Before we get started today, let me preface this post by saying I am not from Wisconsin (as if y’all didn’t know that by now) and I’d be hard pressed to find Sheboygan on a map anywhere (ok, out of curiosity I just looked it up and I can now find it on a map). Why bring this up? Seems like Sheboygan is the Brat Capital and from what I’ve read they have very strong opinions about brats, how they should be cooked, what kind of condiments should be used and even what kind of buns they should be served on. They take pride in their brats, much the same way as the Carolinas feel about pulled pork, St. Louis feels about ribs, California feels about tri-tip and us Texans feel about brisket (and every other thing we barbecue because we do it better in Texas ;) ). And I can respect that….but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m gonna do it their way just to avoid making somebody mad. I’m actually expecting (and kind of looking forward to) somebody from Wisconsin chiming in and pointing out how I screwed up and how they should never be done this way. So all that being said, let’s get on with the food.
Seems like there are 3 main camps on the proper method to grill brats (BTW, when I say brats I mean the raw, uncooked brats. No self respecting person from Wisconsin would buy pre-cooked brats and neither will this Texan).
- Grill the brats directly over a medium heat until browned and cooked through. Serve up immediately.
- Grill the brats directly over a medium heat until browned and cooked through and then hold them in a bath of beer, onions and butter until ready to serve.
- Simmer (not boil) the brats in a beer and onion bath for about 20 minutes. Then, grill the brats until browned and cooked through. Serve immediately or return to a bath until ready to serve.
I’ll let you argue amongst yourselves over the correct way to do it and the pros and cons of each. Whichever way you choose, be careful and make sure to never pierce the casing of the brats or allow the casing to burst from too much heat. This will cause the juices to leak out and you will be left with a dried out sausage and nobody wants that.
And here, more than likely, is where I will catch flack from anybody out there from Wisconsin. I ditched the whole bath of beer, onions and butter and replaced it with sauerkraut, my own blend of spices and a bottle of Shiner Bock (had to throw in a little Texas flavor). Why sauerkraut? Because I think it goes well with brats and I don’t care if some people may frown on that. I’m in Texas and I’m gonna do things my own way! So take that!
- 1 package of uncooked brats (most likely you will find Johnsonville Brats)
- 1 32 oz Vlassic Old Fashioned Sauerkraut
- 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
- 1/4 tsp black pepper seeds
- 1/8 tsp thyme
- 1/8 tsp crushed red pepper
- 1/8 tsp celery seed
- 1 Shiner Bock (or other dark beer)
- 1 package of buns, most likely you will not be able to find the Sheboygan hard roll outside of Wisconsin, so look for something like a hoagie roll or a bollilo that will hold up to the brats and condiments. Try to stay away from hot dog buns.
- Grind up spices in a spice grinder (or coffee grinder)
- Mix spices, sauerkraut and beer in a CI skillet or aluminum foil pan
- Place brats in sauerkraut beer bath and place onto a grill heated to medium. I went 400F on my Egg. Allow to simmer, not boil, for about 20-30 minutes. You want to see steam coming off the mixture, but not a boil.
- Remove brats from bath and grill direct for 5 to 10 minutes, turning often to prevent casings from splitting, until browned and sausages reach 160F (the brats will carry over to 165 at this point).
- Serve immediately or return to sauerkraut beer bath to hold until ready to serve.
What kind of condiments should you serve on your brats? That is a whole ‘nother can of worms that could cause those folks in Wisconsin to start a riot or go into seizures. So go ahead and top it however you like. Me…I like them with sauerkraut and a nice spicy brown mustard. If you like ketchup, go ahead and add that and watch a Wisconsinite’s blood begin to boil, but you didn’t hear that here. ;)
So was this a true method to cook brats? Probably not (and do I care? Probably not). Was it easier? Maybe a bit. I didn’t have to worry about charring the brats or having the skin burst while they were cooking in the bath (I actually went inside and watched tv). It was a bit more time consuming than grilling them directly, but that just gave me time to drink another beer. Did the sauerkraut beer bath impart any flavor to the brats? Not that I could detect, but hey….I had to cook the sauerkraut anyway, so why not do them together? I was able to cook the brats all the way through and get them nice and brown with some grill marks without one of them bursting and losing precious juices, which was good.
I’ve always been in the camp that just grills the brats directly. I tried the beer bath method a hundred or so years ago, but I find the simplest way to do brats is grilling them directly. I have just never understood the idea of boiling sausages (or hot dogs or gasp….ribs) unless you were looking for pork flavored water. But I do think the brats added a bit of pork flavor to the kraut and since it was going back on the brats in the end, why not? So I do think this method does have some benefits. Will I do it again? Probably. Always? Probably not.
So pick a method and grill some brats. Or try all three and see which one works best for you. All I know is that it sure did get me in the mood for our upcoming trip to Germany next month. Can’t wait to try some authentic German food and I’m looking forward to their sausages and beer. And more beer. And then some more after that with another sausage. Prost!