Every summer, without fail, people here in the Midwest remark upon the “first brat of the season.” Biting into a greasy, boiling hot tube of grilled meat is a harbinger of warm weather and sunshine, so it makes sense that it’s such a cherished occasion. After that first one, however, brats are usually consumed en masse, and we lose any semblance of a tally or reflection as to what it is that we’re eating.
Thankfully, Jed Hanson, executive chef and sausage maker at Wisconsin-based sausage-casing and seasoning company PS Seasoning, promised to get tubular with me and reveal the answers he says lie deep within the humble brat.
What’s in a Bratwurst?
“Originating in 14th century Germany, bratwurst is a type of fresh link sausage that’s traditionally made with a combination of pork and veal, along with spices like caraway, nutmeg, marjoram, onion and coriander,” Hanson explains.
However, travel to Germany, Switzerland or the Midwest, and “you’ll find that there are many interpretations of bratwurst,” he continues, “with variations on texture, flavor, size and cooking method.” In Wisconsin, for example, “brats are coarser than their ancestors, with flavor variations that range from beer to pineapple to everything in between.”
What’s the Difference Between a Brat and a Sausage?
Hanson argues that all bratwursts are sausages, but not all sausages can be considered a brat. “Typically for a bratwurst to be considered a bratwurst it must have a high particle definition, or visual separation between fat and protein,” he explains. “The opposite of this would be an emulsified sausage, like a hot dog.”
Next, bratwursts are generally sold fresh and don’t contain any cure or preservatives. This can’t be said of all sausages — again, looking at you, hot dogs. “Bratwurst purists will also say that it must contain nutmeg and marjoram,” Hanson says. But the final difference between bratwursts and sausages is that bratwurst has a “larger casing diameter, between 32 and 36 millimeters.”
Ultimately, remembering exactly how many brats you’ve stuffed down your gullet over the course of the summer matters less than knowing what it is you’re eating. So remember, if it’s thick with chunk — you’ve got bratwurst, hunk. If it’s long and brown, you’re in sausage town!