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If it were up to me, beer and brats would be a semi-weekly staple on our summer menu. Whether you’re poolside or out at a cookout with friends and family, something just hits right about this classic German sausage.
Most of the time I’ll just throw brats on the grill. They’re incredibly easy to cook over direct heat and you can have a tasty no fuss meal ready to go in minutes. But, if I have a little more time on my hands I’ll typically go for smoked bratwurst – flavored and cooked low and slow on a smoker. It’s just as easy as grilling, but just takes a little more time for the food to finish cooking.
The results though, are out of this world. Each bite has an extra layer of smokey flavor and complexity, and after tasting smoked brats I promise you’ll want to come back for more.
This article is a complete guide to smoked brats. We’ll go over everything you need to know along with our favorite smoked brats recipe!
What is Bratwurst?
Bratwurst is a German sausage that’s most commonly comprised of pork, although you’ll find veal and beef bratwurst along with other types too.
The name is derived from the Old High German language, where brät- means finely chopped meat and wurst means sausage. In modern German, the verb braten also means to roast or to pan fry.
Recipes and varieties of bratwurst originated throughout different localities and regions in Germany. Different recipes offer varied flavor profiles, textures, and coarsenesses – it’s worth trying out as many of the 40+ different variations as you can to see which you like best!
Bratwurst is often served as a snack, although in America it is served many times as a main lunch course or a main dinner course with sides. Most commonly, brats are served with white or wheat buns along with mustard. Of course, there are additional sides you’ll commonly see served with brats like sauerkraut, bier cheese, and chopped onions.
Why Smoked Brats?
So, what exactly are smoked brats? Instead of searing bratwurst on your grill with direct heat grilling, using a smoker utilizes a classic cooking technique where the meat is heated with lower temperatures, but for a longer period of time.
There are a couple of main benefits of cooking brats in a smoker. First, the low heat means that your sausage casing won’t burst. If you’ve ever grilled brats before and had the casing burst on you, then you know that lots of valuable juices are lost when this happens. Smoked bratwurst almost always results in a juicer finished product.
The second reason has more to do with the flavor of the food itself. By nature, smokers burn either charcoal or wood which emit smoke that flows through your food while it cooks. And during your cook, the bratwurst will absorb some of the smoke – which takes the flavor profile to the next level.
We’ve written a complete guide to choosing wood for brats if you want more on this topic!
What Temperature to Smoke Brats
Here’s our guide on how to smoke brats, followed by our simple smoked brats recipe!
Bratwurst should be smoked at 225°F. It’s ok to be a little bit below that or a little bit above, but just make sure the temperature is below 275°F. Keep in mind that a higher ambient temperature in your smoker will lead to a reduced cooking time.
How Long to Smoke Brats?
Brats will typically spend about 1.5 to 2 hours on the smoker, depending on the type of brat, size of brat, and how hot your smoker is running.
Those times are just for reference. Keep in mind that you should be cooking your brats until they reach a safe internal temperature of 160°F.
Especially when using a smoker, it’s best to have a probe thermometer on hand to measure your food’s internal temperature. That’s the only way you can know for sure whether or not your food is cooked all the way through before taking it off of the smoker.
Serving Smoked Brats
There are a few traditional sides that you should offer with your bratwurst! Namely, it’s a good idea to have buns (wheat, white, or pretzel) on hand to be able to enjoy your brats hot dog style. Additionally, sauerkraut, chopped onion, gourmet mustard, yellow mustard, and bier cheese are also great toppings!
If you are serving brats at a cookout and need to keep them warm for an extended period of time, the best (and most flavorful) way to do it is with a beer bath.
It’s as cool as it sounds, and can be easily created with the following ingredients and supplies:
- 9 x 11 inch foil pan
- 36 oz beer (pale lagers are our favorite for brats)
- 1 sliced yellow onion
- 2 tbsp butter
Simply combine the beer, sliced onion, and butter in the foil pan. Place the pan on your smoker and bring smoker temperature to 160-180°F. You can leave the lid open if you need to help get the temperature down. Add cooked brats to the beer bath pan to keep warm until serving!
