Mistakes People Make When Grilling Brats

With Spring in full swing, the time has arrived to break the grill out of storage, light up the charcoal, and start throwing every food under the sun onto the grill. The sky's the limit when it comes to cooking over an open flame. You could make some foolproof grilled chicken or some beer-can cabbage, or you could get super experimental and take on grilled guacamole or grilled watermelon. If you want to take things slow and build up your outdoor cooking prowess, nothing gets Spring started off right like cooking up some brats over a fire.

According to Recipes From A German Grandma, Bratwurst traces its origins back to ancient Germany, where it evolved to be cooked over open coals. The utilitarian sausage uses any possible part of the pig to prevent food waste, and it eventually found its way to Wisconsin via German immigrants. Residents continue to have "brat frys," where the community gathers together to celebrate this iconic meal.

While the meat continues to tempt taste buds to this day, it takes a bit of know-how to make the perfect brat. Even if you consider yourself a grill master and can fire up a mean steak, grill a great burger, or even char the perfect hot dog, you need to adapt a different mindset to tackle the bratwurst. By avoiding each of these pitfalls, you not only end up with a great final product, but you can easily level up your grilling expertise.

The sausages aren't completely defrosted

Nothing sets off alarm bells in any grill aficionado's brain like throwing unthawed meat directly onto an open fire. While you can generally safely cook frozen meat directly from the freezer, you lose the ability to finely control temperature through the item, meaning some parts might cook unevenly (via Livestrong). In the worst possible case scenario, your meat might not reach a safe cooking temperature in the center, and you might end up serving a potentially dangerous meal to your family and guests. Don't fall for this common mistake, make sure to defrost your brats before they hit the flames. 

To quickly unthaw any frozen weenies, try running room temperature water over your sausages (via BBQ Reboot). Turn your sausages over every once in awhile as the water flows over them, and even allow them to sit in a clean container to speed up the process. This unthawing method takes a minute, so feel free to get your fire started as you wait out the sausages. When in doubt, avoid unthawing your brats in a microwave. This method ends up drying out the sausages, leaving you with a sad final product. Give yourself and your guests a meal worth talking about and make sure to get your brats ready to go before they hit the grill.

Your heat is too high for the brats

When we picture the perfect cookout, we might imagine luxurious flames lapping a hot grill imbuing our brats with flavor. While this sounds perfect, you want to make sure no fire or high heat directly touches your sausages. Taste of Home reports that high-heat grilling takes your bratwursts to the limit way too quickly, and the rapid cooking leads to burst casings and burnt weenies with raw insides. Instead, opt for medium or medium-low heat for a more even cook. 

To test how hot your grill runs, hold your hand five inches over the grating. If you have to move your hand after a second or two, your grill needs to cool a bit. If you can leave your hand in that position for at least five seconds, you have achieved medium heat and can now start cooking up some sausages.

When you grill up some brats, you probably face putting your sausages over a fire that runs too hot rather than too cold, but you can face similar problems if you use too dim of a flame. According to Serious Eats, you shouldn't expect casing bursts or charred exteriors with raw interiors when you undercook brats. Instead, you face the opposite scenario — the casings don't cook all the way through, while the interiors overcook, leaving you with dry sausage. In order to avoid this, aim to get your meat to an internal temperature somewhere between 140 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

You're cooking the bratwurst directly over charcoal

Grilling over a bed of hot charcoal feels like the dream: You get the smoky flavor and feeling like you're on an adventure. But that high-heat fun can also lead to some major sausage disasters. 

According to Kingsford, it takes some skill and practice to learn how to use the vent system on a charcoal grill. If you ignore the vents, you could end up accidentally snuffing out your fire, burn your food, or at best, unevenly cook your brats. When you cook directly over a high heat source like charcoal, you face an increased chance of bursts and poorly cooked weenies (via Serious Eats).

In order to avoid sausage disasters, don't cook directly over hot coals. You can either create a cooler zone in your grill by stacking your coals into a central pile and use the outer ring of your grill as an area to cook brats, or you can take things to the next level by simmering and grilling your brats in an aluminum pan filled with a liquid of your choice, as Serious Eats advises. 

By cooking brats in a pan, you safeguard your food against high heat, and have the option of cooking your sausages in beer, mustard, and any other flavorful liquid-y goodness that you want your meat to soak up. The final product not only looks better than a charred and burst sausage, but it can even compete with an order at your favorite restaurant.

