... AND BEER, AND THEN MORE BEER
(aka HOW TO THROW A KEG PARTY IN AN INTESTINAL CASING)
The Soup Lady cannot resist a sweet-talkin' man. If none are available, I'll settle for just a talkin' man. Recently, the Soup Lady recieved this letter from one of the talkin'est men around, Charlie, whose website is the so aptly named Where The Hell Was I? The Soup Lady does enjoy knocking back a cold one every now and then so if you do too, this recipe is for you:
Howdy, Soup Lady. My name is Charlie, and I want to let you in on a little secret of mine. See, I have the recipe for the best damned backyard barbecue bratwursts that you'll ever sink your sun-soaked, beer-drenched, potato salad-eatin' teeth into. You know, if you have that sort of teeth. And I do -- good Lord and butter, yes I do.
So, as a public service, I'd like to share my secret with you. (No, not that secret; the bratwurst secret. Pay attention!)
It's an ancient recipe, dating back many, many years to the Old Country, when all the cars were deisel-powered, and Kraftwerk was still cool. It was passed down from generation to generation, until I finally got the recipe a few years back from a kindly old German sausage-maker as we swilled Heinekens in the lobby of a local Holiday Inn.
(Okay, so I'm assuming that he was German, because he was wearing lederhosen. And I suppose I inferred that he was a sausage grinder because of the unidentifiable meaty gunk under his fingernails. It's entirely possible that he was just some homeless guy making it up as he went along so I'd keep buying him booze. Look, do you want to hear the recipe or not? Okay, good -- let's get to it, then.)
So, the actual recipe. I suppose it's customary to start with an ingredients list:
The requisite number of buns (no snickering, please)
Two large white onions
4-6 bottles of forgettable beer
At least a case of memorable beer
Condiments, sauerkraut (if you're into that sort of thing), chips, and other optional doodads (I'll explain)
And so it begins. The preparation of these world-beating brats begins the night before the big bash. For our purposes, we'll call it:
T-minus sixteen hours --
This is the hard part. This is when you actually have to go to the supermarket and buy all the crap above. But trust me -- it's all downhill from here. And the important thing is to get good brats. Only the best, dude.
That means, if you can get your hands on the real, authentic, homemade kind, then run -- don't walk -- to your butcher's or friend's or mother's, and grab as many as you can carry. If you can't finagle the good shit, then do the best you can with the packaged variety that you'll find at the store. I've had the best luck with Johnsonville brand meat-like products, and they seem to be pretty ubiquitous. Plus, they have a 'Beer'n Brats' five-pack that's already got some of the good stuff (read: beer) in there. So grab those if you can, and then throw the other crap above into your cart and get the hell back home.
Which brings us to:
T-minus fourteen hours --
Find a container or containers large enough to comfortably fit the bratwurst. Some sort of Tupperware thingamabob will do quite nicely, if you have that sort of thing lying around. Don't be stingy with the elbow room -- these are bratwurst, not sardines, we're dealing with here, pal.
Grab a couple of the forgettable beers and dump 'em into the container(s). Just enough to cover about an inch of the container, to create a nice, fun wading pool for your party meat. (Okay, that may have come out wrong. You know what I meant.)
Next, wash and prep your onions as much as you deem necessary. Some people feel the need to steam-sterilize the damned things; other people are happy to cut off the bottoms and wipe the rest on their shirt. It doesn't really atter. Just cut what you end up with in halves, and chop one of the halves into roughly thumb-sized chunks. (Taking care not to chop an actual thumb off in the process, thanks so much.) Place the chopped half-onion in the container with the beer. You are now the lucky and proud owner of a 'brat bed'. Congratulations!
Next, in go half of the brats. (You can estimate, if you have an odd number of brats. It's okay; you're a big boy.) Just grab 'em out of the package or sack or bookbag, or whereever the hell you have 'em, and plop! 'em into the onion and beer. Once you've got half of the brats nestled comfortably, slice the other half of the first onion as before, and add the chunks to the container.
If you've got a particularly big container, you can also add more beer at this point. Otherwise, just add the rest of the brats, and then use as much beer as is necessary to submerge the little guys completely. You're looking for an 'underwater sausage adventure' here, not 'bratwurst water skiers', okay? Granted, they'll float a little bit on you, but with enough beer, you can get them doused more or less completely.
If you're into fresh, raw onion as a condiment, then you can save one or both halves of the remaining onion for the next day. If the next day is a 'hot date', though, you're probably better off chopping it up and plunking it in with the brats to soak overnight. (I got that one from Dear Abby, gents, but you can have it for free.)
A quick word about this stage of preparation -- do not, under any circumstances, poke, prod, or otherwise pierce the meat! (As guys, I probably shouldn't have to tell you that, as it sounds downright terrifying, but I want to be sure we're on the same page here.) While it might seem like a good idea to 'let the beer in', you'd also be letting the brat juices out, and that's a Bad Thing™. A Very Bad Thing™, indeed. So don't do it. Smack your little hands!
Oh, and if you're particularly adventurous, you can add other stuff to the beer and onions, if you like. It's essentially a marinade, after all, and marinades are a lot like demolition derbies. There are no rules, and as long as you wear your helmet, no one's likely to get hurt. Or something like that. Anyway, feel free to chop peppers into the mix, or add hot sauce, or just about anything you think might be tasty.
You can even get all crazy with the beer you put in. I tend to use cheap beer in the pot to get rid of it, so I can drink the good stuff, but it doesn't have to be that way. A good bock will do wonders for your brats, and I know people who like weiss and lagers, as well. We used Michelob Amber Bock at our last brouhaha, with very good results. Knock yourself out. When there's beer and meat involved, it's hard to go wrong.
