Saturday, July 11, 2020

Smoked Beer Brats

I spent my entire career working at advertising agencies. Six months at Campbell Mithun, eight-plus years at Chuck Ruhr Advertising, another eight-plus at Bozell Worldwide and then another sixteen-plus at my own. I absolutely loved every job and every agency I worked for. Having been retired for ten years now, I look back at every mad men moment with great fondness.

My interest in cooking started in the 80's. Because of the frenetic nature of the ad biz, weeknight dinners were always a grab and go. But every Sunday, I would find a new recipe and spend most of the day making it. I found it very relaxing.

In the early 90's I was at Bozell in Minneapolis. As a Christmas gift for our employees and clients, we decided to create a cookbook comprised of our clients' and employees' favorite recipes. It was a very cool idea and it was then made special by having our employees hand paint each individual book cover.

One of the recipes was by a fellow worker, Eric Forslin (RIP). He had a recipe that forever changed how I cooked brats. Until then, I used to just grill them up like hot dogs. Eric's recipe called for poaching the brats in a soup of beer, onions and rosemary.....and then finishing them off on the grill. I loved it and that is how I've been making brats for 30 years. Until 2 weeks ago.

When you are retired, you have a lot of time on your hands. When you are retired during a pandemic, you have even more time on your hands. So many afternoons I fall down that dark, rabbit hole known as YouTube. Cooking videos are my weakness. Two weeks ago I was watching the cooking of some old school grillers...they call themselves the BBQ Pit Guys.

One of their videos I pulled up was on cooking brats. And their methodology was the exact opposite of Eric's. First they smoked the brats for 45 minutes and then braised them in beer and onions for another 30 minutes. I didn't see how that method would make a big difference...but I'm here to tell you it was a quantum leap in the flavor department.

It produced the juiciest, beer-forward brats I have ever tasted. I'm not sure how the chemistry works, but each brat was deliciously infused with beer. You could taste big beer flavor in every bite.

I did some more reading and discovered that cooking brats low and slow is the preferred method of preparation. According to my reading, when the temperature of the skin and brat innards are raised slowly at the same time, there is a pronounced impact on the flavor. And when the brats are cooked that way in a smoke-rich environment, the flavor gods just made you "King of the World".

If you have a smoker, your job is easy. If you don't have a smoker, it's easy to set up a charcoal or gas grill for smoking. You just need to create a two-zone fire. Coals get stacked on one side of the grill and a pan of hot water on the other side. Throw a big chunk of mesquite on the coals, set the brats on the opposite side, then cover. The water will keep the brats moist and reduce the impact of the heat. Keep the vents cranked down so you maintain a temperature of 225º.

10 fresh brats (uncooked)
1 large chunk of mesquite (if you are using a gas or charcoal grill)
3 cans Budweiser
1 large onion, thickly sliced
10 brat buns
Spicy brown mustard

  1. Prepare your smoker or grill for smoking with mesquite.
  2. Smoke the brats (covered) for 45 minutes at 225º. (Optional: If you want grill marks, grill the brats over direct heat for 5 minutes after smoking. Turn the brats frequently. Do not do not want the juices to run out of the brat.)
  3. Place the brats on the stovetop in a large pan in a single layer. Add beer. Brats should be submerged...if not, add more beer. Add onion to pan. Bring beer to a boil then reduce immediately to a simmer. Cook for 30 minutes*.
  4. Put a brat and beer-soaked onions in each bun and serve with spicy brown mustard.

*30 minutes is just the minimum amount of time. Your brats can be held in the beer for hours. So if you want, you can prepare your brats well in advance of your guests arriving and then just serve them whenever you want.

Pairing: An ice cold Pilsner

Grogs and Goldie, 1956

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