Bratwurst is a type of German sausage made from veal, beef, or most commonly pork. The name is derived from the Old High German Brätwurst, from brät-, finely chopped meat, and Wurst, sausage, although in modern German it is often associated with the verb braten, to pan fry or roast. While sausage recipes can be found as early as 228 AD, the first documented evidence of the Bratwurst in Germany dates back to 1313, and can be found in the Franconian city of Nuremberg, which is still an internationally renowned centre for the production of grill sausages.
Types and traditions
Recipes for the sausage vary by region and even locality; some sources list over 40 different varieties of German bratwurst, many of the best known originating in Franconia (today for the most part situated in northern Bavaria, but still culturally quite distinct), its northern neighbour Thuringia and adjacent areas. How the sausages are served is also locally different, but most commonly they are regarded as a snack served with or in a white bread roll made from wheat flour and eaten with mustard. As a pub dish, it is often accompanied by sauerkraut or potato salad and sometimes served with dark, crusty country bread made predominantly from rye flour, less commonly with a Brezel (pretzel). It is a very popular form of fast food in German-speaking countries, often cooked and sold by street vendors from small stands.
The Franconian sausage is a relatively long (10–20 cm ), thick, coarse sausage, common to the whole Franconian region with slight variations. It dates back to 1313. With marjoram as a characteristic ingredient, it is close in taste to the Nürnberger Bratwurst but juicier, due to its size and coarseness. The Fränkische Bratwurst is traditionally served with sauerkraut or potato salad, but with no mustard—although many customers disregard this tradition and demand plenty of it.
Bratwurst originating in the city of Coburg in Franconia was first documented there in 1498. It is made from a minimum of 15% veal or beef, and its seasonings include only salt, pepper, nutmeg, and lemon zest. It is coarse in texture and measures about 25 cm in length. Traditionally, it is grilled over pine cones and served in a bread roll (Brötchen).
The Kulmbacher Bratwurst is a fine-grained Rohwurst from the city of Kulmbach in Upper Franconia. Long and thin, it is made mostly from very finely ground veal, with very little pork. This sausage may be seasoned with salt, white pepper, nutmeg, lemon peel, marjoram, caraway, and garlic. The exact mixture is a closely guarded trade secret of each butcher. Kulmbacher bratwursts are usually pan fried or grilled over a wood fire. They are sold and served freshly grilled from vendors’ stands in the Marktplatz, in pairs, with or without mustard, on crusty rolls sprinkled with anise.
The small, thin bratwurst from Franconia’s largest city, Nuremberg, was first documented in 1567; it is surprisingly small, being only 7 to 9 cm in length and weighing between 20 and 25 g. The denominations Nürnberger Bratwurst and Nürnberger Rostbratwurst (Rost refers to the cooking grate above the flames) are Protected Geographical Indications (PGI) under EU law since 2003, and may therefore only be produced in the city of Nürnberg, where an “Association for the Protection of Nürnberger Bratwürste” was established in 1997.
Pork-based and typically seasoned with fresh marjoram which gives them their distinctive flavour, these sausages are traditionally grilled over a beechwood fire. As a main dish, they are served in sets of six, eight, 10 or 12 on a pewter plate (round but also frequently heart- or bell-shaped) with either sauerkraut or potato salad, and accompanied by a dollop of horseradish or mustard. They are also sold as a snack by street vendors as Drei im Weckla (three in a bun; the spelling Drei im Weggla is also common, Weggla/Weckla being the word for “bread roll” in the Nuremberg dialect), with mustard being offered to spice them up to personal taste.
A particular way of preparing Nuremberg sausages without grilling them is to cook them in a spiced vinegar and onion stock; this variety is called Blaue Zipfel (blue lobes).
The Würzburger Bratwurst, also known as the Winzerbratwurst, comes from the city of Würzburg in Franconia. Its size is similar to the Thüringer Rostbratwurst, but its ingredients include white Franken-Wine.
The Thüringer Rostbratwurst is a spicy sausage from Thuringia. It is 15–20 cm long and thin in shape, traditionally grilled over a charcoal fire and eaten with mustard and bread. The name Thüringer Rostbratwurst is also recognised as a PGI under EU law.
Triggered by the discovery in 2000 of an account entry of 1404 first mentioning the Bratwurst in Thuringia in the town of Arnstadt, the association “Friends of the Thuringian Bratwurst” was founded in 2006. In the same year, the association established the Erstes Deutsches Bratwurstmuseum (First German Bratwurst Museum) in the village of Holzhausen. A two-metre-high wooden monument of a Bratwurst in a bun on a local traffic roundabout advertises the museum.
The Nordhessische Bratwurst (from northern Hessen) is similar to the Thüringer Rostbratwurst in taste. It is made from coarsely ground pork and is heavily seasoned. It measures around 20 cm in length. Traditionally, it is grilled over a wood fire and served on a cut-open roll with mustard.
The Rote Wurst (red sausage) is a favourite Bratwurst of the Swabian region. It is similar to the Bockwurst, and is made from finely ground pork and bacon. Its taste is spicy. To prevent splitting during grilling or pan frying, an X is cut into the ends of the sausage. The ends open during cooking, but the rest of the sausage remains intact, giving it its traditional shape. Another variant is making a row of x-shaped cuts along its length.
Bratwurst, often shortened to “brat” in American English, is a common type of sausage in the United States, especially in the state of Wisconsin, where the largest ancestry group is German. Originally brought to North America by German immigrants, it is a common sight at summer cookouts, alongside the more famous hot dog. Wisconsin is also the origin of the “beer brat”, a regional favorite where the bratwurst are simmered in beer (generally a mixture of a pilsner style beer with butter and onions) prior to grilling over charcoal.
Bratwurst was popularized in Sheboygan County, Wisconsin in the 1920s. In general, each local butcher shop would take orders and hand make bratwurst fresh to be picked up on a particular day. The fat content of the sausages was substantial, making daily pick up necessary to avoid spoilage. Some of the fat is removed as a result of the cooking over charcoal.
Bratwurst has also become popular as a mainstay of sports stadiums, especially baseball parks, after Bill Sperling introduced bratwurst to Major League Baseball in Milwaukee County Stadium in 1954. The brats, which sold for 35 cents then, were grilled and placed into a container of a special tomato sauce before being served. The bratwurst were such a hit, Sperling said, that Duke Snider of the Brooklyn Dodgers took a case back to New York. Currently Miller Park in Milwaukee is the only baseball stadium that sells more bratwurst than hot dogs.
Every year, during the Memorial Day weekend, the city of Madison, Wisconsin hosts the Brat Fest, which is billed as the “world’s largest bratwurst festival.”
The town of Bucyrus, Ohio (which calls itself the “Bratwurst Capital of America”) has held the three-day Bucyrus Bratwurst Festival annually since 1967.