serving. Just like with steaks and chops or any other protein, this gives the juices a chance to settle and be reabsorbed into the meat.