Friday, May 13, 2011

How to Cook Bratwurst


As promised, I'm going to expose the secrets to perfect brats. First, though, let me take you, if I may, on a journey - a journey back to how I first learned the basics of this highly-favoured endeavour.

Perhaps you already know that my wife and her family hail originally from Wisconsin. Moving from Sheboygan, Wisconsin - sausage capital of the US - to the Detroit area meant some significant lifestyle changes, not least of which was the basic lack of what they had come to know and love as bratwurst. What to do?
Well, my ever-resourceful then-future father-in-law found a way to have real Sheboygan brats flown into Detroit, and massive quantities were received each year to the delight of all and sundry.

When the time came for me to ask him for his daughter's hand, I had already been introduced to the glories of properly-prepared bratwurst. He and I sat down in the living room, where I told him that I had an important question for him. "I was wondering," I asked, "where you get the brats?" The cool thing is, he told me the whole story about getting them flown in via a perhaps-then-illegal interstate meat transaction. With that out of the way, I told him that I wanted to marry his daughter, and he averred that he thought that was a good idea.

Sadly, the Sheboygan Sausage Company of Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin is no more, but the recipe was (supposedly) purchased by the Johnsonville company, and that is now the brat of choice.
(An interesting side note here: we did find what we considered to be vastly superior brats on a trip through Sheboygan at the Miesfeld's Triangle Market - several times State Champions, in fact - but the cost of shipping so far outweighed the cost of the sausage that it will remain a "when we pass through we're buying a bunch" kind of thing. But I digress.)
It was at a family reunion here in town that I learned at the elbow of my father-in-law just how it was done. (Note the past tense there, it actually gets better!) The brats must be boiled a bit in a mix of beer and water before going on the grill. This lets them release some of their fat before hitting the fire, the which can be an exciting event.
A squirt bottle of water was the tool of the day for keeping down the flare-ups that did arise, although the beer held in the other hand would do quite nicely as well. Care should be taken to avoid stirring up too many ashes - they can stick to the brats and make for a grittier-than-desirable experience (and yes, that does mean that charcoal is the preferred heat source).
There you have the basics of brat grilling. Condiments and bunnage are best left to the individual's taste, but mustard, onions, Swiss cheese, and sauerkraut make up my starting point.

Now to reveal the secret to my enhanced bratwurst cooking process.
Into the pot of beer and water (I generally use Molson Canadian) I add an onion cut into wedges, and a healthy dose of nutmeg. These additions add just the right notes to the already-delicious flavour of the brats, and the kitchen smells glorious all the while too.

Now please, go and enjoy your bratwurst, but enjoy them responsibly.

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