Nothing says "summer" like the smoky aroma of food being cooked on a charcoal grill. It brings back memories of simpler days, when people had time to sit around with friends in the sunshine and wait for a perfectly cooked bratwurst to come off the grill. Cooking bratwurst on charcoal isn't as simple as just lighting the coals and tossing the sausage on. To get that perfect grilled bratwurst flavor -- and ensure that the sausage is fully cooked and safe to eat -- you have to grill it slowly, and keep the fire low.
Poach the Bratwurst
Place the bratwurst in the saucepan.
Pour beer into the saucepan, covering the bratwurst completely. Add the onion, if you're using it.
Place the pan on the stove and turn the burner to medium-high.
Maintain a close eye on the pan for the beer starting to boil. When it does, remove the pan from the heat and cover it with a lid.
Prepare the grill and let the bratwurst sit in the pan, covered.
Prepare the Grill
Stack the charcoal in a pyramid shape in the grill. Doing this first ensures that you don't end up with too little or too much charcoal.
Remove the charcoal from the grill, lay it out flat and spray it with lighter fluid. Make sure you get some fluid on each piece of charcoal.
Stack the charcoal in the grill again, pyramid-style, and spray it with more lighter fluid.
Light the bottom of the pile on fire.
Wait for the flame to die down, and watch for the coals to get a coating of gray ash. This usually takes between a half-hour and 45 minutes. Once you see that all the coals are gray, you're ready to grill.
Grill the Brats
Place the grate of the grill over the coals.
Place the bratwurst on the grill and check it every couple of minutes to see if it needs to be turned. When you see grill marks on the bottom of the sausage, or it begins to look dark brown, turn it over with tongs.
Cook the other side of the bratwurst until grill marks or the dark brown color appear on the bottom. Grilling the bratwurst after it's been poached will only take about five to 10 minutes.
Remove the bratwurst from the grill and serve with your favorite condiments.