Why You Should Never Cook Sausage In An Air Fryer

If there's food you'd like to prepare but can't afford the wait required for your conventional oven to do the job, the air fryer has got your back ... most of the time. Although the air fryer craze soared beginning in 2020, the technology used to make this product has been around since the 1940s, according to the Chicago Tribune. Known for its ability to cook things up with less oil than a deep fryer would require, air fryers continue to be a trusted tool for a healthier way to satisfy your fried food cravings.

Though not limited to being an alternative to deep frying, this small oven does exceptionally well heating items like roasted chickpeas or pasta skewers. Other foods, like already hard-to-cook meats and messy cheeses, are better off cooked the traditional way.

Sausage — a chopped meat and spice-stuffed roll enclosed in a casing — traces its origins to ancient times in a region that used to be known as Mesopotamia. The spicy link of meat can now be found in various corners of the world for just about any meal of the day, courtesy Britannica. Though there's no strict rule against cooking this meat product via this trendy oven, you could be sacrificing quality, taste, and texture if you choose to do so. Here's why you should never cook sausage in an air fryer.

Smoking and excess grease are easily produced

Though you might have been led to believe that an air fryer's purpose is to replace a deep fryer, it's actually just another type of convection oven. Thanks to a built-in fan that circulates heat while keeping the temperature consistent and contained in a small space, air fryers cook even faster than convection ovens, which use the same principles but typically have larger spaces to heat. And both cook much quicker than your home conventional oven, which has no fan to ensure the heat is distributed evenly (via Good Housekeeping).

Sausage generally needs to reach a high temperature to fully cook, as do other fatty meats. Due to less space in an air fryer, however, sausage can pose a problem as it releases excess grease. The air fryer might overheat, causing your sausage to not only get burnt but to also turn rubbery in texture. That release of grease could also leave your air fryer smoking if the grease comes in contact with the heating element (via Everyday Family Cooking). "The more grease, the more fumes," according to Everyday Family Cooking.

Pan frying is ideal for cooking the perfect sausage

Ever wonder why pan-frying sausages seems to be the most popular route to cook this meat? Well, frequently turning sausages when cooking is more effective than trapping them in the confined heat of an air fryer for a couple of reasons.

Pan frying remains your best bet if you're looking to retain the umami flavor a sausage can have, according to premium meat supplier Traymoor. That's because the meat turns a crispy, golden brown as it comes in contact with the heated pan, and that happens as sausages are turned while they cook. Air fryers rely on concentrated heat and faster cooking times, which could cause the outer portions to cook too quickly and leave the inner parts of the sausage uncooked. Traymoor recommends sausages be allowed to "cook gently." In addition, oil can be more easily retained in a fry pan when cooking sausages. That way you'll be readily able to control how much you're using, and your sausage grease won't be lost to an air fryer's drip tray.

You can't cook a whole bunch together

Feel like making a batch of sausages and are considering throwing them on the air fryer for a brunch party or big family breakfast? If you're wondering whether or not this is wise, your hesitation is probably warranted.

While air fryers vary in size, stacking a lot of sausages in such a small space will cause them to hold moisture captive, block the flow of air and hinder their ability to cook. Sausages cook better when they are spread out so they can develop a crisp outer layer, according to My Budget Recipes. Because sausages need to be cooked over a higher heat, according to Everyday Family Cooking, there is a greater potential for you to burn your sausages by stacking them and overcrowding them in your air fryer basket. Uneven cooking or longer cooking times can also result, as heat is restricted and cannot be shared evenly with each sausage. So if you'd like to ensure that your sausages receive proper cooking time but want to avoid cooking just a few at a time, it's best you skip the air fryer and opt for, say, pan frying.

The sausage's casing can split

Ever wonder why the British called sausages bangers? When sausages were made with less meat and more water back in the day, they'd often split their casings while cooking and explode in the pan, earning them the nickname. While pricking a couple holes in the casing using a fork does prevent your sausage from exploding, it also allows moisture to escape. Sausages are best enjoyed without the flavorful juices making their way out via this escape route you've now created (via Traymoor.)

