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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!!!!

                    1. Because the onions you make in the "beer broth" are DELCIOUS when put on top of a brat, that's why, lol. ;-)

                      As a Wisconsinite, I do think beer adds some flavor, not a whole lot - but certainly some. I tend to soak mine, sometimes overnight, then simmer for a little bit and finish cooking them on the grill. With the beer broth, I cook it down with a ton of onions and add butter and they're delicious! I also know a lot of inexperienced grillers simply boil them in beer and toss them on the grill in fear of eating raw pork...

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: tiffeecanoe

                        When you've simmered them slowly in beer and they're as done as you like, try reducing the remaining broth to a syrupy consistency and drizzle that on the brats. Now there's some flavor for ya.

                      2. My bil, formerly from Cincinatti, Wisconsin transplant does it like this: Grill the brats first and then put them in the beer and onions combo. He said he learned this trick from working on Jaycee functions and the end result is pretty good.

                        7 Replies
                        1. re: twodales

                          That's the way my family (ex-Wisconsinites) have always done it.

                          There have been some very lively discussions on this board in the past -- whether to grill first and then put in beer with onions, or the other way around.

                          1. re: karykat

                            I had always seen it the other way: boil then grill. I have to say I do like it better grilling first and then doing the beer bath. It seems less "fatty" to me but that is just my perception. It just tastes better too to my taste.

                            1. re: twodales

                              I need to try it that way.

                              One reason to grill then boil might just be convenience. If you're feeding a group, the brats can wait in the beer bath til you're ready.

                          2. re: twodales

                            As a graduate of UWSP, I've had my share of brats...here's how I do it --
                            simmer the brats in beer/onions until cooked completely (about 20 mins),
                            grill the brats,
                            then soak them in a bath of beer, green peps, garlic, and onion (I use a crock pot on the "warm" setting). you can serve people the brats right from the bath, or stick them on the grill for 30 seconds to dry them off. this has always been a crowd-pleaser....

                            1. re: LauraLG

                              Ahhhh. So both ways. Beer bath, grill and then beer bath again.

                              Sounds like the best of both worlds.

                              1. re: karykat

                                And if you're having a party, the post-grilling "holding tank" beer bath is a perfect way to prepare most (if not all) of your brats ahead of time...while your guests drink beers and hang out, the grilled brats are resting nicely in the bath...

                                1. re: LauraLG

                                  We (also WI folks) would also put any left over burgers into the beer bath to hold them for round 2 or late comers.

                                  The beer and onion liquid holding tank is a wonderful party invention.

                          3. Here's a great link from Serious Eats. Kenji cooked 18 pounds of sausages to figure out a way to get great flavor. I enjoyed it, and I'll be trying them one night next week.

                            http://www.seriouseats.com/2012/05/th...

                            1. That is a American method.
                              In Germany, Bratw├╝rste are almost always grilled from raw on Charcoal.
                              I find the crisp skins and light char more to my liking than boiled, and they do not bust or dry out as long as care is taken in the cooking.
                              Here is another method from this site
                              http://www.chow.com/food-news/55570/h...

                              3 Replies
                                1. re: chefj

                                  I'm guessing real Euro sausages lack the sugar and fillers common in American varieties, which can char and burn quickly on a grill.

                                  1. re: acgold7

                                    You'd be guessing incorrectly -- there are American sausages that aren't stuffed full of sugar and fillers, and plenty of European sausages that will turn into your abovementioned sticks of charcoal unless you're watching them intently. (chipolatas and merguez not only will burn to a crisp, but they're slender, so it will happen in the time it takes to go get the beer out of the fridge)

                                    A big fat Toulouse sausage has a pretty high fat content -- which will flare a grill impressively high.

                                2. I'm more inclined to steam them first over water with a bunch of herbs in it. You can taste the herbs. I can taste the beer in beer brats, and I don't like it.

