Sunday, July 5, 2009

Classic Wisconsin Bratwurst

What could be better on a long, holiday weekend than grilling up some of Wisconsin's finest bratwurst? Not much -- unless, of course, the bratwurst came from your very own Wisconsin-grown pig!

That's right. Peef's parents gave us one of those Christmas gifts that food geeks dream about -- a portion of our very own pig. He was processed into a variety of cuts -- pork steaks, ham, chops, bacon... and since this was a Wisconsin-bred piglet, you can't forget the most important part. The bratwurst.

We've been on freezer clean-out duty lately. So, when we found a package of these babies in the deep freeze, we knew they were the perfect thing to thaw out for dinner.
Now, a bratwurst afficionado will be the first to tell you that the bun you use to cradle your bratwurst is almost as important as the sausage itself. And we didn't really have anything appropriate laying around at home. So, we ran right out to pick up some delicious brat buns from our local bakery. These buns are bigger than your average hotdog bun, a little bit crusty on the outside, and perfectly soft and tender on the inside. Just perfect for a good Wisconsin brat fry.
Then we got to work setting up the grill. A good amount of charcoal is key to delicious, evenly cooked brats. And before you put those babies on the grill, you want to make sure that the coals are grey and glowing. Some people like to precook their brats in beer before they grill them -- but we're not big fans. The beer doesn't impart a ton of flavor during the precook, and it tends to dry the poor little sausages out. We prefer the indirect grilling method for our brats. You can approach it in a variety of ways, but we place those gorgeous hot coals right in the middle of the grill, and line up the brats all around the edges.
When the brats are browned nicely on one side, you'll wand to flip them over to brown the other side. Take care to note hot spots around the grill. If you sense that one of the brats is cooking too quickly, move him to a cooler spot. The sausages will start to smell amazing in pretty short order -- but you want to avoid rushing the cooking process. Your patience will be rewarded.
The key to great bratwurst is low, slow cooking. You don't want to cook the sausages too quickly or they'll split open and dry out. Instead, you want to give them a chance to really caramelize on all sides. Your brats will take 20-30 minutes to cook through.
When the brats are cooked, you can bring them in on a plate tented with a bit of aluminum foil. At that point, you'll want to immediately begin dressing your brat bun. First, take a bit of mustard and spread it on one side of the bun. Traditionalist might want a nice, old fashioned grainy German mustard; but, we like a simple, spicy Dijon.
Then, you want to quickly drain the juice from a handful of good sauerkraut. If you're the type who thinks ahead, you can drain the 'kraut while you're grilling the brats; but, you can also do it right before serving. We like to get a bit of lacto-fermented food into our diet whenever we can, so we buy delicious jars of fresh sauerkraut from Spirit Creek Farms in northeastern Wisconsin.
Pile some of the sauerkraut on the bun -- and then spread the other side with a bit of ketchup. This ketchup just so happens to be some of our (quick) homemade "beer ketchup" -- which is the perfect accompaniment for bratwurst. I'll be sure to share the recipe in a future post.
Tuck one of the hot bratwurst into the bun and cover him with a few freshly sliced onions. We opt for raw onions when Vidalias and Walla Wallas are in season, but fried onions are equally good on a bratwurst.
Brats served in this traditional fashion can be a bit messy to eat. You can think of them along the same lines as a chili dog or a nice loaded sloppy joes sammich. But, we like to think that's part of their charm. Tie that napkin around your neck, and bite right on in. I'm going to bet that little beer ketchup stain you get on the left leg of your bermuda shorts will be completely worth the effort it takes to get it out. Cuz once you've tasted a truly great bratwurst, you're never going back to eating those overly processed weiner-like imposters.
For those of you interested in more information about Wisconsin's favorite holiday weekend grilling treat, you don't want to miss The Bratwurst Pages, which describe bratwurst as "Wisconsin's Soul Food." The Web site includes hints and tips for proper bratwurst preparation as well as detailed instructions for eating the bratwurst themselves (don't forget the "bratwash"... AKA, beer). Oh, yeah -- and there's plenty of good humor thrown in there too.

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  1. You are so making me hungry with this post! I don't like beer cooked brats either. But I'm printing this one out and using as a tutorial for the next time there is a cookout! :)

  2. One of our favorite meals right there, yum!

  3. Wow, your own piece of pig heaven! What lucky people you are! :)

    Those brats look great!

  4. There are few things I love as much as good bratwurst. I am very jealous of your owning of a share of a pig! Perfect holiday meal.

  5. wow, homemade ketchup? very very impressive. those brats look so delicious on the grill there. i would love one right now!

  6. Those look awesome. I had my first bratwurst not too long ago, it was wicked good. I'm jealous of all your pig bits, that's a killer xmas gift!

  7. Fabulous bratwursts on a grill! Yum!

  8. On the grill with lots of spicy mustard (and the kraut!). That's how we like 'em.

  9. Looks like a perfect holiday meal to me!

  10. When Mike gave me a meat grinder for Christmas I was DE-FRIGGIN-LIGHTED, despite the fact that my friends and family gave me that queer side-long glance of "Huh...what kind of a girl gets excited about a meat grinder...?" But you, my friend, have put me into a tail spin of meat induced envy. All I want for Christmas THIS year is a half a pig - after all, it would coordinate so well with last year's present, right? Ohhh....sweet, sweet porcine dreams.

    Also: beertchup? I canna wait.

  11. I've never had a classic Wisconsin Bratwurst, but I am more than happy to try...

  12. Just love it...want a bite of it...saurkraut...yummie!

  13. They look wonderful. I don't eat a lot of bratwurst. They're just not big in NY, although you can get them here. I'd love to take a bite out of a nice homegrown one like this.

    Your own pig! You are so lucky!

  14. Lovely business!

    When we ordered our half-pig we got only italian sausages; I'm coming to regret not seeing if they could do a true brat! My wife (from No.Dak.) views any deviations from the beer bath as anathema, but I'll see if I can change her mind and use this post as evidence.

    When sweet onions aren't in season, why not throw onion slices on the grill along with the brats? I take a thick (half inch?) slice of onion, thread with a stainless steel lacer from a turkey trussing kit, drizzle with olive oil and throw in the grill for 20 min or so. The lacer keeps the entire ring together (like a mini skewer).

    /I don't think I've ever used those lacers for anything other than grilling onions...

  15. Hey Tony - That turkey lacer idea is priceless. Will definitely have to keep that in mind.

    At our house, beer baths are alright -- but I'm a pretty firm believer that they should FOLLOW the grilling. I think you get better flavor that way.

  16. oh man - can't get much better than "homegrown" bratwurst!

  17. What a cute blog! I'm glad I found you - thanks for joining in on Real Food Wednesday with this yummy post. :)


  18. Oh MAN I MISS those Wisc Brats! We always did the beer thing - I think the only advantage is that they grill so much faster for us little piggys. I went to school at STOUT and remember downing 2-3 on the way home from many a drunken evening. Thanks for the memories and thank you for dropping by my place!

  19. Yes, I could eat that. No problem at all.

    A portion of a pig is a superb present. I might gently point out this post to my wife as a sort of MASSIVE hint.


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