Smoked Brats Recipe
Smoked Bratwurst with Beer Bath
- 6 brats
- 6 buns wheat, white, or pretzel
- 1/2 cup chopped yellow onion
- 1/2 cup sauerkraut
- gourmet mustard
Beer Bath Ingredients (Optional)
- 1 9" x 11" aluminum pan
- 24 oz beer preferably a lager
- 1 yellow onion sliced
- 2 tbsp butter
- Preheat smoker to 225°F. Flavor with wood chunks or chips, we recommend cherry or apple wood
- Place brats inside smoker and cook for about 1 hr 45 min, until internal temperature reaches 160°F
- Remove from smoker and allow to cool for 5 minutes. Serve immediately on buns and with toppings of your choice
Beer Bath Instructions
- Optional beer bath to keep brats warm before serving
- Bring smoker's temperature down to 180°F
- Place aluminum foil pan on the smoker, then add beer, butter, and sliced onion
- Add cooked brats to the liquid mixture to keep warm before serving
Which Type of Smoker is Best for Bratwurst?
To be honest, there isn’t one particular type of smoker that’s better for smoking brats compared to another. You should just use the one you have!
With that being said, there are pros and cons to each different type of smoker specifically in terms of cooking bratwurst. Electric smokers, propane smokers, and pellet smokers are going to be the easiest to use, as all of these are “set it and forget it” style of cookers.
The downside, at least with electric and propane smokers, is that your smokey flavor won’t be as strong since these cookers burn wood chips to add a light amount of smoke. Of course that may not be a big deal to you and frankly, electric and propane smokers are capable of making fantastically flavored foods.
On the other hand, charcoal smokers, offset smokers, and kamado grills will be able to cook more robust and flavorful food. The downside is that you’ll spend more time building and managing your fire while you cook, and you’ll have a little bit of ash to clean up at the end.
At the end of the day, you can’t objectively say one style is better than another. It all comes down to your personal preference.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Long Does It Take to Smoke Brats?
The amount of time it takes to smoke brats can vary a little depending on how many brats you are smoking and the size of them. For example, lots of very thick brat sausages may take a little longer to smoke than thin brat sausages.
That being said, it is possible to estimate roughly how long it will take to smoke your brats. Typically you can expect them to take anywhere between 45 minutes to 1 hour. Bear in mind that this time estimate is for a smoker that is set to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
If the temperature is lower than this then it will take longer for them to be smoked. Likewise, if the temperature is set higher than the time it takes it may well be quicker.
However, any higher than 250 degrees Fahrenheit and the brats are likely to be over smoked and less palatable than if they are cooked slower and at a lower temperature.
Should You Boil Brats Before Smoking?
It is recommended that you cook brats in some way before you smoke them. Usually, this is through boiling them. That being said, you could also enlist another method for an even more authentic taste – barbecuing them!
First and foremost, let’s look at how you should boil them. For the best results, you should simmer your brats in boiling water for about 15 minutes. Do not be tempted to prick them first or they will take on too much water.
If you prefer to barbecue them for a more authentic taste you should do it on a hot barbecue, ensuring to wrap them in foil beforehand. Do this for 15 minutes, and again, do not prick the brats. If you prick them they will lose their smoky flavor.
Should Brats Be a Little Pink?
Some people may eat brats pink, but others may be against it. Brats are typically made from pork. They are sold in stores raw, meaning unlike hotdogs, they are not ready to eat, just needing to be warmed up. Instead, these brats need to be cooked to be safe to eat.
The rules around the cooking of meat vary between the types of meat. The United States Department for Agriculture (USDA) has some very strict rules about cooking meats, especially when it comes to ensuring they are cooked safely and adequately.
Chicken, and other poultry, for example, cannot have any pinkness. Beef, on the other hand, may be fine with pink and even red (hence the love of rare steaks).
Pork sausages such as bratwurst are recommended to be cooked to at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit (this is an internal temperature recommendation), and so provided they are this temperature they will be safe to eat, whether they are a little pink or not.
Rely on an accurate food thermometer rather than the color of your brats to know for sure if they are safe to eat!
What is the Best Wood to Smoke Brats?
The best wood for smoking brats is oak, closely followed by hickory wood. Oakwood is a great wood for beginners to use as it is easy to get a good smoke and the resulting flavor is mild and not too overpowering.
Of course, brats are not just cooked by beginners, and so if you want something a little more challenging why not try some hickory wood? This gives even more smoke and a more intense flavor. Both of them taste wonderful with brats.
You may even want to try some apple or maple wood to experiment with some different flavors. Just bear in mind that these will be a little sweeter.
I hope this guide to smoked brats has you excited to get out there and fire up the smoker! This traditional German meal is one of my absolute favorites, and alongside a cold lager I’m not sure you could convince me there’s a better summer cookout food and drink combo.
Did you try out our recipe? How did it go? We’d love to hear about it in the comments section below.