First of all, I gotta count on you guys for a little help. Whatever you do, please don’t tell any of my Wisconsin neighbors (Wisconsin is credited for the innovation of the Beer Brat…even Wikipedia says so) about this recipe. A Minnesotan messing around with their beloved Beer Brats and making outrageous claims could just be the final straw. None of us can take one more disaster or any more stress this year! I think I’m already on the edge! So now, with that settled, let me tell ya how to make what I think is better than classic Beer Brats.
I’m in a unique position when it comes to cooking Bratwurst. I’m in Minnesota where we have a population of about 40 percent German heritage, so we do know Brats here and in Iowa where I grew up. I live about 10 minutes from the Wisconsin border and have friends from there, so I’m pretty familiar with the Beer Brat. And I’m just crazy enough to take my beer brat next level and give it just a couple of fun little twists. If you’re from Wisconsin, though, look away now!
About Better than Classic Beer Brats:
The classic beer brat is either grilled and then simmered in a mixture of beer and onions with a little butter or it is simmered in that mixture and then grilled. Either way works, and then it’s served on a big bun (I just learned in Germany that street vendors serve three on a bun…crazy!) with mustard and the onions. Oh gosh, they’re so good but too often the Brats are overcooked or the onions under.
I couldn’t help but tinker a bit over the years…and finally, the recipe’s ready to be shown to the world, and I hope the world’s ready for it. Yanno, I’m full of myself, lol. You wouldn’t know it but in real life, I’m always one of those that apologizes for my food! I always worry that I didn’t get something exactly right or there’s some flaw in my cooking…I don’t feel that way with these brats, though!
I take a little departure from the classic recipe. I bring my beer, onions, and butter up to a boil, drop in my brats, add a lid and turn off the heat. They sit for exactly 7 minutes. Then they’re removed. They’ll be almost done and almost up to temperature and will be hovering at about 148 degrees F. They are then ready to be finished on the grill (or they could be sauteed but that’s not the real way) and you’ll have the juiciest brats with the perfectly browned finish and snappy bite. They’re pretty exceptional.
If you don’t want to make beer brats, try the method anytime you grill brats. Just do the same with a little water (or see some of the suggestions, below, if you want beer brats w/o the beer) remove them, and then grill them. It’s gonna up your brat game!
Let’s Talk Onions & Buns:
Now for the onions, first of all cut them pole to pole, about 3/8ths of an inch thick. If you’re going to just cook till tender, you probably need one for a package of brats but if you caramelize your onions, def go with two. Toss them in the beer before you bring them to a boil and as soon as the brats are removed, bring them up to a good simmer and let them cook away as the brats are finished. You can take them to tender and soft with a lot of liquid left (about 10 minutes) or go all the way and let the beer reduce and the onions caramelize.
If you reduce, it’s going to take about 20 – 25 minutes, so you’ve got to hold the brats for a bit before grilling since they only take a few minutes to grill. The onions are actually going to carry a lot of that subtle beer flavor since the brats don’t spend tons of time in the pot and the more they’ve reduced the more flavor they’ll have.
And of course, you have to use a good bun, not a hot dog bun. Something with some heft. As you can see, I like to brush the buns with melted butter or a little neutral oil and toast them. That’s not the real way, either, but it does help prevent the buns getting soggy as you eat…and w/o toasting by the time you get to the end your brat will be a mess. Yes, it’s a delicious mess, but toasting really helps solve the gummy bun issue.
Making Better than Classic Beer Brats:
If you wish, you can make this whole recipe on the grill. I wouldn’t use a disposable aluminum pan to bring beer to a boil in. Nor would I put my precious blue enameled cast iron on the grill. My regular cast iron is very well seasoned, and that’s my choice for most grilling/camping recipes but if yours isn’t, use a non-reactive pan.
There are a couple of things to know about the recipe. First of all, don’t poke holes and/or pierce your brat before cooking. That’s done sometimes by those who fear the fat, and they’re really not that fatty, or fear the brat will split. With this gentle cooking method, your brat won’t split. And don’t boil the brats, ever. Just drop them in the water, lid them, immediately turn off the heat and let them sit. Boiling will leach out all the flavor.
Do grill them over medium heat, gently, and that will take a little time, probably about 6 to 8 minutes or so, turning as needed. Your patience will pay off, though, and the brat will have a beautiful crispy browned exterior and be perfectly juicy inside. If you squeeze one of these brats as you eat, you’ll see all the juices (and the flavor) glistening and rivulets forming. That’s your flavor! You’re looking for a final temperature of 160 degrees F., the temp at which sausages are safe, according to the USDA. If your brats contain poultry (?) cook them to 165 degrees F.
It’s your choice if you wish to take those beautifully grilled brats and add them back to the beer/onion mixture. I tend to not do that if the beer isn’t cooked out and there is still a lot of liquid. Again, that’s your choice. I think it helps preserve the brat texture if you don’t but you might get more beer flavor if you hold them in the liquid. If I cook beer/onion mixture down until those onions are caramelized, I’ll drop the brats in and roll them around.
