How do you prep bratwursts for cooking on the grill? Why a chef says it's important to 'start with the brine'

·6-min read
Want to prep bratwursts for the grill? Chef K.C. Gulbro says it's all about the brine. (Photo: Getty Creative)
Want to prep bratwursts for the grill? Chef K.C. Gulbro says it's all about the brine. (Photo: Getty Creative)

Perfecting grilled favorites is imperative to the success of any summertime barbeque, or even just an evening dinner al fresco. But while grill prep work for most meats involves a simple seasoning or a fresh marinade before hitting the flames, the perfect bratwurst recipe is a little harder to find.

Chef K.C. Gulbro, is a chef and restaurateur who owns two successful restaurants — FoxFire and Copper Fox — located in Geneva, Ill. To Gulbro, brats are more than just a tasty meal: They're a classic favorite his family has been cooking up for decades.

How to grill flavorful brats

"Brats have always been a family tradition," Gulbro explains. "Every summer the Gulbros will get together for family gatherings on the big holidays. [Growing up], whenever there was a cookout or barbecue I was with Dad, cooking by his side. It was a time when he could share stories I didn't get to hear … [brats] are one of the first things my dad actually taught me to cook. Indisputably, his are so so good."

The brats recipe his dad taught him years ago is still Gulbro's tried-and-true way to cook bratwurst when it's time to light up the grill. He shares that while he does simmer the brats to boiling, it's not until after he soaks them in a flavorful brine that adds flavor to the brats and makes for an even juicer finished product.

How to brine bratwurst for grilling

"Start with the brine," Gulbro says. "Use beer — I suggest a nice Pilsner or ale, but the best beers are the ones you drink. Don't go with something exotic or new, as the flavor may not be something you like."

"If you prefer to cook without alcohol, substitute one cup of apple cider vinegar combined with one and a half cups of water," he adds. "Then add a sliced onion — preferably a nice hot white onion or Spanish onion — salt, pepper, garlic, caraway seeds and sage."

For those looking to add a little bit of heat to their brats, Gulbro suggests adding some of your favorite spicy fresh peppers or red pepper flakes to the mixture. "I like to add things to spice up my brats," he says, "a sliced jalapeño, habanero or a pinch of pepper flakes for a touch of kick.

Next, bring the brine to a boil, then cool it by taking it off the heat and adding about four cups of ice. Boiling the brine ensures all of the flavors are infused together and ready to impart big bold tastes while cooking with brats.

"When the brine comes down to room temperature, it's time to add in the brats," says Gulbro. "Let them soak for three to four hours on your counter, or up to 12 hours in your fridge for great flavor."

Yes, you should boil brats before grilling

After their soak in the brine, remove onions and peppers, which can be set aside to be cooked with the brats later, and add the mixture to a pot on the stove. Here, add a pinch of salt before it's time to boil the bratwurst. Bring everything to a boil, then knock the temperature down to a simmer for five to eight minutes.

"While the brats are in the hot tub, combine a half or whole red onion with the saved onions and peppers in a pan," Gulbro tells Yahoo Life. "The cooked onions and peppers make a perfect topping for brats."

How long should you grill bratwurst?

With pre-cooking complete, it's finally time to fire up the grill: Remove the brats from the brine and place them on the rack at a temperature of around 400 to 450 F for five to eight minutes. Gulbro shares some tips on how to recognize when the brat is grilled just right. "Let the casings get to a desired color, turning twice," he says. "The moisture [from the brine] should keep the brats juicy, but be careful of [temperature] flair ups on the grill that can cause the casings to snap. I like cooking the brats until the casings are crispy and are just about to burst."

The most important things to remember when cooking brats, says Gulbro, are to brine them and to just jump in and give cooking bratwurst a try without fear. Right before pulling the brats off of the grill, he says a pinch of salt and pepper can add a last hit of flavor as the brats head into their buns.

Top them with the onion topping, or a simple bit of sauerkraut and mustard, and enjoy a new grilled favorite.

The Gulbro Family's Grilled Bratwurst Recipe

Courtesy of K.C. Gulbro

(Photo: K.C. Gulbro)
(Photo: K.C. Gulbro)

Ingredients:

  • 1 white or spanish onion, sliced

  • 16-24 ounces of Pilsner or ale (I like using an Irish red ale as well, but Budweiser or Miller Genuine Draft works just fine) or substitute it with 1 cup apple cider vinegar and 1 ½ cups water

  • 4 cups of ice (used to cool brine, if needed)

  • 12 Johnsonville brats or Josef's Elegante Meats and Deli (located in Geneva, Ill.)

  • 1-2 jalapeños with seeds (if you like less heat, remove seeds and thoroughly wash hands) or a pinch of red pepper flakes for desired heat

  • 2 tablespoons of butter

  • 2 tablespoons of brown sugar

  • ½ teaspoon of granulated garlic

  • ½ teaspoon of salt

  • ½ teaspoon of pepper

  • 1 bay leaf

  • ½ teaspoon ground caraway seeds

  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage

Instructions:

  1. Create the brine. Combine beer, such as a Pilsner or ale, onion, salt, pepper, garlic, caraway seeds and sage. Optional: sliced jalapeño, habanero or a pinch of red pepper flakes for a touch of kick.

  2. Bring to a boil and cool by pouring brine over ice.

  3. When brine is room-temperature, add brats and soak for 3-12 hours.

  4. Remove and reserve onions and peppers. Pour brats and beer mixture into a pot, season with a pinch of salt if needed and bring to a boil, then let simmer for 5-8 minutes.

  5. Combine a ½ or whole red onion to the saved onions and peppers into a pan. For caramelized onions, add a touch of brown sugar on low heat till brown, stirring often so not to burn to get all the sweetness out of the onions. For crispy onions, take mixture and add olive oil, 3 ounces leftover beer, a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce and black pepper at higher heat, letting them blister, and stir.

  6. When the brats are finished boiling, remove brats and discard brine.

  7. Place the brats on the grill and let the casings get to desired color, turning twice. Cook on the grill for 5-8 minutes at 400-450 F, turning as needed until done. While finishing up, place your bun on the grill to toast it.

  8. Put desired condiments inside the bun, place brat on top and then load the toppings and enjoy.

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