                                  1. As someone who has half their family in Germany; I can't say anything about Wisconsin traditions, sorry :), I really only know the bratwurst, really ANY sausage as a boiled thing. And, I love them that way. Just some salt in the water. The flavor of the bratwurst with maybe some mustard is enough. However, grilled bratwursts DO exist in Germany, too--but I'd say they are more of the special situation version: street food, or grill parties. The standard base is boiled. Boiling it in beer seems unnecessary to me; why would I want it to taste like beer? Of course to each his own.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Wawsanham

                                      it's like adding wine or beer to kraut, or cooking with any alcohol -- it doesn't necessarily make it taste like the cooking liquid, but there is no denying the depth and complexity of flavor that is added when cooking with alcohol.

                                      Remember that there are three kinds of flavor compounds in food -- water-soluble (easy to release), fat-soluble (also easy), and alcohol-soluble. A little alcohol allows you to free *all** of the flavor compounds in your chow.

                                    2. I always steam/boil the brats before finishing on the grill or frying because there's a better chance the centers will be fully cooked. I typically only make raw brats.

                                      But if precooked, I will toss them in the frying pan or grill without boiling.

                                      1. As someone who has lived their entire 33 years within 10 miles of Sheboygan, Wisconsin, the brat capital of the world, I do have some insight into the boil v. grill and vice-versa. The great majority of people in the area do grill the brats without boiling first. But I prefer to slow boil the brats in 1/2 beer-1/2 water mixture with onions first. And by the way, this is not a placebo effect. You can taste the difference between a brat boiled in beer and one boiled in water. I prefer to boil first only because you get the beer and onion taste infused into the brat as well as make sure it is cooked fully. Then all that needs to be done is to grill the brats for about 10 minutes, turning frequently. The bath afterwards works well if you cook a lot of brats for a large group of people. A double-brat on a Sheboygan hard roll with onions and sauerkrat (mustard and/or ketchup optional) is something everyone must try at least once in their life.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Packers12

                                          Hi Packers12. Love that name by the way. Rodgers is one of my favorites of all time.

                                          If you are fully cooking the brats by boiling them and then grilling them for 10 (!) minutes, how low is the grill temp that they do not end up overdone? Are you using just a little charcoal combined with very indirect heat?

                                        2. I actually add chili spices, onions and garlic to the beer. I prefer a darker beer and love to use guinness. Have even used the left over poaching liquid as the base for a brat & cheese soup... had extra brats left over...

                                          1. I heat them in the microwave in a microwave steamer. If you
                                            had Green County WI Swiss style smoked brats youre really
                                            missing something. Ed

                                            1. When the subject is brats, a lot of comments just have a little giggle and smile in them.

                                              1. Well, I don't know about boiling it in beer--seems a bit gussied up and twee. As for boiling, that's the main way I know them. For me, the grilled version is the exception--grill parties, maybe street food in Germany. My mom and grandmother were German, and at home we ate them about 3-4 times a month (a staple)--ALWAYS boiled.

                                                10 Replies
                                                1. re: Wawsanham

                                                  The traditional Wisconsin brat method is to boil them in beer and onions, then finish them on the grill.

                                                  1. re: sandylc

                                                    I only lived in Wisconsin for about a year, but I do have dozens of Wisconsin cousins. I simmer the brats in beer with caramelized onions, I think they add more flavor than just boiled onions. I prefer to put the brats back into the beer/onion broth after grilling. I like the onions on the brats as well. I don't think plain lager adds much beer flavor so I usually use a dark beer.

                                                    1. re: John E.

                                                      I don't even really like brats, but married into a Wisconsin family, so I eat them when it's unavoidable.

                                                      1. re: sandylc

                                                        Believe it or not, I did not eat my first brat until I was in college. I only cook them when there is a backyard gathering of some kind, never just brats for supper on a weeknight.

                                                        1. re: John E.

                                                          Totally believe it -- I never had a brat until I was in my very late 20s -- like sandylc, I married into a family of Cheeseheads.

                                                          1. re: sunshine842

                                                            I think it must have been that neither of my parents really liked them. Growing up in Minnesota, brats were readily available to us but for some reason they were not on the radar. I think my brother's family eats them once a week because they're easy to make. They also eat more grilled burgers and chicken breasts. (I grilled chicken thighs yesterday.)