When using an air fryer, you'll want to preserve the flavor of your sausage and ensure seasonings aren't lost. This is harder to achieve if you're poking holes into the sausage. In an air fryer the heat is more concentrated, which causes the sausage to expand and increasing the likelihood that the casing will split (via Italian Barrel). And a split casing means you won't get that signature sausage snap when eating a link. In addition, when a casing splits, its fats separate, and that can make for a dry sausage. This is why air frying is not ideal if your goal is to keep your sausages intact from start to finish.

Sausages tend to shrink in air fryers

Although sausage needs to cook over high heat, that does not mean it must endure all of the heat at once in an air fryer. This is because sausages can shrink if the outside cooks first, according to Quiet Waters Farm. This means the exterior is being compromised in flavor and texture and slowly drying out. This is common when sausages come out shriveled up; it's usually a result of too high heat due to air frying. This can further cause a sausage to split at the middle and leave the center raw.

Fat content is what gives sausages their juiciness. But, as Quiet Waters Farm notes, "Too high a temperature will also liquify the fat content that has been so carefully mixed into your sausage to keep it moist and juicy. If this liquifies and leaks out ... you will have a dry and crumbly result without all that flavor." If you're looking to enjoy a juicy sausage that is plump in texture and seasonings, perhaps rethink using your air fryer to cook it.

You shouldn't air-fry sausages that come with wet batters

Not all sausages are made the same, and sausage-adjacent food items like corn dogs, for example, won't exactly shine in your air fryer if you're making them from scratch. That's because wet batter is notorious for not surviving this method of cooking. There's several reasons for that.

While air-frying can give your already fried foods a pleasingly crisp texture, it is not the same as deep-frying foods covered in a wet batter. Oil is needed to allow for crispiness in food, especially when excessive wet batter is involved, according to BBC Good Food. This is because an incredibly high level of heat in the oil is needed to set the wet batter, and an air fryer simply can't do that. In an air fryer, the batter will simply slide away, crunchy coatings will develop in the drip tray, and you'll most likely end up with a coating-less sausage. According to Insider, you'll also end up with batter that has a more chewy texture, and you'll miss out on the crispy exterior being sought.

Just like with dry rubs, wet batters may also get blown around by an air fryer's fan, and you'll inevitably end up with a less-than-stellar sausage.

Forget about air-frying frozen sausages

While cooking raw sausage is an option, starting with frozen sausages could take you about four times as long to cook if you're using an air fryer.

That's because you'll need to thaw out your sausages first if they come out of the freezer in a super clumped-up mess. You'll want to be able to separate the sausages and give them space if you're cooking them in the air fryer. According to Cooking From Frozen, it can take up to an hour to thaw sausages so they can be separated.

If you're resorting to using an air fryer so that you can walk away from the kitchen while it cooks, think again. Previously frozen sausages will also need to be rotated a bit more than their pan-fried counterparts, as they're colder in temperature. While getting the sausages closer to room temperature will help, you'll still need to give your sausages a little more TLC when cooking in an air fryer than you would if you were cooking them raw.

You won't be able to cook your sausage and sides simultaneously

If you prefer eating sausage with a couple of side dishes like mashed potatoes and want to save time by not heating them up individually, it's best you save the air fryer for another day and use your stovetop instead. Not only can this keep your meal interesting, but it will also work in your sausage's favor.

As opposed to air frying, pan-frying sausage is ideal for adding and retaining flavors. When using a pan, it's possible to cook multiple side ingredients like eggs or vegetables along with the sausage. This allows for multiple flavors to seep into your sausage, via Gourmet Food Store. And who doesn't want to amp up their breakfast sausage game?

Cooking times for meat and vegetables are not the same, so you'll want to consider that. And if your sausage is raw, you won't want that coming into contact with your sides. By pan-frying, you can also be rest assured knowing that other foods that don't do super well in air fryers (hello eggs) will be cooked, too. You'll be saving time and saving yourself from potential health hazards.

