Welcome to EatWisconsin, the blog formerly known as Undelicious. This blog will focus on the food, the people, the history, and restaurants in the State of Wisconsin. Though we will focus primarily on the State of Wisconsin, there will be occasional forays into other Cities.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The Great Brat Debate

For my first real post after the announcement of the launch of EatWisconsin I figured I would begin with a discussion of something near and dear to the hearts of most meat consuming cheeseheads; the bratwirst. Ever since I had my first taste of a bratwurst I have heard people argue about all aspects of brat purchasing, cooking, and eating.

First, what kind of brats to purchase. This is a matter of personal taste. The main brands I really enjoy are all Wisconsin brands: Usingers, Klement's though there are several butchers that make some incredible sausages. One of my all time favorites is the Onion and Pepper Cheese Bratwurst made and sold at The Lake Tomahawk Meat Market in Northern Wisconsin (Their beef jerky is still the best I have ever had). Their regular bratwurst are also very good. I have a friend who always requests that I bring back the Onion and Pepper Cheese Brats whenever I am up north. Like most things, selecting a brat is a matter of personal preference.

All things being equal if I am standing in a grocery store I will usually reach for the Johnsonville Beer n' Brats or Johnsonville Original. I grew up with these two items and they provide everything I want in a brat. With that being said, I have never had a Usinger's or Klement's that I haven't enjoyed. Usingers also has a tremendous lineup of sausages with offerings from all over the globe. Their Italian and Hungarian Sausages are out of this world, but that is a matter for another posting, lets stay focused on brats. The only advice I can really give you: NEVER BUY PRE-COOKED BRATS!! Now I know most will not listen. We live in an era where convenience is king and laziness in meal preparation the norm. Precooked brats are indeed convenient, but they don't really taste that great. For the most part, the texture is way off and comes closer to the consistency of a hot dog. If you must buy pre-cooked brats go for the Old Wisconsin brand. I find that once grilled they best replicate the true taste of a brat cooked from raw. Old Wisconsin also has some great summer sausage and snack sausage. As for the pre-grilled brats (I guess you just microwave them) I have never tried them so I will refrain from comment for now. If they taste anything like pre-cook breakfast sausage or bacon I would avoid.

When it comes to cooking method there are really two camps in the great brat debate: to parboil or not. If you have ever been to a picnic, tailgate, or backyard barbeque you have likely heard a couple of beer soaked idiots engaged in a drunken debate over how to property make a bratwurst. I am here to tell you that both methods, when executed properly, can make for excellent bratwurst and either one can yield tremendous results. For a long time I was a strict par boiler. In fact I took it a step further. The night before I was going to grill I would par boil the brats in a bath of dark beer, onions, and peppers. I would then remove the brats, onions and peppers and place them in a sealable container or bag. I would then dump another bottle of dark beer into the container. Letting the brats soak up the beer overnight fills them with a pronounced beer flavor but not one that overpowers the flavor of the sausage. Oh and you really shouldn't boil the brats, just keep the beer at a low simmer. It really should be called par-simmer. Hardcore boiling action can result in burst casings, which really sucks. My only two complaints about par-boiling are 1) that you have to spend about 20-30 minutes doing it ahead of time and 2) that some of the fat boils out of the brats, making them a tad less juicy and flavorful on the inside.

With that being said, I also discovered that if you take a brat and grill it over medium heat, carefully turning it to ensure even cooking and to not puncture the skin, you will end up with a great crisp casing that "snaps" when you bit into it revealing a juicy flavorful inside that fills your mouth with delicious juices. So direct grilling also works great. If you really want the beer flavor without par-boiling I have two recommendations. First, use the beer infused brats, my favorite is Johnsonville Beer n' Brats. There is a hint of beer taste, though not as much as you get with par boiling. The best method, and one that works great when having a picnic, tailgate, or backyard gathering, is to get a deep (at least 3-4 inches) disposable aluminum pan. Fill it with a couple of beers, fill yourself with a couple more, add some peppers and onions if you wish, and let it sit over low heat on the grill. Put all of your cooked brats and other sausage products into the bath of beer and let your guests help themselves. The beer keeps them hot and you get the great taste of a brat that has spent the entire cooking process over a flame but is still full of beer goodness.

I checked the Big Three (Johnsonville, Usingers and Klement's) websites to see their cooking tips. The results are as follows:

Usingers: Recommends par-boiling but says direct grilling is ok but stresses the importance of a fully cooked sausage.
Johnsonville: Recommends direct grilling from the raw state. No mention of par-boiling (might get them in trouble with the Sheboyganites)
Klement's: Direct grilling

As for toppings, that's a whole other argument that likely ensues within minutes of the end of the parboil debate. The folks in Sheboygan shun sauerkraut while others think adding ketchup is blasphemy. My take on this: put whatever the fuck you want on your brat. You are the only one that has to be satisfied with the brat. Don't let the Brat Nazis dictate your enjoyment of a delicious bratwurst. Nobody tells anyone what to put on their hamburger or what to put in their chili so why do they feel the need to mess with your sausage mojo?

Honestly I do not really have a favorite set of condiments for brats. I mix it up. Sometimes I want kraut, mustard and onions and other times I want nothing but the bratwurst to savor the flavor of the sausage. Sometimes a streak of spicy brown mustard is all I need. Folks in Sheboygan, Wisconsin serve two bratwurts on a buttered Sheboygan roll (a round hard roll), which is both filling and delicious (though the butter is really not necessary). Like par boiling vs direct grilling, condiments are a matter of personal preference and anyone who tells you otherwise is an asshole.

With all of these arguments over brat selection, cooking, and eating there is one thing that all brat connoisseurs can agree on: the only thing to drink with brats is ice cold beer. Make that ice cold Wisconsin beer (microbrew or macrobrew). Drinking Budweiser while eating a brat may get your Wisconsin citizenship revoked. Drinking wine with brats is a disgrace. As for why people in and near Sheboygan call it a brat fry when you are actually grilling....well that's a can of worms we will leave closed for now.

Other resources on this subject:
Bratwurst Wiki
The Bratwurst Pages


  • At 1:42 PM, Blogger Tucker said…

    Great post, this was just the information I was looking for. I had the same ideas as far as prep and cooking goes but the validation is great. Well said on the condiments too.

  • At 11:45 AM, Blogger Annette Farthing said…

    Your blog was informative and funny as hell.

  • At 11:43 AM, Blogger harbear said…

    why the f-bomb?

  • At 3:36 AM, Blogger DiLina said…

    Boiling bratwurst will cook the inside through and allow you to cook the outside to a perfect finish, as raw bratwurst would burn on the outside before cooking.


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