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Why boil brats?

Can someone out there explain bratwurst to me?

Why boil, simmer, or otherwise immerse a sausage destined for a grill, or frying pan? And why beer?

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  1. Couple of reasons. Most commercially packed sausages of all kinds develop a kind of slime in the package that will burn if placed directly on the grill, and even if it's not there, most sausages tend to char too much on the outside before they are fully cooked or even heated through. For that reason I always steam or simmer all sausages and hot dogs, whether raw or fully cooked, before griddling or grilling them. You're only putting them on the grill to give them some caramelization and a little smoky flavor anyway -- they won't absorb much no matter how long you leave them there.

    Beer purportedly adds more flavor than plain water but that's probably the placebo effect. Easy enough to test at home.

    A lot of people I know just think those charred, blackened, wrinkly sticks coming off the grill are the greatest things ever. Me, I like my sausages, from the simplest hot dog to the most glorious hotlink, brat or kielbasa, to be crisp outside and exploding with juice, so I always do it my way, even if it means a foil tray of water holding the sausages on the grill.

    5 Replies
    1. re: acgold7

      After some 20 years of home testing -- it's definitely not a placebo effect.

      I boil brats with a couple of onions, roughly a 50-50 beer/water mixture (because Sven and Oly don't want to waste the beer, donchaknow**) and a handful of Penzey's Corned Beef Spices. Over the years, various pantry conditions have resulted in brats boiled with anywhere from one to all of the components being unavailable at the time -- and they really are best when the beer, the onions, and the spices are all present. (and it's always, always the same brand...so no brand variations in the mix!)

      Boiling also does remove at least some of the grease (witness the layer of congealed fat that I throw away before pouring the cooled broth down the drain...)

      ...leaving you with a fully-cooked, moist, somewhat leaner sausage that needs only to be heated and browned to a nice brown crust before being slipped into a bun with grilled onions and some whole-grain mustard.

      Better taste, fully cooked ground pork, nice brown brats instead of sticks of charcoal...what's not to love?

      (but I never, ever stab the brats to let the lovely juices out. Sacrilege.)

      ** Sven and Oly jokes, and liberal use of 'donchaknow' borrowed from Wisconsin inlaws

      1. re: sunshine842

        Well, unless you've done double blind tastings of the finished brats, with and without the beer and onions and every variation, without any of the tasters knowing how they were prepared, it could still well be the placebo effect. It's pretty unlikely any of those flavors could penetrate the casings and most would drain off after you pulled them from the broth to place them on the grill. But it would sure be a fun experiment

        But I totally agree with the method of prep and it sounds great.

        1. re: acgold7

          Not scientific, but when hubby (the native Badger in the house) says "what's wrong with the brats tonight?" -- and he's picked up that one or more of my usual ingredients is missing without actually knowing what I put into the pot (or not, as the case may be) -- it's not a placebo.

          1. re: acgold7

            Poaching fresh brats, not the slime wrapped versions, in beer with thick slices of onions imparts an unmistakable hops, yeast, beer flavor to the brats as evidenced by the fact that we've used everything from an IPA to a porter, Guinness to Sam Adams and found distinct flavor profiles with each beer used including the cherry flavors from a SA cherry wheat and the citrus flavors from a Wisconsin summer shanty brew. If my wife can taste them, and she is clueless to what happens in the kitchen and outside on the grill, then the flavors are really there despite not doing a double blind experiment.

            I actually poach the beer, brats, onion mix on a BGE with a couple lumps of apple or cherry or pecan wood chunks over a moderate 350 degree fire to get the smoke flavor into the liquid and brats from the very outset. Maybe 30 minutes because it takes about 15 just to get the liquid simmering. After that I remove the brats onto the grille grid for some color and crust while I continue to cook down the beer and carmelize the onions. About 10 minutes turning the brats frequently.

            Lessons learned, never puncture the brats, never use a skunky beer, always use real crusty rolls that get toasted when everything else is pulled off the egg and if inviting my teenage nephews, double the number of brats.

            1. re: ThanksVille

              Yes, those crusty hard rolls go great with brats.

      2. I've found it to go in a couple trains of thought. You boil it to cook it so it retains its shape and doesn't break the casing on a grill or frying pan. OR you boil it for health reasons. Miniumum 165 degrees for ground meat, yada, yada, yada. OR if in a restaurant enviorment, it's much faster to par-boil, chill, then reheat to proper temp on a grill.

        And the beer? I cooked around the midwest where they're pretty popular. Some there might say that water doesn't add nothing.

        1. Isn't sausage a one-way flavor conductor? I mean, when I simmer Italian sausage in tomato sauce the sausage flavors the sauce, not vice versa.

          2 Replies
          1. re: knucklesandwich

            It can be, unless you remove the casings.

            You're likely getting alot of the spices that go in the varities of sausages, brats, kielbasa, etc, especially if its in a sauce simmered for a long period of time. Dry spices LOVE low temp cooking

            1. re: knucklesandwich

              Cooking the sausage at a low simmer in beer before grilling is not to transfer beer flavor to the sausage, or vice versa. Sausage casings are not impervious to liquids so the sausage is, to some degree, infused with the flavor of the beer. When the sausage is removed from the beer boil some of the beer lingers at the surface of the sausage and when that contacts the grill the sugars in the beer coating brown and develop a richer flavor.

            2. Whew. I thought this thread was about dealing with unruly children.

              3 Replies
              1. re: rochfood

                Yeah. I was going to say that boiling is too good for 'em.

                1. re: rochfood

                  Thanks for the levity in a sometimes, all-too-serious, blog site!

                  1. re: rochfood

                    My Bodum french press years ago came with the warning that "boiling water and children should be kept apart."

                    Not sure if they still have that warning, but it cracked me up enough to cut it out and stick it on the fridge for awhile.

                  2. Knowing quite a few Wisconsinites, I have consumed probably more beer brats than I would prefer! That said, I don't think the beer really flavors it - I think it's more of a custom than anything. That, and you have raw ground pork here - boiling them first helps prevent drunken undercooking on the grill later!!!!