Finding the right temperature
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.
At 140°F (60°C), you get a sausage that is extra juicy compared to traditional cooking, but with a softness that some might find bordering on too soft. At 150°F (66°C), your sausage is fully firm and extra juicy with a very smooth texture throughout. At 160°F (71°C), your sausage has a 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.
Just like with chicken and steak, a sausage cooked sous vide can be held for a long time, but not indefinitely. As you begin to hold the meat for longer than around 4 hours or so, it’ll start to take on a mushy, mealy texture. I recommend cooking sausages between 45 minutes and 4 hours.
Sealing off the bag
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.
Sausages and beers
The idea of simmering a sausage 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 is mostly water, which means that it ends up drawing salt and other compounds out of the sausages as they cook. Try and cook a sausage and 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.
Getting the perfect finish
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 off 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)
- Cook them over moderate heat in a skillet with a little butter or over a grill.