Many amateur chefs make the mistake of thinking that bratwurst and hot dogs are the same thing. In fact, while both are superb choices for an afternoon cookout, they’re not interchangeable. Here’s our ultimate “brat vs hot dog” matchup.
Brat vs Hot Dog
A brat, or bratwurst, is a type of German sausage that’s made from pork and veal and seasoned with a robust spice blend. Hot dogs are usually made from beef, pork, or a combination. They’re smaller than bratwurst and the seasonings are simpler. Bratwurst also has a coarser grind than hot dogs.
What is Bratwurst?
Brat is short for bratwurst, a type of German sausage.
The word “braten” means to roast or fry, and “wurst” is an umbrella term for sausage. Putting the two together, you can surmise that this is a sausage that’s typically either pan-fried, grilled, or roasted.
Pork is the traditional base for bratwurst, though veal is a common addition. Seasonings may include red pepper, ginger, and nutmeg, all of which give the sausage a rich and interesting flavor.
Bratwurst is excellent when served on a roll with high-quality mustard. Skip the yellow variety and go for Dijon or whole-grain mustard when brats are on the menu. Sauerkraut is another classic accompaniment—make your own from scratch if you can.
What Are Hot Dogs?
You’ve probably had a hot dog at least once in your life, even if you didn’t think much about the definition of the term. After all, they’re a picnic staple and a favorite of young children.
Hot dogs also have German roots, but they were popularized by immigrants in North America in the 19th century. Back then, they were made from the meat scraps left behind after pigs and cows were butchered.
Modern manufacturers might make hot dogs from either pork or beef, or a combination. Chicken can be included as well, though this is less common. Seasonings include garlic and paprika, as well as the salt that’s a necessary component in all sausage making.
Grilling hot dogs brings out their savory flavor, but they can be pan-fried or boiled as well. You can serve them plain, but they’re excellent when presented on a toasted bun and topped with mustard, grilled onions, and dill relish.
Brat vs Hot Dog: Breaking it Down
Now you know that bratwurst and hot dogs are both sausages that can be made from pork, though beef may also be included. Both are also best when served grilled, preferably on a roll or bun.
There are other similarities as well, but in truth, the differences are more pronounced than you might expect. Let’s take a look.
Affordability and Availability
Hot dogs are easy to find. Most supermarkets stock several brands, and you can even buy them at some gas stations and convenience stores. As meat products go, they’re also very affordable.
Bratwurst, by contrast, is tougher on the wallet. It’s seen as a fancier option than hot dogs, and is priced accordingly. Moreover, you might have a hard time finding it outside of specialty grocery stores and butcher counters.
As we mentioned, bratwurst is usually made with pork. Veal is often included in the mix as well. This provides a mild template for the bolder spices that are used in the seasoning.
It’s more common for hot dogs to be made from either pork, beef, or a combination. Moreover, they’re not as heavily seasoned. Besides the salt, garlic, and paprika, they don’t contain many spices, whereas bratwurst has a more exotic flavor profile.
Most of the time, you should be able to tell a bratwurst from a hot dog just by looking at the two side by side.
Traditional bratwurst is long and thick. Some types can measure up to 12 inches long. While they often taper slightly at either end, they can be a full inch or more in diameter.
Hot dogs tend to be thinner than that. They’re not usually as long, either, although foot-long hot dogs do exist. Most of the time, they’ll measure just 6 to 8 inches in length.
The finer the grind, the smoother the texture of the sausage. You’ll know that if you’ve ever made sausage from scratch using a meat grinder.
To make hot dogs, the manufacturers use a very fine grind. Bratwurst, however, is made with a coarser grind, giving it a slightly different texture. A fresh bratwurst may remind you more of a good hamburger than a sausage.
Cooking and Serving Methods
Have you ever grilled a hot dog without cutting it open first? When you do that, the casing tends to burst. This isn’t the end of the world, but it’s preferable to split a hot dog down the middle before putting it on the grill.
You can grill a bratwurst whole without taking this step. However, it’s a good idea to poke holes in it with a fork, or make a series of crosswise slashes along one side. That way, the casing will remain intact.
It’s common to add fresh bratwurst to a pot of simmering liquid—usually beer—before adding them to the grill. Since hot dogs are precooked, this step isn’t necessary. If you boil or steam a hot dog, you can eat it right away without grilling it.
As for toppings, sauerkraut and mustard are the best companions for a perfectly grilled bratwurst. We mentioned the classic mustard-onion-relish combo for hot dogs, but honestly, you can get even more creative than that. Feel free to top your dog with ketchup, chili, shredded cheese, beans, salsa, or coleslaw.
Neither hot dogs nor bratwurst can be considered powerhouses in the nutrition department. They’re high in sodium and saturated fat, for one thing. That said, they’re also good sources of protein and can be part of a well-balanced diet when enjoyed in moderation.
If you’re looking for the sausage that’s lower in fat, calories, and sodium, opt for bratwurst. In most cases, hot dogs are guilty of having higher levels of each. Remember, though, that you can control the fat content of sausage by making your own.
Also, bear in mind that hot dogs are highly processed. If you can find fresh bratwurst, there will be fewer preservatives to deal with.
Can You Substitute Hot Dogs for Bratwurst (Or Vice Versa)?
Although there are marked differences between these two types of sausage, there’s no reason why you can’t substitute one for the other—at least in some cases. As long as you understand that the flavor will be different, you can toss either one on the grill.
However, the substitutions won’t always work. For example, if you enjoy making macaroni and cheese with hot dogs, bratwurst isn’t an acceptable substitute.
On the other hand, if the recipe calls for bratwurst simmered in beer and served with sauerkraut, the results won’t be as impressive if you use hot dogs instead. Because they’re precooked, they won’t benefit from the low-and-slow treatment.
Ideas for Side Dishes
Play up the German connection by serving a potato salad dressed with whole grain mustard, bacon, and onion. A sweet-and-sour cabbage slaw will create a lovely interplay of flavors and help to cut the richness of the sausage.
For a thematic twist on the traditional white roll, look for pretzel buns. These pair wonderfully with bratwurst, especially when they’re served warm with mustard.
Potato chips, coleslaw, and baked beans are all classic accompaniments, but you can take things a step further.
Toss some corn on the cob or slices of eggplant on the grill alongside the hot dogs. Hush puppies make a savory and eye-catching alternative to french fries or potato chips.You can also create a pasta salad using grilled veggies and a simple Italian vinaigrette.
Since brats and hot dogs are both delicious when grilled over an open fire, you should make them regular stars in your rotation. Now that you understand the differences between them, you’ll be able to better appreciate their distinctive qualities.
Hi there! I’m Darren Wayland, your BBQHost. My love of great barbecue inspired me to curate this site as a resource for all my like-minded fellow pitmasters out there. When I’m not researching and learning all I can about the latest tips and techniques, you can find me at the grill—that is, if you can spot me at all through the clouds of sweet-smelling smoke. And since you asked, yes, that probably is barbecue sauce on my face. Welcome to the party!