Bratwurst—or brats for short—are an excellent choice for weeknight grilling. When they’re done right, they’re plump and juicy, and pair well with sauerkraut and your favorite mustard.
When bratwursts are sold precooked, it can be easy to overdo it, winding up with sausages that are dry and mealy on the inside. We’ve prepared this guide to clue you in on how to know when brats are done to perfection.
How To Know When Brats Are Done
Bratwurst are done when their internal temperature reaches 160 degrees Fahrenheit. To test for doneness without a thermometer, you can use tongs to bounce one of the sausages gently up and down on the cooking grate, press against it with your finger to check the firmness, or use a cake tester to find out if the interior is hot.
Bratwurst is a German sausage that’s typically made of pork, though beef and veal may also be included in the recipe. The name is derived from the German words for finely chopped meat (brat) and sausage (wurst).
Brats are distinguished by their coarse grind and natural casings. Seasonings include salt and pepper, as well as a touch of sweet spice such as nutmeg or mace.
While precooked bratwurst are available in most supermarkets, it’s better to buy fresh ones whenever possible. The meat will taste superior and have a fabulous juicy texture.
How To Know When Brats Are Done
The best way to grill bratwurst is to set the temperature to 300 degrees Fahrenheit, or medium-low if you’re grilling with gas or charcoal. You can also prepare them inside using a skillet set to medium-low heat, but we prefer the grill.
When the bratwurst are fully cooked, their internal temperatures should register 160 degrees Fahrenheit on an instant-read thermometer. The meat will also be white and firm throughout, with no visible pink.
For most meat products, a thermometer is the best way to determine doneness. The rules are different when it comes to fresh sausages. If you poke the casing too often, most of the juices will run out, which will dry out the meat and increase the risk of flare-ups.
Try to use a meat thermometer with a very slender probe. This will minimize the amount of damage to the casing. We would also suggest waiting until the brats appear to be cooked, then probing every 5 minutes or so until they reach 160 degrees.
How Long To Grill Brats
First of all, wait until the grill has reached the optimum temperature of 300 degrees. If the grill is too cool when you add the brats, you’ll prolong the cooking time.
Most of the time, bratwurst will cook through in 15-20 minutes. If the sausages are very thick, add 2 or 3 minutes to the total estimated cooking time.
Other Tips For Grilling
You’ll need to rotate the sausages every 2 minutes or so to ensure even browning. If you leave them in one position for too long, they’ll burn on that side while the other side remains pale and underdone.
Be sure to space the brats evenly when you place them on the grill. A crowded grill leads to uneven cooking.
Listen for a sizzling sound as the brats hit the grill. This is one of the pleasures of grilling, and it lets you know that the cooking process is well underway.
If you find that brats are sticking to the grate, or if the grill marks are becoming too dark, you can apply a light coating of water or oil to keep the outsides from burning. Beer is an acceptable substitute as well, and will contribute a nice flavor to the meat.
Let the bratwurst rest for 5 minutes after cooking. This gives the juices a chance to redistribute. Once they’re finished resting, serve immediately with your chosen accompaniments.
Tip: If you used beer to coat the brats during cooking, serve the same brew with the cooked sausages.
Do You Close The Lid Or Leave It Open When Grilling Brats?
This is a matter of personal preference. Since you’ll be turning the brats so often anyway, we think it’s a hassle to close the lid after each revolution. However, leaving the lid closed may help the sausages cook through faster.
Whatever you decide, don’t neglect the frequent turning. The outsides should caramelize and turn a nutty brown color as the casing locks in all the delicious juices.
If you don’t have a thermometer handy, try one of the following techniques to test the brats for doneness.
The Touch Test
Press your thumb and pinky finger together to form a crooked “O.” The flesh should feel firm, with just a slight amount of give. That’s the texture you’re looking for in a finished bratwurst.
Press the tip of your finger against one of the brats. If the meat feels as firm as the flesh between your thumb and pinky, it’s probably time to take the meat off the grill.
The Cake Test
No, this method doesn’t actually involve cake, but it does enlist the aid of a cake tester. These are long metal pins with plastic loops on the ends, much narrower than thermometer probes, that are used to test cakes for doneness. The needle-like probe is so small, it won’t cause much damage to the sausage casing.
Insert the cake tester into the bratwurst at a slight angle. After you withdraw it, press the metal against the inside of your wrist. When it feels hot to the touch, the bratwurst should be ready.
The Wiggle Test
This technique is similar to the “bend test” that pitmasters use on racks of pork ribs. Just pick up one end of the brat and wiggle it up and down against the cooking grate. When the sausage is cooked, it should be firm, with just a slight bounce.
Should You Parboil Bratwurst?
Some amateurs believe that you should parboil bratwurst before adding them to the grill. While it’s true that they would cook faster under these circumstances, we don’t recommend this practice.
Here’s why: The natural casing is very thin, meaning that it will split when heated to a boiling temperature. This will cause the meat flavor to leak out into the water, leaving you with dull, tasteless brats.
That said, if you’d like to decrease the amount of time that the brats spend on the grill, it’s fine to simmer them in an aluminum pan beforehand. Simmering isn’t the same as boiling—it will heat the sausages gently, thereby preserving the casings and the flavor.
Set the sausages in the pan and add a small amount of water, or equal amounts of water and beer. Heat the pan slowly over medium-high heat until the water is just about to boil, then turn the burner down to its lowest setting. Simmer for about 20 minutes.
If you’ve taken this step, the bratwurst should only need about 5-10 minutes on the grill.
How To Tell If Precooked Brats Are Done
One of the nice things about precooked brats is that you don’t have to worry about food-borne illnesses. The meat is already cooked to a safe temperature, so the grilling process is just a fancy way to reheat it.
When you’re grilling precooked brats, 5-7 minutes over medium heat should be sufficient. In this case, the grill temperature can be a bit higher than what you’d use for fresh bratwurst—about 350 degrees. Just make sure to turn them often so the outsides don’t char and split.
Even though the meat was precooked, you should still rest the brats for about 5 minutes before serving them. This type of bratwurst dries out easily enough as it is, so it needs all the help it can get in this department.
The Bottom Line
Buy fresh bratwurst whenever possible, and grill them for 15 to 20 minutes total. Remember to turn them often to ensure even browning. The casings might be delicate, but when they have a chance to crisp up, they seal in the juices to create an amazing harmony of flavor and texture.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!