Jan Norris: Food and Florida

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Ban Bird Brats – They’re Fowl Play

June 29th, 2009 · 2 Comments

Editor’s note: This is one in my “Summertime Eats” series of guest blogs. Share your favorite memories of summertime foods and places with me by emailing your story to: Jan@JanNorris.com, subject: Summertime Eats. Attach a photo of yourself or the food as a .jpg if possible. A few of you will win one of my cookbooks if your story is published.

Turkey’s for Thanksgiving – not bratwurst

I got a note this week from my buddy Tom Sears – a former colleague (sports desk copy chief ) at The Palm Beach Post. He’s a die-hard Wisconsin native, Milwaukee born, and is as passionate about his beautiful, green, lake-flecked state as I am about my Florida.

The Packers, the Brewers, hating Chicago, loving cheese, ice fishing, and of course, bratwurst — they’re very much a part of Tom.

brats

‘Yuck’

That was the subject of his e-mail. I opened it, and my hand holding my Blackberry was scorched by Tom’s invectives. He was truly fired up.

Here’s the sanitized, expletive-deleted version:

I should have known better, but yesterday I bought a package of turkey bratwurst from Winn-Dixie. Shady Brook Farms makes them. I cooked two on my grill for supper; I ate half of one, threw out the other one I cooked and then immediately tossed the rest of the package.

It was perhaps the worst-tasting piece of (bleep) I’ve ever eaten.

 If you get the temptation to buy any, please resist. It gives bratwursts everywhere a bad name.

I cannot allow these things to be sold under the name of bratwurst! People who buy them may get a complete misperception of Wisconsin and its residents. No self-respecting Wisconsinite would ever eat one of those things. I should be assassinated for even buying them.

First five words says it all

You just don’t mess with some foods — or the natives who eat them. Leave Chicago pizza alone – and don’t try to sell a Yank from New Haven, Conn., on it. Don’t fool with Virginia ham. California may grow peaches, but a Georgian won’t even acknowledge them.

And for heaven’s sake, don’t make green or (she shudders) flamingo pink Key lime pie and try to get me to eat it.

So: He of all people should have known better. Brats are pork and beef (sometimes the veal version of beef).  Turkey is for Thanksgiving. So says Tom, the Wisconsin son.

Now for his story.

Summer means brats on the grill and a ball game

By Tom Sears, guest columnist

Old County Stadium

Old County Stadium

Ah, I have wonderful memories of grilling brats with my dad after a ball game on Sunday afternoon in Milwaukee at old County Stadium.

Grilling bratwursts (aka Wisconsin’s soul food) is a tradition much like Friday night fish fries at the corner tavern and even top-flight restaurants.

For me, the fondest memories were after the games of the old Milwaukee Braves while I was growing up and then later the Milwaukee Brewers at old County Stadium. Both my folks died before the new stadium, Miller Park (whose naming rights were bought by the brewery, as you probably could guess) was built.

cribbage board

A cribbage board

When we were kids, the gathering would include the whole family (dad, mom, sister and my two brothers, and all six of us would go to the game). After us kids grew up and moved away, the gatherings as a family became less frequent, but that made the cookouts more special. For me, my summer vacations, and those Sunday afternoon games with my dad and then cooking out afterward, followed by a couple of games of cribbage, are memories that will stay with me forever.

Treat brats gently!

After we got home from the game, my dad would get the grill going in the driveway or in the garage (with the door open, of course) and my mom would start working on the side dishes, which she had prepared in advance. After lighting the charcoal, you gently simmer —  never, ever boil, just simmer — the brats in the liquid of your choice (it’s usually beer) and a chopped up onion. My dad would also occasionally chop up a couple of cloves of garlic and drop them in the liquid.

After simmering the brats for 20 minutes, they are ready to go on the grill. The charcoal, by this time, should be white hot. The brats should be turned occasionally with tongs until they are a golden brown. I cook mine for about 10 minutes. My dad always said it was important to stand and watch the brats cook (all the while holding a bottle of beer, of course). This was to guard against any sudden burst of flame, which could burn and ruin the bratwursts. Brats should never be cooked until the skins are black. This is not good.

