As old as Wisconsin and as different as the next county can be the quintessential Brat Fry. There are several ways to prep and cook brats in Wisconsin, where eating bratwurst is exactly a way of life. Cooks generally simmer (not boil) brats in a fragrant mixture of beer and onion before grilling them. So by the time the brats hit the flames, they’re basically done. At that point, you just need to grill them for several minutes to brown them (and char them lightly, if that’s your inclination as it is mine) to create the crispy “skin”. If you’re grilling bratwurst for a crowd, you may want to cook your brats ahead of time. In that case, you’ll hold them on a low simmer in a “batter” (that is what we call it in Wisconsin) of beer, onion, and often butter. This holding can be done by warm setting in a crock-pot or 180°F in a nesco roaster.
Brats tend to be larger than hot dogs, so many people say you should serve them on brat rolls; which are like hot-dog buns, only bigger. In Sheboygan (home of high-church bratwurst consumption), people often serve brats on “hard rolls.” Despite the name, these rolls actually are soft, hamburger bun types and are large enough to hold two brats side by side (they have a convenient split down the center of the crown that makes it easier to cut the bun in half if you want to serve brats one at a time rather than in pairs).
If you can find actual bratwurst rolls, they’re worth buying. Otherwise, your market may offer deli rolls that look like oversized hot-dog buns. Don’t sweat it if you can find only standard hot-dog buns. I lived in Wisconsin for most of my life, and most of the brats I have been served there were on hot-dog like buns. KwikTrip a gas store chain, sells a light rye brat bun decorated with sesame seeds of an excellent quality. Authenticity can be good, but never let it interfere with good eating. New England style hotdog rolls are closer to a brat bun in length and denser texture. There are whole wheat Milwaukee style brat buns with sesame seeds for Milwaukee style brats. There is a chewy poppy seed topped Italian brat bun most notably used for Italian brats.
Condiments are usually Hot sauerkraut, spicy brown mustard, caramelized onions in butter, fresh diced onions, grilled bell peppers, and pickled banana pepper rings. Notice pickle spears, baked beans, potato salad, coleslaw, and potato chips are the usual suspects for side dish garnishes. Grilled corn on the cob is usually found at a brat fry too dripping with butter. Wisconsin brat fries serve ketchup, pickle relish, minced onion for hotdogs only but never for brats. Every church group, Boy Scout, 4H club, police and firemen fundraisers usually do at least one brat fry. It is a social function and how a community marks their calendar. Woven into every county fair, church picnic, and reunion brats are a state of being. A Wisconsin Fourth of July staple, grilled brats are the barbecued chicken of the north.
Braising liquid is a medium to dark Oktoberfest bock with sauteed garlic and onion in butter enough beer to cover the brats fully and floated with a bay leaf. This elixir of the gods is brought to a simmer and kept there for 20 to 30 minutes. Brats are then taken out of the braise and left to cool slightly and dry the skins for 5 to ten minutes. The braise is then reduced to a cup while the brats are ‘frying’ on the grill. Add a stick of butter to the reduced braise and melt, this is your batter. The skin is well caramelized on the grill with a pan underneath to catch the drippings to prevent flare ups. Serve on rye brat buns with hot sauerkraut and dots of mustard. Smells of Miller Park, Wisconsin State fair, and La Cross’s Oktoberfest envelope you with a perfumed sweet and savory aroma. A Midwest secret of life on a bun and a sign post of the road that connects us to each other. Tis was the brat of times and the wurst of times. A twelve pack of beer, 3 #lbs of brats, 2 packages of buns, create the weekend grill out. Have a Wisconsin Labor Day!