Determining the healthiest way to cook sausages can be pretty simple once you understand the why behind it.
While the type of sausage can have a huge impact on the nutritional value of it, I want to discuss how to prepare any sausage that you do choose.
We’ll be covering all the different types of cooking methods you can use to cook sausages, in order from healthiest to least healthy.
We’ll also be going over some FAQ so that you can quickly find answers to all your sausage cookery questions.
Let’s get started! (yes my mouth is watering already).
Ok so we first need to understand the general make-up of sausages to understand the cause and effect of various cooking methods.
While there are quite literally hundreds of different types of sausages, they all have the same characteristics of what makes sausage, sausage; casing, stuffing, and seasoning.
The casing is what holds the sausage together, it can either be natural or synthetic.
Natural casings are made from the intestines of pork or lamb but are rarely used nowadays, typically reserved for the more specialty sausages.
Synthetic casings, more commonly used, are made from collagen or cellulose.
While the collagen casings are edible and therefore most popular. Some sausages are encased in the cellulose casings that must be peeled away before indulging.
Of course you can also purchase just ground sausage that is without any casings at all.
Knowing which type of casing you have is important in order to prepare your sausage to your desired intent. For example, a charred exterior, caramelized exterior, or even without casings to brown the sausage itself.
The filling, or stuffing, of sausage traditionally consists of lean and fatty cuts of pork.
However, you can find sausages with all sorts of make-up; including; beef, lamb, veal, poultry, and the variety meats (organs of the animals).
You can even find vegetarian versions made from tofu, soy and vegetable mixtures.
The stuffing of the sausage is the most important factor when trying to determine the healthiest way to cook sausages.
While the ratio of fat to meat varies with brands, it’s the fat content you’ll want to focus on.
The packaging will most likely not tell you the fat content (like seen on ground beef labels).
However, it isn’t too hard to figure out.
Usually you’ll see if your sausage is heavier on the fat side by looking for those white clusters of fat.
Think of salami (a type of sausage) there are almost equal clusters of white fat to red meat.
Compare this to a ground chicken sausage for example that will likely be much lower in the fat arena.
Choosing a leaner sausage can determine what cooking method to use due to the limited fat drippings.
The seasoning of sausages can consist of a blend of spices, herbs, salt, flour, milk powder, water, and preservatives.
The non-flavoring agents such as the possible water, flour, milk powder etc. Are more so there for the texture of the sausage not the taste.
Preservatives, of course, determine the longevity of your sausage.
As in – does it need stored in the refrigerator or pantry?
For example, a dried summer sausage is shelf-stable and does not need stored in the fridge.
The spices do not matter much regarding the nutritional value of the sausage, except for the sodium content.
Sausages are extremely high on the sodium scale as salt is often used as a preservative.
Especially for those self-stable sausages mentioned above.
Take the summer sausage example, you can expect the salt content to likely be anywhere from 500-1,000mg of sodium.
To put this into perspective, that one food is taking up 30% of your daily recommended value of sodium.
You can’t do much as far as cooking methods to affect the inner sodium content of sausages. However, it’s something to be aware of when trying to keep nutrition in mind.
Purchasing and Storing
There are four different categories of sausages; small fresh, small cooked, large cooked, and dried sausages.
Small fresh sausages can either be raw or cured/smoked. The most common would be ones like breakfast sausages or frankfurters (aka hot dogs).
The cured-then-smoked sausages can able to be eaten without any additional cooking required.
Small cooked sausages are ones that are ready-to-go as purchased, but typically at least warmed before serving.
Those little (delicious) cocktail sausages are a good example for this category.
Large cooked sausages are the big logs that would require slicing or cutting before consumption, such as bologna or Mortadella.
Just be weary that the dried sausages will have an even higher sodium content due to their shelf stability.
For storing, my personal favorite way is to purchase in bulk and then separate into smaller bags to freeze.
I’ll pull out what we’ll be using a day or two prior so it has time to thaw before cooking.
Cooking Methods for Sausages
Alright now let’s get to the meat of it (pun intended).
There are several different ways one could cook a sausage depending on your desired intent.
We’ll go through all the different methods of cooking sausages, starting with the most healthy to ah, not so much.
The technical definition of roasting is to cook by surrounding with hot, dry air. This is usually in an oven or over an open fire.
Commonly used interchangeably with the term “baking” however, baking usually applies more to breads and pastries.
When roasting, the healthiest way to cook sausages is to catch the drippings on a wire rack-lined sheet tray.
The sausages will lose some of those extra calories while still maintaining their flavor.
Not to mention even develop some lovely brown caramelization in the oven.
A pretty simplistic culinary method; to cook in water or other liquid that is bubbling rapidly, about 212°F (100°C).
To be honest though, this technique is not often considered for sausage preparation.
For the same reasons as roasting, it is considered a healthier method.
The fat drained, though this time by leaching out into the water.
A downside to boiling is the lack of flavor development.
You will definitely not have any browning or caramelization but instead a more pale, even blander sausage.
Occasionally for larger uncooked sausages, cooks will boil them first and then place them on a hot grill.
This will ensure the sausage is completely cooked through while still developing some flavor from the grill.
Broiling is to cook with radiant heat from above. Most ovens have a built-in broiler feature.
The same guidelines and benefits apply to broiling as they do with roasting.
