Bratwurst, Wisconsin's Soul Food
Including Recipes for Bratwurst and Classic Sides
"Nothing goes better than beer, brats and babes and Michael Jay on the Weekend TTN"
- Promo for weekend show on AM 1580 WTTN,
Watertown Wisconsin, circa 1994

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Brats, a Way of Life
B
ratwurst is a compound German word - brat means fry, wurst means sausage.  Bratwurst is pronounced with a short A (rhymes with "lot").  A Madison TV station runs a promotion called "Take your brat to work today."  They're talking about bratwurst, not children.

In Wisconsin, bratwurst are served virtually everywhere during "grilling season" which generally runs from May through September.  They are served at a myriad of outdoor events, as well as in nearly every Wisconsin backyard.  As you drive through a Wisconsin town on a clear summer evening, you will see the haze from backyard cookouts lazily wafting up into the sky.  Stop, roll down your car windows, and enjoy the heavenly aroma.  If you follow the aroma to its source and introduce yourself, you may be invited to join the feast.  Wisconsinites are friendly people.

 

Bratwash
Our friend Kevin sent sent us this classic Wisconsin recipe - his favorite accompaniment to grilled bratwurst, especially while tailgating at a Badgers, Packers, or Brewers game.  Kevin says that sometimes he simply enjoys the wash, and forgets about the brats.  For more than 4 healthy Wisconsinites, Kevin recommends multiplying the recipe by the appropriate factor.*

1 Cooler
3 Bags Ice (cubes)
1 Case Beer
Remove cans from recyclable cardboard holder.  Place cans in cooler, intermingling with ice cubes.  Chill 45 minutes and serve.

There's much more that goes into serving Kevin's bratwash than simply intermingling just any beer and ice into just any cooler.  Pick up essential points and tips on proper technique at Kevin's beer page.

* We strongly recommend that you avoid driving, operating machinery of any kind, or getting into any discussions about religion or politics during or after consumption of bratwash.

 
Tailgaiting
Tailgating is a Wisconsin phenomenon, and nowhere is it better exemplified than at Lambeau Field before a Packer game.  In 1990, I thought I had landed on another planet when I entered the parking lot of the Houston Astrodome before a Packers-Oilers game.  I was surprised and chagrined at the absence of any grill smoking in the lot.  At Lambeau Field, or Miller Park, or Camp Randall Stadium, you will see hundreds if not thousands of grills loaded with brats, burgers, and other meats.  The aroma and sense of fan camaraderie is incredible to those experiencing it for the first time.

Tailgating gets its name because it began with a spread of food laid out on the tailgate of a station wagon.  Now, the food is likely to be laid out on a folding table set up in the parking lot.  Then and now, the main course mainstay for tailgating is bratwurst.

See recipes for tailgating (pronounced tailgaten) from the Tailgaten Cookbook.
 

How To Cook Bratwurst
As with all cooking, the key is to use quality ingredients and proper technique.  Buy good brats.  Care about what you're doing.  Pay attention to the details.

One important point - don't ever boil bratwurst!  You may see recipes that call for parboiling or boiling.  What they mean to (or ought to) say is simmered in beer or water, usually with chopped onion added.  Simmering means bringing the liquid to the temperature at which steam rises from the surface, but not so hot that it bubbles.  Boiling will cause the casings to burst.

Also, you may see or hear the term "brat fry". The term is technically a misnomer.  Bratwurst can be pan fried, and you may see recipes that call for it.  Nevertheless, at a Wisconsin "brat fry", the bratwurst are cooked on a grate over charcoal, usually on a kettle grill.

Authentic bratwurst is a fresh sausage which must be cooked thoroughly before eating.  You may see pre-cooked bratwurst for sale - they do not look, feel, or taste like fresh bratwurst.

Bratwurst Recipes
OK, let's get down to techniques for preparing bratwurst the Wisconsin way.  Actually, there is more than one way to do it, depending on personal preference and/or which part of the state you live in.

Version 1, BratwurstPages Grilled Brats with Savory Beer Sauce, is my favorite.  It's a 3 step recipe, first simmered in a beer and onion marinade, then grilled, and held in a savory sauce.  Version 2 is the Sheboygan Purist method.  The purists say that beer is for drinking, not for cooking brats.  Version 3 is the classic "Beer Brats" recipe, with the brats grilled over charcoal and then held in "batter".  Some folks add the first step of Version 1 to this method.  Version 4, Persnickety Bratmeister Beer Brats,  is a method for those who are particularly obsessed with the idea of grilling the perfect bratwurst..  We'll leave it up to you to decide whether it's worth the extra work.

On the Side
To make your party complete, we have recipes for classic Wisconsin accompaniments (a/k/a sides) for your bratwurst.  My American Potato Salad (which will have your guests beside themselves with pleasure).  Authentic German Potato Salad.  For those of you who don't have easy access to Brat Buns or Sheboygan Hard Rolls, we've included a recipe for Bavarian Semmel Rolls, which can be shaped and baked to either form.  And don't forget bratwash.

