The grill is central to celebrations across the country - but the menus at most American backyard get-togethers need a little updating. Barbecue University® to the rescue! Steven lays out the basics for some American regional favorites, including Wisconsin Double Brats and a version of Cheese Steaks on the grill. And for the more adventurous, he demonstrates Bosnian hamburgers, homemade smoked Turkey Pastrami and a stunning adaptation of baked Alaska called Baked Hawaii that you've got to see on GrillCam to believe.
On the menu (page numbers indicate page in the Barbecue! Bible, unless otherwise noted):
Cevapcici (page 209)
Double Brats (from BBQ USA, see below)
Philly Cheese Steaks (from BBQ USA, see below)
Baked Hawaii (Beer Can Chicken, page 306)
Some years ago, a book tour took me from Chicago to Milwaukee. The moment we crossed the Wisconsin border, my tour escort brought us to a screeching halt at the Brat Stop. It wasn't a question of my being hungry (I had dined at Charlie Trotter's earlier that evening), and it certainly wasn't a question of sightseeing-the Brat Stop stands amid a hideous cluster of fast food outlets on one of the ugliest thoroughfares in the Midwest. No, the stop was prompted by pure civic pride in Wisconsin's most beloved dish. Then and there, that very minute, my escort explained, I had to taste a brat.
Brat (pronounced braht) is short for bratwurst, of course, and no other sausage in the United States inspires such fervor. There are brat appreciation societies and brat festivals (the largest, Bratwurst Days, now in its fiftieth year, takes place the first weekend in August in America's self-declared brat capital, Sheboygan); and there are heated debates on the Internet (not to mention in football stadium parking lots) as to the proper way to prepare a brat. The sausage even shapes linguistics, for in local parlance, barbecue takes on a German name: brat-fry.
German and Austrian immigrants brought bratwurst to Wisconsin in the late 1800s. Brats are enjoyed from one end of the Badger State to the other, but the real brat capital is Johnsonville, a rural village named for President Andrew Johnson that's little more than a country crossroads. It was here that a first-generation Austrian American butcher named Ralph F. Stayer, armed with a century-old family recipe, founded Johnsonville Sausage in 1945.
No, they're not obnoxious twins from Sheboygan. The double brat is the Badger State's favorite sandwich and mandatory fare for tailgate parties or lakeside cookouts. The brats in question are bratwursts-coarsely ground, slightly sweet pork sausages-and come rain or shine (or snow or shine), the air in hundreds of towns across Wisconsin is filled with the heady scent of sausages sizzling over charcoal. The perfume is not complete without the piquant aroma of onion, the nostril-flaring pungency of dark mustard, and the brash tang of sauerkraut. Here's what I call the basic brat recipe, followed up by the most widely accepted variations.
TIPS: Your brat sandwich will only be as good as the sausage on it. Most Wisconsinites swear by Johnsonville sausages. As for the roll, it should be bakery fresh, soft on the inside, and crusty on the outside. Kaiser rolls work well.
4 round semels, hard rolls, hearth rolls, or kaiser rolls
2 to 3 tablespoons butter, melted (optional)
Dark, spicy, stone-ground German-style mustard
1 sweet onion, thinly sliced or finely chopped
About 2 cups sauerkraut, drained (optional)
About 1 cup dill pickle slices (optional)
1. Set up the grill for direct grilling and preheat to medium-I repeat, medium. The key to grilling a highly flammable food like sausage is to use a moderate heat and grill slowly.
2. When ready to cook, lightly brush each sausage on all sides with oil, if desired (this is not generally done in Wisconsin, but I find it gives you a crisper casing). Place the brats on the hot grate so that they are parallel to the bars (the bars will hold the sausages steady). Grill the brats until crisp and handsomely browned on the outside and cooked through, 4 to 6 minutes per side (16 to 24 minutes in all), turning with tongs. In the event that dripping sausage fat causes flare-ups, move the brats to another section of the grill. With time, you'll learn to tell doneness simply by looking at the brat. Beginners can use an instant-read meat thermometer: Insert it in one end to the center of the sausage. The internal temperature should be about 170°F.
