From Oconomowoc to Manitowoc, on any given summer weekend you’ll see clouds of smoke, as if whole towns are afire. They are. It’s grilling season in Wisconsin, and that means bratwurst on every grill.
From Oconomowoc to Manitowoc, on any given summer weekend you’ll see clouds of smoke, as if whole towns are afire.
They are. It’s grilling season in Wisconsin, and that means bratwurst on every grill. No one knows how this love thing started. Some locals argue that brat tailgating was invented at Lambeau Field by Packers fans as early as 1919. Today, Lambeau is brat central.
Grill it thoroughly
A bratwurst (pronounced “broughtworst”) is a strange creature from Germany. Brat means fried, wurst means sausage.
But the true believers never fry it. It’s always grilled. It should be called gegrilltwurst.
(Beware: Brats are raw sausage and rarely sold precooked like hot dogs or kielbasa. They must be grilled thoroughly.)
Proper consumption, of course, is an art form. There must be German beer, lots of it, for cooking and cooks. It’s against the law to use yellow prepared mustard; it must be a brown, coarse Dusseldorf. And anybody using hot-dog buns will be excommunicated on sight.
The brat crowd gets a little antsy when you mention concerns such as cholesterol and cardiac infarctions, so leave those out of your conversation. Still, there’s no denying it. One brat equals 25 percent of your recommended daily allowance of fat.
Forget common hot-dog buns for brats. They’re too small, too wimpy. The perfect brat roll is fresh, long, fat and chewy. In Ohio, we call them steak rolls.
Sheboygan style is two brats on a round German semmel roll with ketchup, pickles and chopped onions and never, ever sauerkraut. As if the fat isn’t enough, they put lots of real butter on the roll. Sheboygan is the self-acclaimed Bratwurst Capital of the Universe. Bring your Lipitor and Prilosec.
The typical brat condiments around here are mustard, chopped onions and sauerkraut. I like sauerkraut salad marinated in vinegar and sugar with peppers and onions, although that would be scorned in the Badger state.
Stuff gets interesting when you realize that almost every Wisconsin burg has its own brat etiquette. Some view ketchup as disgusting. Others have settled on any number of homemade sauces, the primary ingredient being beer.
Hold the cheese
One thing you never see, and it’s shocking being in Wisconsin, is cheese of any sort. Cheese is for the cheese ball. Brats are porkers and need no help from Holsteins.
A lot of folks outside Wisconsin make big mistakes cooking brats. No. 1 is despite their name, you never fry them. Grill them. No. 2 is you must simmer them in beer first for 10 minutes, never boil. Boiling causes brat busting, the explosion of the casings.
When grilling, use tongs, never pierce with a fork. You want all that delicious fat to stay inside the brat. If it leaks out, you’ll have a brat blaze.
Simmering in beer is a good way to cut the grilling time, important for tailgating. Give them 10 minutes and transfer to a grill. Cook until the skins are crisp and grill marks are deep. If you have a fat fire, cover the grill.
Then transfer to a warm holding sauce of beer and canned tomatoes. The sauce keeps large numbers of brats warm while others are grilling.
Cheeseheads tell you eating brats is a social rite. They are best consumed standing among circles of friends with no forks or napkins or pretentious behavior. Let that grease flow down your arms, perfect perfume for an afternoon of brat gas and heartburn.
BRAT HOLDING SAUCE
1 14.5-ounce can stewed tomatoes
1 can beer of any sort
1 medium Bermuda onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce such as Tabasco
Mix together in a pot and simmer. Never allow to boil. Holds 4 brats.
SAUERKRAUT BRAT RELISH
1 14.5-ounce can sauerkraut
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped green pepper
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup grated carrot
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup cider vinegar
Whisk sugar, oil and vinegar and pour over vegetables. Cover and refrigerate at least 12 hours, stirring once or twice.