Grilling Bratwurst – Everything You Need to Know

Ahhh brats, those juicy, spiced up sausages, so near and dear to men and women everywhere. What in this world tastes better than a freshly grilled bratwurst, loaded with spicy mustard and grilled peppers and onions? Unfortunately, many brat enthusiasts, in a rush to pop the savory sausage in their mouths, often make the mistake of grilling their brats improperly, resulting in a pitiful piece of pork sausage that has been burned on the outside and is still cold and raw inside. There is a science to grilling bratwurst properly.

If you are starting with a precooked bratwurst, grilling is simple. Much like a grilling a hot dog, simply place the brat on the heated grill and cook for about seven minutes. However, these precooked brats are not nearly as flavorful as fresh brats.

Cooking brats requires patience. The trick is to cook them thoroughly without burning them or without ending up with a half cooked sausage. Not only do they taste badly, they are dangerous to eat. Anytime you are cooking a pork product, you must make sure that it is cooked to at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit internally.

Brats, like all sausages, must be cooked “low and slow.” This means they need to be grilled on a medium flame for about 20-25 minutes. For those using a charcoal grill, starting the brats over a medium flame then moving them to indirect heating on the opposite side of the grill is a good method. For gas grills, start your brats off with a medium temperature. Then, as juices begin to leak from the casing, turn the grill to low and continue cooking. You’ll need to decide what degree of char, if any, you like on your brat.

Another way of cooking brats is a two step method. This involves first poaching the bratwurst, then placing them directly on the grill. In this method, the brats begin on the stove. The brats are placed in a large pot and beer is poured over them. You’ll want to use enough beer to cover them completely. Adding some chopped onion to the beer also gives the brats a hearty flavor. Remember to use a strong beer. A light beer won’t impart the same degree of flavor as a full bodied beer. Boil, or poach, the brats for about 15-20 minutes. Then carefully remove them from the pot, taking care not to pierce or split the skin, and place on a medium grill for approximately 4-6 minutes per side. The casing should slowly brown and turn crispy.

There are two schools of thought on preparing the brats for the beer bath. One states that a brat casing should never be pierced. Piercing the casing releases the fat and the juices and results in a drier brat that has lost flavor. The other states that the casing should be pierced so much of the fat can be expelled and so the beer and onion mixture can permeate the brat. This difference has been argued at many tailgate parties and across backyards during barbecues. You should try each method and determine what you think of the flavor.

Regardless of how you choose to cook your brats, whether by grilling only, or by using the beer bath method, remember to leave plenty of space among the brats when placing them on the grill. Brats do expel fat down into the grill as they cook, which can result in flare-ups. You’ll need room to move the brats away from the flames so they do not burn. Also, do not pierce the casings of the brats while grilling as the juices will leak out and you’ll lose flavor.

Since you have the brats on the grill, consider placing a pan alongside them with butter, peppers and onions. Stir those as you grill your brats and you’ll have a tasty topping to place on them once they are grilled.