Starting the Fire
Start by building a low temperature fire in the firebox of your smoker. Load approximately 5 pounds or half of a charcoal basket of natural lump briquettes into your smoker’s firebox. Then light one corner of the coal using 1-2 fire starters. You can use other lighting methods as well but avoid dumping an entire chimney of hot coals into the firebox. Leave the firebox door, and smokestack dampers wide open as the coals ignite which will take about 8-10 minutes. Then close the door and open the intake vent on the door. Slowly close down both the vent and smokestack damper as you approach your cooking temperature.
Ideal Cooking Temperature
Experts agree that gentle cooking is the key. Harold McGee explains that moderate cooking temperatures keep the interior from boiling and splitting the exterior of the sausage (171). If the casing splits, juices and flavor will spill out of the sausage. But Kenji Alt-Lopez warns that too low of a temperature can result in a pale, yet overcooked sausage that shrivels up when cooled (513). A cooking temperature of 300-350°f is a good balance between the two extremes.
Cooking the Sausage
Once the fire is stable and clean burning, add a small split of oak or pecan wood with part of it over the section of burning coals. Let the wood ignite and then place your sausages in the cooler section of your smoker. This will be the area furthest from the firebox (if using a Longhorn Reverse Flow, take out the tuning plates for this cook).
Let the sausages cook at this lower temperature until they are at an internal temperature of 140°f. They will be firm to the touch but still look a little pale. The length of time this will take depends on the sausages you choose. Fresh, raw sausages that you will likely find at a butcher will take 1 ½ to 2 hours. Cooked sausages, as you will find in the prepared meats section of a grocery store, will only take 30-45 minutes.
Now open the air intake vent to bring up the temperature. Shift your sausages from the cooler section of the smoker to the warmer section closest to the fire box. Let the sausages cook another 10-15 minutes, flipping once or twice. When the sausages reach 160°f and are deeply colored, it is time to remove them from the grill.
Serving the Sausage
It is important to let the cooked sausages rest, as with any meat (Alt-Lopez 510). But don’t wait too long. Scott Roberts, the Pitmaster of The Salt Lick, notes that it is important to serve sausage hot so the fat coats the ground meat in the sausage (201). Three to five minutes is good for a warm and juicy sausage.
Most BBQ joints in Texas just serve the hot links, either whole or cut into sections, alongside beef brisket and maybe pork ribs. Of course, there is always the white bread, onions, and pickles on the side. Smoked sausages are also fantastic as an ingredient in other dishes, such as; BBQ pit beans or red beans and rice. Another excellent serving idea is a sausage tray loaded with a variety of sliced sausages, smoked cheeses, and other finger foods.