What Kind of Beer to use for Beer Brats:
There’s no question that for a classic flavor you should be using a German-based beer and I love Hamm’s for this recipe. I also mention Hamm’s on my post for Iowa Pork Tenderloin Sandwiches! It’s nostalgic for me. If not Hamms I prefer a lighter, crisper beer. Maybe one of those you might think you’re too sophisticated to drink these days but didn’t mind sucking down as a teenager around the back of a pick-up. Oooops, maybe that’s just me, but in my defense, there wasn’t much to do in my small little hometown! I think a lighter beer like that adds just a bit of sweetness w/o too much bitterness.
If you want a deeper stronger flavor though go for what you think you’d like. More and more I’m seeing references to using a wide variety of different beer types for Beer Brats. You can read a whole discussion on the nuances at Home Brew Talk.
If you don’t want to use beer, common subs are ginger ale, broth, or apple cider or juice, although if you’re going to try one of the subs, you’re on your own. I always use beer so I haven’t tried any of them. I personally think I’d go with a good tart apple cider or add just a teaspoon of vinegar to my apple cider so it isn’t so sweet if I couldn’t find a decent one.
Variations on Beer Brats Recipes and What Brats to Use:
There are probably as many little variations in the basic Beer Brat recipe as there are cooks. Sauerkraut is often added to the onions or served on the side. You’ll find people using bell peppers (although if you are reducing your onions the peppers will cook too long – add them at about the 15 minute mark) and more and more you’ll see the additions of spicy items. Maybe jalapenos or red pepper flakes.
Sometimes even seasoning mixtures, like the Mesquite one from McCormick’s spices are added & sometimes a little liquid smoke is added often you’ll see garlic or garlic powder.
If you have a good brat with a great flavor I think it’s a shame to not let the brat shine and add two much additional seasonings. Of course, there are some fun brats to cook with these days, like Jalapeno Cheese Brats. I can get behind that! I don’t think you can go wrong with any brat when it comes to beer brats but the better the bratwurst the better the final product.
Saving Money on Better than Classic Beer Brats:
If you’re buying grocery store Bratwurst, watch for sales and know that most Brats come in packages of five. Brand named sausage goes on sale regularly, especially during the fall but you’ll find them at lows throughout the summer, too. Watch especially around the big Summer Holidays – check my post Win at the Grocers Summer Holidays to see items to look for at a low. ‘
Often a sale from one brand of sausage will include all their link sausages so great prices are signal to stock up. Sausage will keep well in a deep freeze for a long time but expect them to last for just a few months without suffering any quality loss in a fridge/freezer combination.
It’s some kind of weird rule that the buns are going to be in different amounts than any sausage or hot dog packages! Get a better bun for these and know that your store’s bakery may be a better bet for both price and quality than the bread aisle.
Shop carefully for your alcoholic beverages and be aware of seasonal and cyclic changes as well as great prices on newly available offerings. Sign up for email alerts and know that Holidays and before big sporting events are often the best times to buy. Learn how to store and for how long on this excellent article by Eat by Date.
How are yall doing out there? Me, I’m still stuck but grilling is one way I can at least share some meals with the family and still social distance and it’s not feeling quite as awkward of a dance as it did at first. We’re learning a little ebb and flow. I know many of you have been out volunteering, protesting, cleaning and of course, working, and have weighed your risk and the risk to your loved ones; when you have a chance to think about get togethers, you can’t go wrong with making this recipe in any amount needed. Take care, and remember, everything is about balance whether we’re taking flavors in a recipe or social justice. We all play a role and just like sweet & savory, both the left and the right are needed. Take care,
Better than Classic Beer Brats
- Total Time: 30 to 40 minutes
- Yield: 5 brats 1x
- Category: Pork Main Dish
- Cuisine: German
- 1 package bratwurst
- 1 can beer (at least)
- one to two large yellow onions, sliced pole to pole about 3/8ths in thick (see note)
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 package quality buns
- a little oil or melted butter for buns
- mustard for serving
Add the beer (start with one can but make sure there is enough to cover bratwurst by about an inch; the pan size may cause the amount to be a variable) to a non-reactive pan along with the onions and butteer. Bring beer, onions, and butter to a boil. Drop in bratwurst and immediately add lid and turn off heat. Set timer for 7 minutes. When time is up, remove bratwurst, bring onions up to a good simmer and reduce as desired while the brats cook. Reduce for at least 10 minutes or until onions are tender or caramelize the onions by reducing longer until the onions are golden and most of the beer has evaporated, about 20 to 25 minutes.
Grill (or pan-fry; if pan frying, add a little oil to the pan) bratwurst using medium heat until nicely browned, about 6 to 8 minutes, turning and tending as necessary. If desired, brush cut sides of buns with a little oil and toast as the brats cook. Brats may be served as is or dropped into the pan with the onions.
Serve with the onions and mustard.
- Onions: If cooking onions until tender, one onion will probably do but if reducing the beer and caramelizing the onions, you may want two.
- Recipe may be increased. You will not need to increase the beer or butter in the same proportions. Just add enough beer to cover the brats by about an inch. Also add butter to taste, increase by a little but again, not in direct proportion.)
Keywords: Bargain Meal of the Week, Beer, Bratwurst, German, Grilled or Smoked, Pork, Sandwiches, Sausage