Learn More About Wisconsin
Sites selected for rich content
about life in the Badger State

Wisconsin Tourism, an extremely cool and user-friendly site.
Taste of Wisconsin, by noted Wisconsin cooking teacher and writer Terese Allen.
The Cheese State Index, a nice portal to Wisconsin related sites.
Wisconsin.com, another nice portal.
Wisconsin State Historical Society, lots of stuff for the Wisconsin history buff.
Milwaukee's Summerfest, recognized by the Guiness Book of World Records as the "World's Largest Outdoor Music Festival."
Fishing in Wisconsin, this site is so big you'll never get it in the boat!
Wisconsin State Journal/Capitol Times, the Madison daily papers.  The State Journal is conservative.  The Capitol Times is liberal.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Milwaukee paper.  The conservatives call it liberal.  The liberals call it conservative.  Guess that makes it a hybrid, eh?
Sheboygan Press
Watertown Daily Times
Green Bay Press-Gazette
Ashland Daily Press
Chippewa Herald
Appleton Post Crescent
Janesville Gazette
Isthmus
Hebron, Wisconsin (unincorporated, population miniscule) has a web site.  Small-town Americana meets high-tech, eh?  As far as I know, Rome, London, and Leipzig; which are also within a short drive of the Bratwurst Pages HQ, do not have websites.  It's only a matter of time, no?
The Bubbler, family-friendly Wisconsin information.
Jefferson's Gemuetlichkeit Days. There is no single English equivalent of this German word.  Loosely translated, gemuetlichkeit means "feel really good because you're drinking beer and are surrounded by people you know who are also drinking beer and listening to German-style music and now you're ready to march to the town five miles down the road and conquer them."
Milwaukee's Germanfest, the largest German festival in the United States.  You'll also see many ridiculous-looking guys in lederhosen and many cuties in dirndls.
Chain Saw Carving School, the only state licensed chainsaw carving school in the U.S.
Wisconsin Association of Convention and Visitor Bureaus

How to Serve Bratwurst
Brats are served on a bun, dressed with condiments, and accompanied by classic side dishes.  There are rules to be followed, and if you break them in the presence of a Wisconsin bratwurst connoisseur, you will be considered a culinary pissant (sorry to get stuffy here and use words derived from French, but that's the way it is).

Rule #1: Do not serve bratwurst on a hot dog bun!  Brats are eaten on a brat bun, or in Sheboygan, on a Sheboygan hard roll, which is based on a Bavarian semmel roll.  Brat buns resemble hot dog buns, but are larger and more substantial and chewy, and are designed to hold a single brat.  Sheboygan hard rolls are moderate-sized round buns, suited to the Sheboygan-style double-brat sandwich. In Sheboygan, most folks put two brats on a round roll.  In the rest of Wisconsin, they put one brat on a brat bun.  Both types have a golden brown surface and are substantial enough to hold onto the brats, condiments, and for most folks in Sheboygan - lots of butter (This is not low-calorie cuisine).  For those of you who live outside Wisconsin, it can be nearly impossible to find a proper brat bun or Sheboygan hard roll, so you'll have to take matters into your own hands.  Here's a recipe.

Rule #2: Do not put yellow mustard on a brat!  It is an abomination.  The classic mustard for brats is a brown Wisconsin German-style Düsseldorf, medium to dark in color and pungency, slightly sweet-sour and sometimes flavored with herbs. Dijon is also nice.

Beyond those two rules, which are widely accepted in Wisconsin, there are differences of opinion, especially between Sheboygan (self-proclaimed Bratwurst Capital of the World), and the rest of the state.

Typical condiments outstate include any combination of chopped onion, sauerkraut, ketchup, and mustard.

In Sheboygan, brats are typically dressed with "da works" - ketchup, mustard, chopped onion and pickle.  Saurkraut as a topping is frowned upon.

It should be noted that some folks consider ketchup on a brat to be an abomination; similar to how connoisseurs of hot dogs feel.

I sometimes eat my brats dressed simply with my Savory Beer Sauce and mustard.

Typical sides include German potato salad or American potato salad, pickle, and baked beans.  See recipes.

 
How to Eat Brats
What, protocol involving a food as intrinsically casual as bratwurst?  Well, we're certainly not going to advocate getting stuffy about it, but certain activities seem to go hand-in-hand with eating brats.. 

First off, bratwurst are usually eaten outdoors.  It's not at all unusual to eat them standing up, or even while strolling.  Brats are social food.  You surround yourself with people you like, pop some beers, grill some brats, and mill around conversing with your friends as you eat.  That's the protocol.  No knife and fork, nor cloth napkins, are needed - in fact such finery would be considered rather weird.  For your potato salad and other sides you'll need a paper plate and plastic fork.  Some folks use napkins; others use their shirt sleeves.

Along with good friends, brats are usually accompanied by good music.  There's no required style of music - play what you and your friends enjoy.  Of course, the traditional musical accompaniment is polka, but these days you'll see brats enjoyed to the music of Hank Williams, The Rolling Stones, Eminem, and everything in between.

Brats are rarely consumed with white wine or similarly pretentious beverage.  Brats are nearly always washed down with beer, a/k/a "bratwash".  Eating brats is meant to be a relaxed, social activity - part of the celebration of an all-too-short summer in Wisconsin.

 

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This page last updated on 05/23/2006