You didn't butterfly your sausage

Don't feel like you have to settle for fresh bratwurst every time the urge to grill strikes. If you can get your hands on some smoked brats, you have some new cooking techniques at your disposal that can take these unique sausages to the next level. According to Johnsonville, you can make a butterfly cut down a smoked brat, giving off a unique texture on the final product. You want to make sure you don't try this with a fresh brat, as all the insides won't stay in place and you end up with a dried-out sausage no one wants to eat.

After you make a lengthwise incision across your smoked brat, you can cook this directly on your grill grating for about two minute on both sides (via The Smoker King). This amount of time helps develop grill marks and gets the outside casing cooked just right. After this step, you can transfer your butterflied smoked brats to a section of the grill covered with aluminum foil and can go wild by adding onions, peppers, and other goodies to cook over the heat with the sausage. If you want to take your smoked brats to the next level, you have to try the butterfly cut next time you break out the grill.

You didn't space out your brats

When we have to cook for a crowd, we want to get as much food on the grill going as fast as possible. After all, we have a bunch of hungry mouths to feed and we want to show off our grilling prowess to our friends and family. But nothing spoils this illusion like overcrowding your grill. 

Even if you work with more forgiving meat, you never want to cook too much food at once. According to Crown Verity, overcrowding the grill causes your meat to get soggy, stop from browning, and keep from developing those juicy flavors we associate with the grill. When you cook brats, you not only face these problems, you potentially face unwanted bursts or irregular cook times that can unravel all of your grill plans. 

Don't fall prey to this easy grilling mistake. According to Thrillist, aim to keep 30% of your grill free at all times in order to easily grab the brats when they finish cooking and to avoid your sausages getting destroyed by flare ups. After all, you wouldn't want a single burst of fire to take out all of the clumped-together brats that you worked so hard on preparing. Take the effort and give your meat some room to breathe, and you won't regret it.

You pierce the sausage and dry it out

After a hard day of backyard grilling you end up with the perfect brats. They have cooked on a medium-low indirect heat, you flipped them as needed, and they developed that perfect amount of char on their casings. But as you bite into one, you notice something's off — the sausages have dried out on the grill, but you can't figure out what happened. After all, you did everything right! 

As you move your sausages around on the grill, take extra care to not poke holes in the casings. According to Gourmet Meat and Sausage Shop, you want to avoid using grill forks to turn your sausages with, as they poke holes in the casings and let the moisture out. Even if you cook sausages in an oven, you never want to poke them. 

According to Good Food, these holes release all the stored fat, the ingredient which imbues brats with their trademark juiciness. By piercing the sausage, you ensure that your final product loses a ton of moisture and ends up very dry. Don't succumb to this common problem. Use lower heat to prevent bursts and switch the grill fork out for a pair of tongs to ensure that you don't accidentally stab your brats as they roast over your grill (via Gourmet Meat and Sausage Shop)

You're using flimsy grilling tools for your brats

When you need to grill to please, knowing what cooking tools you require can mean the difference between a happy yard full of friends and family chowing down on your brats and a group of loved ones forced to eat poorly prepared sausages out of a sense of obligation. Don't fall into the latter camp — make sure you invest in quality sausage-flipping tools. 

According to Taste of Home, you want to invest in high-quality metal and silicone tools that can withstand the high heat of a grill. Opt to buy tongs, spatulas, and brushes with long handles to keep your hands out of the fire, and whatever you do, don't cheap out on plastic tongs or brushes. While these utensils can find a proper home in the kitchen, plastic and nylon cookware quickly melt when held over a lit grill. Nothing spoils a grill-out and throws you off your cooking game like melting a pair of tongs on your brats. Do yourself a favor and make the investment of buying higher-end grillware — you and your guests will appreciate the choice.

You didn't clean your grill before throwing on the sausage

When we think of grilling the perfect bratwurst, we can immediately imagine the taste of the sausage. The smoky flavor of the grill mixes with the rich cuts of pork and fat, leaving us with a unique flavor combo like no other. And as we break out the grill for the season, we might feel like getting right to the good bit and start grilling. However, if you want to end up with a great brat, you have to make sure to properly scrape and clean your grill before even thinking about setting out your sausage, or else you're guaranteed to end up with a disgusting flavor haunting your bratwurst. 

According to Real Simple, you want to preheat your grill and scrub the grate with the proper cleaning brush to remove any previous traces of food or residue that might impact flavor. Hundreds of cases of food poisoning get reported each year across America thanks to overeager grill aficionados not scraping their grills clean. If you want to work with a sensitive meat like a brat, taking the time and effort to ensure proper disinfection of your grill's surface can guarantee a fun and healthy time for everyone at your next cookout. With a bit of patience and practice, you can take each of these techniques to heart and easily whip up the best brats in your whole neighborhood.