Basically, brats are completely misunderstood by about 90 percent of the population. A brat is a simple meat — just bulk sausage stuffed into a thin casing. How hard can it be, right? Wrong! I’m here to lay down the basics of brats so that this much misunderstood meat will be grilled properly from now on.
Rule #1 – Never buy brats in that cardboard container or even on that Styrofoam tray wrapped in plastic. None of that mass market stuff.
Brats should be purchased locally from your butcher. In fact, the only packaging they should come in is butcher paper. Artisan brats. Delicious brats. Brats made with apples or cheese or jalapenos or beer you can actually taste and not just assume because it says it on the package.
Rule #2 – Never poke a hole in a brat with anything other than your teeth.
There are all kinds of myths on how to prep brats properly. Most of these involve poking holes in the skin – either poking holes before soaking in beer to get more flavor into the brat, or poking holes with a needle to give the skin more elasticity and keep it from rupturing. Neither is a good idea. Any hole in the skin will allow fat to leak out, and no matter how unhealthy it might be, fat tastes good. Remove the fat, and the flavor goes with it — on top of increasing the chances of drying the sausages out.
Rule #3 – Never boil brats.
Never boil them in beer (or any other liquid) before going on the grill or after they’ve been grilled. Food science tells us that if we boil meat in liquid, we do not make more flavorful meat. We make flavorful liquid. It’s how we make broth or soup. It actually leaches flavor from the meat, so never do this either before or after. The only exception to this is if you’re grilling for a crowd, and lots of brats need to be kept warm. Pouring some beer and slicing up onions into an aluminum pan and allowing the beer to come short of a simmer is a fine way of keeping brats warm and not drying them out. Steaming them, essentially. This is okay. Boiling in any manner is not.
Rule #4 – Never grill brats over high heat.
Most people cook them like hot dogs, tossing them on a hot fire and not caring if they rupture. When a hot dog splits open on the grill, that’s not a big deal. When a brat splits open, half the flavor spurts all over the grill grates. A similar shape — and the fact that both are stuffed into casings — does not mean similar cooking methods.
Set the grill to medium low and place the brats on, allowing them to slow cook instead of exploding all over the inside of the grill.
Even if you cook them lower and slower, we might still get some leakage. But just like tires, a slow leak is much better than a blow out. When done grilling, rest your brats, allowing the juices to settle down and redistribute throughout the sausage. Just like any other meat, a little rest after being removed from the grill, is a good thing.
Let’s recap the basics of brats:
Rule #1 – No mass market stuff
Rule #2 – Never poke a hole in a brat
Rule #3 – Never boil brats
Rule #4 – Don’t grill them over high heat.