Once you're finished whipping up your beery concoction, put it in the fridge and hit the sack. You've got a big day tomorrow, mister, so try to get some sleep!
T-minus one hour --
This is the point where you should probably fire up your grill. Charcoal is preferred, but if you simply must use gas, well -- you gotta do what you gotta do, dude. Just don't expect to win any blue ribbons with the results. Oh, it'll be good -- mouth-watering delicious, even -- but harcoal just tastes better. This is the one time when you should believe what the commercials on TV tell you. (Okay, one of two times. Reading really is fun! Really! Hey, look at how much you're enjoying reading this, right? Right? C'mon, you know you are... don't be shy, now.)
Okay, so fiddling with the grill will take a while, so now we're at:
T-minus twenty minutes --
Okay, here's where we really start having fun. Find a big enormous pot of some kind, and blast one of the burners on your stove up to eleven. Just kick it as high as the damned thing will go. Put the pot on the fire, and get your unholy brat broth from the night before out of the kitchen. Dump it all -- brats, beer, onions, and accessories -- into the pot. If your pot is bigger than your container(s), you may need more beer at this point. No, no -- not to take your mind off it, ya dildo. Use the beer to make sure the brats are covered in the pan. Of course, if you want to have a celebration beer or three once the crisis is over, then I'm not gonna stop ya. This is thirsty work, after all.
Okay, so soon enough, the beer will start boiling. And soon after that, it'll start boiling over, being full of frothy goodness as it is. So you want to catch it just as it starts boiling, and turn the heat down a bit, to prevent your stove and kitchen floor from getting a beer bath. (Yes, I know it sounds cool, but it's not something you want for your kitchen appliances, okay? For yourself, at a party at the Playboy mansion, maybe, but not for your kitchen. Trust me on this one.)
So, keeping an eye on the liquid level, you want the brats to boil for five to ten minutes or so. Ideally, they'll be ready just as the grill reaches maximum cooking capacity. So you'll have to juggle the two just a bit as you count down to:
Five... four... three... two... one... --
Houston, we are now grilling brats! I repeat, we are a go! All systems are green and tasty!
So, when you're ready, transfer the brats to the now-smoking grill. Do it with a set of tongs, or a spatula if you can't find tongs. (Or if you've made the serious but common error of mistaking 'tongs' with 'thongs', and are therefore wearing your tongs on your feet, or wrapped around your ass. Tsk.) Anyway, the point, as before, is -- do not pierce the brats. Leave 'em intact, and they'll plump when you cook 'em, and keep all their meaty-beery-oniony juicy goodness inside throughout the grilling process. So be good to your meat, folks, and your meat will be good to you.
Having said that, the less you fiddle with your meat, the better. (Too much, and you'll start growing hair on the palms of your tongs. Fear it!) But seriously, you've got other work to do. Just get the brats on the grill, and drop the lid on the grill for five or ten minutes. They'll be fine.
In the meantime, though, you've got work to do. Or to delegate, if you have a lovely assistant to help you. Or even a punk-ass roommate. Any warm body will do at this point. And what needs to happen is this:
Find a skillet or pan of some sort. A clean one is best, but you know your lifestyle better than I; who am I to judge what you'll tolerate? Carefully -- carefully now -- dump the water out of the big boiling pot, making sure to save the beer-soaked onions. Transfer the onions to the skillet over the still-hot stove, and saute those puppies while the brats are sizzling on the grill. Get 'em nice and brown and stinky -- you're gonna use 'em on the brats in a couple of minutes, so you want 'em to be worthy of the honor.
After a few minutes, turn the brats, again using tongs or a spatula. The latter is a helluva lot harder, but it's doable. If I have to go that route, I'll usually find a salad spoon to get better leverage. Sometimes it takes two utensils to flip your meat properly. (Okay, that one you can read as a vague sexual euphemism if you want. I hereby grant you permission.)
And the one turn ought to pretty much take care of things. If the grill is good and toasty, you should see some nice browning on the sides of the brats that you're flipping over. If that's the case, then you only need to tan the other side for just about as long, and you're done. If not, then you'll have some more flipping to do; just be careful, and make sure the things aren't raw, all right? I don't want anyone sullying this fantastic recipe by serving still-squirming brats at their BBQ, okay?
In any case, by the time you've got the brats brown and delicious, the stinky onions will be done, as well. Get those two crazy kids together on a bun and chow down already, would you? Serve 'em with chips and picnic salads and such, and grab a couple of the good beers to drink with 'em. Then you'll be pimpin', my friends. Straight brat pimpin'.
You can dress your brats up, too, if you want a little more excitement. I like mine with a couple squirts of mustard and a splash of hot sauce. But I'm not going to laugh and point if you want relish, or sauerkraut, or cheese, or just about anything else. (Okay, I don't really understand ketchup on a brat, but I try to keep an open mind. It's not easy, but I try.)
And that's it! Sure, they take sixteen hours to make, but you're really only working for an hour or so. And it took you at least that long to read this damned recipe, so clearly, you've got the time to spare.
So, that's my brat extravaganza! I hope you've enjoyed learning about it as much as I've enjoyed eating it, and drinking it, and writing about it. And I hope the brats are as good to you as they've been to me. And drop me a line if you have a particularly good experience with the recipe, or an especially scrumptious idea for a finishing touch. I'd love to hear about how the brats are coming along. Hell, if you're really happy, you can invite me over for the cookout! I can't accept cash for this recipe, of course, but I don't mind at all getting paid in delectable cooked meats. Hell, that's how I got through college! Bon appetit!