Who’re you calling a brat? Photo of bratwurst and sauerkraut with caraway seeds by Robyn Mackenzie | IST.
EMILY CHANG is a New York-based writer.
Last Updated August 2019
German Bratwurst From Wisconsin
CAPSULE REPORT: “Mention my name in Sheboygan / It’s the greatest little town in the world…” sang the Everly Brothers. One thing that makes Sheboygan, Wisconsin so great: the world-famous bratwurst. Just as famed for its brats as its cheese, Wisconsin is a state that knows good food and celebrates it with vigor. Mention the name “bratwurst” in Sheboygan and you’re sure to elicit a positive reaction from fans of this German sausage, who have strict rules for its consumption. But take Shakespeare’s advice and eat your brat “as you like it.” The eponymous Sheboygan Bratwurst Company makes delicious brats in the original pork sausage recipe plus several flavors, as well as chicken and beef brats. This is Page 1 of a three-page review. Click the black links below to visit other pages.
Sheboygan, the self-proclaimed bratwurst capital of the world, is home to the Brat Days festival, which takes place on the first weekend of August every year. Among other things, Brat Days features a bratwurst eating contest, sponsored by the locally-based Johnsonville Foods company.
Although bratwurst is a type of sausage traditionally made from pork, it can also contain other meats including chicken, beef or veal. Etymologically speaking, you can break the syllables down into their German origins: “brat” meaning “meat without waste” in Old High German (spoken between the 9th and 11th centuries—in modern German, think “finely-chopped meat”) and “wurst,” meaning sausage.
Bratwurst was popularized in Sheboygan County, Wisconsin in the 1920s, where it was handmade in butcher shops. It was introduced to Major League Baseball in Milwaukee County Stadium in 1953 and was such a hit that Duke Snider of the Brooklyn Dodgers took a case back to New York. The rest is history.
Brats are most often prepared on the grill or simmered in water, broth or beer. Some people even go so far as to call beer “bratwash,” since there’s nothing like a stein of beer to wash down a hearty brat.
The cooking technique is a matter of choice; if the brats are frozen, thaw them first by soaking in cold water for 10 minutes.
Grill. Grilling is the traditional way to prepare bratwurst. Grill on medium low indirect heat over gray coals, approximately 15 minutes per side. If you prefer, you may then simmer them it in a mixture of beer, butter, onions and spices for a few minutes to impart additional flavor. Some people prepare the bratwurst in reverse order, simmering the brats before grilling them. Everyone has a personal favorite way of preparing bratwurst.
Broil. We broiled our bratwurst on a sheet pan for 20 to 30 minutes. Flip them halfway through cooking and keep checking for doneness. Kill two birds with one stone and prepare some chopped onions to broil alongside the brats if desired (watch carefully, as the onions may finish cooking before the bratwurst is ready).
Grill those brats! Photo © Darius Zsankowski | Fotolia.
Simmer. Simmer* your brats for 15 minutes in beer or water mixed with chopped onions and your favorite spices or herbs (sage is delicious; fresh thyme, rosemary and oregano also add flavors). Make sure your cooking liquid doesn’t boil—it will cause the casings to burst. You can use the simmered onions as a condiment on the brat.
The Difference Between Bratwurst & Hot Dogs
Brats and franks are both sausages, and can be served the same way: on a plate or on a bun—with the same condiments. The differences:
- Filling: Most commonly, hot dogs are made with beef, chicken/turkey or pork. Bratwurst is made with beef, pork or veal. Each has a different traditional spice mix, which gives them their unique flavors.
- Texture: Hot dogs are emulsified into a paste, making the texture smooth. Bratwurst sausages are less finely ground, and thus have a coarser texture.
- Size: Hot dogs are thinner, brats are thicker.
- Cooking: Hot dogs are pre-cooked, and can in theory be eaten without further cooking. The practice, though, is to further cook them for warmth and grilled flavor. Brats are usually sold raw.
- In German, Brat is a spit and Wurst is a sausage.
- The first written reference to Bratwurst dates to the 1313 in Nuremberg, Germany.
- Written sausage recipes, in general, have been found dating to 228 C.E.
*To simmer, bring the liquid almost to a boil over low heat. Small bubbles will rise slowly to the surface, usually breaking before they reach the surface.
Continue to Page 2: Brat Accompaniments
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