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Sep 6, 2006 03:16 PM

Johnsonville Brats--what's the big deal?

Last weekend we went ot a small, local air show. There is never much to eat, usually some local boy scout troop selling popcorn, hamburgers and canned sodas. This year there was a huge semi made into "the world's largest grill!" and their stand was selling Johnsonville Brats as if they were the be-all and end-all of meat sandwiches. This in the home city o' tri-tip.

We each got one, and it was very lightly grilled, with light heat marks, and starting to sweat fat. Served in an air-bread white bun, with condiments on the side, mustard, mayo, saurkraut and green pickle relish. I didn't put anything on mine, wanting to see what the flavor of the sausage was. My reaction; Meh? Decent size, flavor a bit mild, and very greasy. I tossed the bread and ate the sausage plain. Like Chino Wayne, I was irritated to have consumed the calories of something so mediocre.

The Johnsonville crew chief eagerly asked me how I liked it, and my less than enthusiatic reaction seemed to wound his pride. I told him we have lots of good regional sausages like Italian sweet and hot, Linguisa, Chorizo, Longanisa, etc., that are better, and that I probably wouldn't buy these in the grocery. His smile faded, and he thanked me for trying his product.

The only local exposure to these sausages is through heavy TV advertising. They are in the grocery but not an institution at local bbq gatherings as AFAIK. Are these really so popular in other areas of the country?

Would love to hear other sausage eaters weigh (hah) in on this.

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  1. Which variety did you try? I grew up eating the beer and the cheese varieties--Johnsonville is HUGE in Minnesota/Wisconsin, nearly a cultural institution. I could probably still quote their commercials word-for-word. Maybe nostalgia makes them taste better but when I grilled last year they were pretty damn good--lighter and easier to eat than your standard real-deal bratwurst, especially for a summer affair. Boiled them in beer, grilled and served with sauerkraut--most of my friends (who had never tried them) loved them. I don't know if I'd compare them to chorizo (apples and oranges)--more like the hot dog version of bratwurst.

    1. OK, granted that a sausage in general is greasy. But in Wisconsin, where I come from, as do Johnsonville brats, people have a real reverance for them. The usual way of preparing them is to parboil them in beer to which sliced onions have been added. Then they are grilled, and, if making a large quantity, they are put back in the beer to stay warm. Some folks then top the brat with some of the onions. Like anything, a brat done to perfection is just that. I've also had them over-cooked in which case they taste like sawdust. Also, I think I am correct in saying that a brat bun is the proper carrier for the brat, not a cheap-o white bread air bun. While I would never make a steady diet of them, done well, they are fantastic. I hope you'll get to try one again some day, and that you'll see what I mean.

      1 Reply
      1. re: KRath

        I too grew up in Wisconsin - never had a Johnsonville brat until I moved to Ohio decades later. I agree with the OP - meh . . .

        We ate USINGERS! Now there is a REAL brat ;)

      2. Toodie, I have had JV brats and thought they were very good. BUT! I have had Karl Ehmers(sp?)as well as other home made brats that were much better. I believe my relative soaked them in beer before grilling- maybe after too. Like KRath said, perhaps not prepared well- try again!

        1 Reply
        1. re: pixlpi

          Absolutely agree about K. Ehmers-- "the best of the wurst". They actually have some flavor, unlike the Jville brats....

        2. Toddie Jane; "the home city 'o tri tip?" Just a sneaking suspicion, but that would be good old Santa Maria, right? Growing up, I spent more time in that Safeway than I did in my own home. (Plus, you replied to my 20 Mile Station post, so I've kind of placed you.:))

          IMO, Johnsonville Brats make a fine breakfast sausage. But for tailgating/grilling/pigging out, I MUCH prefer a sausage with lots more spice and flavor; chorizo, linguica, anduille, etc.

          Oh, and they have very little taste resemblance to real German bratwurst. Like I said, Johnsonville is more akin to a breakfast sausage taste.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Bostonbob3

            Speaking generally, isn't the difference between German bratwurst and Wisconsin-style bratwurst one of texture? The guy at the sausage store in my hometown ( told me that the ingredients and spices are identical, but that the Wisconsin-style is ground more coarsely. He could have just been referring to they way they make them, but I got the impression he was speaking broadly.

            And the sausages at that place are quite possibly the greatest sausages in the universe. To say nothing of the beef jerky.

            1. re: joypirate

              Well, the bratwurst I've had in Germany were significantly less "sweet" than Johnsonville Brats. "Sweet" as in breakfast-sausagy. That said, there are some in Bavaria that have similar spicing. The texture varies wildly from region to region in Germany, although most are fine-ground just like a Johnsonville.

          2. Honestly, toodie jane, and I say this having spent years in the Midwest, I think it's at least half nostalgia, the way people from LA get misty-eyed over In-N-Out or people from New York have a Thing about Nathan's.

            They *ARE* really good but only in the one preparation -- boiled in beer and onions, then grilled and eaten with brown mustard and sauerkraut on a cold, slightly sticky-in-the-mouth potato bun.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Das Ubergeek

              Doesn't boiling first remove any possible, and desireable, juiciness from something one is going to grill?

              1. re: niki rothman

                Not in this case, its the perfect way to prepare brats.

                1. re: niki rothman

                  Just the opposite, actually. Boiling makes them really juicy, as the sausage sucks up some of the beer flavor.