As we collectively pull the covers off our grills and stock up on charcoal, wood chips, or propane, let’s take a moment to ponder one of the most beloved barbecue delights: Bratwurst. Ooooh yeeeeah…BRATS! There is nothing but nothing like a good brat, but true excellence comes from attention to detail. Ever since I moved West I have often wondered, What’s a fraulein gotta do to get a decent brat around here?! I’d like to share with you my family’s interpretation of the ultimate Brat. I consider myself a bit of a “Brat-thority” if you will, and here’s why:
- Bratwurst is a tradition in my family, along with Lebkuchen, Springerli, and other German delights.
- 3 out of 4 of my grandparents were of 100% German descent. The fourth was Irish (in case you were wondering).
- One of my mother’s many titles is “Queen of Brats”, which automatically makes me a Princess of Brats.
- We lived 30 minutes from the Bavarian hamlet of Frankenmuth, Michigan, home of Kern’s Sausages. This place has been around for over 60 years, and they don’t mess around when it comes to Bratwurst. No trip to Frankenmuth is complete without a stop at Kern’s for Brat’s, Bush’s Caraway Sauerkraut, and homemade buns. I was born and raised on those legendary dogs.
- I completed my Bratwurst Ph.D. as a language student in Berlin, where I lived for 4 months and existed primarily on wurst, hefeweizen and chocolate-covered lebkuchen.
Even though this menu would be so great for an OktoberFest party, I can’t say the word Bratwurst without thinking of the long knotty wood table at our family’s cottage, in summertime. At least twice a summer, the Queen of Brats and her five kids (and whoever else was within sniffing distance) packed in elbow to elbow around big platters of bratwurst, caraway sauerkraut, maybe some German potato salad, and always, always green beans. My mother always served brats with green beans. One of her favorite things about this pairing was that the extra sausages and green beans, put to bed on a pile of leftover caraway sauerkraut, made really good leftovers. That’s one of the best things about a Sunday Dinner, isn’t it? The leftovers. That, and those incredible memories.
First, get the best brats you can find. Kern’s does mail order, and I’ve not had a better, more authentic tasting brat, but our local Lolo Meats makes a pretty decent one. When we lived in Juneau our favorite market–Super Bear– made their own brats with Alaskan Amber. Those were nice. My brother swears by Johnsonville, which are easy to find and do have that quintessential Brat flavor. At any rate, it’s all about the brat, so get the “Best Wurst” you can find. Top it off with sauerkraut, coarse ground mustard, and buttery browned onions and mushrooms. If you can resist that, you are definitely not related to me.
Below, I outline our family’s method, complete with essential go-withs. I’m also adding a suggested menu to my recipe posts, for your Sunday Dinner inspiration. Enjoy!
SUNDAY MENU SUGGESTION
- Best Way Bratwurst (printable recipe below)
- Chive Potato Salad
- Green Beans
- Inside-Out German Chocolate Cake (Gourmet, March 2000)
Recipe : Best-Way Bratwurst
I’ve outlined our family’s method for cooking up a proper Bratwurst, with our favorite accoutrement. Great brats are one part technique and one part excellent ingredients, so get the best you can find. Prost!
You will need:
- Bratwurst – I reccommend Kern’s (they ship) but source out your local favorite, or Johnsonville will do in a pinch
- Buns – If you can find them, buy large sausage-style buns. Otherwise, just a nice hot dog bun from your grocer’s bakery will do.
- Sauerkraut – I like Bush’s Bavarian Style Sauerkraut with Caraway seeds, but that can be hard to find. The refrigerated varieties of kraut, like Krrrrisp Kraut can be good too. If you like the flavor of caraway, you can always add it to the kraut (see below). Get at least 1/4 cup per brat, plus plenty extra for simmering with the brats.
- Mustard - Inglehoffer Stone Ground Mustard is the ultimate brat schmear, and widely available. This is worth an extra trip to the store.
- Beer – Enough to cover and simmer the brats. It doesn’t need to be fancy. I used Miller High Life and saved the good stuff for drinking.
- Button Mushrooms, sliced
- Sweet onion, sliced. The mushroom and onion mixture should amount to about 1/4 cup per brat, so determine amounts accordingly.
Fire up the grill and preheat to a medium-high flame. Place brats in a pan large enough to hold however many you’re cooking on stovetop. Add enough beer to cover, along with a hefty scoop (or 2) of sauerkraut. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 8 minutes. To keep the brats nice and juicy do not overcook and do not pierce the sausage casings. Remove the brats from the beer after 8 minutes and set aside until ready to grill.
In a large skillet melt a dollop of butter over medium-high heat. Once the pan is nice and hot, add the onions and mushrooms. They should sizzle loudly. You want to get some brown on them, so be sure your pan is nice and hot, and don’t overcrowd the pan. If you’re cooking a large quantity, work in batches. Season with a little salt and pepper. Cover and keep warm until ready to serve.
Place sauerkraut in a saucepan with a lid. If you like, add caraway seeds to your kraut and bring to a low simmer. Let kraut rest on the back burner, over low heat, until you’re ready to serve the brats.
Place beer-simmered bratwurst on pre-heated medium-high grill, rotating occasionally until nice and crispy brown in spots, about 5 – 7 minutes. When brats are nearly done, open the buns and toast the inside about 30 seconds to 1 minute, just until toasty brown in spots.
Stuff the brats into buns, and serve with mustard, warmed sauerkraut, sauteed onions and mushrooms, and your favorite German beer. Mine is Franziskaner Weissbier, but they’ve only been making beer since 1363 so what do they know?