 A ban on yellow mustard

While the brats were cooking, my mom would set up the picnic table on the east side of the house, where we would be in the shade. Side dishes would include macaroni salad (made with Miracle Whip, never mayo!!!), perhaps baked beans, either German or American potato salad, a relish plate of green onions, pickles, olives, celery and carrot sticks, etc., and potato chips. When the brats were done, they were put in a bratwurst bun  — never a hot dog bun; you MUST use a bratwurst bun, which is a little bigger than a hot dog bun.

For condiments, I always just use chopped up raw onions and brown mustard (never, ever, ever yellow mustard and never, ever ketchup. That is a no-no). Some people use hot dog relish, but I never did. Many people also put sauerkraut on their brats, but we didn’t. At Miller Park (and before that County Stadium), however, it is quite acceptable, even chic, to put Stadium Secret Sauce on your brat (or Polish, Italian or hot dog). Yellow mustard is not available anywhere in the stadium. Yellow mustard is an insult to any Wisconsinite.

For dessert, what else but watermelon?

It’s always bratwurst season

badgerlogobrewerslogoYou do not need a reason or a season to grill bratwursts outside. Any ballgame (Brewers, Packers, Badgers) is a reason to grill out. Maybe people grill out in their back yards before Packers game, and they have a couple of bratwursts before the game starts, so they feel they are at the stadium and they have their own little backyard tailgate party before watching the game on TV.

A nice spring, summer or fall weekend day is a good reason to cook out. Picnics and neighborhood cookouts are always an excuse. And of course there are the many lakefront festivals in Milwaukee during the summer. Neighbors have been known to take turns on weekends cooking out and having four or five couples and their kids over.

Buy brats like a native: Usinger’s or Klement’s

The best brats to buy are Usinger’s or Klement’s, both based in Milwaukee. However, they are not sold nationally but they can be ordered and shipped from their Web sites. Sheboygan Bratwurst, based in Sheboygan Falls, Wis., also is good.

I’m not sure, but Cher-Make, another sausage-maker based in Manitowoc, Wis., also may have brats (Editor’s note: they do). If they don’t, though, they make the best wieners in their casings this side of Munich. If you insist, and can’t find any of these brats, go ahead and buy Johnsonville, which is sold nationally (Publix and Winn-Dixie have them occasionally). However, few self-respecting Wisconsinites would admit to eating Johnsonville. If you buy them, you hope a neighbor doesn’t see you at the grocery store.

You would never be able to find a Johnsonville brat at any of Milwaukee’s lakefront summer festivals, at Brewers games, at Packers games, or at Wisconsin Badgers games. And if they aren’t sold there, they aren’t worth buying. There also may be some small local sausage makers who cater only to their part of Wisconsin, but those four are the main ones.

 Resources:

The following Web sites should be helpful. The first two give you a sense of what brats mean to people from Wisconsin.

www.bratwurstpages.com/brats.html

www.onmilwaukee.com/dining/articles/restaurantbrats.html

Stadium Secret Sauce (read about it at OnMilwaukee – an online magazine for the city) is available for $5.99 a bottle at brewcityonline.com or for $3 a bottle at the Brewers Fan Zone store at Miller Park . It is a tomato based sauce with just a hint of spiciness to it.

Tags: Food and Family Intertwine

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 George P // Jun 30, 2009 at 8:36 am

    Thanks for the great post Tom.

    I wish we could find some “genuine” brats and sauce locally without having to deal with mail order.

    It says something about the inherent lack of flavor in modern turkeys that they use it as filler in all sorts of fake foods. It’s bland stuff that can absorb whatever flavor chemicals the scientists come up with.

    Question: Does simmering the brats add to the flavor, or is it just to prevent grease fires on the grill? I regularly grill Italian sausage using indirect heat with no problems. (Turn on one burner, put the sausage over the “off” burner, close the hatch).

  • 2 Jan Norris // Jul 2, 2009 at 12:01 pm

    Most cooks use beer to simmer their brats in; it does give it flavor. I have heard of others using apple cider if they don’t use alcohol. Cider and pork are made for each other.

    But you always want to buy fresh brats — not cured ones – therefore, you must cook them fully and simmering ahead of time cuts down on the time needed on the grill. All grilling could lead to burned brats.

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