Smoked sausages are delicious. They’re incredibly versatile and decadently fatty. And don’t get me started on that addictive, smoky taste!
When people think about how smoked sausage is prepared, they often wonder—is smoked sausage fully cooked? However, the question isn’t really a matter of whether smoked sausage is fully cooked, but instead, if it’s safe to eat (without any further preparation).
This is an important distinction because smoked sausage that’s been cured is safe to eat as is, without having to cook it. This is because the curing salts in it prevent contamination by bacteria that cause food poisoning.
The other factor to consider is how the sausage has been smoked. If it’s been hot smoked, then it should have been cooked. But if it’s been cold smoked, then the meat hasn’t been brought to a high enough temperature to cook it. Therefore, you shouldn’t eat cold smoked sausage unless it’s been cured.
These are general rules to follow when you’re making smoked sausage at home. When you’re buying it from the store, always check the label to see if it’s cooked and safe to eat.
Let’s get into the details.
Does Smoked Sausage Need to Be Cooked?
As a general rule, you don’t need to cook smoked sausage if it’s been cured.
If you’ve cured the sausage by salting it with curing salts like sodium nitrate or sodium nitrite (and if you chose, air-drying it), it’s ready to eat as is. A common example of this type of sausage would be charcuterie sausages, like chorizo, summer sausage, salami, prosciutto, etc.
Curing is a method of protecting and preserving meat. Smoking is too, but curing is much more effective.
When it comes to smoking sausage, there are two ways it can be done. If the sausage is hot smoked (at 140-180°F), the process will cook the meat. If it’s cold smoked (below 85°F), then the sausage must be cooked before eating.
If store-bought, read the label. Look out for words on the labelling such as, “Uncooked,” “Cook before eating,” “Needs to be fully cooked,” or similar — you must cook these!
Most hot dogs, bratwursts, wieners and frankfurters are precooked. Fresh sausages include some breakfast link sausages, Mexican chorizo and others.
What’s the Best Way to Cook Smoked Sausage?
If you’re cooking smoked sausage, the best way is to grill them. High heat renders the sausage’s fat, making it juicy and moist. It shouldn’t take more than 10-15 minutes for a sausage to be fully cooked this way.
Here’s a tip: Cover your sausages in aluminum foil for consistent results and moist links.
You can also score the sausage or cut it butterfly-style, meaning lengthwise and not all the way through, to make sure the inner meat is cooked through and crispy.
The next best way to cook smoked sausage is to pan-fry it on your stovetop. In this case, make sure you use a thick-bottomed pan, perhaps a cast-iron skillet, to ensure even charring.
You can also slice the sausage to speed up the cooking process. Great ways to eat sliced sausage are to add it to an omelet or meaty pasta.
Something to consider when cooking sausage— you don’t necessarily need to add cooking oil to the sausage. Sausage has plenty of fat already, and it’ll release it as soon as it comes in contact with a heat source.
How Do You Tell if Smoked Sausage is Cooked?
If you want to know if an entire smoked sausage is fully cooked, use a meat thermometer. Aim for 160ºF at the center of the link. That’s the safe zone.
For more delicate sausages, like smoked turkey or chicken sausages, cook until the sausage’s core reaches 165º F.
Being mindful about your cooking times helps, too. Grilled sausages are usually ready in between 6 and 12 minutes if cooked on the grill’s ‘hot zone’. If baked, sausages might take between 20 and 25 minutes to cook.
You can learn a lot about your food with your sight alone; the sausage’s exterior should be slightly charred but never burned, and slicing a sausage should reveal a pink, steamy core. Of course, never rely on your sight or sense of smell alone to ensure your food is fully cooked.
The good news is that most smoked sausages are either cured or precooked, so you must only reheat them to taste.
Smoked Sausage FAQ
Do You Have to Refrigerate Smoked Sausage?
According to the USDA, if the sausage is dry cured (like pepperoni or salami) you can store it either at room temperature (for up to six weeks if unopened) or in the fridge (indefinitely if unopened or for up to three weeks if opened).
If the sausage isn’t dried, it’s considered perishable, and you should store it in the refrigerator.
How Long is Smoked Sausage Good for in the Fridge?
As mentioned in the previous question, dry cured sausage can be stored in the fridge indefinitely if it hasn’t been opened and for up to three weeks if it has been opened.
According to the USDA, you should cook and consume uncooked, raw sausages between one and two days if stored in the fridge at 40°F or less. If cooked, you can keep them in the fridge for between three and four days.
Hot dogs and other cooked sausages can be stored in the fridge for two weeks if unopened and one week if opened.
You can freeze all types of sausages and store them for up to two months.
How Long Can Smoked Sausage Sit Out?
According to the USDA, you can keep dry cured sausage in the pantry for up to six weeks.
Also according to USDA guidance, all other types of sausages that should be refrigerated should be thrown out after 2 hours at room temperature or the ‘danger zone’ between 40-140 °F.
Sausages are awesome. Yes, they’re one of the tastiest meats out there, and with literally hundreds of different types of sausages from around the world, you can enjoy a different one every time without having to repeat.
Food safety matters, though, and since all smoked sausages are different, you must make sure you know if you’re handling raw, salt-cured, dried or fully cooked meats.
With today’s refrigeration technologies and general knowledge about bacteria, use your common sense and treat smoked sausages as you would any other meat. That way, you won’t go blaming smoked sausages for that upset stomach!