How to Know When Brats Are Done? A Simple Guide

September 22, 2023
Written by Kristy J. Norton
Edited by John Smits 

Brats are done when their internal temperature reads 160°F. Use a good instant-read thermometer to check their temp. If you’re cooking a batch of brats on the grill, it’s a good idea to temp each brat individually - grills have hot spots, and cooking rates can vary.

I’m from the Midwest, so I know a thing or two about brats. I cook brats at least once a week and pretty much every Saturday and Sunday in the fall for football tailgates. Brats and the Midwest go together like pulled pork and Carolina.

In this post, I will talk about the internal temperature of a perfectly cooked bratwurst, various tests you can run that hint at doneness, and drop some recipes for the best-ever brats. Let's get our brat on!

How to Know When Brats Are Done

How to Know When Brats Are Fully Cooked?

The best way to know that brats are fully cooked is by checking their temperature with an instant-read thermometer. 160°F is the temp you’re shooting for.

You have probably heard lots of advice on how to know if brats are done simply by looking at them. While some of these tips have merit, the only way to know that these German-style sausages are fully cooked is to check the internal temperature. If you’re an aspiring home chef or pit boss, a good thermometer is your best friend.

Wait until you think the German sausage is cooked all the way through before checking the temperature. Then you will not have to poke the sausage quite so much.

And, in case you were wondering:

How do you know when brats are done on the grill?

The same answer applies! Use a thermometer to check their temperature, whether grilled or cooked in beer. Again, grills have hot spots. Temp every brat before pulling them from the heat.

What Happens If You Eat Undercooked Bratwurst?

The main concern here, of course, is food poisoning. You can get sick from undercooked bratwurst. There are a number of bacteria in pork that can cause illness if your pork isn’t fully cooked. Eating undercooked pork isn't a chance that you want to take.

Can You Overcook Brats?

Yes, leaving the sausages over heat for too long will lead to them being overcooked. This will cause them to dry out. No one likes dry brats! Track the temp and pull the brats from the heat at 160°F. If the sausages get too overcooked, they can burn and char, causing them to taste bitter.

Grilled Sausages on the Hot Grill

How Long Do Brats Take to Cook?

This depends on your cooking method as well as the temperature at which they are being prepared. Some brats are also bigger than others. Let me offer up some estimates:

If you are grilling brats or cooking them on a stovetop, then they will take a total of around 16 to 24 minutes to cook over medium heat (300°F - 350°F). 

It’s best to cook brats over medium temperatures. They’re oozing with fat. That fat can drip out and cause flare-ups. Medium cooking temperatures help mitigate this risk. Having a squirt bottle filled with water to spray down any flames and flare-ups is a good idea.

Tips for Checking Doneness Without a Thermometer

I know that some people don't have a meat thermometer - but I would highly recommend getting one. The only way to truly know your brats are safe to eat is by checking their interior temperature. You don’t need a Thermapen (although they’re nice). A decent $20 thermometer is fine! They come in handy when cooking, grilling, or roasting almost any kind of meat.

Still, here are the tests that you can use to determine if the brats are done:

The Wiggle Test

As the bratwursts cook, they firm up and become less tender. When they are nearing the end of the cooking process, pick up a brat - with tongs, of course - and wiggle it up and down. If there is only a slight bounce to it, then it is probably done.

The Touch Test

Here, you follow a method that is similar to that of checking the doneness of a steak. Touch your thumb to your pinky and hold it there. Now, with the fingers of your other hand, feel the flesh beneath your thumb and take note of the level of firmness.

Next, press a finger against the bratwurst. If it feels similarly firm, then it is close to being done or is done.

Again, the only way to ensure your brats are fully cooked is by using a meat thermometer. Visual and touch cues are merely indicators of doneness.

How to Cook Bratwurst?

There are many different ways to prepare brats. Here are two of my favorite ways:

How to Grill Brats?