A mess is more than likely

If you've used an air fryer to cook foods that generate grease, you'll know that oily messes are no fun to clean. An air fryer basket can get congested with hardened grease if not taken care of immediately. Bring sausages into the mix, and you're in no way escaping the thorough cleanup session needed after cooking.

Poking holes in sausages has been a topic of debate among some. It can prevent a sausage's casing from splitting while it's being exposed to heat, according to Italian Barrel. However, doing so when it is being cooked in an air fryer will cause grease to drip into the basket. When grease builds up, this increases the risk of burning and smoke releasing from your air fryer.

According to the USDA, cheap sausages are often composed of a high water content, making them extra prone to breakage while being heated in a confined space. While water is necessary when making sausage to bind meat and seasonings together, via Home Kitchen Talk, the higher level of tension in the sausage can make its casing burst, and now you'll have to clean up the remnants of a flavorless, dry, could-have-been meal. Perhaps skip the air fryer when cooking your sausages to avoid a mess and use it instead when preparing crispy vegetables or lower-fat meats.

It's easy to burn sausages in an air fryer

We've all been there — your cooking has been interrupted by the relentless smoke alarm in your kitchen that freaks out at the slightest hint of smoke when something gets burned. Although safety always comes first, cooking sausage in an air fryer could result in burned food if you're cooking on the wrong settings.

Depending on the sausage, the cooking times will vary. However, the more fatty the sausage, the more you'll need to crank up the heat on your air fryer. About 400 degrees Fahrenheit is usually what it'll take, assuming you prefer fully cooked sausage, of course. As air fryer sizes and settings vary, Everyday Family Cooking reminds us that an air fryer's job is not to smoke meat. This is why it is possible to cook higher-in-fat meats in an air fryer. But by no means is it recommended. Starting at a lower temperature and increasing the heat gradually can be one way to go, though other cooking methods like pan frying and baking can simplify your sausage cooking adventures. If including sauces on your sausage, you should use caution. Those containing sugar, for example, can drip and over-caramelize, also causing burning in your air fryer.

You're not saving time

Air fryers can be a fantastic way to save time when cooking in a pinch, but if you think you'll shave minutes off of your breakfast morning routine when cooking sausages in an air fryer, think again. According to Simply Air Fryer, it takes up to 13 minutes to air-fry Italian sausage. Chicken sausage takes up to 13 minutes to cook through in an air fryer as well, via Craving Tasty. Thicker sausages will likely require a couple more minutes on top of that. 

If you're pan frying, you're bracing yourself for a similar wait time of about 15 minutes for all sides to finish cooking, Traymoor informs us. But the benefit of pan frying is that you'll likely be able to cook more sausages in one batch, sparing you from having to do another 15 minutes with a second smaller batch in an air fryer. Sausages also need to be rotated to cook evenly, and in an air fryer, you'll have to slide open the basket before doing so. Pan frying, on the other hand, only takes a swift movement of your tongs to flip over your sausage. So if you're aiming for quality with your sausage, you're better off using the tried and true method of pan-frying as you'll be committing to about the same amount of cooking time for your sausages.

Cooking sausage and other meats in air fryers can pose health risks

An air fryer provides a crispiness that roasting, slow-cooking, pan-searing and grilling cannot always provide. While it's generally safe to cook many foods via air fryer, meat may pose additional health risks. According to Cancer.gov, certain chemicals that develop in beef, pork, or poultry when they're cooked at high heat can be mutagenic, meaning they hold the potential of changing DNA patterns that can cause cancers. Meat cooked at high temperatures, whether with an air fryer, in a frying pan or over an open flame, is the main culprit in the formation of these chemicals; sausage is no exception.

Air-frying meats does not always equal a more healthful meal, though if the alternative is deep frying, an air fryer can help cut back on the fat content, Medical News Today informs us. Fats like vegetable oils used in frying have been considered factors that contribute to heart disease and inflammation. 

So if your goal is to remain health conscious, see alternative options for cooking sausage or skip the meat altogether and give some vegetarian recipes a go.