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How to Prepare Bratwurst Sausage

Get tips for how to prepare bratwurst sausage on the grill or stove.

Bratwurst sausage can be cooked on the stovetop or the grill. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
Bratwurst sausage can be cooked on the stovetop or the grill.

Learning how to prepare bratwurst sausage can be a fun and innovative way to experience a little bit of Germany without ever having to leave the kitchen. There are more than 50 types of bratwurst sausage available today due to the variety of meats and spices preferred in different regions of Germany. In the United States, bratwurst sausages, or "brats," are commonly made from pork, beef or veal, heavily spiced and wrapped in natural casings. Below, find methods and tips for preparing bratwurst sausage, as well as food safety guidelines.

Preparing Precooked Bratwurst Sausage

Precooked bratwurst is the most common bratwurst available. It is simpler and quicker to prepare and has a long shelf life. Precooked bratwurst is very firm and dull in color. Because they are already fully cooked, these brats may be placed directly into a skillet or onto a grill for browning.

The Stovetop Method

Raw bratwurst must be completely cooked before serving. Begin by puncturing each bratwurst with a fork or small knife before cooking so that the sausage will not burst. The bratwurst should be placed into a pan or skillet with approximately a half inch of water or beer and covered with a lid to retain moisture. Allow the sausages to simmer on a medium setting until all of the liquid has evaporated. To prevent the casings from bursting, the water should never reach the point of boiling. Fully-cooked brats will look pale and firm.

For added flavor, the sausages can continue to brown on low heat in the leftover fat. Chopped onions may be added for texture and flavor.

The Grilling or Smoking Method

According to the National Barbecue Association, low temperatures and slow cooking times are the key to cooking bratwurst sausages on the grill. Grilling raw bratwurst requires considerable talent, as the cook must make certain that the sausage is not raw in the middle and that the delicate casing does not burn.

Begin by browning the bratwursts at the hottest part of the grill. As soon as the skin is dark and appears crunchy, the bratwursts should be moved to a cooler area of the grill and cooked slowly over low heat until they reach an internal temperature of 160 F (confirmed with a meat thermometer).

Some cooks lightly spray the sausages with water to prevent charring and to cool the casings. When the bratwurst sausages are done, remove them from the grill and let them rest on a tray for several minutes. The internal temperature of the sausages will continue to rise as the meat rests, killing any remaining bacteria. The finished bratwurst should be crunchy on the outside, while juicy and spicy in the center. The sausage should snap with the first bite.

More Tips for Preparing and Serving Bratwurst Sausage

There are abundant bratwurst sausage recipes available and a variety of ways to serve them. When preparing bratwurst sausage, the at-home chef may experiment with a number of serving suggestions, including:

  • Brushing brats with beer just prior to frying or grilling to enhance the color
  • Sprinkling sugar on sausages before cooking (the resulting carmelization gives the brats a deeper color)
  • Frying bratwurst with fresh herbs, like oregano or sage for added flavor
  • Placing freshly cooked brats in a beer bath right off the grill to help them retain moisture until they are ready to be eaten

Dishing up bratwurst with sauerkraut, onions, spicy mustard, ketchup, pickles or hard rolls may be applauded or frowned upon, depending on where the meal is served. Various regions of the United States have particularly strong opinions about what type of fare is an appropriate accompaniment for brats.

Food Safety Tips for Bratwurst SausageFor optimum quality, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends that cooked meat such as bratwurst sausages should be kept in the refrigerator no more than 4 days; however, cooked brats may be frozen for up to 3 months. To thaw frozen pork, the National Pork Board advises placing frozen pork sausages in the refrigerator overnight for best results. Actual thawing time should be estimated by thickness of the package.

Bratwurst sausages should never be partially cooked or left out for more than 2 hours, since dangerous, illness-causing bacteria begin to multiply when food is left between the 40 F and 140 F range. These bacteria generally do not change the appearance, flavor or smell of the sausages, making it difficult to tell if the brats have been mishandled. If uncertain about the quality or safety of bratwurst sausage, the National Pork Board recommends following the guideline, "When in doubt, throw it out."

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