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Sausages have a reputation for being easy. They've already got the right ratio of fat to meat built in and the right level of salt and seasoning, and they even have a convenient skin around them to ensure that all those juices stay inside where they're supposed to be. But there's a difference between "yeah, that's a good sausage" sausages and "holy crap, how did they fit an entire pig's worth of flavor and juices into this single five-inch tube" sausages. It's the latter we're after, and the latter that sous vide cooking techniques can help produce.
There are a number of factors that make cooking sausage more forgiving than cooking straight-up meat. First off, the ratio of fat to lean meat in a sausage is generally high—around 25 to 30%. Aside from adding flavor (most of the identifying flavorful compounds in a given meat are found in its fat), fat both helps lubricate meat as it cooks and acts as an insulator, allowing it to cook more gently. Salt also helps sausages stay moist. When meat is salted, some of its protein structure breaks down. As it is subsequently kneaded and forced into casings, those proteins cross-link, creating an interlocking network that helps the sausage retain juices and gives it a snappy texture.
All of that means that even if you overcook a sausage or let it dry out, it'll still be juicier and more moist than, say, a chicken breast or a pork chop. But that's no excuse to be lazy about it. Temperature is the real key to the juiciest sausages.
The timing and temperature charts in this guide are used in the Anova Precision Cooker App, a free app that provides sous vide recipes and temperature and timing charts. If you've got an Anova Precision Cooker, you can even control it directly from the app via Bluetooth.
Of course, this information should prove useful to anyone who owns a functional sous vide device, or even someone hacking it with a home rig or a plain old beer cooler.
The Food Lab's Complete Guide to Sous Vide Sausage
Temperature and Timing Charts for Sausages
The doneness of a sausage is determined by the maximum internal temperature it reaches during cooking. For instance, so long as a sausage does not rise above 140°F, it will never cook beyond medium (a rather low temperature for a sausage). With traditional cooking methods, there is a very short window of time during which your meat is perfectly cooked. A minute too long will mean overcooked meat. With sous vide cooking, on the other hand, that window of time is stretched into hours, which means your sausage will be hot and ready to go whenever you're ready to sear and serve it.
To find the ideal final temperature for sausages, I cooked sausages using a precision cooker to hold a water bath at temperatures ranging from 130°F up to 185°F. The sweet spot is right in the middle. Just like with chicken and steak, a sausage cooked sous vide can be held for a long time, but not indefinitely. Once you hold the meat for longer than 4 hours or so, it'll start to take on a mushy, mealy texture. I recommend cooking sausages for between 45 minutes and 4 hours.
Sausage Temps and Times
|Extra juicy compared to traditional cooking, but with a softness that some might find borders on too soft.||140°F (60°C)||45 minutes to 4 hours|
|Fully firm and extra juicy, with a very smooth texture throughout.||150°F (66°C)||45 minutes to 4 hours|
|Nearly traditional texture—springy and juicy, quite firm, but starting to show a difference in texture between fat and lean areas, with the latter starting to turn a little loose and crumbly.||160°F (71°C)||45 minutes to 4 hours|
Special Tips for Bagging Sausages
One problem I immediately ran into with sous vide sausages was their shape. Sausages are extremely soft when raw. Packing them into vacuum bags and using a sealer ends up giving them an unnatural pinched appearance. To combat this, you have two options: manually hitting the "seal" button on the vacuum sealer before it's had an opportunity to start compressing the sausages, or using the water displacement method in lieu of a countertop vacuum sealer. Just place your sausages inside a heavy-duty zipper-lock bag, seal the bag almost all the way up, then gently lower it into a large pot of water, sealing off the bag just before the top is fully submerged.
Should I Add Beer to the Bag?
The idea of simmering a bratwurst in beer is an appealing one, but how well does it really work? I tried adding various beers to the sealed bags as I cooked bratwurst sausages (I used a hop-heavy IPA, a light lager, and a fresh and fruity saison to cover all my bases), expecting the sausages to come out with extra flavor. Much to my surprise, I found the exact opposite to be the case: The sausages actually lost flavor as they cooked in beer. The problem is that even though beer has a few flavorful compounds, it's mostly water, which means that it ends up drawing salt and other compounds out of the sausages as they cook. Try to cook a sausage in beer, and instead of adding beer flavor to the sausage, you really wind up adding sausage flavor to the beer.
The solution? Heavily season the beer with salt as you add it to the bag. Adding salt to the beer helps to balance out the osmotic pressure on the sausages' cell walls, keeping what's inside them inside while also adding a small amount of beer flavor to the outer layers.
What's the Best Way to Brown a Sous Vide Sausage?
As with other meats, cooking sausages sous vide doesn't produce any color or texture on the exterior. For that, you need to finish them on the grill or in a skillet. This is very simple to do: Take the sausages out of their bags, dry them very thoroughly with paper towels (surface moisture is the number one enemy of good browning), then cook them over moderate heat in a skillet with a little butter or over a preheated grill. Where you finish them is a matter of personal taste.
Will This Method Work for Precooked Sausages?
Yes, you can use this method to reheat and brown precooked sausages—though, bear in mind that heat-and-eat precooked sausages may have already been cooked to a temperature higher than you are aiming for with sous vide, which makes it difficult to control moisture loss.
How to Cook a Sausage Sous Vide, Step by Step
Step 1: Bag Sausages and Beer
Start with 3 pounds of raw, natural-casing sausages, such as bratwursts or Italian sausages. Place the sausages inside a vacuum-sealer bag or a zipper-lock bag in a single layer. Add a few tablespoons of beer to each bag, along with 2 teaspoons of salt.
Step 2: Seal and Cook Sausages
Seal the bags, making sure to stop the vacuum sealer and seal the bags immediately after the air has been removed—do not let the sausages get squeezed or the beer get sucked up into the vacuum. Alternatively, use the water displacement method: Seal your zipper-lock bag almost all the way up, then gently lower it into a large pot of water, sealing off the bag just before the top is fully submerged.
Set your precision cooker to the desired temperature, between 140 and 160°F (60 and 71°C) according to the chart above, and add sausages. Cook for at least 45 minutes and up to 4 hours.
Step 3: Dry Sausages
Remove sausages from bags and discard juices. Dry sausages carefully on a paper towel–lined plate.
Step 4: Brown Sausages
To finish on the stovetop, heat 1 tablespoon of oil or butter over medium heat in a skillet until shimmering. Add sausages and cook, turning occasionally, until well browned on all sides, about 3 minutes. Serve immediately.
To finish on the grill, grill sausages over medium heat, turning occasionally, until well browned on all sides, about 3 minutes. Serve immediately.
This guide was produced for Serious Eats as part of our partnership with Anova, the makers of the Anova Precision Cooker. You can download the Anova Precision Cooker App (it's free) to grab all this information right off your phone or tablet while you're cooking. And, if you've got an Anova Precision Cooker, you can even control it directly from the app via Bluetooth or WiFi. Of course, this information should prove useful to anyone who owns a functional sous vide device.