                                                            1. re: John E.

                                                              we tend to eat brats mostly during football season (usually with a team wearing red/white or yellow/green. whoddathunkit)

                                                              1. re: sunshine842

                                                                Yellow/green I get. Red/white I can only come up with Arizona, but I don't know for sure. I don't know if decent brats are available in Arizona.

                                                                1. re: John E.

                                                                  University of Wisconsin is red/white

                                                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                                                    Of course they are. I went to eight college football games last season to support maroon and gold. They were 8 - 2 and my nephew made all-conference for the third year in a row. They are the Concordia Cobbers. I had more fun watching Division III football the last four years than any other football. My nephew played in every game his four years of school and started every game for three seasons. My brother and other player parents cooked brats and burgers for the families of players at every home game. (Do you love n Wisconsin, or is this a long distance cheesehead support?)

                                                2. What you really want to get a hold of is some Green county Swiss style smoked bratwurst. Ed

                                                  1. Bratwurst is for broiling or roasting - that's what "braten" means in German. I don't think I've ever had a boiled bratwurst, and it seems wrong somehow - you want to get that Maillard effect from direct heat.

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: John Francis

                                                      you get the Maillard effect -- you boil them in beer/onion/spices, THEN you broil or grill.

                                                      It works out wonderfully -- because the brats have been thoroughly cooked in the beer bath, you can grill them just until they're golden and tasty -- no worrying about them being done in the middle and near-char on the outside.

                                                      1. re: John Francis

                                                        I don't think brats should be boiled either. Just like eggs shouldn't be hard boiled. Brats should be simmered and eggs should be steamed.

                                                      2. I don't boil them, I poach them. I just bring a pot of water to a hard boil, drop in the brats and then turn off the flame and let them sit in the hot water for 10 minutes or so. I find that afterwards the skins won't break when I grill them.

                                                        1. After seeing this pop up again and reading some of the new comments, I'm not sure we are all talking about the same things.

                                                          I boil/simmer my brats in beer but I absolutely do it with raw brats. Not all brats are raw when you but them. The pre-cooked brats don't really need to be boiled but to cook a raw brat thoroughly on a grill isn't easy without burning it.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. You could also invest in an electric food steamer. I used to cook turkey sausage in mine all the time, when I was trying to eat a bit healthier. But you can cook any full fat sausage in them first, then throw them on a grill for some color. If I was cooking them for a large group, I would boil or steam them first just to be safe, so you're not serving any raw ones.

                                                            1. Not to split hairs, but I don't get something.

                                                              Temperature of boiling water is 212F. Boil sausage for X minutes (until "done") and you've got an internal temp of anywhere from 190-210F, give or take.

                                                              USDA recommends that ground pork be cooked to 160F- but that's way high. Why? Because at 160F internal pathogens inside the sausage are killed in less than a second. At something like 150F internal, internal pathogens are killed in a matter of minutes (for full particulars of the pathogen death rates, see any decent sous vide website).

                                                              So the question is begged: why do people wilfully and intentionally massively overcook their sausages- either by boiling or by grilling?

                                                              Seems to me a better way to cook sausage might be to zing it up to 150Fish, either over indirect heat on a grill or by way of poaching, and then to crisp up the beautiful casing over a very hot flame grill.

                                                              Would it be blaspheme to suggest that the most important sausage-cooking tool that no-one ever uses would be a digital thermometer, inserted horizontally into the end of the meat?

                                                              5 Replies
                                                              1. re: biggreenmatt

                                                                Not splitting hairs - I agree.

                                                                And when I say "boil" - my method is more along your description of poaching and then onto a hot grill to crisp the casing.

                                                                I still find it difficult to get a thick raw brat reliably to temp on a grill. They always seem way over cooked or raw in the middle (which is bad for ground pork in particular) or just plain burned.

