I feel like I should start this post with so many disclaimers, caveats, and apologies. An apology to my vegeterian friends who will find nothing at all to like about this post. A warning to my vegan friends, who have no doubt begun suffering from the beginning of a migraine just by reading the title of this post. An acknowledgment to my midwestern friends that I am a Philistine and have learned how to prepare Bratwurst not so much as apprentice to master at the craft, but through observation and experimentation.
But here’s the thing: everyone — every single person — who has given my Bratwurst (“Brats” from here on out) agrees that I am really, really good at it.
So today: how to make Brats, Fatty-style.
Maybe there should be one more disclaimer here: the secret to my success with Brats is the exact same secret to my success with burgers. And with chili. And with banana cream pie.
Which is to say: there is no secret. It just takes time, and you can’t take shortcuts.
What You Need
So here’s what you need to prepare bratwurst so good people will think you are using dark majick and casting spells upon them.
- Uncooked Brats: I’m a big fan of Colosimo’s, but don’t know if that’s available nationally. Johnsonville’s is also great. I generally plan on 2 Brats per person, and then round up a package.
- Beer: Enough to completely submerge the brats when they’re in a big pot. For 60 Brats, a 30-can case is plenty. People often ask me what kind of beer to use, thinking that the better the beer, the better the Brats. Luckily for your pocketbook, that’s not the case. Cheap beer works just as well as expensive beer. So buy whatever’s on sale, which seems to almost always be PBR. Don’t, however, buy light beer.
- Worcestershire Sauce: About 1/4 cup per dozen Brats.
- Onion: 1 onion per bot of Brats boiled, regardless of the number of Brats therein.
- A charcoal or wood fire, and grill: Not a gas grill. Now, I’m not a charcoal grill snob (OK, I am), but I can’t overstate the importance of this.
- Spicy brown mustard: Not regular mustard. Not ketchup.
- Sauerkraut: Personally, I don’t like it, but enough people see it as integral to the Brats experience that I figured I’d better include this in the list.
- Buns / bread: If possible, use Kenny’s homemade bread. Probably, that’s not an option for you, in which case hot dog buns work OK.
Boil The Brats
Brats have to be cooked twice. First you boil them, then you grill them. The boiling step takes a lot of time, but is easy.
First, dump the Brats into a pot. Don’t fill the pot past about 5/8 full, and don’t pack them in too tight; use multiple pots if you’re making a lot of Brats.
Next, pour enough beer over the Brats to submerge them. Make sure you have enough beer left over to add more as some of it boils off — a couple extra cans’ worth per pot.
More next, chop an onion loosely into the pot. Big slices are fine.
Even more next, pour in the Worcestershire sauce. I know I specify 1/4 cup per dozen Brats, but in real life I just kind of pour a bunch in.
Nextiest of all, bring the Brats to a boil and then let them boil for a good long while.
“How long,” you might well ask? And that’s a fantastic question.
My answer is, “I don’t know if it’s possible to boil them too long,” though now that I think about it, it probably is. Still, I’ve boiled Brats for as little as an hour, and as long as for two hours, and get good results every time.
The main thing to keep in mind is that now is when you’re cooking the Brats for real. As in, you could totally eat the Brats right out of the pot — it’s just that the texture and color would be kind of gross, and they wouldn’t have that smokey flavor that nudges the Brats from the “Excellent” category into the “Indescribable” category.
So: boil them for at least an hour. And be sure to check on them every fifteen minutes or so to make sure they’re not boiling over. Every time you do this, give them a good stir, so that the Brats floating at the top won’t always be the same ones.
And when the beer level drops enough that Brats can’t all be submerged, add a can of beer.
As you boil the Brats, your whole house / apartment / church kitchen will be filled with the smell of Brats boiling in beer.
Once you’re done boiling the Brats, you can start grilling them right away. Or — and this is what I consider the most genius-y thing I’ve ever done — if you plan to be grilling later that day or even a day or two later, you can store them.
Just put as many as will fit into whatever kind of sealable container you’ve got (I’ve used both tupperware and freezer bags with fine results), then pour some of the beer mixture — including the boiled onions — over the Brats before you seal them and put them in the fridge / ice chest. Note that the Brats smell is going to get out of that tupperware, though, so if you’re using the fridge, you may want to be prepared for milk that’s going to taste a little . . . different.
As I mentioned before, your Brats are really already cooked. The grilling step is to heat up the Brats (if they’ve been on ice for a while), crisp the outside, and — more than anything else — give them as smokey flavor that is just remarkable.
Obviously, you won’t get a smokey flavor if you use a gas grill. So even if you usually use a gas grill, go get yourself a cheap, small charcoal grill for your Brats. It’s worth it, and it’s really not a lot harder than using gas.
Wood is even better if you’ve got that option.
Now, since the Brats are already cooked, you won’t have to cook them for long. Just place them close on the grill, and let them get crisp — brown, or even a little blackened — before turning them over:
This photo taken without permission from Grizzly Adam’s site. But I figure he’ll be cool with it anyway. Right, Grizzly?
Get them crisp on the other side, and then, serve. And revel in the admiration you are suddenly receiving, not to mention no small number of questions along the lines of, “So what’s your secret?”
Your answer, of course, will be: “There is no secret. There’s just a right way to do it.”
PS: I don’t understand why anyone would want ketchup on their Brats, but I expect some people don’t understand why I don’t want sauerkraut on my Brats. Taste is personal, so I usually bring sauerkraut, spicy brown mustard, ketchup, and even mayo for people to put on their brats. Hey, you’re all standing around a fire / picnic table / whatever enjoying good food. No sense in being a snot about it.
PS: But I draw the line at plain yellow mustard.