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Raise a German Beer to National Bratwurst Day

Posted in Our Blog on August 16, 2018

National Bratwurst Day!

I live for food holidays!  I’m not just talking about Thanksgiving.  Not that you needed an excuse to celebrate doughnuts or tacos, but why shouldn’t we?  As August 16th this year marks this year’s National Bratwurst Day, we take a moment to acknowledge this delicious food.

How do you honor such a holiday?  You eat, of course.  And perhaps throw in a German beer for good measure.  As for me, I enjoy a good Wurst Fest at my local German Beirgarten.  While rising in popularity, at least in my hometown, brats have been around for a long time.  In fact, a famous quote explains, “There’s no dispute that can’t be solved over a beet, a brat, and an adversary with a weaker argument than you.”

What is the Difference Between Sausage and Bratwurst?

Bratwurst is not like other sausages or the common frankfurter (hot dog).  Not even close.  Bratwurst can even be distinguished from the typical sausage.  While often made from pork, bratwurst can be made from any meat.  Anything from pork blends to exotics depending on the sway of your taste buds.

Let’s start with sausage.  Sausage is made from ground or minced beef, pork, veal, chicken, or any other kind of meat you can think of.  It is mixed with fat, salt, herbs, and spices.  Sausage can also come in dried, smoked, or fresh forms.

Hot Diggity Dog

What about the hot dog?  Well, technically the hot dog is a type of sausage as it is made with meat trimmings and mixed with spices.  While discerning tastes can easily tell the difference, the bigger difference lies in the type of casing used.  Hot dogs use a thinner casing that those used for sausage and bratwurst.  Hot dogs are packaged after they are steamed, so they are sold fully cooked.

It All Began in Germany

Bratwurst originates in Germany.  It’s often found as a fresh link and typically made with veal or pork that is seasoned with caraway, coriander, ginger, and nutmeg.  More traditional recipes are made with eggs and cream.  The types of ingredients vary from one German region to the next, creating plenty of varieties for us to choose from.  Over 40 according to some sources.  Franconia region bratwursts are heavy on the marjoram and filled with coarsely ground meat while those from Corburg are simpler with salt, pepper, nutmeg, and lemon zest.

Bratwurst were created so that no meat went to waste.  Whatever trimmings were left from unspoiled meat made their way into the cased delight.  In fact, food manufacturers would often punish someone for not using the trimmings to make brats.  This created more food for people, but also introduced a tasty pastime.

The Birth of Bratwurst

The origins of bratwurst date back to around 1313.  Unlike in the United States, in Germany bratwurst are considered a snack more than a main dish.  This German snack food can be found served at pubs alongside potato salad or sauerkraut and possibly a rye bread or pretzel.

Bratwurst was the center of one of the first documented food purity laws in Germany.  Prior to that there was little government involvement in food safety.  In 1432 it was proclaimed that production of bratwurst could not use rancid pork, meat other than pork, or pork with parasites.

Safety First!

Consuming bratwurst can come with some potential risks.  Traditionally sold uncooked, appropriate measures must be taken to avoid foodborne illness.  First, pay attention to food labels, be sure to cook them appropriately, and store them safely.

Check Labels

For the sake of categorization, bratwurst is labeled with sausage.  According to the United States Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) any sausage NOT ready to eat must be labeled with safe handling instructions.  Words like “Uncooked,” “Ready to Cook,” “Cook before eating,” “Cook and Serve,” or “Needs to Be Cooked” should be prominently displayed.  Cooking directions must be included and the manufacturer should have previously validated that the cooking directions are sufficient to destroy any pathogens that could be present.  If perishable, as in the case of fresh bratwurst, a “Keep Refrigerated” should be on the label.

How to Cook Bratwurst

Bratwursts should reach an internal temperature of 160 ⁰F to ensure safe consumption.  Uncooked food should be segregated from cooked food to avoid cross contamination.  For pre-cooked bratwurst, it is as simple as heat and serve.

For best results, raw bratwursts should be poached or braised before grilling in either beer (traditionally) or some other flavorful liquid prior to making an appearance on the grill.  To avoid a busted brat, pierce the bratwurst with the tines of a fork to allow air and gasses to escape.  Follow the following recipe for the perfect bratwurst dish.

  1. Prep the grill to cook directly on the grill.
  2. Prepare a heavy saucepan with an ovenproof handle (alternatively wrap heavy duty foil around the handle). Add one can or bottle of bear to saucepan.  Set saucepan on preheated grill.
  3. Pierce each bratwurst in several places to allow an air vent. Carefully add bratwurst to heated beer.  Simmer on uncovered grill over medium heat for 15 minutes, turning once.
  4. Using tongs, transfer bratwurst to grill. Discard beer.
  5. Grill brats on a covered grill between 9 to 10 minutes until browned an cooked to 160 ⁰F, turning halfway through.
 Bratwurst Storage

Storing both uncooked and cooked bratwurst is very important.  Food storage is both the beginning and the end of ensuring food safety.  Pay careful attention to packages.  A “use-by” date is the last recommended date the product will have peak quality.  This is determined by the product manufacturer.  If no date is mentioned or the product includes a “sell-by” date, follow instructions found on the storage chart below.  If you are not able to use the sausage or bratwurst before the recommended time, it can be frozen and kept safe indefinitely.

Storage Chart Courtesy of FSIS

Types of Sausage Refrigerator  Unopened Refrigerator  After Opening Freezer
Fresh, uncooked 1 to 2 days 1 to 2 days 1 to 2 months
Fresh, after cooked by consumer N/A 3 to 4 days 2 to 3 months
Hard/Dry sausage Whole, 6 weeks in pantry, indefinitely in refrigerator 3 weeks 1 to 2 months
Hot Dogs and cooked sausage 2 weeks 7 days 1 to 2 months
Luncheon meats 2 weeks 3 to 5 days 1 to 2 months
Summer Sausage (semi-dry) 3 months 3 weeks 1 to 2 months

However you choose to celebrate, be sure to do so safely.  Whether at your backyard barbeque with a few friends or at a local Wurst Fest with some fun drunken strangers, enjoy a taste of history!  Celebrate National Bratwurst Day! Prost!

By: Heather Van Tassell, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)