Saturday, September 14, 2019

Midway Sausage, Pepper, and Onion Hoagies

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The Tennessee Valley Fair has been running in Knoxville.  As a kid, I loved the local fair with its bright lights, blaring sounds, and whirring "one loose bolt away from a catastrophe" rides.  Then there was the food - eating brilliant red candy apples, clouds of cotton candy, and fried funnel cakes until you might explode.  

One of my favorite memories of the fair is the smell of peppers, onions, and sausage wafting across the midway.  Here's how I make the best fair sausage hoagie at home on my Big Green Egg.  These are quick and they are also fantastic for gameday food.

Midway style sausage, peppers, and onions on a toasted hoagie.

So, this isn't as much a recipe, I mean, it's just sausage, peppers and onions, right?  But there are a few key steps in my process that make it better.

  1. Toasting the bun
  2. Using a griddle or cast-iron skillet 
  3. Seasoning the peppers and onions
  4. Splitting the sausage
  5. Using ultra-thin provolone on the veggies and meat

Big Green Egg using a Smokeware thermometer.
I like to run the grill about 400°f for sausage hoagies.

I toast the hoagie rolls cut side down without butter or anything.  I skip brushing them with butter or anything because there is enough rendered fat clinging to the sausage and veggies.  

A basic, cast-iron skillet is a must have accessory for the serious griller.
Preheat a griddle or cast-iron skillet for 5-10 minutes.  I have an adjustable rig in this picture, but that's only because I didn't feel like moving it.  This is the same as just having a standard grate on top of the fire ring.  The skillet is a basic Lodge SK10.

After preheating the skillet, I add a tablespoon or two of oil, wait 30 seconds or so and then add the pepper and onions. For 2 or 3 hoagies, I will use half a red bell pepper, half a green bell pepper, and an onion cut into strips.  I cook these for five minutes, stirring once or twice.  Most places just cook the veggies, but I like to boost the flavor by seasoning them with salt, pepper, and dried oregano leaves, maybe about a quarter teaspoon each.  You can also use Italian Seasoning instead of oregano.

Splitting the Italian sausages - This might give some people concern because common BBQ lore is that a split casing or even poking a hole in the casing will dry the sausage out.  That might have some truth when slow cooking sausages but we are doing this hot and fast on a griddle.  There won't be time for the sausage to dry out and we want the flat surface to maximize the beautiful, golden caramelization.

After the veggies have cooked for 5 minutes, I shift them to the side to create space for the sausages.  I add the sausages in split-side down and let them cook until they are golden brown on the bottom, right at 6 to 7 minutes.  

Once the sausages are golden brown on the bottom, flip them over and cook them until they reach an internal temperature of 165°f.  That should only take 2-3 minutes.

Using Sargento's Ultra Thin Provolone is a key step to a impeccable sausage hoagie, IMHO.
Now top the sausages and the veggies with Sargento Ultra-Thin Sliced Provolone.  These thin slices melt quickly and perfectly.   

Close the grill lid and cook for another minute until the cheese is bubbly.  Look at how the cheese melts onto the veggies, almost like a sauce.  

Here's another trick.  I slice the cheesy Italian sausages on the bias before putting them on the toasted buns, so it exactly covers the bun for sausage in every bite.

Perfect sausage hoagie on the Big Green Egg kamado grill.
See how the cheese is everywhere but not overly heavy?  That is why I love using layers of the ultra-thin slices instead of one thick slice.
Each of the 5 tips makes a difference in the final hoagie.

  1. The toasted buns add texture and stand up to the rendered sausage fat.
  2. Using a skillet or griddle replicates the texture of a flat top griddle used at a fair.
  3. Seasoning the peppers and onions amplifies their flavors.
  4. Splitting the sausages gives them the tasty Maillard effect and cooks them quickly so they are still juicy.
  5. Using the ultra-thin cheese evenly distributes it through the whole sandwich. I am craving an Italian sausage hoagie.