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5 Steps For Smoking & Grilling Brats

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No matter how you dress them, sausages are always a good option when you’re grilling for a crowd. And when you really want to up your game, don’t go for just any sausage. You need to bring the brats.

You also need to know how to grill brats - from choosing your bratwurst and seasonings, to getting the perfect cook on the Traeger, even down to toasting the bun just right.

1. Choosing Your Bratwurst

When selecting your brat, it’s important to purchase an uncooked, raw brat that has a well-balanced lean-to-fat ratio. When you buy cooked brats, that typically means they’ve been pre-boiled. It drastically reduces your cooking time but also means a whole lot of the natural flavor will be diluted long before it ever hits the grill.

At the end of the day, an epic brat is the perfect combination of delicious meats, juices, and seasonings, all tied together inside an incredible casing. The quality of those proteins and the taste of your final product is going to depend on the fat and salt incorporated into your brat’s construction.

Fat is the main component in any good brat, and it’s also what makes your brats nice and juicy. Just like a steak, sausages are filled with just the right amount of that innerfat called “marbling.” The ideal brat is a 70/30 - or 70% lean and 30% fat. When in its raw form, the lean portion of the meat will have a light pink color and the fat will be white.

2. How to Season Bratwurst

When seasoning your brat, lightly roll the sausages in our signature Traeger Rub (or any of your favorite rubs) prior to putting them on the grill.

Our Traeger Rub is ideal for brats, because it will give you a slight hint of chili pepper and garlic while also adding an herby oregano and basil profile to your brats. The seasoning you go for is going to depend on your personal preferences or the recipe you’re following.

Remember that you’ll only want to roll your brats in your seasoning of choice if you’re planning to toss them on the grill.

If you’re braising, simply add your rub of choice to the beer/broth mixture instead.

Some recipes will call for vegetable oil, but this step isn’t necessary when you’re using a Traeger. Other grill or cooking methods use oil simply because they operate at a very high heat, and the oil is necessary to keep the brats from sticking to the grate.

3. Smoking or Braising Bratwurst

SMOKED BRATS

When smoking brats, you want to smoke them for about 45 minutes to an hour on the Smoke setting (225 degrees Fahrenheit) or Super Smoke setting on capable models. Smoking your brats adds awesome BBQ flavor. When you’re finished smoking them, turn the grill up to 375 degrees F and cook them for a few minutes on each side to crisp up the casing for that perfect, juicy snap when you take a bite.

Grill temperature: Smoke or Super Smoke setting (depending on grill model).

Time: 45 minutes to 1 hour

Next steps: grill the brats (see step 4).

BRAISED BRATS

If you’re braising your brats, place them in a beer braise at 275 degrees Fahrenheit for about 45 minutes to one hour. After an hour, pull them out, turn up the grill to 375 degrees and finish them off directly on the grate.

Pro Tip from Pitmaster Chad: “For braising, my go-to is a good beer. It truly enhances the flavor of the brat. In the summer, I’ll grab a Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy and in the winter, darker and stronger beers such as an IPA to infuse awesome seasonal flavor. If you’re using sauerkraut, throw it in the pan with the beer and brats. You won’t regret it.”

Grill temperature: 275 degrees F.

Time: 45 minutes to 1 hour

Next steps: grill the brats (see step 4).

Best Wood For Smoking Brats

The wood pellets you need will depend mostly on the type of seasoning you’ve chosen. Hickory pellets are a versatile option that go great with more traditional BBQ flavors while maple or apple wood pellets will add that incredible sweetness a lot of people love in their sausages.

While you generally can’t go wrong with wood pellet flavors, certain hardwoods like oak offer milder, nutty flavor that doesn’t do much for brats.

There are major differences between wood-fired brats and grilling brats on a gas or charcoal grill. Not just when it comes to taste, but how much easier it is to make them on a pellet grill. Impress your guests with the juicy goodness by cooking on a pellet grill.

4. Grilling Brats - How Long to Grill Brats

Ok, so your brats are smoked/braised and ready to go. Next up, it’s time to grill, giving your brats that caramelized Maillard reaction. Remove the brats from the grill, and set the temperature to 375 degrees F. Once the grill heats up, all you have to do is place your brats back on the grill for the finishing touch.

The Maillard reaction is that wonderful series of chemical reactions that happen when your meat reaches between 285 and 325 degrees Fahrenheit. At this temperature, all the sugars and amino acids in your sausages will be unleashed to create bold natural flavors on the inside and produce mouth-watering colors on the outside.

Chemical reactions aside, everybody loves those sexy grill marks, right?

When grilling brats, we recommend removing them from the grill once they’ve reached an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit. This will take about 12 to 15 minutes after braising or smoking them.

Since brats are a smaller cut of meat, they only need to rest for about 5 to 10 minutes after removing them from the grill. But if you want to know a bit more about timing and temperature before hopping in the deep end, don’t stress. We’ve got you covered.

Set the temperature on your grill to High and preheat with the lid closed for 10 to 15 minutes. Then, all you have to do is place your brats back on the grill, turning frequently until they’re cook to 145 degrees F. As mentioned above, this will take about 12-15 minutes. So, if you include the time it takes to preheat the grill, you’re normally looking at around 20 to 25 minutes from start to finish.

Internal Temps For Brats

Just like any other type of meat, you don’t want to overcook your sausages.

It’d be reckless for us not to point out the USDA recommends sausages be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s their official advice, but in our experience, that’s just a little bit too much heat.

Once the internal temperature of your brats gets to about 155 degrees Fahrenheit, the delicious proteins in your brat will start to contract, squeeze out all the juices, and get a bit dry. It probably won’t impress your friends, and it’ll take a lot of extra fixings to try and save them.

Instead, we recommend you shoot for an internal temperature of between 140 and 145 degrees Fahrenheit. At this temperature, you’ll be able to ensure the brats are fully cooked through, while the bulk of your moisture has been preserved to ensure all those juices make it to a bun.

Do not take your brats off the grill if they’re under 140 degrees Fahrenheit. They’re not ready and could make people sick, and ruin your outdoor gathering real fast.

5. Toasting Buns

Don’t forget about your bun. A good bun can make or break a brat - and a great bun needs the perfect amount of toasting. Toasting your brat bun will add a crisp texture with a soft interior and grill marks that’ll make everyone salivate.

Even if you’re a total grilling rookie, this one is pretty hard to mess up. All you have to do is spread a thin layer of butter or mayo on the inside of your bun, and stick it on the grill face-down for the last minute or two of cooking. Do not cook it for more than a couple of minutes, or you’ll be left with a horribly dry bun.

Brats on a Pellet Grill

If you want to create a serious work of art, you should cook your brats on a pellet grill. The flavors are bolder and smokier, and they’ll perfectly complement the fatty juices in your sausages.

When cooking brats on gas and charcoal, you’re simply just “cooking.” There’s no genuine or authentic flavor that comes from either method. When you’re cooking with a wood-fired grill, everything you cook gets kissed with smoky, wood flavor that takes your food to the next level. When cooking over indirect heat flame ups, burnt brats and busted casings are a thing of the past. No other cooking method can come close to grilling brats on a pellet grill.

Brat Time is Party Time

When the brats come off the grill, the outdoor party can really get started. Follow our tips for choosing brats, seasoning them, and cooking them to smoky perfection, and you're sure to have success all year round.

Need recipe ideas? Check out all our wood-fired brat recipes.