The secret to grilling perfect bratwurst sausages, according to a golf-club chef

Whistling Straits chef Zeke Fitzgerald shares his best grilling tips for bratwurst.

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When you make the turn on The Straits course at Whistling Straits just south of Sheboygan, Wis., you pass by a counter on the backend of the clubhouse where complimentary sustenance is served up in the form of grilled brats. It’s an appropriate offering. After all, Germans made up the largest group of immigrant settlers in Wisconsin during the 19th century, and bratwurst is to Germany what kielbasa is to Poland, chorizo is to Spain, and andouille is to France. That is to say, all are pork sausages — each one is simply flavored differently.

As grilling season fast approaches, bratwurst will soon be on your brain, so we sat down with Zeke Fitzgerald, the chef at Whistling Straits, to get the lowdown on what to look for in a brat, how to best cook it, and what constitutes the most authentic preparation.

Buying the Best Brat

Not surprisingly, a stellar brat is all about what you can’t really see. It’s like that old adage about judging people — it’s what’s on the inside that counts. “If you’re buying them from a butcher shop,” says Fitzgerald, “the person working the counter should be able to tell you everything about the sausage — the cuts of pork used, seasoning blend, freshness, etc. But if you’re buying from a store, check the label to make sure your sausage isn’t just lower-grade, cheaper meat and that it’s not packed with fillers and preservatives.”

Double, bubble, boiling’s trouble

Okay, we admit that we’re paraphrasing William Shakespeare a bit, but we think the British playwright would be okay with that, especially since it’s an important message. The takeway?  A bratwurst and a boiling pot of water should never meet. “Most sausage is designed to be cooked on a grill or cast-iron pan,” says Fitzgerald. “When you boil them, you lose a lot of the flavor in the liquid.”

food on the grill
The secret to perfect grilling, according to a golf-club chef
By: Josh Sens

Grilling advice

As Chef Fitzgerald acknowledges, some people like to pre-cook brats in a beer and onion mixture before throwing them on the grill. Others prefer to transfer their brats to that hot beer-and-onion concoction after they’ve been grilled. You’re free to choose whichever method speaks to you. “There is no right or wrong way,” he says. “It’s all personal preference.”

There is a correct way to grill brats, however, and it requires cooking them over a medium heat and away from any flame. “Keep them off direct heat so they don’t flare up,” says Fitzgerald, who explains that those brief bursts of pyrotechnics actually infuse the meat with a burnt oil flavor.”

You’ve Got to [Not] Move It, Move It

Resists the urge to flip or rotate the brats often once they’re on the grill. You might think you’re ensuring that the sausages cook evenly, but you’re actually inhibiting the addition of added flavor. “You want to allow them to caramelize evenly without charring or burning them,” Chef Fitzgerald explains.

Dressed to Impress

We’re not here to tell you that there’s a right way or, more specifically, a wrong way to top your brat. If you like it with mayo, banana peppers and chopped tomato, who are we to tell you that you’re not doing it right? That being said, according to Fitzgerald, traditional toppings done the German way start with a buttered hard roll and include brown mustard, sauerkraut, onions (cooked or raw) and sometimes pickles. Do with that what you will.

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