Smoking bratwurst is a quick and easy cook on your barbecue pit that can make some seriously great eats if you pay attention to the little details. Keep scrolling and let me show you how to smoke brats and make them turn out great!
How to Smoke Brats
The steps below apply to any king of smoker. I am using a Z Grills pellet grill for this cook but you can also cook brats in an electric smoker by the same technique. If you are using an electric smoker do not soak your wood chips in water before adding them to the smoker box.
The brats do not take long to cook so you want your wood chips to put off as much smoke as possible in a short period of time.
The Steps for Smoking Brats Are:
- Set the smoker temperature to 225F
- Prepare a bath of beer and chopped onions in a foil pan
- Place the brats on the grate of the smoker
- Place the beer bath in the smoker to let it warm. Do not place the brats in the bath yet.
- Smoke the brats for about 45 minutes until an internal temperature of 165F is reached.
- Transfer the smoked brats into the beer bath and let them simmer for ten minutes.
- Remove the brats from the beer bath and serve with mustard.
Why Smoke at 225F and How Long Does it Take?
I smoke bratwurst at low temperatures to give it plenty of time to take on flavor from the smoke. It typically takes about 45 minutes at 225F for the brats to finish cooking.
You could easily smoke these guys at 300F if you wanted but they would only be in the smoker for about 30 minutes. Smoking at a lower temperature such as 200F would increase the smoke profile but I have a hard time controlling the temperature of my pit at such a low setting.
It is important that you monitor the internal temperature of the brats. The brats are done at 165F. Every degree past 165F takes you a step closer to breaking the meat/fat emulsion inside the sausage. If I grind my own meat and make the sausage myself then I will cook the sausage to 150F. If I don’t know exactly what is in the sausage then I err on the side of caution and go to 165F. By the way here is my homemade bratwurst recipe.
If you break the emulsion by overheating the brats will form big pockets of grease under the casing that will spew juice everywhere when you bite into it. You end up with the confusing situation of juice running down your arms while gnawing on a dry sausage in your mouth.
I transfer the brats to the beer bath when they hit 165F and let them soak up another layer of flavor for about ten minutes. The brats don’t do much more cooking while they are in the bath as the beer isn’t at a full simmer.
Smoked vs Grilled Bratwurst
It can be a tough call when you are deciding between cooking brats “Low and Slow” on a smoker or “Hot and Fast” on a grill. Here are some of the pros and cons of each method.
High Heat Grilling
You can grill a brat faster than you can smoke them so if you are in a hurry the grill is the way to go. That being said, when I smoke brats I have time to drink two beers and I only get to drink one when I grill!
The skin on a grilled brat is crisper and has more snap on it than a smoked brat. You can also put down some nice grill marks when grilling.
The biggest benefit of grilling is also the greatest problem. You get an amazing aroma when the grease drips out of the brat and hits the flame. Some of that aroma makes its way back onto the sausage and adds an amazing flavor.
The fact that the grease is dripping out means that you are breaking the sausage emulsion and your brat is drying out. It is also easy for the dripping grease to cause a flareup and burn the brats.
Low and Slow Smoking
Smoking the brat gives the skin a reddish color and toughens it up a little. Some folks don’t like the tougher skin on a smoked bratwurst. It doesn’t really bother me…it is just a little tougher than the skin on a grilled brat and is still easy to bite through.
You can put down a nice little smoke ring on brats which is always fun to see.
The biggest advantage I see in smoking brats is that because the cooking process is slower and gentler than grilling you are less likely to overcook them. If you get distracted and let the brats cook an extra five minutes in a smoker then it is no big deal. If you let them cook an extra five minutes on a hot grill then you could have a problem on your hands.
The Details That Matter
There are a few details you should pay attention to that will make the difference between an “okay” and “amazing” brat.
Best Wood for Smoked Brats
The brats are not going to be in the smoker very long (compared to a brisket or a pork butt) so I prefer to go with a strong wood like hickory. Bratwursts are traditionally a boldly flavored sausage and its natural flavor profile will not get washed out and overpowered by hickory.
If you don’t have hickory available then pecan is a great substitute. There is nothing wrong with using a milder wood like apple if you want a lighter smoke profile.
How to Serve
Please get some decent buns! A brat is a heck of a sausage and you shouldn’t waste the experience with a cheap bag of hot dog buns. Spend an extra two bucks and buy the sturdy buns with poppy seeds or get some made from potato rolls or pretzel dough.
Veggies! Cook up some onions and peppers or grab some crunchy kosher dill pickle spears. Either way, the veggies bring more flavor and help balance out the heavy greasiness of the sausage.
Mustard! I put out a couple of different kinds of mustard for people to choose from. Plain yellow, spicy brown and Dijon mustards are staples at our house. Whatever you do, do NOT let a bottle of ketchup ever get close to a bratwurst. I don’t believe many true rules exist in the world of barbecue but no ketchup on brats is one of them.