                                                                1. re: thimes

                                                                  Also, by par-cooking the brats in beer before putting them on the grill, you cook off some of the fat, which reduces the flare-ups on the grill from fat dripping down -- another reason why this method results in nicely browned, rather than blackened, brats.

                                                                  1. re: thimes

                                                                    Indirect, gentle cooking heat, I think, would be the grilltop solution.

                                                                    1. re: biggreenmatt

                                                                      yes, of course it can be done on a grill - it just requires way too much tending for me for no real benefit (my opinion).

                                                                      And then you don't have the left-over beer/onion broth to keep the left-overs warm in for round 2 later in the day (as I mentioned above).

                                                                      And if you're really a glutton, the beer makes a great beer/cheese soup (very Wisconsin).

                                                                      So the poach in beer method is all benefit for me :D

                                                                      1. re: thimes

                                                                        Gotcha. My personal preference is for more charcoal smoke flavour, but in no way would I dare malign the Traditional Wisconsonian Method! :)

                                                                2. I par-cook my bratwurst in an oven ahead of time and then hold them until it's time to grill. I can prep at least 80 sausages on baking sheets in my oven in 20 min or so. Cleanup is also far easier than dealing with a greasy pot, especially if you line your baking sheets with foil or parchment.

                                                                  Grilling can then be done quickly at high heat to stripe them and provide for caramelization with minimal shrinkage. The key to the par cooking is low heat and to remove the brats when they have just grayed over. Prick the sausages ahead of time to reduce curling. They can then be held in trays until you are ready to use them.

                                                                  I find that the dry heat of the oven dehydrates the skin just slightly and I believe it contributes to a crisper texture coming off the grill without sacrificing interior moistness or size. The fast grilling, preferably over a charcoal fire, produces an attractive brat that fills its bun, maintains its juiciness, but minimizes the "napalm" effect.

                                                                  Not to offend anyone, but I find that boiling sometimes produces a rubbery texture depending on casing. As for any subtly that, say, a beer broth might add, my personal choice to address that aspect with the condiment - mustard, honey mustard, horseradish sauce, etc. It's a matter of trade-off, habit and taste.

                                                                  I've used this method for years and find it provides consistently good results in both presentation and taste, and is a particularly fast way to cycle brats out to large crowd.

                                                                  9 Replies
                                                                  1. re: garageCook

                                                                    >>>Prick the sausages ahead of time to reduce curling<<<

                                                                    Interesting. I would think that would cause the sausages to exude moisture during the cooking process and therefore result in a dry, unpleasant tasting sausage.

                                                                    1. re: Fowler

                                                                      Johnsonville says specifically to not prick the brats.

                                                                      1. re: sunshine842

                                                                        Oh what do those dumb Wisconsin hicks know about brats. :-D

                                                                        1. re: Fowler

                                                                          I guess they know enough not to be pricks.

                                                                          O.o

                                                                          1. re: sunshine842

                                                                            LOL! I hope the two of you got to see the game on Saturday. We could have gone 70+ but why rub it in?

                                                                            1. re: Fowler

                                                                              I'm dreading this week -- they face my alma mater, and I'm thoroughly expecting there to be nothing left of my AM but a bloodstain at the other end of the field....

                                                                              1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                Bet on the over. That way your AM can lose but you will still make money and be able to purchase some brats.

                                                                                1. re: Fowler

                                                                                  the brats are easy -- it will be the taunting from hubby that will be the issue! :) (nah...he realizes it's a pretty lopsided matchup)

                                                                    2. re: garageCook

                                                                      I poach my brats prior to grilling, in order to keep the skins from bursting when I grill them, thereby making them lose their juice. I woudl imagine pricking them would also allow the juice out.

                                                                      I like the idea of par-cooking them in a low oven, as I imagine that for sure the skin gets crisper when grilled.

                                                                      Thanks for the insights.

                                                                        1. re: sunshine842

                                                                          HB basically slow poaches the sausages then lets them dry on paper towels a bit then he gently lightly browns them in a medium heat pan using a little walnut oil.
                                                                          Served with mashed potatoes that were first baked and had the potato scooped out then served with brown onion gravy.