3. Meanwhile, lightly brush the inside of the rolls with butter, if using, and toast them briefly on the grill, 1 to 2 minutes per side. This is by no means mandatory-indeed, many brat fans prefer their rolls untoasted.
4. To serve, slather the rolls with mustard. Place 2 brats on each roll. Top with onion and sauerkraut and/or pickles, if using.
Makes 4 sandwiches; serves 4 normal people or 2 Paul Bunyans
Pat's or Geno's? A simple question, but it's been known to spark hours of fiery polemic. I'm talking, of course, about that glory of Philadelphia gastronomy, the cheese steak. The City of otherwise Brotherly Love is fiercely divided on who makes the best: Pat's or Geno's. Both are located in lively South Philly, and both are perennially packed with hordes of loyal customers. Local legend has it that the cheese steak sandwich was invented in 1930 by Pat Olivieri of Pat's King of Steaks restaurant, where the meat (thinly sliced rib eye) and onions were flash fried on a griddle (the melted cheese would have to wait until 1948). I've always maintained that if something tastes great griddled or panfried, it probably tastes even better grilled. So here's a not strictly traditional, but eminently satisfying, cheese steak you can serve sizzling hot off the grill. I can't think of a better sandwich for Super Bowl Sunday.
TIPS: Tradition calls for the steak to be sliced paper-thin, a technique that speeds up the cooking and tenderizes the meat. I'm using slightly thicker steaks here, which are more practical for grilling. (The easiest way to cut the steaks is on a meat slicer-ask your butcher to do it.) For even more flavor, the mushrooms, bell peppers, and onion are grilled too.
8 large button mushrooms
1 large sweet onion, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
4 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for brushing the steaks
Coarse salt (kosher or sea) and freshly ground black pepper
2 green or red bell peppers
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, or more to taste
1 1/4 pounds boneless rib eye steaks, cut into 4 slices each about 1Ú2 inch thick
4 slices aged Provolone cheese (4 to 6 ounces)
4 hoagie rolls or long, soft Italian rolls
Mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, and/or the condiment of your choice
You'll also need:
6 to 8 small (6-inch) bamboo skewers or wooden toothpicks
Trim the ends off the mushroom stems. Wipe the mushrooms clean with a damp paper towel (don't rinse them or they'll become soggy). Skewer the onion slices crosswise with skewers or toothpicks to hold them together during grilling. Lightly brush the mushrooms and onion slices with about 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and season them generously with coarse salt and black pepper.
1. Set up the grill for direct grilling and preheat to high.
2. When ready to cook, brush and oil the grill grate. Place the bell peppers on the hot grate and grill until charred on all sides, 4 to 6 minutes per side (16 to 24 minutes in all). After about 8 minutes, add the mushrooms and onion slices and grill until golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes per side (6 to 8 minutes in all). Transfer the grilled bell peppers, mushrooms, and onion slices to a cutting board and let cool. Let the fire continue to burn in the grill. Peel, core, seed, and thinly slice the bell peppers. Thinly slice the mushrooms. Unskewer the onion slices. Place the vegetables in a bowl, add the vinegar, and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, and stir to mix. Season with coarse salt and black pepper to taste; the mixture should be highly seasoned.
3. Generously brush the steak slices with olive oil and season with garlic salt and black pepper. Brush and oil the grill grate. Place the steak slices on the hot grate and grill until cooked to taste, 2 to 3 minutes per side for medium-rare. Place the Provolone slices on top of the steaks after turning them over, then cover the grill to melt the cheese.
4. Place the steak slices and melted cheese on hoagie rolls you've generously slathered with mayonnaise or other condiments. Mound the vegetable mixture on top of the steak and cheese. Serve the cheese steaks at once.