Quick-searing over direct heat and slow, deliberate smoking on a backyard barbecue are two of the best, most flavorful methods for grilling brats. One method relies on a soak in beer and onions and cooking over live charcoals, if desired, for the flavor infusion. The other requires enough time for slow cooking and the use of flavor-bursting hardwood smoke.
One of the most traditional and flavorful ways of preparing brats begins prior to the links hitting the grill. Brats absorb flavors well -- and turn out extra juicy -- when marinated overnight in beer and sliced onions. Use a large plastic bowl filled with enough beer to completely cover all of the brats. Mix in one small onion, sliced into 1/4-inch-thick circles, seal the bowl and refrigerate the mixture overnight, or at least four hours prior to grilling. Adding garlic, soy sauce or other spices to the marinade creates even more unique flavor tones.
Direct Grilling Method
The fastest, most traditional method of grilling brats involves setting up the grill for direct-heat cooking. With a charcoal grill, this means covering about two-thirds of the charcoal grate with lit coals and leaving the other third coal-free. You grill the brats on the portion of the cooking grate directly over the lit coals, turning the links over every few minutes until gold brown on all sides. The portion of the cooking grate above the coal-free zone serves as a safety area for where you keep cooked brats warm while others finish grilling. Direct grilling brats on a gas grill means lighting all burners, adjusting to medium heat and preparing the links on the cooking grate directly over the flames. On either type of grill, cook the brats to an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit before serving.
This method is the most flavorful way of grilling brats, but requires the most planning and time. Smoking works best in barrel-style charcoal grills with offset fireboxes or in kettle grills with small charcoal fires built on one side of the coal grate. Charcoal fires should never be larger than five or six handfuls of charcoal at a time with an internal grill temperature never higher than about 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Smoking brats requires a closed grill lid throughout the cooking process and often about four or five hours of cooking time, depending on outside temperatures and the amount and size of the brats. Add a handful of fresh charcoal to the lit coals every hour to maintain heat levels, and toss a handful or two of water-soaked hardwood chips atop the coals every 30 minutes. The wet chips produce the smoke that infuses flavor into the brats.
Charcoal vs. Gas
The debate of which grilling method is superior -- charcoal or gas -- depends on the desires of the user. Propane or natural gas grills ignite quickly -- often with the push of a button -- and maintain more even temperatures controlled by easily operated knobs and gauges. If you're looking for a means of quickly grilling up a batch of brats after a long day at the office, gas grills are your weapon of choice. Charcoal grills require the lighting of coals -- which takes about 20 minutes -- and require finesse in adjusting the lid and vents for reaching certain temperatures. Therefore, wind speed and outdoor temperatures have a greater impact on charcoal grilling than gas grilling. But barbecue purists often prefer charcoal because of its bolder, smoky flavor.