How to cook perfect sausages on the barbecue

sausages being cooked on a barbecue

Tianna Nadalin

Posted January 21, 2020

Chef Adrian Richardson's guide to cooking the best BBQ sausages.

The backyard barbecue might be synonymous with Australian culture but, when it comes to cooking the perfect sausage, Aussies have hit a snag. 

Should you or should you not prick the little bangers? Do you cook them on the grill or the hot plate? How often should you rotate them? And what is the correct way to assemble a sausage in bread?

To help you master the tongs, we grilled Adrian Richardson – chef, restaurateur and author of Meat: How to Choose, Cook and Eat it – for his top tips on how to barbecue the perfect sausage. He also weighs in on the Great Sausage Sandwich Debate, sharing his chef-approved guide to appropriate sausage etiquette.  

How to cook the ultimate sausages on the barbecue

Which sausages are the best for barbecuing? 

First things first. If you’re planning on having a backyard sausage sizzle, it’s important to decide which type of snag you’re going to chuck on the barbie. Beef sausages have long been traditional, but Adrian says the only prerequisite is that it must be a meat sausage. “You can make a sausage from anything with a pulse,” he says. “The key is to buy the best-quality bangers you can afford.” 

Grill sins: “If it’s made from a plant-based product, it’s not a sausage,” Adrian says. “It’s a tube.”  

Pro tip: If you’ve got to cater to vegan or vegetarian diets, instead of buying a plant-based tube alternative, Adrian says to get creative with vegies. Try grilling up whole zucchinis or Lebanese eggplants on the barbie instead. Drizzle them with extra-virgin olive oil and season with salt and pepper before throwing them on the plate and barbecuing them whole. 

Does size matter?  

When it comes to the ultimate sausage sizzler, Adrian says it’s not the size that matters, but what you do with it. “Those big, thick, juicy sausages are a meal in themselves and are usually great for adults," he says. The thin sausages are great for kids.” Whether you’re going for thick or thin, Adrian says you get what you pay for. “Be prepared to pay a few extra dollars for a great sausage,” he says. “Better-quality sausages are not greasy and have a great mouthfeel. That way, everyone is happy.” 

To prick or not to prick, that is the question 

Whether you’re a staunch sausage pricker or anti hole puncher, Adrian says there’s nothing wrong with a little prick.  

“Some people like to put a couple of small holes in their snags to stop them from exploding. This is because back in the day, butchers used to add water to their sausages, so they’d often pop if you didn’t prick them, which is why they’re called bangers,” he says. "It all depends on the fat content of the sausage."  

Pro tip: When you have cheap sausages, Adrian says, there’s no need to prick them as they can become dry and shrivelled if they lose too much moisture. “But when you have good sausages you don’t need to worry about that.”  

Should you prep your sausages? 

Regardless of whether it’s steak or sausages you’re cooking, generally speaking with meat you should always let it come up to room temperature. “In Melbourne, this means taking them out of the fridge about 20 minutes earlier,” Adrian says. “This allows it to cook nice and evenly as the heat gets into the sausage quicker and allows it to cook a lot more consistently.” 


sausages being cooked on a barbecue in a park

Cooking for vegans or vegos? Grilled zucchinis are a great plant-based sausage alternative.

How hot should the BBQ be? 

“The best way to cook sausages is over a medium heat,” Adrian says. “But a lot of barbecues only have two temperature settings – high or very high. This means the sausages will often be burnt and crispy on the outside but end up undercooked on the inside.” 

Grill sins: A burnt sausage is a badly cooked sausage. 

Pro tip: If you can’t adjust your heat setting to medium, Adrian says the best way to make sure you don’t overdo it is to allow enough space on the plate to rotate the sausages around. “You want them to be crisp and golden outside and cooked all the way through the middle, but still moist and juicy.”  

How often should you turn them? 

If you’re wanting a juicy, evenly cooked snag, Adrian says the trick is to make sure you’re constantly rotating them. “Imagine a suckling pig on the spit that goes around and around,” he says. “Keep turning them around and they’ll cook nice and evenly on all sides.” 

How can you tell if a sausage is cooked through? 

If you’re using a digital thermometer, Adrian says, the temperature should be between 75 and 80 degrees Celsius. But if you’ve got your tongs in one hand and an ice-cold stubby in the other – he says it’s just not practical to be carrying a thermometer too. “I always have one little victim sausage that I snap open to make sure it’s cooked right,” he says. “You should see that the meat looks solid rather than pink, and you should see clear juice coming out of it.”  

