Whether it’s for game day or a weeknight meal, this is the simplest and most perfect way to make sausage and peppers with flavorful onions with a built-in sauce to complement. It will be your new go-to method for making the Italian-American classic.
There are a lot of ways to cook sausage. Some better than others. But when you have the best way (hint: it’s this way), there’s really no reason to look elsewhere. A tried-and-true method that works every time.
The sausage is first browned in a hot skillet right alongside the peppers and onions, then a little liquid is added and the pan is covered while the sausage steams to perfection.
The sausage packs so much flavor by itself that there really isn’t a need to add a bunch of spices separately. If using sweet sausage, adding some crushed pepper flakes is a great addition to balance everything out.
The important things are a good quality sausage, a bell pepper and an onion. You will also need a small drizzle of a neutral oil like canola oil and a pinch of kosher salt.
Sweet Italian sausage, hot Italian or a combo of the two are perfect. You can go with pork, chicken or even turkey. They all will work great. My preference is sweet Italian pork sausage. Sprouts Farmers Market makes fantastic sausage in-house and is usually my go-to. Beyond Meat even has plant-based sweet and hot Italian sausage options, though I haven’t tried them yet.
Go with bell peppers in any color. The red ones are the ripest and sweetest, but a rainbow combo makes for a great presentation. To really spice it up, you can add a poblano or other chili pepper to the mix.
Yellow or sweet onions work great, but my preference is to use red onions because of the sweet flavor they easily develop when sautéing in the skillet with the other ingredients. They also tend to look more caramelized when it’s time to serve.
A natural pan sauce is created by adding liquid to the pan after browning the sausage. You can use water, stock or even wine. I actually prefer to use water as it will take on the flavors from the browned sausage, peppers, onions and any other seasonings you add. The liquid not only brings the sauce together, but it will steam the sausage when you place the lid on the pan.
If you prefer more of a tomato sauce, you can even add some crushed tomatoes to the mix, which can be great when combining with pasta.
Feel free to toss in some red pepper flakes, chopped garlic, dried basil, dried oregano, tomato paste or even red wine vinegar (for more acidity).
Why It Works
Browning the sausage first just makes sense. If you boil the sausage first, you are introducing more liquid, which inhibits browning later. After browning, then liquid is added and the sausage finishes cooking with steam.
Cooking all the ingredients together creates a natural pan sauce that is a flavor burst of all the ingredients combined.
Serve It Up With
Pasta or rice. This is a great meal in itself. But it can totally change to make a delicious and hearty pasta or rice dish. You can even slice the sausage after it’s cooked or before if you want more little browned pieces. Or make it a sub…
Make It a Sub
Toast up some soft Italian rolls and fill them with a sausage, peppers and your favorite condiments. When going the sub route, avoid adding too much of the sauce into the bun or it will get soggy. Make it easier to eat by slicing the sausage in half before placing in the bun. You can even brown the sausages again after slicing in half.
Sausage and Peppers FAQ
Simply poke a few holes with a fork or a sharp knife in each sausage. This will allow the steam to escape without the sausage bursting.
The best results come from browning the sausage on both sides with a little neutral oil in a hot skillet then adding a small amount of liquid (such as water, stock or wine) and covering the skillet to finish cooking by steam.
Since it’s an Italian dish, sausage and peppers are fantastic on top of pasta, rice or even risotto. It can also be turned into a sub with a fresh Italian bun. If you are in the mood for potatoes, crispy skillet potatoes are fantastic with the sausage.
It’s totally up to you and how you will be eating the dish. If the sausage is the main part of the meal, leave them whole. If it is going into a pasta or over risotto, then it’s nice to have it already cut up to brown each piece.
Cook the sausage until the internal temperature reaches 160° F. Verify with an instant-read probe thermometer (affiliate).
The pan can get a little crowded with all the ingredients. After the sausage is finished cooking, remove it from pan and continue to cook the onions over high heat to brown and finish cooking them.
Pair it up with nice glass of Chianti to keep things Italian and because the flavors of this dish are bold.
Special Tools & Equipment Used
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- 4 (about 1 pound) Italian sausage (sweet, hot or a combo)
- 1 bell pepper (sliced)
- 1 onion (sliced)
- 2 tsp. canola oil
- 1/2 cup water or stock
- Red pepper flakes (optional)
- Heat a heavy 12" cast iron skillet with a drizzle of canola oil over medium-high heat until it just starts to smoke.
- With a fork, poke a few holes on each side of the sausage to keep them from bursting while they cook.
- Place the sausage in the hot skillet, then place the sliced peppers and onions around them.
- Stir the peppers and onions to spread them around and coat with oil.
- Cook the sausage for about 4 minutes per side, or until they are nicely browned.
- Carefully pour 1/2 cup water or stock in the skillet, then immediately place a lid over the skillet and reduce the heat to medium-low.
- Continue to cook covered for about 10 more minutes, or until the internal temperature of the sausage reaches 160° F / 71° C.
- Remove the lid and the sausage from the skillet.
- Increase the heat and season the peppers and onions with kosher salt and continue to cook for a few more minutes to reduce the liquid.
- Serve the sausages topped with peppers and onions over pasta, rice, in an Italian bun or as is.
- The recipe can be scaled up or down. If scaling up, it’s best to use an even larger skillet or two skillets to not overcrowd the pan.