Brat Breakdown: A Guide to Making the Best Bratwurst

The recipes and photography for this post were provided by local blogger, Sally Roeckell of 365 Barrington.

Today we’re cooking up a summer classic: brats on the BBQ. Nothing screams summertime like cooking brats for a crowd on the grill. I’m using Saddleberk Berkshire brats from the butcher at Heinen’s. I’m so glad we ventured out of the usual packaged brats to try these. They were delicious and juicy. I served them with a variety of roasted vegetables and onions, mustard, pickles and most importantly, cold beer. The roasted garlic was a big hit. Spread the soft roasted garlic on your bun before filling it with the brat and toppings. Before we get into the recipe, let’s talk about sausage and the best tips to making sure you get the perfect brat.

What’s the difference between sausages…

BRATWURST is a German sausage. Brats are made from pork, veal and sometimes beef. They have a smooth texture, a pale color, a mild flavor and can be seasoned with any combination of salt, white pepper, nutmeg, lemon peel, marjoram, caraway, and garlic.

KIELBASA is a Polish sausage. The type we see most is a smoked sausage made from pork and/or beef. It can be flavored with garlic and marjoram. The more garlic the better.

KNOCKWORST is a shorter, stockier German sausage made with beef, or beef and pork. It has a stronger garlic flavor profile and a characteristic ‘snappy’ texture to the skin when cooked.

Bratwurst

THE TRICK TO GRILLING PERFECT BRATS

Having zone heating gives you a high heat area and a low heat area. If your brats are cooking too fast or hot, you simply move them away from the coals. If you lay the charcoal evenly across the entire floor of the grill they have no reprieve from the heat and they will likely burn. The other danger of using too high of heat is the casing will burst, releasing all of the delicious juice inside the brat. A perfectly grilled brat will actually pulse as the juice inside the casing boils, without the casing breaking. If your casing bursts, that is a sign you need less heat. I read that adding shallow slits in the brats will allow for quicker cooking and keep the brats from curling. I think the argument can be made that doing this will cause juices to be lost however mine were still deliciously juicy. You decide.

Once the brats are taking on color, you will want to give them a quarter turn. Keep turning until each side of the brat has a rich reddish-brown color. If the exterior gets done before the brats finish cooking simply move them to the opposite side of the grill away from the coals so they can finish cooking without burning.

How long to cook brats will depend on how hot your coals are, and how many you are using. Or how high you have your gas grill set. However, typically grilling brats for 15-20 minutes is ideal. You will know the brats are done when an instant-read thermometer shows 160 degrees.

Bratwurst

SHOULD YOU BOIL BRATS BEFORE GRILLING?

Boiling brats before grilling allows them to precook the brats and then simply brown them on the grill. Sadly this method tends to produce dry brats. Rather than boiling the brats, use a Beer Brat Bath instead, otherwise known as a Beer Hot Tub. This serves two functions. Most importantly, it keeps the brats warm after grilling so people can come grab one whenever they are hungry, and secondly, it infuses the brat with the flavor of beer, like boiling does, except it is done and a more manageable temperature so it doesn’t over-cook the brats. If your brat bath is kept around 160 degrees the brats will be piping hot, without drying out and over-cooking.

Brats with Peppers and Onions

Ingredients

  • 6 bratwurst (ask for Saddleberk Berkshire sausage and brats at the Heinen’s meat counter)
  • 6 brat rolls
  • Mustard for serving
  • Olive oil
  • Assorted colorful bell peppers (allow about 1/2 pepper per brat)
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 head of garlic
  • Salt and fresh cracked black pepper
  • Red pepper flakes to taste

For the Brats

  1. Light the charcoal and spread it evenly across one-half of the grill. If using propane, light burners only on one side of the grill. (On my Webber I set the three flames to medium off medium from front to back).
  2. Oil grates with paper towel soaked in oil to prevent sticking.
  3. Place brats on grates directly over heat and grill on each side until browned. If the casing bursts or burns move brats further from the coals to reduce cooking temperature.
  4. Cook brats for 15-20 minutes, or until internal temperature reaches 160 degrees.
  5. Cooked brats are firm to the touch.
  6. Keep brats warm in a Brat Bath until ready to serve.
  7. Serve on buns with onions, sauerkraut, and brat sauce.

Notes: I read that adding shallow slits in the brats will allow for quicker cooking and keep the brats from curling. I think the argument can be made that doing this will cause juices to be lost. That being said, I used this method and mine were still deliciously juicy.

For the Vegetables

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F (or if you have room on your grill, the vegetables can be cooked there)
  2. Remove the veins and seeds from the peppers and slice into thin strips.
  3. Peel, halve, and slice the onion into thin wedges.
  4. Cut the top off the full head of garlic.
  5. Put the onions and peppers and garlic on a sheet pan and season lightly with salt and pepper, then drizzle with olive oil. Toss everything together so all surfaces are lightly coated with the oil. Arranged in a single layer on the pan.
  6. Roast vegetables for about 30 minutes, or until cooked through and slightly caramelized at the edges.

Notes:  Don’t over crowd your sheet pan. Use two if necessary so that everything gets nicely browned. Overloading your pan will result in the food steaming instead of roasting.
Serve Brats with buns slightly larger than the brats, leaving room for add-ons. Top with assorted peppers, onions and garlic and your favorite mustard.

Bratwurst

Click Here to Print the Recipe for Brats with Peppers and Onions

Sally Roeckell
Posted by: Sally Roeckell
Photographer Sally Roeckell specializes in contemporary lifestyle portraiture with an emphasis on food photography. She has photographed people, food and life all over the US and in Spain, Basque Country, The South of France and Paris. She regularly shops at Heinen’s for the family dishes she features on 365 Barrington and on her website at TableAndDish.com.

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