Cook the best smoked brats at home. From smoking temperatures and time to meat guides and topping ideas, this is how to smoke bratwurst the right way.
Smoked bratwurst combines the best of both German meat and American barbecue. More than just a simple alternative to grilled or smoked hot dogs, smoked brats bring together beautiful seasoned pork, herbs, and spices, with applewood and smoke.
A lot of people throw bratwurst on the grill, but barbecue smoking takes things to an entirely new level. It’s just as easy, and only takes a couple of hours. Combine it with a good beer bath and you’re on to a winner.
In this BBQ bratwurst guide and recipe we’ll walk you through the best bratwurst to use, what wood to smoke it with, topping ideas, and more. So let’s get into it.
What is bratwurst?
Bratwurst is a traditional German sausage that’s most commonly made from pork, but can also contain a blend of veal or beef with pork. The name comes from Old High German, with brät- meaning finely chopped meat, and Wurst meaning sausage.
Bratwurst can be traced all the way back to the 12th century in the Nuremberg region of Germany, where it is still produced to this day. Since then, varieties of bratwurst have developed all over the country, and even the world. Each with its own ingredients and flavors. Examples include Fränkische Bratwurst, Coburger, and Kulmbacher.
The German sausage has even made its way to North America, where it’s more commonly known as ‘brats’. It’s common in the Upper Midwestern region of the USA, which also happens to be the home to many people of German-American heritage. Wisconsin is well known for its take on bratwurst, as well as Minnesota, Ohio, and Missouri.
Wisconsin is also known for the ‘beer brat’, where the sausage is soaked in beer before being seared on the grill. Our recipe today will add the beer bath as a finishing step for those of you wanting to make something close to Wisconsin’s take on smoked brats!
Why smoke brats?
I prefer to smoke brats over grilling for a couple of reasons (although grilled bratwurst is still amazing). One is we can add a layer of wood and smoke flavor to the sausage. Another is that cooking them low and slow in a smoker helps the sausage retain moisture and keep their shape. When we grill directly over high heat, we run the risk of them losing their shape and even bursting apart.
This will ideally be done in a vertical smoker, allowing us to keep the sausages linked while still allowing good airflow around them. If you don’t have one, don’t worry. You can still set them up on a regular offset or pellet smoker, but you might need to unlink them to fit them all in. You will also need to lightly coat the casing with oil to prevent the sausages from sticking to the grill grates.
What temperature to smoke brats?
Smoke bratwurst at 225°F (107°) for the best results. You can go as high as 250°F if you want to move things along slightly faster, but 225°F is the best way to guarantee the best flavor and good moisture.
How long to smoke brats?
Pork and beef bratwurst only need approximately 2 hours to smoke. Factors will include the size of a brat, as well as ingredients, but most brats are done around the 2-hour mark.
Your meat will only really be ready to eat once the internal temperature has reached 160°F. This is when pork is safe to eat. To ensure accurate results, I recommend using a smoker thermometer to gauge temperatures.
Where to buy bratwurst
A growing number of national supermarkets and stores are storing bratwurst more regularly. The bad news is that the quality of these can be questionable, and unless these stores are selling premium grade sausages, you’ll be better off looking elsewhere.
If your local butcher doesn’t sell them, there are some good options online.
Our friends at Porter Road sell pork and beef 3-packs, both made with pasture-raised meat and natural casings. Check them out here.
Best wood for smoked bratwurst
Your wood choice will depend on what type of bratwurst you’ve chosen, but in most cases apple wood is the best option to go for. It has a mild flavor that doesn’t overpower the meat, while delivering a solid note of sweetness that complements the sausage perfectly.
Hickory is also a solid option, but it has a strong flavor that can overwhelm your brats. Try mixing a couple of chunks with a mild wood like pecan or apple to be safe.
What goes with smoke brats?
Bratwurst has a more nuanced flavor profile than regular American hot dogs, so the recipes it can be served with are slightly different. The good news is that it’s best kept simple. Here are a few of our favorite smoked brats sides.
It makes sense that the German sausage is best enjoyed with one of the country’s best known accompaniments. The traditional side is made with traditional cabbage and has a tart flavor that makes it and bratwurst the perfect combination.
You can buy it pre-made, but I strongly recommend trying to make it yourself. Learn how to make sauerkraut from scratch with our full guide and recipe.
Forget your Dijon or yellow mustard, the Germans have their own condiment for that. Bratwurst is best when served with stone-ground mustard or Bavarian sweet mustard.
This might sound boring, but caramelize a whole white or yellow onion before serving on top of the sausage and you’ll see what I mean. Take it even further by adding a dollop of German mustard and you’ll never look back.