BEER BRATS - A WISCONSIN TRADITION
Hi! I’m Dave, husband and chief chopper/dishwasher/taste-tester to your lovely blog host, Meredith. I’ve been asked to chip in and author this post because, well, there are few things I do better in life than grilling brats. My family, by heritage, is nearly 100% German; half my family hails from Milwaukee (known in early 20th century as the ‘German Athens’), and the other half from Sheboygan, WI, a city that until well into the 20th century still had German language newspapers. What I’m trying to say is, if we’re talking bratwurst, the king of German sausages, I’m your guy. So let’s do it!
Beer brats are one of the regional dishes that define Wisconsin. But even within the state, there’s debate over the best way to cook brats. My great-Uncle Clem, from Sheboygan, taught me that the best way to cook brats was to grill the brats over very low heat and to turn the sausages by hand over the flame so your tongs didn’t pop the casing and release the delicious juices. He also would never have cooked the brats in beer, either. ‘Sheboygan style’, at least in our family, means grilling the sausage raw and putting them straight on the bun.
My dad, from Milwaukee, thought that was nuts. He taught me that the best way to cook brats was to simmer them with beer and onions and then brown them on the grill. Since dad knows best, that’s the method I’ll share with in this post: his ‘Milwaukee-style’ beer brats recipe!
TELL ME ABOUT GRILLING BRATS
Level of difficulty: Moderate. There’s nothing particularly tricky about grilling brats, but the brats need your full attention both during the simmering and grilling. You can’t turn your back on them because the casings may burst from too much heat. Burst casings means lost juices, which means lost flavor.
Flavor: Beer, of course, but the spices in the sausage win the day: mace, pepper, sage, celery seed, etc. Adding to that, the soft bite of the onions on top really brings this one home.
Texture: A snappy sausage casing, a soft yet somehow crisp onion, and a hard roll.
Time: You’ll need about 20-25min to make this beer brats recipe.
WHAT YOU NEED TO MAKE THIS BEER BRATS RECIPE
Fresh brats: fresh, uncooked brats are key. Some sausages come pre-cooked, but if you use the pre-cooked variety, your sausages will be tough and overdone by the time you eat them.
Lager style beer: this recipe is best with a classic lager style beer like MGD, PBR, Miller Lite, Coors, etc. No need for a fancy beer in this recipe!
Sliced yellow onion: onions give your beer sauce a nice depth of flavor.
Hard rolls: the best brats are served on a toasted hard roll, like a Kaiser roll or a Semmel roll. But in lieu of those, any sausage roll will work. Just try to avoid a hot dog bun; they’re too wimpy for a brat.
Condiments of choice: besides the onions from the beer sauce, mustard, raw onions, sauerkraut, and horseradish are all great (and traditional) toppings for beer brats!
OVERVIEW: THE BEST WAY TO COOK BRATS - “MILWAUKEE STYLE”
Preheat your grill: whether you’re using gas or charcoal, get your grill warming now (aiming for a temperature of around 350 degrees).*
Note: see helpful hints for how to manage your heat best; don’t skip this section!
Sauté yellow onion: In a large saucepan, melt the butter and then sauté your sliced onion in the butter until softened. You do not want to cook the onion all the way (this is what makes it good as a topping!). Aim for ‘soft on the outside, crisp on the inside’.
Add your brats and beer: Add brats to your pot and top with just enough beer so that the brats are fully submerged.
Low simmer: Simmer the brats on the lowest possible simmer until they are plump, grey, and there is no visible pink anywhere beneath the casing.
Transfer to grill: Your brats should be mostly cooked at this point, so transferring them to the grill simply finishes the cooking process and imparts that classic ‘grill’ flavor to the bratwurst. Cook turning brats gently and frequently until casing is browned.
Note: see helpful hints for how to monitor the brats. If you’re going to temp your brats (to 160°F) by inserting a thermometer in either end of the sausage, not the middle. This will help minimize juice loss! Remember: juice is gold.
Remove from the grill and serve: serve on your favorite bun, topped with your favorite condiments, and enjoy!
HELPFUL HINTS FOR MAKING THE BEST BEER BRATS
Boiling brats in beer - a commonly mislabeled step in this process. Though beer brat recipes will often say you should ‘boil’ the brats in beer, I’m here to set the record straight. If you boil your brats in beer, you’re going to lose a ton of juices from the brats in your pan. I’ll say it again: juice is gold because juice is flavor! After you’ve added your brats and beer to the pan, bring it up to a very gentle simmer. Your brats will be ready for the grill after they’ve become plump and grey (no visible pink).
Speaking of juices, what’s this about managing grill heat? This might be the most important step you take when you’re grilling brats. If the brats are subject to too much direct heat, their casings will pop, and all that delicious juice will run into your grill. How do you avoid that? I’ll explain for charcoal and gas grills:
For a charcoal grill: Just before adding your brats to the grill, bank your heated coals to one side of your grill. When you add the brats to the grill, cook them on the opposite side of the coals and keep the lid on your grill. This will ensure your brats get cooked over indirect heat.
For a gas grill: preheat all burners like you normally would, but when you add the brats, turn the burners directly under the brats down to a low/medium low temperature.
Cooking for a crowd? You can easily double (or triple) this recipe! This recipe is the best way to cook brats for a crowd. Just make sure you use one medium yellow onion for every 5-6 brats, and ensure that all the brats are submerged in the beer while you simmer. Simple!