July 7, 2010

Fort Wayne Traditions: Brats on the Fourth

Boiled-then-grilled bratwursts ready to eat

In the state of Indiana there are some things they, and now we, do that distinguish us as Hoosiers. Bonfires and Euchre, for example, are two social pasttimes that every self-respecting Fort Wayner depends on during the year. One Indiana tradition, the Bratwursts on the Fourth of July one, is a ritual that took me a long time to embrace, but as of this past weekend and with the aid of a recipe from (gasp!) Wisconsin, I'm now down with the brats program.

My recipe is adapted from The Bratwurst Pages (byline: Bratwurst, Wisconsin's Soul Food). I picked it out because it was simple and involved a Weber grill. We're devoted to our Weber and stand behind any recipe that calls specifically for this particular instrument of fire. Shopping for the ingredients couldn't have been easier. Prior to the holiday our grocery stores fill entire meat cases with the many different varieties of bratwursts. You practically trip over them when you try to make your way to the condiments aisle to buy your mustard.

There are three steps to the Wisconsin method: Simmering, grilling, and holding. To cook 10 brats you'll need:

10 brats (We used two 19.76 oz packages of Johnsonville Original Bratwursts)
2 12-ounce cans or bottles of beer (My men wouldn't contribute any of their real beer so I used two cans of my Miller Genuine Draft 64)
1 large onion, chopped (I happened to have a sack of Vidalia onions so I used one of those)
Kettle grill ("Weber is the standard")
Charcoal briquettes (about 30) or lump charcoal
10 brat buns (They're larger than a hot dog bun and often come scored on top)
My Holding Sauce (I scoured the website but couldn't identify the recipe's creator)

Mound charcoal briquettes in a pyramid. My husband starts his with a chimney. When the coals are partially white spread in a single layer. Allow the charcoal to burn until coals are covered with white ash glowing embers (about 20 - 30 minutes). On a Weber the heat is just right when you can hold your hand palm-down, 2 inches above the grate, for 4-5 seconds. If you can still see a red glow it's too early to start cooking.

While the charcoal does its thing put 2 beers in a dutch oven on the stove. Throw in the chopped onion and the brats. Add water if you need more liquid to cover the brats. Bring the beer just to a simmer. "Don't let it boil - ever! Boiling will cause the brats to burst," which can lead to flare-ups on the grill. When steam begins to rise from the top of the liquid you know it's just right. Simmer the brats for 20 minutes, then remove them from the beer mixture and put on a plate.

When the coals are ready place the brats on the grill 7 - 9 inches above the coals. Use tongs to turn the brats often until they're golden brown on all sides. This will take 10 - 15 minutes. Keep the grill covered between turns.

"Flare-ups can quickly ruin your brats, turning them a hellish shade of black. Flare-ups can be avoided with proper technique. Treat the brats with care. Don't puncture them or squeeze them too hard. If you see a flare-up developing, quickly move brats away from the flames if you can. Immediately close grill cover and close vents for a minute or so. Some folks control flare-ups with a spray bottle of water."

With a Weber type grill you can learn to adjust the vents to provide the optimum fire for cooking brats.

Serve brats on brat buns dressed with the special sauce (below) or your favorite condiments, as long as your favorite condiments in this case do not include yellow mustard. Only brown mustard is allowed! Ormond also likes sauerkraut on his brats. We didn't make the Savory Beer Sauce, instead preferring to slap the brats into buns and dig in as soon as they were off the grill.

Savory Beer Sauce

For 10 brats:
2 14.5 ounce cans stewed tomatoes
2 bottles or cans beer
1 large onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 tablespoon brown sugar

Mix ingredients and bring to a simmer. Hold grilled brats in sauce until ready to eat. Do not let sauce boil. Try dressing your brats with this sauce and a bit of brown mustard.