Wisconsin's Brat Burger Reshapes The State's Famous Meat

Sometimes you're craving a nice crisp bratwurst, and sometimes you just want a burger. But what do you do if you can't decide between the two? Besides throwing them both on a bun and calling it a day, you can reach for a brat burger.

As The Takeout points out, like most modern bratwurst innovations, the brat burger hails from Wisconsin. Off the Eaten Path adds that the largest ancestry group in Wisconsin is German, and bratwurst and other sausages can easily be found all over the state because of this.

The brat burger is a simple innovation that takes much of the guesswork out of cooking up a brat. Instead, The Takeout says the brat burger is simply cooked on the grill as if it were a hamburger. It's simply ground meat formed into a patty, just like a hamburger, but with the spices and seasonings characteristic of a classic bratwurst. This way you get the ease of throwing a burger on the grill with all of the flavors of Wisconsin's favorite sausage.

Brat burger history

According to The Takeout, the brat burger only started popping up in Wisconsin in the past few decades but reached enough prevalence for Johnsonville to start selling its Brat Grillers about a decade ago.

If we go all the way back in the saga of the brat burger though, we have to start with bratwurst. Kitchen Project reports that it's hard to say exactly when bratwurst and other cased sausages were first developed. The first documented appearance of bratwurst comes in the form of manufacturing guidelines which occurred in Bavaria around 1432.

DiLuigi Foods say that bratwurst making was imported to the United States by German immigrants, and so the tradition carried on in Wisconsin where many settled. Bratwurst then appeared at the Milwaukee County Stadium, and the food has been married to sports ever since. In fact, Madison Eats Food Tours still ranks bratwurst as one of its top tailgate foods.

The Takeout proposes that the brat burger was born of necessity at tailgates and outdoor barbecues. Bratwurst is a tricky food to prepare on the grill. It can take serious patience and care to properly cook a bratwurst all the way through without breaking its casing, or drying it out. Many recommend a bratwurst beer bath as one means of preventing these mistakes, but it isn't foolproof. The brat burger, on the other hand, solves many of these problems by removing the casing and turning the meat into a quick-cooking patty.

How to make a brat burger

Making brat burgers is incredibly simple. All it takes is a preferred batch of bratwurst seasoning and some ground meat. Johnsonville prefers pork for their Brat Grillers, though Off the Eaten Path says that beef can work as a substitute in a pinch. Curious Cuisinere says that those without a meat grinder at home can simply ask their local butcher to grind up some pork shoulder for them.

Once you've got your meat ground, all you need to do is season it and turn it into patties. Off the Eaten Path says that while there are many different types of bratwurst seasonings in the world, most contain ginger, nutmeg, coriander, caraway seeds, marjoram, salt, pepper, and garlic. For pre-mixed seasoning, Taylor's People's Park (a Milwaukee restaurant known for its brat burgers) recommends using Penzey's bratwurst seasoning in place of its own highly protected spice mix.

The Takeout says that a good brat burger should then be served up on a roll or hamburger bun with a healthy dose of mustard to bring out the rich flavors of the sausage patty. Curious Cuisinere adds that a heaping dose of sauerkraut also goes just as well with the brat burger as its tubular forerunner.

Where to find the brat burger

The easiest way to get your hands on these flavorful pork patties is to find some of Johnsonville's Brat Grillers at a nearby grocery store or online. The Forest Pork Store in Huntington, New York also seems to have brat burgers available for those that live in New York City. 

For those that don't have the time to craft their own brat burgers at home, if you're in Wisconsin there are also plenty of great places to find a good brat burger straight off the grill. Midwesterner says that Sheboygan, Wisconsin is the self-proclaimed "Bratwurst Capital of the World," and of course they have their own signature style of brat burger that can be found across the Dairy State. In Sheboygan itself, there's Schulz's and the Charcoal Inn. Other options are Basils II in the small village of Denmark, and The Old Fashioned in Madison. There might not be many places to find this regional treat outside of Wisconsin, but for the brat devotee, it might just be worth the trip. 

Outside of Wisconsin, however, one place that seems to serve the brat burger is The Pantry West in Little Rock, Arkansas, which serves the patty as a part of its Nuremberger sandwich. Burnt Barrel Social in Yorkville, Illinois has its own take on the sandwich as well.