If you love to cook brats as much as you like to eat them, you probably possess a quality that the brats lack: a thick skin. This quality comes in handy when the invariable kidding begins around the dinner table about why it's so difficult to cook a brat that doesn’t "keep its stuff together." Bratwurst casings are notoriously thin, and under the pulsating surge of building heat, they can explode into a mass of "bratwurst stew." Although you may want to pass the barbecue tongs to a willing volunteer, hang tough. Take a few preventative steps, practice, and soon you’ll be cooking brats with no splits.
Purchase a pair of tongs that feel comfortable in your hand and that you will use -- religiously -- as you grill your brats. Using a fork is a no-no because it can pierce a hole in brats, causing them to split open, releasing the juices and maybe even causing a scary flame flare-up. Avoid problems by using a pair of tongs that have smooth ends that will treat your brats as gingerly as you will.
Poach the bratwurst in a water or beer bath over a low flame on your grill. Add some chopped onions or sauerkraut, and let the flavors and juices commingle, stirring occasionally. Place the entire mixture in an aluminum pan on your grill. Give the brats about 20 or 25 minutes to heat slowly, which will greatly reduce the likelihood of the brat casing bursting open. The interior temperature of the brats should reach 150 degrees Fahrenheit -- a finished temperature that means you only have to brown the brats nicely on the outside.
Brush your brats with a light layer of olive oil to baby them -- and their delicate casing -- a little more as you place them on the grill. Set the flame to low-medium.
Grill the brats for about 5 minutes on each side, rolling them from the cool to the warmer sections of your grill. Err on the side of using a lower flame; you’ve come this far without splitting the casing, and a too-high flame can undercut your best efforts.
- Technically, you should bring ground meat to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F. But this temperature -- and even 155 degrees F -- can produce a brat that is overcooked, dry and shriveled. Experiment until you find the perfect result.
- Sprinkle a little sugar on the bratwurst before placing it on the grill, if desired. The sugar will caramelize and encrust the brats with a richer, browner color.
Mary Wroblewski earned a master's degree with high honors in communications and has worked as a reporter and editor in two Chicago newsrooms. She launched her own small business, which specialized in assisting small business owners with “all things marketing” – from drafting a marketing plan and writing website copy to crafting media plans and developing email campaigns. Mary writes extensively about small business issues, and especially “all things marketing.”