Planning a barbecue? When you’re firing up the grill and thinking of serving sausage, don’t even question it – go straight for bratwurst. They’re a guaranteed crowd-pleaser, tasting even more incredible if you smoke them up.
Though you might be tempted to put them directly on the grill, which is time-saving and gives you a ready-made meal in just a matter of minutes, you’ll actually preserve a lot more of their thick and juicy flavors with a smoker.
Plus, there’s way less chance of the delicate sausage casing being punctured and leaking all over your clean grill, which results in a massive loss of flavor.
So long as you follow our guide to what type of brats to pick up, season them thoroughly and pick out a complimentary wood, then properly smoke those bad boys, you’ll have everybody back for seconds, possibly even thirds.
What kind of bratwurst should I get?
Start your cooking off right from the beginning and pick up some good quality, uncooked bratwursts with a decent ratio of fat to lean. Typically, it’s made mostly from pork, but you can also get a beef or veal brat in some regions.
Ideally, you want 70% lean and 30% fat, which offers optimum juiciness without being too artery-clogging. You’ll notice the raw, lean meat is pinkish in color, whilst the fat, which is marbled through, is white.
Try and avoid buying brats that come ready prepared if you can, as these will probably have been parboiled.
Sure, that means you won’t have to cook them for as long, but you’ve also boiled away so much of the meat’s natural juices and flavors, and that’s without even throwing them on the grill!
What wood is best for smoking bratwurst?
Much like pairing wine with a meal, the wood pellets or chips you use to smoke your brats should be matched up with your seasonings – more on that in a little bit.
Oak is a versatile choice, intensifying the spiciness of the sausage, though it can be a bit mild and disappointing for some people.
If you’re looking for notes of sweetness, you can’t go wrong with maple, cherry or apple, whilst those after a more all-American barbecue flavor will appreciate the traditional smokiness of hickory.
Seasoning your bratwurst to perfection
If you’re looking for an authentic German flavor for your brats, you’ll want to utilize the following herbs and spices:
- A handful of dried bay leaves
- Two teaspoons of good quality sea salt
- Two teaspoons of white pepper
- Two teaspoons of garlic powder
- One teaspoon of ginger powder
- One teaspoon of red chili powder
- One teaspoon of coriander seeds
- One teaspoon of caraway seeds
- Two teaspoons of dried marjoram
- One teaspoon of nutmeg
Using a mortar and pestle or electric spice mill, grind up your spices and seasonings until you have a nice, cohesive mix and all the flavors have been introduced to one another.
When it’s ready, carefully and gently coat your sausages in the rub, rolling them over so they are entirely covered. Now they’re ready to hit your grill!
If you want to, you could also brush them with olive oil before adding your seasoning, as this will help everything stick and allow for a crispy external casing, but this is a matter of preference.
It’s smoking time!
Prepare your propane, pellet, offset or electric smoker for the task ahead – they’ll either have a preheat function or kick in and get going straight away. If you’re using a grill as a smoker, set it to the relevant mode, usually Smoke, and get everything going.
Whatever method of cooking you’re utilizing, you want to try and hit a temperature of about 200 degrees Fahrenheit approximately at first, though the sweet spot is between 200 and 225F to avoid overcooking.
Give everything a couple of minutes and then carefully lower the brats into your smoker – preferably with tongs – being very careful not to snag the skin or leave any puncture marks, as this could cause leakage of precious juices.
Unlike normal barbecuing, the key to smoking bratwurst is to be low and slow: rather than blasting the temperature right up, instead, take your time and reap the benefits. This will ensure you preserve all of the flavors you’re looking for.
Following these guidelines, you will probably want to give those bad boys about two hours to cook, possibly two and a half depending on your grill and how well you are able to maintain the cooking temperature.
You’ll be best using a meat thermometer to determine whether they are ready to eat, even if you think you’ve gotten eyeballing your grilled goods down to an art. Do you really want to get food poisoning because you had too much pride?
Although the official USDA guidelines state that all sausages must register an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit to be considered properly cooked, you might actually want to shoot for around 155 degrees Fahrenheit – though do so at your own risk.
This is because, at about 155 to 160 degrees, the proteins inside a sausage will start to break down, leading to a loss of juice that dries them out and makes for a pretty lackluster barbeque.
Advice about preserving the flavors aside, you should never serve a sausage that has not reached at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit off of your grill.
Anything less than that temperature is not cooked and has the potential to make people unwell, which would definitely spoil your barbecue.
Plate them up on top of toasted hot dog buns, with whatever toppings you’d like. In Germany they would naturally go for some sauerkraut, as well as mustard and some finely chopped or sliced raw onions – braver souls might even add horseradish.
Bier cheese is another excellent addition, and of course, you should absolutely crack open a cold beer if you’re of legal drinking age and would like one. After all, this is German tradition as well!