Monday, June 9, 2014

How to Grill Bratwurst

This is not what you expected to see here.

We have to eat after all that hiking, right?

One of my all-time favorite meals is grilled bratwurst. I grew up outside Milwaukee, Wisconsin, so brats were a summertime staple and always on hand at any family event or ball game.

I've cooked several hundred bratwurst in my life, and it's time I share the absolute best way that I know to cook them. The goal is to have an evenly and thoroughly cooked brat that retains all that delicious fat (okay, yup, it's grease), without landing on your bun looking like a piece of charcoal.

Here we go:

PHASE ZERO: PREP

Take the bratwurst out of the package and let them come up to room temperature. Done. That's why it's phase ZERO.

Do not, do NOT, DO NOT boil them in beer, onions, or anything else. I'm a purist. Brats are supposed to taste like brats and nothing else. If you want to put them on a bun and cover them in onions, sauerkraut (my fav), mustard, or anything else (except ketchup for god's sake!), that's your business. This post is how to get the bratwurst out of the fridge and onto your bun in top condition.

And on top of everything else, do NOT do anything to damage the natural casing. Some folks boil their brats and POKE THEM to release all their fat! AAAAaaaaaagggghhhhh!. Why, oh WHY would anyone do that? You've just ruined the essence of the bratwurst and reduced it to a chewy, shriveled, dry shell of its former self. Might as well throw it away and eat a hot dog.

PHASE ONE: BROWNING
Get your grill going; do the usual heat up, but just before putting on the brats, set the grill to medium-low if not just low.

Put the brats on the grill. If possible, avoid direct flame, use the deflectors/shields/whatever. The last thing you want is a flare-up. Go ahead and close the lid on the grill to hold in the heat.

THIS IS THE MOST CRITICAL TIME. DO NOT LEAVE THE BRATS ALONE ON THE GRILL. If you have to, dash into the house and grab your beer, I understand that. But DO YOUR JOB and stay by the grill.

Your goal here is to lightly brown at least two sides of all the brats. Get some grill marks on them, as that's your brand and you want to make them your own. Typically this phase of cooking your brats takes no more than about 8-10 minutes. Again, make SURE you're not getting flare-ups or doing ANY charring. The WORST thing you can do is burst your bratwurst by cooking it too fast over direct heat.

After the sides show some golden brownness and grill marks on at least two sides, you have succeeded at PHASE ONE. Whew, the hard work is over. Take a long drink of that beer, you've earned it.

PHASE TWO: BAKING

Baking??? Huh?? 

Yup, that's what I said. Baking. The trick to keeping your bratwurst from being charred to a cinder and blowing all the fat over the grill is to bake them with indirect heat.

Move all your brats to one side of the grill. If you have a charcoal grill, you'll have more work to do as you have to move all the coals to the other side of the grill. If you have a gas grill, it's easy. Turn off one side of your burners and move the brats to that side.

Now turn your gas on FULL on the other side. I'm talking pre-heat full-on blast. If you have charcoal, do your best to pile all your coals on the side opposite of the brats to make them generate the most heat. Keep your brats well out of the flame area.

The idea here is to create as much indirect heat in your grill as you can, but keep your brats away from that direct heat. It's possible, I suppose, that some of the new gas grills can get ridiculously hot with just half their burners going, so use some judgment here -- we're not looking for 700 degrees to fire some clay pots or melt lead; we want more like 450-500, sustained for about 12-15 minutes.

This is the easy part. Close the lid, let the heat build, and walk away.

Come back in 3-5 minutes and make sure there is no fire or any brats that have split open. That's a sign that it's too hot and you need to keep the lid open a bit and drop the heat.

Keep an eye on it; smoke is a bad sign as it means flare-ups, but if you're doing it right, they'll turn a darker golden brown after about 10-12 more minutes. Once they reach that uniform color, you've completed PHASE TWO. Perfect.

PHASE THREE: RESTING
Put on that smug grin of yours and parade your brats from the grill to the kitchen table. Cover them with foil and let them rest for at least 5 minutes before anyone puts one on a bun. They need to stabilize and reach their full-flavored potential while cooling down a bit. The last thing anyone wants is a blast of 300 degree grease in their mouth.

When that foil comes off, you'll see a pile of perfection -- golden brown brats without third degree char, plump with all that tasty brat-ness.

Enjoy!



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