What Is A Bratwurst? – A Helpful Guide

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Sausage is a popular food to serve, especially during outdoor gatherings like barbecues and cookouts. There are many different types of sausage, each with its own flavor profile that caters to different taste preferences. Perhaps one of the most well-known and well-loved sausages is the bratwurst.  

What is it and what makes it so special?

What Is A Bratwurst?

A bratwurst is a German-style sausage usually made with pork but occasionally can be made with beef, lamb, or veal. Its dominant flavor is marjoram, but spices like sage, ginger, mace, pepper, caraway, coriander, and nutmeg are sometimes used as well. Bratwursts are usually fresh sausages and are very rarely cured and smoked.  

What Is A Bratwurst?
What Is A Bratwurst?

What Is Bratwurst Made Of?

Bratwurst is a fresh sausage that is typically made of pork or a meat mixture that includes pork but sometimes beef, veal, or lamb is used as well.

It originated in Germany, where it was thought to have been created first out of necessity, but then evolved into something that reflected its creators’ rich tradition and history.

Bratwurst is a fresh sausage typically made of pork, but sometimes can be made with beef, veal or lamb.
Bratwurst is a fresh sausage typically made of pork, but sometimes can be made with beef, veal or lamb.

History of the Bratwurst

It is said that bratwursts were a staple food for Germans several hundred years ago, and were a practical type of food that got most people through long winters when food was a little harder to come by. 

Sausages made of meat scraps were stuffed into casings made of animal intestines and then preserved for consumption during the colder months. Because of this, less meat was wasted and an ample food source was created.

Many etymologists believe this is actually related to how the bratwurst got its name. “Brat” in Old German means “well-chopped or finely chopped”, and some sources also say that certain translations of the word mean “no waste meat”. 

The word “wurst” meanwhile, means sausage. With this, many believe that the name bratwurst means “no waste sausage”, which, given its origins, is actually a fitting name.

The Original Bratwurst

There is evidence of people making sausages as early as 228 AD, but bratwurst specifically was first documented in the 1300s, in Nuremberg, in an area that would become Eastern Germany.

The people in this area, known as the Franconians, developed and refined an idea thought to be brought in by the Celts and became well-known for it. To this day, the city of Nuremberg is still well-known for its production of grilling sausages

Today, there are many different types of bratwursts, with some sources naming over 40 types all over Germany, with many different flavors and seasonings depending on the region where it is made.   

What Does Bratwurst Taste Like?

A bratwurst is a heavily spiced sausage with the dominant flavor of marjoram, although different types of spices are used for different variants of bratwurst, depending on how it was made and which region it came from. 

Herbs and spices like ginger, nutmeg, caraway, mace, and pepper all make an appearance in the ingredients.

Bratwursts are typically sold as fresh sausages, meaning they need to be cooked before they can be consumed. They may look a bit unremarkable when uncooked but their flavor truly shines when they are grilled.

Popular Types of Bratwursts

There are over 40 different types of bratwursts, but we’ll look at some of the more popular ones below.

1. Frankishe Bratwurst

This type of bratwurst dates back to the 1300s. Marjoram is the main distinguishing spice. Its texture is coarse and it is larger than other types of bratwurst.

It is known for its juiciness and is best served with sauerkraut or potato salad. Mustard isn’t typically a condiment served with this type of bratwurst.

2. Nurnberger Rostbratswurst

Nurnberger Rostbratswurst and Nurnberger Bratwurst have PGI or Protected Geographical Indication status, which means they can only be produced in the city of Nuremberg.

They are small, finger-sized sausages typically about 3 inches long and are usually served with sauerkraut, potato salad, horseradish, and mustard as condiments.

They are also typically made with pork and feature marjoram as their main distinctive flavor, along with cardamom, ginger, nutmeg, and lemon powder. They are typically grilled over beechwood and are leaner than other sausages.

Nuremberg bratwurts have a Protected Geographical Indication status.
Nuremberg bratwurts have a Protected Geographical Indication status.

3. Coburger Bratwurst

This type of sausage was first documented in the late 1400s in the city of Coburg. It is made from a pork and beef mixture and seasoned with salt and pepper, along with nutmeg and the zest of lemons, with raw eggs as a binder. They are also coarse in texture and are also typically grilled and served in bread rolls.

4. Thuringer Rostbratswurst

Like the Nuremberg bratwurst, this is also a PGI-protected product. Ingredients to make this sausage should come mostly come from the area of Thuringia (at least 51 %). It is a thin sausage around 6-8 inches in length and has a distinctive spicy flavor.