Start off the grilling process by preheating the grill. Set the temperature to 350°F and let the grill heat up. The key here is to cook the brats on medium heat. The last thing that you want is to go too hot or too fast - these sausages are best when grilled slowly. All the fat in brats can cause flare-ups. Combat this by cooking over medium heat.

In the meantime, brush the brats evenly in cooking oil. Use a basting brush. I use vegetable oil, but any cooking oil will do the trick. It makes the casing crispy. Just don’t tell the Puritans in Wisconsin that I do this. (They don’t brush brats in oil over there. Go figure.) Wipe the cooking grate with a paper towel soaked in vegetable oil. Use tongs to hold the paper towel.

When the grill is ready, place the brats on the cooking grate - your grill should make a nice sizzling sound. Make sure to leave enough space between each sausage. This way, they will cook more evenly.

Turn the brats every 4 to 6 minutes per side. Turning more frequently won’t hurt. After 16 to 24 minutes, they will be done - or close to it. Check the temperature at this point. 

Grilled Sausages with Spices

Lid Up or Down - What's the Verdict?

I leave the lid down when cooking brats. I find it’s easier to maintain medium heat with the lid down. If you like the lid up and can control the cooking temperatures, more power to you!

Cooking Brats on a Stovetop

For this recipe, you will require the following:

  • 1 tbs. of vegetable oil
  • 10 brats
  • 3 medium onions, roughly diced into ½” squares
  • 1 cup of beer
  • Kosher salt and pepper to taste

Step 1

Add the oil to a heavy-bottomed frying pan and set the temperature to medium-high heat. No need to worry about flare-ups since the pan will be between the brats and the flame. Once the oil has heated up, add the brats. Sear each side for about 3 minutes.

Step 2

Lower the fire to medium-low heat and add the onions. Cook for about two minutes or until the onions have turned golden. Make sure to move them around so that they don't burn.

Step 3

Flip the sausages over and pour in the beer. Cover and turn the heat down to low heat. Heat for ten minutes - after the halfway point, flip the brats over, cover and heat until the internal temperature reaches 160°F.

Step 4

Serve! Toss those brats on a bun, and pile the onions on top.

Should You Boil Brats?

Of course! Beer-boiled brats are one of the finest dishes known to humans. (I said I’m Midwestern - I’m biased!) The key is to get a slow simmer going, not a vigorous boil.

Here’s what to do. Fire up your grill to medium heat, around 300°F to 350°F. Simmer 2 bottles of American lager in a disposable aluminum pan. Add 6 brats to the beer bath, and cook for around 15 minutes. Remove the brats from the pan, and cook them over direct heat, around 2 minutes per side. Again, the finish temperature is 160°F. 

While the brats finish cooking, toss a couple of diced onions and diced peppers into the beer. Cook until soft. Grab a bun and cooked brat. Pile the onions and peppers on. Live your best life!

Fresh Bratwurst vs. Pre-Cooked Brats

As the name suggests, pre-cooked bratwursts have previously been cooked. No need to check the temperature of a pre-cooked brat. Like hot dogs, they’re safe to eat right out of the packaging. (Although they’ll taste much better heated.) They don't need to be cooked for as long as raw brats. Browning them is enough.

It is important to always check which kind you are getting as it will let you know how much cooking is required. Read the label on your packaging.

You should be able to distinguish between the two simply by looking at them too. The pre-cooked version is pale and firmer, while the fresh bratwurst is pink and more limp.

Grilled Sausages and Tomatoes on the Wooden Board

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Wrapping It Up

There you go - everything that you need to know about cooking the ultimate brat. Whether that’s on your grill, over your stove, or in a beer bath, you’re ready to make some amazing brats. Make sure you’ve got plenty of condiments ready - ketchup, mustard, pickles, and sauerkraut are non-negotiable. Some cheese (from Wisconsin, preferably) isn’t “traditional,” but you better believe it’s good!

Just remember to cook your brats to 160°F to make sure they’re done. A good instant-read thermometer makes this incredibly easy. A thermometer is the most important cooking tool you can invest in - it’s more important than a nice grill. Happy grilling.

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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