Bratwurst or brats, as we tend to call them stateside, top the list of the most popular German sausages. And for good reason: these sausages are so delicious that there’s never any leftover, however many of them you cook.
Brats are a combination of minced beef and pork wrapped up in a sausage casing. You will notice that they are sold precooked or raw at the grocery store.
Naturally, you do not have to worry all that much about the precooked one, but you do have to follow the USDA guidelines if you bought them raw and threw them on the grill.
To tell if brats are done with a meat thermometer, insert the probe into one end of the sausage, wait 2-3 seconds to get a reading, and look for an internal temperature of at least 160°F.
We believe that a meat thermometer is a non-negotiable for every grill owner, but we also realize that, as you read this article, you may not have one handy right now.
If that is indeed the case, we have the following advice for you:
To determine if brats are cooked without a meat thermometer, pick them up with your tongs and check if they are firm but bouncy. Another method is the poke test: when the brats feel just like pressing your thumb on the tip of your little finger, they are cooked.
Lo and behold, these are the most common ways to check the doneness of the brats on your grill.
Generally speaking, if the meat is cooked over medium heat for 30 minutes with adequate turnover times, then it is more or less guaranteed to be done to perfection. Raw brats should never cook for more than that, or they will dry out and become tough to chew.
Using a Thermometer to Check Brats on a Grill
The first step in learning how to use a thermometer to check brats is understanding the different levels of doneness of meat.
The Five Levels of Doneness
There are five levels of doneness for meat: rare, medium-rare, medium, medium-well, and well-done.
The jury’s out on the exact internal temperature for each of these levels, but most wouldn’t disagree with the following:
- Rare: 125-130°F;
- Medium-rare: 130-140°F;
- Medium: 140-150°F;
- Medium-well: 150-160°F;
- Well done: 160°F or higher.
While thick-cut steak and beef as a whole can be consumed when they are cooked to levels of doneness less than medium-well, products containing pork shouldn’t: underdone pork can harbor parasites.
To put it simply, no matter what the recipe says—most recipes focus on cooking time, which is less accurate than internal temperature—always cook your bratwursts to an internal temperature of at least 160°F.
“Rare” is basically when the bratwurst is pink in the center and the meat has a very soft texture. “Well-done” is when the brat is golden brown all the way through and has a firm but bouncy texture.
The other two levels fall between these two extremes. “Medium-rare” is slightly pink in the center with a firmer texture than rare, and “medium” is nearly cooked with a softer texture than well-done.
Cook the meat on the grill for about 15 to 30 minutes, but closer to 30 minutes. To test doneness, insert the tip of your meat thermometer into one side of the sausage where the casing ends to form a link, leave it in for about 2-3 seconds, then read the temperature.
Checking Brats Without a Thermometer
Whether you are an experienced griller or just starting out, there are several ways to check if brats are cooked without a meat thermometer.
Cut into one of the sausages:
One way to tell if brats are done is to cut one of the sausages crosswise and check the color of the meat. If it is pinkish-red, it needs to be cooked further. If it is white or, depending on the beef/pork ratio, gray to a golden brown, it is done.
Pierce the brats with a fork or a knife:
You can pierce them with a fork or a knife. When the juice runs out clear, they are ready (when it runs out pink or bloody, they are not done). It is essential to know, brats will have some pinkish tint to them no matter how long you grill them. The outside should show a golden-brown color when it is done.
Weigh the brats to determine if they are lighter:
Cutting and puncturing the meat is a good way to tell how well done it is, but it is not a good idea due to the loss of juices. The most accurate way to know if they are done is to weigh them before and after cooking.
If there is a significant difference in weight, then they are cooked thoroughly. Cooked meat weighs less than raw meat because it loses some of its juices. Because the proteins denature, it also shrinks in size.
Tips for the Perfect Brats
Listed are some tips that will help you get the juiciest perfect brat cooked on the grill:
- Use thongs instead of a fork and avoid pricking or puncturing the meat. The juices will flow out, and it will deliver overcooked, dry meat when finished;
- Do not cook on high heat or over the hottest part of the grill. We recommend indirect heat for 30 minutes for perfection;
- Pre-cooked brats are good and save time cooking, but they will not have the flavor you desire from cooking raw;
- Always oil the grate before grilling; this will keep the meat from sticking. Be cautious not to use too much, or it will produce more smoke.
Should You Boil the Brats Before Grilling?
The answer to this question is a little bit nuanced.
On the one hand, boiling brats before grilling can help them cook more evenly and ensure that they are fully cooked through.
On the other hand, many people believe that boiling brats removes some of their flavors and that they are actually better when grilled without first being boiled.
However, science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison says that it should be slow-cooked meat to keep the seasonings together.
It makes a hotter argument that the flame from the grill cannot top. Some people like the less seasoning, which is in their favor, while others sport the grill and feel it takes away the meaning of the German sausage.
Perhaps, it is the thought of cooking the brats in beer that intrigues most people. Beer does add the flavor that everyone loves, and it cooks meat well. Brats are a little different, obviously because they stirred up a whirlwind of hot ashes from the bottom of the pit among experts and downhome backyard grillers.
Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide whether you want to boil your brats before grilling them. If you are unsure what you prefer, it might be a good idea to try cooking them both ways and see which you like best.
The answer to this question is best left to preference because there has been no solid proof either-or, but we prefer to cook it entirely on the grill, as do some of the greats like author Jamie Purviance and Steven Raichlen.
The Experiment: Worth It!
Whether the main course, sliced up for side dishes, or snacks, bratwurst is a classic favorite among many. It is like a German festival in your backyard and in your mouth when it is cooked on the grill.
There is no doubt the support you will get from your guests when grilled and the smell crosses over fencelines in the neighborhood. It is all worth it!