Hot Dogs, Brats, and Sausages

Bratwurst “Hot Tub”


While not traditional, indirect grilling brats crisps their casings, keeps the brats moist, and eliminates the risk of burning and flare-ups, while the wood smoke adds a haunting dimension of flavor. To me there is no better way to cook bratwurst or any sausage.

Direct grilling is the traditional way a Wisconsinite cooks bratwurst. The secret is to work over a moderate heat, leave yourself a large safety zone in case you get flare-ups, and take pains not to pierce the casing, thereby releasing the tasty and flavorful juices. To do this, always use tongs and never a barbecue fork for turning the brats.


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Bratwurst “Hot Tub”

Recipe Notes

  • Advance Prep: The brats can be grilled up to two hours ahead -- that's the point.
  • Yield: 4 to 6 servings
  • Method: Indirect or Direct Grilling
  • Equipment: 1 1/2 cups hickory, oak or other wood chips, soaked in water or beer to cover for 1 hour, then drained (optional), bamboo skewers (preferably flat), a large aluminum foil pan (like a turkey roaster)


  • 12 Wisconsin bratwurst
  • 1 large sweet onion, peeled and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch slices
  • 4 tablespoons salted butter
  • Coarse salt (kosher or sea) and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 cups beer (2 bottles), preferably Wisconsin beer

For serving:

  • 12 crusty rolls, like semmel rolls or kaiser rolls
  • Hot or sweet German-style mustard
  • 3 cups sauerkraut

Recipe Steps

Step 1: Smoke-roasting (indirect grilling) method: Set up your grill for indirect grilling and preheat to medium. Brush and oil the grill grate. Arrange the brats on the grate over the drip pay away from the heat. Toss the wood chips on the coals. Indirect grill the brats until crusty and golden brown on the outside and cooked through, 30 to 40 minutes. Use an instant-read meat thermometer to check for doneness — insert it in one end to the center of the brat — it should read 160 degrees F. There is no need to turn the brats — remember, you’re indirect grilling.

Direct grilling method: Or set up your grill for direct grilling and preheat to medium. Brush and oil the grill grate. Arrange the brats on the grate over the fire, leaving 1 inch between each. Direct grill the brats until crusty and golden on the outside and cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes per side. Again, use an instant read meat thermometer inserted through one end to test for doneness.

Step 2: As the brats cook, skewer the onion slices on bamboo skewers. Melt the butter in the large foil pan. Lightly brush the onion slices with melted butter (you’ll need about 1 tablespoon) and season with salt and pepper. Direct grill the onions until golden brown on both sides, 3 to 4 minutes per side. (If working on a grill set up for indirect grilling, place the onions directly over one of the mounds of coals.) Add the onions to foil pan with the butter, removing and discarding the skewers.

Step 3: Add the beer to foil and boil it for 3 minutes. Move it to a cooler part of the grill so it stops boiling. As the bratwurst are done, add them to the pan with the beer. Position the pan at the rear or side of your grill so that the beer and brats stay warm, but don’t quite boil. Boiling will overcook them. Thus nestled in their hot tub, the brats will stay warm and moist for up to an hour or two—enough time for you to cook them ahead of time, imbue them with the flavor of smoke and fire, and enjoy them during the game.

Step 4: To serve the brats, slather the roll with mustard. You can butter and grill it if you like — most Wisconsinites wouldn’t bother. Add a brat, some grilled onion, and sauerkraut if desired. Take a bite and get ready for some of the best sausage on Planet Barbecue.

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