Bratwurst (certainly not the wurst at all) are exceptional when smoked. The best wood for smoking brats shouldn’t overpower the rich, savoury and spiced flavors but should tie them all together. Depending on personal preferences, a brat can be smoked with a strong smoky wood, a mild one, or even fruity or sweeter options. Let’s get to the bottom of this and rate the best woods for smoking brats.
What Is The Best Wood For Smoking Brats?
Smoking Brats With Hickory Wood
Flavors: Well Rounded & Bacon-like
What Matters The Most:
- The combination of meat, fat, and seasonings of a brat creates a pretty strong flavor on its own, so in that sense they are quite forgiving when you’re smoking them. The savoury and strong smokiness of hickory wood is able to compliment the meat well.
- Hickory has a reputation for more easily over smoking meat and making it bitter. Since brats take on the smokiness well, and you aren’t smoking them for a long period of time, it’s excellent to use here. Because of this reason hickory is also one of the best woods for smoking chicken wings or smoking ribs.
- The bacon-like smokiness doesn’t overpower the richness of the brat.
- Hickory also blends nicely with sweeter and spicier rubs or sauces which is great for having the traditional brat.
Hickory is a very popular option, and traditional in Southern barbecue. Known to deliver a strong, but not overpowering smokiness, as long as you’re not smoking for a longer period of time or at higher temperatures, such as when smoking brats. Try pairing a nice sweet tomato sauce or spicy sriracha to tie in all the flavors together. As long as you control the smoke and hit the 225°F sweet spot you will be rewarded with a promising barbecue smoked brat.
Similar to brats, hickory is my favorite for smoking beef jerky too!
Smoking Brats With Maple Wood
Flavors: Sweet & Subtle Smokiness
What Matters The Most
- For someone who doesn’t prefer a dominant smokey flavor, maple wood offers the alternative: a subtle smokiness and mildly sweet wood.
- If you don’t go crazy with the toppings, using maple when smoking brats will present enough barbecue flavor while leaving the richness of the meat as the hero’d flavor.
- Maple can be blended well. If you like an in between, medium smokiness you can blend maple with a stronger, hickory or oak wood. This evens out the smokiness and adds a subtle sweetness, quite a pleasant combination.
Maple is a common favourite for smoking snags, both alone or blended. It’s uniquely subtle smoke is great for when you want the brats to carry their strong savoury and spiced flavors. If you love the oomph of a strong smokey barbecue flavor maple blends exceptionally well with hickory or oak.
Smoking Brats With Apple Wood
Flavors: Fruity & Sweet
What Matters The Most:
- The fruitiness stands out against the savoury flavor of the brat, and works particularly well with sweeter sauces.
- Apple wood naturally produces a lot more smoke, which helps when imparting the smoky flavors in a shorter period of time, such as when smoking bratwurst.
- However, the fruitiness of apple wood works particularly well at delivering a mild smokiness without overpowering the meat.
- The apple wood already smokes well, so be vigilant and keep the heat a little lower, under 250°F or around 230°F, to avoid producing too much smoke.
Apple has a memorable fruity aspect and a mild smokiness. It really works well at adding a complexity of flavor to the brats. The fruitiness and mild smoke definitely doesn’t overpower the meat. This also makes apple wood suitable for more delicate meats, which makes it a great wood for smoking turkey, or chicken. There is still a subtle smokiness which ties it together. Remember to keep the heat low, below 250°F, with apple wood, just so it doesn’t make too much smoke.
Which Bratwurst to Smoke
If you’ve got a craving for smoked brat you don’t just want any old run of the mill sausage. When deciding which brat to smoke there are a few important things to look out for to get the best smoked brat possible.
Firstly, always buy completely raw and uncooked brat, instead of already cooked bratwurst. Not only will this give you more time to develop the flavors while smoking it, but the flavors will be richer and fresher. Smoking pre-cooked brats will leave you less time to impart smokiness and often the flavors are too mellow.
Secondly, look for roughly 75% meat to 25% fat ratio. The fat in the brat is where the distinct and savoury flavor of the brat comes from enhanced by the juices and seasoning. If you go for lean brats around 85% meat to 15% fat it will be noticeably less juicy and the flavor won’t be as rich.
You can even have a go at making your own bratwurst — check out this guide for everything you need to know about sausage casings.
How to Season & Prepare Bratwurst
Five minutes before putting the brats in the smoker season with your favorite rub. Brats are rather forgiving in which flavors will complement them, so it’s really up to personal preference. Usually a brat rub will use a combination of salt, pepper, nutmeg, garlic, onion and chilli.
You don’t need to pierce the casing before smoking, this will only allow some extra juices to flow out. Whether using lump charcoal for smoking, pellets, gas, or electricity, be sure to get the smoke consistency and temperature right before adding your brats.
How Long To Smoke Brats?
You want to smoke brats for at least an hour, and up to 1 hour & 45 minutes depending on their size and how consistent you can keep the temperature. Aim for the sweet spot of 225°F, and keep it below 250°F to give them enough time to develop a nice smokiness. Once your brats have reached an internal temperature of 160°F they are ready.
If you have a smoker grill combo, like a Traeger or Kamado, you can finish the brats on a higher heat for a minute a side on the grill to give them a nice bite and texture.