Traveling in Germany, you can smell the sausages grilling as your train pulls into the station. Once on the platform, one is greeted with the sounds and smells of the sausage venders hawking their goods. What they are selling is simple grilled sausage, some amazingly fresh bread with a smear of good mustard and perhaps some sauerkraut or grilled onions. This simple pleasure is mind blowing, the flavors are incredible together and so addictive. The sausages are tasty hot off the grill, the bread is soft with a nice crust, the mustard robust and full of flavor. Brats, short for bratwursts, are so very German. The word bratwurst can be broken down into two parts; the word brat from the verb braten, which means to pan fry or roast, and the term wurst, which means sausage. Brats are a bit bigger than hotdogs; the most popular versions are made from coarsely ground pork.
When you are talking about brats the mention of beer is never far behind. This is not because beer and brats taste so good together. They are called beer brats because they are cooked in beer before grilling. The regional term for grilling brats is ‘frying.” If you are from America’s Dairyland you say you’re having a “brat fry” instead of saying your grilling brats. When you decide to “fry” some brats, why pre cook them? You do not cook hotdogs in beer before grilling. Hotdogs are already cooked. They are not raw, you are simply heating them up and adding some char for flavor. Brats are raw and quite a bit thicker than hotdogs so they take longer to cook. If you throw them directly on the grill they tend to split and dry out. The solution is delicious and ingenious. You cook them in beer before grilling. This is known as a “Sheboygan Hot Tub.”
Sheboygan is a town in Wisconsin full of German immigrants and they know how to correctly cook bratwurst. The hot tub is a simple mixture of beer, onions, and butter; the brats are gently simmered in the beer bath until cooked through. There is no need to poke holes in your brats before cooking. Simmer, do not boil your brats, then cook them slowly on the grill so they won’t burst. And you won’t lose all that wonderful fat. The original Sheboygan hot tub contained local Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR) beer.
Locally we have Coronado Brewing Company so why not substitute PBR for one of their great beers. CBC’s restaurant here in town does brats in October and they use their blonde boat beer. “Salty Crew.” The sausages are cooked then stored in the beer bath until ready to grill. Once the brats are grilled the beer bath can be used to keep the brats hot, moist, and delicious before making their way to a bun or plate. Johnsonville Brats are popular and very traditional. Johnsonville is a family run company also from Sheboygan, and they can be found at the grocery store here in town. If you want to try a local handmade brat there are several places nearby to find them: Boney’s Bayside Market here in town, Siesel’s Meats in Bay Park and Iowa Meat Farms on Mission Gorge Road.
The bread, condiments and toppings you use are also important. The bun should be sturdy, but soft. Find a roll you like; hot dog buns are too small and soft to handle the moisture of the brat and its condiments. The fresh Italian rolls sold at Mona Lisa’s Market in Little Italy work great, as do the ciabatta rolls made by Bread and Cie. When it comes to mustard I love the good stuff, Pommery Meaux Mustard, or Maille Old Style, both are rather hearty French mustards. The only other condiment worth mentioning is the “Secret Stadium Sauce” loved by Milwaukee Brewers fans. It is like a BBQ ketchup. Secret Stadium Sauce can be purchased on Amazon or a sauce that comes close in flavor is Heinz 57 Sauce. Grilled onions and sauerkraut are two of my favorite toppings. If you choose sauerkraut, find a fresh product or make your own. Beer and Brat s are a match made in heaven, and I like acrisp beer that compliments everything and cuts through some of the wonderful grease.
The Marine Corps League of Coronado has an annual brat fry at the end of October, and if conditions allow you can experience a brat fry here in town. The word on the street is that Sergeant at Arms, Patrick Duffey, Wisconsin’s own will be frying the brats this year. Check out their site at www.CoronadoMarines.org. If you feel like a project, I have posted a recipe for both homemade sauerkraut and beer mustard on my website www.TheSupperClubChronicles.com – they are worth the effort, believe you me.
• Clyde Van Arsdall IV is an executive chef and lives in Coronado with his children.