Bratwurst or “Brats” as they’re commonly known in the United States, is a German sausage commonly made from pork, a combination of pork and beef, or a combination of pork and veal. The bratwurst is usually white in color and this is partly due to the ingredients used which are naturally pale when cooked. The spices used also are white in color, which includes white pepper, onion, nutmeg, and salt. Bratwurst is known for its delicate flavor which pairs very well with beer.
- The term Bratwurst comes from the Old High German word, Brätwurst. Brät meaning finely chopped meat, and Wurst, meaning sausage.
- There are 42 recognized varieties of Bratwurst in Germany.
- Brats, are pronounced “brots” (rhymes with cots, not bats).
Bratwurst Buying Guide
While there are 42 recognized varieties of bratwurst in Germany, here in the United States, we’re stuck with 2 kinds. Cooked and Uncooked.
In all seriousness, unless you’re buying from a specialty store or a good butcher, you won’t be getting a choice of which bratwurst variety, you’re just getting a choice between cooked and uncooked bratwurst.
Cooked bratwurst is colored pale white or gray while raw bratwurst has a pinkish-brown color to it.
Always check the label for any added preservatives and extenders. As a rule of thumb, the fewer preservatives, the better your bratwurst will be. The ideal bratwurst ingredient panel for us would only contain three ingredients: Beef, Pork, and Spices.
Bratwurst Production & Farming in Texas
Commercial Bratwurst Production:
Most pre-cooked bratwurst products contain trimmings from lower-grade animal parts like head meat, feet, skin, and other edible animal parts that cannot be sold in their original form. Artificial and natural flavors may be added to mask the taste of some components and to give it a more “premium” taste. Since bratwurst isn’t cured, a lot of preservatives are added to make sure that there is no bacteria growth on the product.
The meat mixture is then stuffed into casings and then steam cooked to give it that signature white color that bratwurst is famous for before being packed in vacuum-sealed bags.
For Raw Commercial Bratwurst, the same ingredients are used, but a bit more of the preservatives are used (to maximum allowed levels, we’re guessing) to maximize shelf life.
Artisanal/Specialty Bratwurst Production:
Good butchers or Artisanal Bratwurst producers usually have European roots or are young butchers with a high regard for standards and authenticity. Since bratwurst is uncured, it is often made by schedule and sold directly to patrons on certain dates or with just limited availability to guarantee freshness. You can still find small butcher shops that create authentic brats and it will be worth every penny. These small specialty shops operate on the principle of quality over quantity, so you’re sure that you won’t be getting any pink slime inside of your bratwurst. The experience alone of walking into a specialty butcher and seeing all of the available meats and sausages on display will be worth the trip.
Preservatives and Chemicals:
When taking a look at the ingredients for one of the most purchased bratwurst brands on the market, we can see the following ingredients on the label.
- Corn Syrup—This is a liquid sweetener and is basically liquid sugar.
- Pork Broth with Natural Flavoring—Not technically a preservative or a chemical, but this is a flavoring that might be used to mask the taste of something else in the sausage.
- Dextrose—Dextrose is again, sugar. Dextrose has a very high glycemic index, which means it is responsible for spikes in blood sugar levels. It will give you a quick burst of energy from the sugar, but it will lead to a crash as well.
- BHA— Butylated Hydroxy anisole, this is a fairly common preservative that is added to prevent spoilage. There have been conflicting studies that label BHA as a possible carcinogen. We often like to err on the safe side and avoid BHA.
- Propyl Gallate—This preservative is often used alongside BHA. Studies conducted on animals have found propyl gallate to be slightly toxic when ingested.
While we have nothing against making food accessible to the masses, we’re also for healthier food and real food.
Pre-cooked commercial bratwurst is usually packed in vacuum-packed bags. Raw commercial bratwurst is packed in rigid plastic trays covered with a thick cling film to protect them from being damaged. Bratwurst from small producers or specialty stores are often just packed in wax paper on a per-order basis, although some butchers will also pack them in rigid plastic trays for the convenience.
Pre-cooked bratwurst just needs to be heated to 165 degrees to kill off any foodborne contaminants while raw bratwurst has to be cooked properly before consumption.
Store-bought commercial bratwurst, both cooked and uncooked will have a best before date indicated on them. They can be stored in the fridge until the date indicated and inside the freezer for up to two months from the date indicated (if they were not frozen in the first place).
Bratwurst that’s purchased from specialty stores usually contains no preservatives and must be used one to two days after purchase. Store them in the fridge before usage. They can also be stored in the freezer for a couple of weeks, but once thawed from that, they have to be used immediately.
Raw Bratwurst requires a skilled hand to grill properly and fully cook the inside without burning the outside. One recommendation is to cook the bratwurst first in hot to simmering water (not boiling) for a few minutes before grilling it for a little browning. To grill them without pre-cooking in hot or simmering water, grill them over low heat and keep on spritzing beer or water to cool the skin and prevent it from burning.
For pre-cooked bratwurst, just bring them down to room temperature and grill them to add the grill marks.