Usinger's president shares sausage grilling secrets
The following interview was originally posted in 2013, but in honor of the Fourth of July and all the grilling this weekend entails, we've reposted our chat here for your entertainment and education.
It's a big weekend for cookouts, and in honor of that we checked in with Fritz Usinger, president of Usinger's, and asked him for a little advice.
Turns out Usinger, not surprisingly as a fourth-generation sausage maker, had lots of thoughts on grilling, but wanted to make one thing clear: His perspective might be different because of his love for and commitment to the product.
"My way is not the only way," says Usinger. "There's my disclaimer."
That said, Usinger spoke for almost an hour on his personal beliefs about grilling – and more. We learned a lot.
OnMilwaukee: Do you grill fresh brats differently from pre-cooked?
Fritz Usinger: Yes. Usinger's has both, and the methods of preparing are very different. Pre-cooked, of course, is easier because all the consumer has to do is brown and serve. A fresh brat is raw sausage and spices in a casing and takes more time and attention. It has a much longer cooking time, because it must be cooked all the way through.
My method for grilling a fresh brat is 'low and slow.' It's the opposite of grilling a steak, which you sear right away to seal in the juices and then cook at a lower temperature. With a fresh bratwurst, it has to acclimate to the heat slowly. Too much heat too quickly can cause the brat to swell so much that it will break the casing, which is what we are really trying to avoid. If the casing breaks, all of the juices and spices go into the grill.
So with a gas grill, you slowly turn up the heat. With a charcoal grill, you start with the brats on the outside of the grill and slowly move them toward the (much hotter) center.
How long do you grill a brat?
I have a 'two beer method.' The time it takes me to drink two beers – and I'm not talking about slamming a beer like a 21-year-old, I'm talking about a middle-aged guy drinking two beers – is the perfect amount of time to grill a brat.
You don't want to brown up the casing until the end, but you definitely want to crisp it up then.
What are your thoughts on parboiling?
There is no need to do it. If you're going to grill your sausage, if you parboil it, you're cooking it twice. You're overcooking it and losing flavors. I never do it. Parboiling makes the sausages rubbery.
Not even in beer?
Beer is for drinking. I don't want my brat tasting like a beer. I like to keep my beer and my brats separate. Usinger's does not make a beer brat.
How do you keep brats warm if you're done grilling but have other foods or drinks to prepare before you're ready to serve them?
I keep them warm in a preheated oven. When I start grilling, I turn on the oven to 350, then when I'm done grilling, I put the sausages in a Pyrex dish covered with aluminum foil, shut off the heat and stick them in the warm – but turned off – oven.
Leaving the oven on could dry out the sausages too much and remember, I've had two beers by now and I might forget about them, so a warm but not too hot oven is best.
Is defrosting necessary or can you throw frozen brat on the grill?
You should always defrost overnight. But defrost them in the fridge. A lot of us grew up with our mothers leaving meat on the counter to defrost and this is a big no-no from a food safety perspective because it can create surface bacteria.
Frozen brats on the grill will always be a problem. They take much longer to cook and most likely you'll burn the outside before the inside is done.
What grilling utensils do you recommend?
Tongs. Do not use a fork. When the sausage is cooking, you don't want to pierce or break the casing because, as I stated before, you lose the juices and the spices.
What are your thoughts on buns?
You need a bun that can stand up to a brat. One that was specifically designed to hold the brat and condiments. A good sausage roll or a brat bun is very important. I get mine from both bakeries or grocery stores.
What kind of condiments do you use?
Raw onion and tomatoes, preferably from my garden. That's it. I put my cooked brat in a bun and then make an incision – I don't cut it all the way through, just down the length of the bun and deep enough to create a "pocket" or an "open valley." Then I fill it with my diced onions and tomatoes.
I also like cutting into my sausages because it lets some of the heat escape and I don't burn my mouth.
No mustard or ketchup?
No, no, no. I want to taste the spices, not the condiments.
What spices are in a bratwurst?
I can't tell you that. But in general, brats have a lot of spices in common and every sausage maker has their favorites. Coriander, nutmeg, peppers, paprika, onion, rosemary, sage. There are many different combinations. Page 1 of 2 (view all on one page)
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Yeah, good article. Interesting that they have 120 different kinds of sausage, and one of them is NOT a beer brat.
Who knew there was so much to grilling a sausage! Great tips. Great article.
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