Why Sausages Wrinkle (And How to Fix It)

Grilling season is upon us! Before you fire up the grill and get cooking, read this article on why sausages wrinkle and how to prevent it.

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Why do sausages wrinkle? This is a question that sooner or later weighs heavy on every BBQ enthusiast’s mind.

Now, I can come up with all sorts of jokes about wrinkled sausages here, but I’m not going to because they are nothing to laugh about. They squeeze out all of their juices and turn out dry and tough instead of juicy and tender. So you want to do all that you can to prevent it.

Let’s dive right in and get to the bottom of this wrinkling sausage fiasco. And while we’re at it, I’ll throw in a few tips on how to prevent it from happening in the first place. Time to grab your tongs, fire up that grill, and get those sausages sizzling!

Why Do Sausages Go Wrinkly?

To get to the answer, we need to go all the way back to the basics: What are sausages made of, and why does it wrinkle when exposed to heat?

Sausages are made of seasoned ground meat. And what happens when you cook ground meat? Like milk curdles when heated and eggs cook to hard in boiling water, the proteins in the meat untangle and tighten up. The same happens to your steak, your burger, your chicken breasts, any meat.

Sausage casings are flexible, so they bend as the meat tightens, which then causes the sausages to wrinkle. So, in a way, it’s normal for sausages to wrinkle when they’re exposed to heat.

The right question to ask, then, is how do you keep that wrinkling to a minimum?

How to Keep Sausages From Wrinkling

To keep your sausages from wrinkling, bring them to room temperature, cook them with gentle, indirect heat, and don’t overcook them.

Temper the Sausages

If you want to achieve that juicy, succulent texture on your sausages, it’s essential to remember one step: bring the sausages to room temperature before cooking.

Why, some of you may be wondering?

In the dog days of summer, when you’ve got the air conditioner running at home and you go outside, what’s your body’s first response? You start moving and sweating because it’s as hot as a furnace.

Many a sausage maker would say that sausages are no different. If you don’t want them to curdle and wrinkle—and you’re reading this, which means you certainly don’t—you should avoid exposing them to too big of a temperature difference between the cold fridge and the hot grill.

Remove the sausages from the grill some 15 minutes before cooking. Keep them inside the kitchen. Or, if you have an outside kitchen, rest them on the countertop but make sure they’re covered by a sheet of paper and that they are in the shade.

Cook Them Over Indirect Heat

Here’s one mistake many grillers make when they grill sausages, and probably the number one reason sausages wrinkle: they cook them like they would cook their steak, over high and direct heat.

As a rule, the higher the heat and the more directly it’s applied to the sausage, the more likely it is for the sausage to curl and wrinkle. What you don’t want to do is cook the sausage above a lit burner on the gas grill or glowing coals in the charcoal kettle. This is almost guaranteed to curl them up.

To cook sausages so they’re plump and don’t wrinkle, cook them low and slow, over moderate and indirect heat.

If you ain’t familiar with indirect-heat cooking, you’re probably wondering: “Indirect heat… Indirect heat… What on earth is this guy talking about?” Bear with me here, because mastering this technique will take your grilling to another level.

As culinary writer Dim Nikov puts it in Cooking Methods & Techniques, you cook with direct heat by placing the food on, above, or under the heat source. And you cook with indirect heat by placing it near—that is, in proximity to—the heat source.

See, high heat is ideal for searing a steak or grilling up butterflied chicken breasts. What it isn’t great for is cooking sausages so they don’t wrinkle. The heat “shocks” the proteins in the meat, if you will, and they end up unfolding and curdling beyond salvation.

To cook sausages on a gas grill without wrinkling:

Bring the sausages to room temp by removing them from the fridge 15 minutes before grilling.

Fire up the grill. Preheat it for 15–20 minutes with the lid closed, with half of the burners set to medium-high and the rest unlit.

Cook the sausages over the unlit burners with the lid down; this is your indirect-heat cooking zone. When they’re done, lift the lid and hold them briefly over direct heat to give them a golden brown crust. Rest for 5 minutes and serve.

To cook sausages on a charcoal grill without wrinkling:

Bring the sausages to room temp by removing them from the fridge 15 minutes before grilling.

Light the coals in a chimney starter. Wait 20–25 minutes for the coals to turn white and ashen. Pour them onto the charcoal grate of your kettle and rake them to one side—leaving the other coal-free.

Cook the sausages over the coal-free cooking zone with the lid closed; this is how you get indirect heat. When they’re done, give them a good sear over the glowing coals to ameliorate the crust, then rest for 5 minutes and serve.

Don’t Overcook Them

Quiet Waters, a farm over in Britain, has a great write-up about the right and the wrong way to cook your sausages.

And they make a very good point in that article. If you overcook your sausages as many others do, the proteins will shrink and shrivel, squeezing out the juices for good. The good folks at the farm pinpoint the temperature to 155°F (68.3 °C) and above.

So arm yourself with a meat thermometer and make sure you’re not cooking your sausages to a higher internal temperature than you should. Remember to insert the probe at the side of the sausage, where it forms a link, so you don’t end up pricking it.

In Summary

Sausages are an all-time favorite food to cook on the grill. But if you’re not careful, they can easily toughen up and wrinkle—turning out dry and tough instead of juicy and tender.

Now you know how to cook your sausages without wrinkling every time you fire up the grill!

By Sammy Steen

Sammy, Barbehow's editor, is a die-hard carnivore, barbecue whisperer, and self-proclaimed master of the grill.

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