The only difference to keep in mind is that you will have to be a bit more attentive.
To prevent burning they’ll need to be rotated for even cooking. You’ll also want to double-check that your sausage is cooked through completely.
Due to the high-heat of broiling, you might end up deceived.
The sausage could look done on the outside but still be raw in the center.
It’s for this reason that broiling (any food) is often used as a finishing method, not a traditional cook-from-beginning-to-end approach.
To grill is to cook on an open grid over a heat source. A delicious way of cooking in my opinion.
This method will also allow the fat drippings to part ways with the sausages. As well as developing another layer of flavor depth from the char.
That char substance, AKA heterocyclic amines in the science community, can be a potentially cancer-causing compound.
You have to consume a large amount of “char” to pose a significant risk. Which is why grilling is lower on the list of healthiest ways to cook sausages.
The definition of pan-frying is to cook in a moderate amount of fat in an uncovered pan.
This would be like about a quarter of an inch of vegetable oil for example.
Since our goal is to lose the fat drippings from sausages, it wouldn’t make sense to add extra fat to the equation while cooking.
The sausages would absorb the oil, adding extra unnecessary calories.
Something important to note here is that, this is the technical culinary definition of pan-frying. However most people have a different idea when hearing the phrase “pan-fry.”
To the more common, non-chef folk, to pan-fry is to simply use a quick oil spray and “fry” their sausages in the pan.
This method would be more along the lines of sautéing, and can be a healthy way to cook sausages as long as the sausage type does not have a lot of fat drippings.
To deep fry is to cook by completely submerging in hot fat.
For obvious reasons, this is the least healthiest way to cook sausages (and any other food for that matter).
The sausages would absorb a lot of the oil, significantly increasing the amount of additional calories consumed.
Not to mention this would produce a very greasy, undesirable mouthfeel for your sausage dish as well.
Healthiest Way to Cook Sausages
So to put simply, when trying to determine the healthiest way to cook sausages the main point to consider is how to get rid of the fat drippings and to not add extra fat.
Again, this article is about how to healthfully cook any sausage that you do choose, not the type.
The healthiest way to cook sausages is roasting them on a wire rack-lined sheet tray in order to catch the drippings.
Keep in mind that not all sausages have the capability to drain fat though.
Take for example, if the sausage is in a casing. You may need to poke some holes in the sausage before cooking to allow the fat to drain.
Or perhaps you have chosen a leaner sausage, like chicken or turkey, that is naturally low in fat.
So no matter how you cook it, there may not be any fat to drip off it in the first place.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you’re looking for some quick answers to the most commonly asked questions regarding the healthiest way to cook sausages in an easy to digest forum – here you go!
Is it better to fry or bake sausages?
It is definitely better to bake sausages than fry. As discussed above, baking (or roasting) will allow the fat to drain off whereas frying is adding even more to the equation.
What is the best way to cook sausages?
The best way to cook sausages is to roast in an oven on a wire rack-lined sheet pan, this will allow the fat to drain off.
If the sausages do not have a high fat to meat ratio, sauteing them in a pan with just a little bit of non-stick oil spray will do fine as well.
Is boiled sausage healthy?
Boiled sausage is healthy because it allows the fat to leave the sausage as it’s cooking.
However, boiled sausages will not develop any external browning thus limiting their flavor potential.
How to cook sausages in a pan?
The best way to cook sausages in a pan is with just a little bit of non-stick oil spray.
If your sausages have a high fat content however, you’d want to continually drain the fat from the pan so that the sausages do not reabsorb the fat.
How to boil sausages?
Simply place sausages in a pot of boiling water (constant large bubbles, 212°F or 100°C) and cook until done.
Use a thermometer to determine if the sausages are completely cooked through; 160°F (71°C) is the recommended temperature for ground meat products.
How long to boil sausages?
There is not a one-size-fits-all amount of time to boil sausages as they can come in all sorts of shapes and varieties.
You will want to use a thermometer to determine doneness; 160°F (71°C) is the temperature you are looking for.
How long to boil sausages before grilling?
Occasionally, you may want to precook large sausages before grilling to ensure they cook all the way through without spending a tremendous amount of time on the grill.
You can boil the sausages to cook them until they completely or partially done and finish them on the grill.
Either way, checking the internal temperature to make sure it is at least 160°F (71°C) before serving, as it is hard to judge from the outside of larger sausages to see if they are done or not.
How long does it take to cook sausages in the oven?
You’ll want to consider the size of your sausages to determine the length of time in the oven; the larger the longer.
On average though, in an oven preheated to 350°F (176°C) can take anywhere from 10-25 mins to fully cook sausages.
Check the internal temperature before serving, ensuring that it has reached 160°F (71°C) so that it is safe for consumption.
Whether roasting, grilling, boiling or frying it all comes down to the capability of the innate fat content that is in sausages and the ability to drain it off.
The cooking methods that allow fat to drain appropriately are roasting, boiling, broiling, and grilling.
If your chosen sausages are naturally low in fat, sauteing them with just a bit of non-stick oil spray in a pan will do just fine.
Also remember that with casing-stuffed sausages, you may have to poke a few holes to allow the fat to escape.
All in all, no matter what sausage you plan to put on your dinner plate tonight, there is a healthy way to prepare it!