Nothing captures the spirit of fall like an Oktoberfest-inspired campfire dinner. A beer in one hand, a sauerkraut-laden bratwurst in the other. Life doesn’t get much better than that.
We’ve made campfire brats plenty of times before and never thought they needed a “recipe.” How hard can it be to place bratwurst on a grill? But we’ve started using a new technique thanks to Serious Eats that we think really improves the whole system.
How to grill bratwurst over a campfire
The main issue we’ve had with brats is overcooking on the outside and undercooking on the inside. This is usually caused by too high of heat and results in burst skin that releases all the delicious juices.
The way to avoid this? Poach first, grill second.
In a cast-iron skillet, we dump the entire container of sauerkraut, pour in half a beer, mix in some mustard, and then nestle in our bratwurst.
We place the skillet over the hot part of the fire until it starts to bubble and then move it over to lower heat to simmer.
This poaches the sausages in the flavorful liquid, ensuring they’re fully cooked.
When we’re getting close to mealtime, we toss the sausages on the hot side of the grill just long enough to char the outside. Then we can pop them back into the skillet to keep them warm until everyone is ready.
This process takes all the guesswork out of cooking sausage over an open fire, so we can spend less time poking and prodding and more time relaxing. Which, after all, is the whole point!
Ingredients for beer brats
Bratwurst: The best bratwursts will always come from your local butcher (or even grocery store butcher). So take a moment to chat with the guy or gal behind the meat counter.
Sauerkraut: Since it takes up to 6 weeks to make sauerkraut yourself, it’s a safe bet that you’ll probably be using one of the many store-bought brands. However, not all store-bought sauerkrauts are created equally. Specifically, you want to avoid refrigerated sauerkraut that comes in a plastic bag. The bags actually allow small amounts of oxygen to pass through, so manufacturers use preservatives to extend the product’s shelf-life. Turns out that the best-tasting sauerkraut actually comes in a shelf-stable glass jar or can and will contain only two ingredients: cabbage and salt.
Beer: Light or dark, just not an IPA. When reduced, the bitter notes of an IPA become more and more pronounced, which will render your sauerkraut not only sour but bitter as well.
Buns: New England style top-sliced buns are a structurally superior bratwurst conveyance system than the more widely available side sliced buns. Top sliced buns (most commonly used for lobster rolls) have a flat base, so they can be placed on a plate and not roll over. They also have a much slimmer profile, so you won’t ever end up with a disappointing mouthful of just bread. If you can find them, get top-sliced buns! They’re worth it!
Cast Iron Skillet: This is a great, versatile piece of equipment to own period, but for this recipe is going to be an ideal means of simmering your sauerkraut and poaching your brats.
Grill or fire pit: If you’re camping at an established campground with a fire pit and grill grate, you’ll be all set. However, if you’re camping somewhere with no grill (check ahead!), you’ll want to bring your own. We like the Fold-a-Flame (pictured) or the BioLite FirePit. If you’re camping in an area where fires are not allowed, this portable propane grill is great too.
Portable Charcoal Chimney: If you don’t want your brats to taste like lighter fluid then we suggest picking up a portable charcoal chimney and some hardwood charcoal.
Instant-read thermometer: Grilling is an imperfect science, but you can take some of the guesswork out of the question of “Is it done?” by checking your meat with an instant-read thermometer.
See our complete guide to camping kitchen equipment for more info about camp cooking gear.
Grilled Beer Brats
- 6 bratwurst
- 1 lb prepared sauerkraut
- 1 can of beer
- 1 tablespoon mustard
- 6 buns
- Additional toppings of choice: mustard, onions, etc.
- Place the sauerkraut, beer, and mustard in a skillet and stir to combine. Add the bratwurst into the mix and place over your fire or camp stove. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat and cook for about 20 minutes, until the brats register 140F.
- Remove the brats from the sauerkraut, shaking off any extra liquid, and place on the grill for 2-3 minutes, turning every 30 seconds or so. The brats can be served immediately with toasted buns and desired condiments, or returned to the sauerkraut to keep warm until your group is ready to eat.