If you bought a package of sweet Italian chicken sausages, the sausages are probably pre-cooked, and you only need to heat them up. Check the package; if they are, it'll say so. If not, the instructions will read something like “Uncooked,” “Needs to be fully cooked,” “Cook before eating” or “Ready to cook,” and you'll see basic cooking directions. If the sausage is not fully cooked, or you bought raw poultry sausage from the butcher or another source, cook it to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. There are lots of easy options for heating up and cooking chicken sausage.
A Word About Gently Cooking Sausage
There's one important aspect to cooking sausage every home cook should be aware of: Heat sausage gently so the casing doesn't burst.
If the heat's too high, sausage casing is prone to splitting or bursting open. Once this happens, the melting fat and meat juices inside seep out during cooking. This leaves you with a drier, less flavorful finished product.
So, whichever cooking method you use to heat up or cook sweet Italian chicken sausage, a common theme is to use a lower temperature for a slightly longer time. Don't rush things.
Heating or Cooking Chicken Sausage in the Oven
Warming or cooking sausage in the oven is one of the simplest methods, with minimal prep, hands-on involvement and cleanup. The trade-off is that it takes longer than other common cooking methods.
Remember, low heat is key, so preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line a baking tray with aluminum foil, brush the surface area of all of the sausages with cooking oil or melted butter, and lay them on the tray without letting them touch. Put them into the center of the oven.
Cooking or warming time varies by oven, the number of chicken sausages you're preparing, their thickness and density, and other factors. Pre-cooked sausages just need to warm through, which often takes around 25 minutes. Raw sausage needs longer – generally 45 to 60 minutes; use a meat thermometer to confirm they reach 165 degrees F at center. Turn the sausages over every 10 minutes or so while they're in the oven.
Simmering Sweet Italian Chicken Sausage
Simmering – not boiling, as that heat's too high – turns out moist chicken sausage, though it doesn't brown and crisp as with some other methods (although you can always pat it dry and give it a quick finish in a pan or on the grill to fix this).
Put the sweet Italian chicken sausages in a pot with enough cold water, stock, broth, beer or white wine to fully cover them. Place it on a burner over medium-high heat and bring it to just a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until your pre-cooked sausage is heated through, which usually takes around 10 minutes total. Cook raw chicken sausage to 165 degrees F, which typically takes at least twice as long.
Pan-Frying or Grilling Sweet Italian Chicken Sausage
For nicely browned and crisped chicken sausages, fry them in a pan coated with cooking oil over medium heat. Don't turn the burner up any higher, or you might burst the casing. Expect it to take about 5 to 7 minutes to warm pre-cooked sausage through and roughly twice as long to fully cook it if it's raw. For even cooking, flip the sausages and move them around in the pan frequently.
Some popular chicken sausage recipes involve frying it with peppers and onions. You can toss slices of bell pepper and onion right into the pan with the sausages. With some variance, depending on how thick the veggie pieces are, they usually need to be sauteed for about 10 minutes over medium heat, so set your timer when you add them into the pan accordingly.
Grilling is another good option for developing a really appealing color and crispness on sweet Italian chicken sausages. As with frying, grill them over medium heat, turning and moving them around often for even cooking, for about the same amount of time as you'd fry them.
Frozen Sweet Italian Chicken Sausage
You can heat or cook frozen chicken sausages from the frozen state. It just takes about 50% longer. This works better in the oven or when simmering than in the pan or on the grill, though, where you're more likely to end up with unevenly cooked sausage.
There are three safe ways to defrost frozen chicken sausage:
- Put it in the refrigerator for 24 hours; use or refreeze it within two days.
- Submerge it in cold water for one to two hours in leak-proof packaging, changing the water every 30 minutes and cooking the sausage right away.
- Use your microwave's defrost function, which takes only a few minutes but can negatively affect the texture; cook sausage immediately after thawing this way.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Sausages and Food Safety
- BBC Good Food: How to Cook Sausages
- Bon Appetit: How to Cook Sausages So They're Not Weirdly Raw Inside (or Burnt)
- New York Times Cooking: Grilled Sausages, Onions and Peppers
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: The Big Thaw - Safe Defrosting Methods for Consumers
Eric Mohrman is a food and drink, lifestyle, and travel writer. He spent 10 years working front- and back-of-house in a few casual and upscale restaurants, adding professional experience to his love of eating and cooking. He lives with his family in Orlando, Florida. His stories on food and beverage topics have appeared in numerous print and web publications, including Visit Florida, Orlando Style Magazine, CrushBrew Magazine, Agent Magazine, Dollar Stretcher Magazine, The 863 Magazine and others.