Grill sins: "Pouring a stubby of beer over the sausages while they're cooking does nothing to improve the taste – it’s just a waste of good beer." 

Pro tip: Cut a piece off the end – if it’s still pink and raw looking, leave it on for a few more minutes. 

Flat plate or grill plate? 

“I like cooking on the bars so you get the little bar marks, which look nice on the sausages,” Adrian says. “But you can use either.” 

How many sausages should you cook at a time? 

“You don’t want to overload the barbecue,” Adrian says. “If you put all the sausages on at once, the heat will drop and you risk the sausages starting to boil instead of sizzle. A good general rule is that you don’t want sausages to cover more than 60 per cent of the surface area of your barbie. This gives you space to move the sausages around.”  

Grill sins: Trying to rush the cooking. “Time spent around the barbecue is really important,” Adrian says. “There is research that shows men are generally more inclined to talk about personal issues around a barbecue. It’s a great opportunity for men, in particular, to talk to other men so you want to try to prolong that time around the barbecue.  

Pro tip: “Put on a quarter of the sausages to start with, get those going, then move them aside and put a few more on so you have sausages coming on and off consistently,” Adrian says.  

What about the grilled onions? 

Just like their sausage siblings, the onions are also best cooked low and slow. “Cut the core out, slice the onions, then drizzle them with some olive oil,and some salt and pepper, then toss them onto the barbie,” Adrian says. “You want to cook the onions first, then transfer them to an aluminium tray to keep warm.”  

Pro tip: “If you’ve just got the bars on your barbecue, use an aluminium tray and put baking paper on the bottom. Add your onions, put some foil on top, then put them on the hot plate. They’ll steam and cook slowly in their own juices.” 


sauce being put on to sausage wrapped in bread

We answer the age old question: onions on top or under?

Sausage etiquette: How to assemble the perfect sauso sanger  

Bread or roll? 

While a sausage in bread is the classic combo, Adrian says there’s nothing wrong with changing things up.  

“My choice is a crispy baguette roll and my go-to is a banh mi roll from a local Vietnamese bakery,” Adrian says. “They’re the perfect mix of light and fluffy.”  

Sandwich sins: One sausage at a time should be more than enough. If there are too many snags and you’re running out of bread, then double barrel is acceptable. 

Pro tip: “What I like to do is open the roll, scrape out the soft bread and give it to the birds, and then assemble it,” Adrian says.  

Diagonal or lengthways  

“The sausage should go corner to corner – no ifs or buts about it – otherwise it hangs out the end. I think that’s why we need this discussion. If you choose to put it side to side that’s your prerogative, but you should know that people are going to laugh at you and you may not get invited back for another barbecue. But it’s Australia – it’s a free country – so you can eat it how you want.”  

What about fancy bread? 

“The rule here is that the bread has to be soft,” Adrian says. “You can’t go for a chewy sourdough. White bread is traditional, but wholemeal is also acceptable – the flavour will still hold up.” 

Onions on top or bottom 

Onions taste better on the top. It’s just science. “A lot of your taste is through your nose,” Adrian explains. “So when the onions are on top, you actually smell that sweet caramelised flavour and it makes it taste better.” 

Pro tip: “If you’re buying a sausage in bread from a public vendor that puts the onions underneath the sausage, a trick is to grab an extra slice of bread so that, after you walk away, you can flip it over et voila – onions are on the top.” 

What is the appropriate condiment – tomato sauce, mustard or barbecue? 

“The real sausage sauce, for me, is my nan’s homemade tomato sauce,” Adrian says. “And after that, regular tomato sauce. I prefer a good homemade tom sauce or relish but, at the end of the day, if you have a regular bottle of tomato sauce there everyone is going to go for it.” 

Can you mix sauces? 

While sausage traditionalists say tomato sauce is the only appropriate topping, liberalists have started to embrace alternative accoutrements.  

“I load them all up,” Adrian says. “I’ll even put mayonnaise on the top if it’s around - I like that sweet, acidic flavour, it cuts through the sausage really well.  

Pro tip: “Put some tomato sauce, barbecue sauce, ketchup and mustard in a bottle, shake it up and call it a house sauce. You could even try putting sauerkraut on top. Anything goes.”