19 March, 2007


Amerikanische Rostbratwurst

Uncle J from the AK phoned in last week asking for a bratwurst recipe. At about the same time Grandpa G was rolling into town hungry for some sausage and sauerkraut. I figured what better time to explore the wonderful world of bratwurst. Here in middle America the ubiquitous bratwurst (pronounced BRAT) is requisite fare, along with hamburgers and hot dogs, for any outdoor grilling party. The grocery store is stacked (at any time of year) with a wide variety factory produced sausages promising that they have the "best beer flavor" or they are the"most authentic" or even a "A wee bit of garlic." Huh? Setting down my flag and my apple pie, I decided to sail across the Internet to the Old World, to find the roots of this All-American tailgating hero.

Bratwurst or Rostbratwurst, translates from German as frying or grilling sausage. As a matter of classification, The Oxford Companion, places brats in the Rohwurst (raw sausage) family, which is a diverse group that is characterized by sausages sold uncooked, maybe be cured or smoked, or maybe sold fresh for grilling. There are many important regional varieties, but the Thuringer, seems to be the sausage that came to America seeking its fame and fortune.
The basic Thüringer Rostbratwurst, has a pretty simple ingredient list: Meat (Pork, maybe veal), Caraway seed, salt and pepper, milk and egg. Look at this recipe here or a more involved recipe here. Fun, huh?

So the Thuringer rides in the coat pockets, the rucksacks, and the minds of people bound for America, and it lands in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, the undisputed home of the American Brat. Recipes for Sheboygan Bratwurst (you'll see them all over the net but most of them come from a single source: Bruce Aidells' sausage books) look like the Thuringer recipes with a few more herbs and spices thrown in. For our bratwurst today, I want to keep it simple, but I want it to taste like America.

3 spices and salt and you got yerself a brat. Let's go to the boards:

4 lb Pork Shoulder, diced(Schweineschulter)

1 lb Pork Belly, diced (Rohschinken)

40 g Salt (Salz)

6 g white pepper, ground (weißer, gemahlener Pfeffer)

5 g ground ginger (Ingwer)

2 g Nutmeg (Muscat)

250 ml Milk (Milch)

Combine all ingredients except the milk and grind through a fine plate into a chilled bowl. Add the milk and stir the mixture until it starts to come together, about one minute. Stuff into hog casings.

Notes: You can use all pork shoulder, I just happened to have a little pork belly and that raises the fat content a bit. I didn't use caraway because I didn't have any, and I didn't feel a burning need to get some. Add a little bit of sugar if you like a sweeter (grocery store style) brat.

Let's talk a little about grilling sausage.

All my life I have watched beer poured into a pan to boil bratwurst. In Aidells' books, he speaks of poaching brats before grilling them. On Steve Raichlen's BBQ TV show, he cooks them in beer and onions for like 45 minutes before grilling them....


After years of feeling cool because I was cooking with an alcoholic beverage, (thus adding to the party-like atmosphere: "Hey even the brats are drunk!") I think it is a waste of beer, and all you get is a sausage that has been cooked to death. I have discussed many different ways of cooking sausage, but for right now, for these brats, here's what you do: Have a medium charcoal fire to one side of the grill. Place the brats away from the fire. Cover and cook 5-7 minutes. Check em and flip them. A couple more minutes then check them with a thermometer. What you don't have one? Get one, they are cheap and things taste a lot better when they are not overcooked. The internal temp should be between 150F and 160F. Grilling sausages should take 15 to 20 minutes, If they cook too fast (too hot), they will burst. When a sausage bursts, it dries up.

Save the beer for drinkin.



Anonymous said...

Beautiful Brats. Mac, could you have smoked them? Would that have removed the authenticity? I seem to recall having smokey brats before or some sort of wurst. By the way we found a great Polish butcher in Union. I had some of the best liverwurst I have ever had in my life. Have you every ventured into the land of liverwurst? Rachel

mac said...

Thanks for the comment. Yes they can be smoked, I would like to try cold smoking some soon, but that requires a change in the recipe. I'm glad you are finding supplies out in the wilds of NJ, I knew you would. I love liverwurst, my favorite comes from Dier's Meat Market in Three Oaks, MI. We'll go when you visit. But we will make some too.


Anonymous said...

I agree that American brats are closest to Thueringer sausages. All the Thueringers I've eaten in Thueringen are much longer and thinner than American brats -- they are sometimes even folded in half to fit on the roll.

In Sheboygan, they put the brats into beer with onions AFTER grilling them. This keeps them warm until halftime, confers a pleasant beer flavor and, more importantly, rinses off the carbon, an inevitable byproduct of drunk grilling in Sheboygan.

I know you're a perfectionist, and will not mind me pointing out that "Amerikanische Bratwurst" requires an "e" on the end of "Amerikanische" - Wurst is feminine: die Wurst.

Keep the recipes comin'

mac said...

Thanks for the correction. Caught me trying to be fancy, is the egg showing or what?

As for chafing brats with a beer bath in Sheboygan, that's cool, but my point is that we as a society have been conditioned (At least I was) to "pre-cook" our sausages, especially brats in beer, to assure a properly cooked and maybe more flavorful link. I don't think this is necessary. Over cooking is about the worst thing you can do to your freshly made from scratch sausage; I know, I have done it many times. So cooking it twice gives you two times the opportunity to overcook it. Besides the beer doesn't taste as good once it has been used as a cooking medium.

Talked to Grandpa G last night, he said that he hot smoked some of the brats with great success.

Again, thanks for taking the time to leave your thoughts.


Anonymous said...

Hey Mac,
I'm a reporter with the Daily Southtown. I'm working on a story about people from the Southland who have blogs.
Yours is one of the most interesting I've stumbled upon.
Call/email me if you are interested in being included.
Courtney Greve
(708) 633-5983

mac said...

Sure, come on by.

Anonymous said...


Very cool blog, just discovered it a few days ago, I share your appreciation for homemade sausage. Found you Googling on Bruce Aidells' book. Reading your blog got me itching to make some, last night made his Hunter's Sausage and Sheboygan Brats (without deviation). Kids joined in and had a blast. Both are very good, wife like Hunter's, kids loved Brats.

Thanks for all of your content. I'll share back, here's a long-standing family recipe for Italian sausage. I come from a big Italian immigrant family, several sausage-makers among us:

Italian Sausage

9 lb pork, boneless, shoulder or butt
3 Tbsp garlic powder
4 Tbsp fennel seed, partially ground in mortar
2 Tbsp red pepper
4 tsp salt
2 tsp pepper, black, freshly ground
2 Tbsp parsley, chopped
¼ cup white wine

George, in SW Ohio.

mac said...

Dear GinSWO:

Thanks for writing. I'm glad the blog provided an itch that you could scratch. It gives me rashes all the time. And thanks for the recipe I am gearing up for a big push of Italian sausage this summer, I'll put your offering on the roster.


Anonymous said...

I thought Thueringer brats had marjoram which gives them their distinct flavor over the American varieties.