Herbs and spices used are marjoram, salt, pepper, caraway and garlic. They can be made with pork, beef, and veal, and are lower in fat compared to other sausages. They are grilled over charcoal and sometimes sprinkled with beer while grilling. They are served with mustard and bread.

5. Kulmbacher Bratwurst

This type of bratwurst is long and thin and is mostly made of veal. Common seasoning and flavorings include marjoram, salt, pepper, caraway, garlic, nutmeg, and lemon peel, although it also depends on the one making it.

They are usually grilled but can also be fried on the stovetop. They are served on bread rolls seasoned with anise, with or without mustard.  

American-Style Bratwurst

The bratwurst that is so popular in the U.S., though, has also evolved over time and has developed its own unique characteristics apart from its German counterpart.

The 19th and 20th centuries saw the influx of German immigrants to the U.S., specifically in the Upper Midwestern region of the country, in areas like Wisconsin.

These immigrants brought with them parts of their culture and heritage, including their love for bratwurst. As a result, certain cities in this area became known for their bratwursts, like the city of Sheboygan.

As with any type of food that is brought into a country, it is eventually assimilated into the country’s specific culture, and over time developed characteristics quite distinct from its original version. 

So how is American Bratwurst different from its German predecessor?

American Bratwurst vs German Bratwurst

“Brats” as it is commonly called in the U.S., is a bit different from its German counterpart in a few ways.

1. Type of Meat

While bratwurst in Germany can be made with veal or beef and even lamb, American bratwurst is typically made with pork.

2. Method of Preparation and Cooking

Bratwursts in the U.S., specifically Wisconsin-style bratwurst are typically soaked in a beer bath prior to grilling, to prevent overcooking and give an extra dose of flavor.

And they are often grilled to the point of charring, over very intense heat. Its European counterpart though is often not grilled and charred as intensely as American-style brats. 

American style bratwurst are typically grilled and charred over intense heat.
American style bratwurst are typically grilled and charred over intense heat.

3. Way of Serving

Bratwurst in Germany is popular as street food and fast food, and as a simple snack, popularly sold by small vendors in markets and street stalls. It is also typical pub food. Bratwurst in the U.S. is common in barbecues and cookouts, and in tailgating.

Regardless of the source and origin of a particular dish, it is bound to often be influenced by local customs and traditions which transform it into a unique dish.

Is Bratwurst Cured?

Bratwursts are typically sold as fresh sausages and are therefore very rarely cured, cooked, and smoked. There are varieties like that of course, but in general, we almost always find them as fresh, raw sausages.  As they are fresh, they must be cooked prior to consumption.

What Is The Difference Between Bratwurst and Sausage?

Sausage is a broad term that refers to different types of meat either finely ground or coarsely ground, stuffed into synthetic or natural casings made from animal intestines. 

They can be cured and fermented, raw and fresh, smoked or unsmoked. Bratwurst is a type of sausage, usually made with pork, beef, veal, or lamb that is fresh and typically uncured and unsmoked. 

Bratwurst is commonly served in bread rolls, with sauerkraut or condiments like mustard and horseradish.
Bratwurst is commonly served in bread rolls, with sauerkraut or condiments like mustard and horseradish.

Is Bratwurst Healthy?

Bratwurst is typically not considered a healthy food, however, depending on how it is made, the type of meat used and how it is consumed, it can be consumed in moderation as part of a healthy diet. High in protein and low in carbohydrates, it can be a good source of vitamins and minerals.

Conclusion To What Is A Bratwurst?

Bratwurst is a type of fresh sausage normally made of pork and less commonly, beef, veal, or lamb. It originated in Germany and evolved into a sausage with a unique American twist.

The dominant flavor is usually marjoram, but other herbs and spices may be used depending on the region where it is made and sometimes, the butcher.

American-style bratwurst is typically soaked in beer prior to grilling and is a mainstay at barbecues and cookouts and sports events.

Frequently Asked Questions to What Is A Bratwurst?

How to Cook Bratwurst?

Most cooks agree that the correct way to cook brats is to parboil them and then grill them, where their flavor really comes out.

What Is A Bratwurst Made Of?

Bratwurst is usually made of pork or a mixture containing pork meat, but it can be made with beef, veal, or lamb as well.

What is the Difference Between Bratwurst and Sausage?

Bratwurst is a type of fresh sausage whose main ingredient is typically pork, although beef, veal, lamb, or a mixture of those meats exist as well. All bratwursts may be considered fresh sausages, but sausages are not all bratwursts.

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