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.