Should You Poke Brats Before Grilling?

Brats might be simple, but that hasn’t stopped them from becoming one of America’s favorite meats either – so how hard can they be to cook? Unfortunately, there’s a lot of contradictory info about bratwurst, and we’re here to set the record straight. So, should you poke holes in brats before grilling?

Should You Poke Brats Before Grilling?

It would be best never to poke brats before grilling because that allows the juices and fats to leak out. Doing so ruins the brat’s flavor and texture. Poking holes in brats also means you might overcook the meat since the liquid inside the brats can escape.

should you poke brats before grilling

We know now that we shouldn’t poke holes in brats before grilling them, so let’s get into further detail with this issue. 

This article will look at why it’s vital we don’t pierce brats or otherwise burst their casings. Not only that, but we’ll also answer some FAQs on brats, plus one on hot dogs.

Why Shouldn’t You Poke Holes In Brats Before Grilling?

If you poke a hole in a brat’s casing, that lets the fat inside the sausage leak out. Although pork fat isn’t the healthiest thing to eat, it gives the brat its flavor. 

So, the more holes you poke, the less flavor your brat will have. In addition, the fat leaking from the meat also dries the brat out, further ruining its taste and texture.

Many people guess that brats need holes to cook appropriately since other sausages – namely hot dogs – do need them. This is because hot dogs need to vent the steam that builds up inside them when you grill them.

However, brats don’t have this problem. Unlike hot dogs, bratwurst uses ground meat, not an emulsified meat paste. 

There’s more space inside the casing for steam to accumulate in a brat because of this rougher meat consistency. That way, it won’t burst open the case if you grill it correctly.

Brats also have thicker skin than hot dogs, so bursting is even less of an issue. Traditional-style brats will even use animal intestine for the casing, which is thicker – but no less delicious or easy to eat – than artificial casings.

And unlike hot dogs, brats have complex flavors that are a joy to taste. As we know, slicing or pricking a brat lets the fat leak out. With it comes all the delicious nutmeg, caraway, sage, ginger, and coriander spice it has absorbed.

Similarly, the fat and other juices inside the meat help balance its temperature. Removing them means that you can easily overcook or undercook your meat – even when grilled at the recommended temperature.

Not only that but poking holes in brats doesn’t help them absorb their marinade much either. That’s because the juices from the marinade will leak back out of the brat when you grill it. So, very little additional taste remains, if any.

Furthermore, brats don’t need a marinade anyhow – butchers make them with herbs and spices that give them a good flavor. Marinading them is unnecessary.

Last, it’s a bad idea to poke holes in brats even if you don’t grill them. Although we don’t recommend pan-frying or boiling brats, you shouldn’t poke holes in them if you do. Again, you’ll run into the same issues we’ve discussed already.

Grilling and Poking Brats FAQs

Now that we know why not poke holes in brats, we can answer some other grilling FAQs to perfect your bratwurst experience. 

Can You Buy Mass Market Brats?

Although – obviously – mass-market brats will vary by brand, we don’t recommend any of them if you can buy fresh alternatives instead. Not only does purchasing fresh brats support your local butcher, but these links often taste better too.

The way we see it, the only packaging your brats should come in is butcher paper. Fresh brats are often made to order with healthier, more natural ingredients. It’s no wonder they have a more delicious flavor. 

Also, you can find some pretty exciting spice and herb combinations with fresh brats. For example, we’ve run into an apple, jalapeno, and cheese-flavored brats.

How Do You Grill Brats Without Bursting Them?

To avoid your unpierced brats bursting open on the grill, we recommend cooking them on medium heat. Although you can grill brats on a high heat instead, that takes far more practice and gives a nearly identical result. So, stick to medium (between 300 and 350 F).

See, if you let the brats get too warm, their outsides will cook too quickly compared to the insides. In that case, the casing will dry out and crack, letting the brat burst open and its tasty fat leak out. 

We recommend grilling the brats on wood, not over gas or charcoal. Brats cook over mesquite or pecan wood take on a new, smoky flavor.

This method takes between twenty and thirty minutes, but it is worth it. Keep your grill lid closed except when flipping the brats – you can give them a light brush of oil so they won’t stick to the grill.

Your brats should be done when they’ve turned light brown, with a caramelized coating. When grilled this way, you don’t need to pre-boil them in beer either – they should be flavorful enough to eat plain. If you do want toppings, though, then we recommend the standard mustard, onion, and sauerkraut combo.

Should You Preboil Brats?

You don’t need to pre-boil brats. The method we’ve shown above, it’s completely unnecessary. Similarly, suppose you want to impart a beer flavor into the sausages. In that case, you can do that by partly grilling them and then finishing them in a beer and onion bath.

Pre-boiling might even hurt the brat’s unique flavor. It doesn’t impart any flavor of its own into the meat, but it also creates an opportunity for juices inside the brat to leech out into the water (or beer). 

Furthermore, brats cook best with a gentle, rising heat – as you can quickly get on a grill. The high, steady heat of boiling beer risks giving the meat a mushy texture and rubbery casing instead.

Should You Poke Hot Dogs Before Grilling?

Although you should avoid poking a brat’s casing, the opposite is true for hot dogs. Because the meat inside a hot dog is very dense, it cannot expand while cooking if the case is entirely intact. Instead, the pressure and the steam it releases will burst the casing open.

If that happens, it isn’t the end of the world– your hot dog will taste the same. However, the result doesn’t look pretty, which isn’t great if you’re grilling for others. 

So, it is best if you poke holes in hot dogs. But, if you’d prefer, you could also go for a more classic look and score them diagonally a few times with a knife. 

Unlike brats, manufacturers don’t heavily flavor their hot dogs. So, if any fat leaks out, that isn’t a concern with them. The hot dog will taste the same either way.

Final Word

In conclusion, it is best to avoid poking brats before grilling. Doing so lets the fat and juices leak out, which ruins their flavor. 

Instead, to avoid the brats bursting, grill them over medium heat. This gives them a delicious, smoky taste, but it also prevents the outside from drying out and cracking, which lets the juices escape. 

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