Besides the pitfalls of getting bitten by a tick, one of the many lessons I learned over the course of a recent camping trip was that, so long as there is a beer within reach, bratwurst should never be placed directly on the grill without bathing it in said beer first. “Only a fool would just put the brats on the grill to cook them,” I was told by every single one of my fellow campers.
But as someone who doesn’t make brats on a regular basis, letting encased meat soak in a vat of beer before cooking it wasn’t exactly the first thing that came to mind. So while this might disgrace my Midwestern upbringing, should you really boil brats in beer before grilling them?
The Flavorful Benefits of Boiling Brats
According to professional chef and cookbook author Jim Mumford, plopping brats into a vat of beer is much more than Midwestern splendor. “Boiling brats in beer just makes sense because it tightens the collagen casing on the sausage,” he explains. “This helps prevent sausage juice explosions that lead to flare-ups, thus making the overall grilling easier.”
Plus, so long as you boil the brats in beer for 10 to 12 minutes, or until they reach an internal temperature of about 145 degrees, you won’t need as much time on the grill. “Boiling brats makes grilling much quicker, as the sausage will then be fully cooked, allowing for simply searing before you serve them,” Mumford tells me. Though some argue that boiling brats before grilling “saps” them of their flavor, that really only happens when your brats are cut or if they get punctured.
“As for flavor, provided the brat isn’t cut, the good sausage juices (read: fat) will stay in the meat,” Mumford continues, “while the outside will gain a nice, malty flavor from the beer.”
The Best Beer for Boiling Brats
So in what kind of beer should you boil your bratwurst? My campmates told me to “just grab whatever is cheapest” — a sentiment Mumford agrees with. “A standard macrobrew is the way to go,” he says. “Any subtle flavors from a craft beer will be either destroyed by the boiling, or masked by the brats’ flavor, so go cheap here.”
Ultimately, if it’s a question of should you boil brats in beer before grilling, the answer is yes, you definitely should. And if you don’t have time to boil your brats in beer, Mumford says you should do the next best thing: “Grill the brats fully, then consume them with a beer in your other hand.”