Should you parboil brats? Nope. And Jeff Sindelar can tell you why.

Reprinted from the Wisconsin State Journal – June 6, 2020

With the return of warm weather, it didn’t take long to see charcoal smoke wafting from grills across the state this past week.

Right behind those first few wisps of summer smoke came the perennial — and often fiery — debate among backyard chefs on the proper way to grill Wisconsin’s favorite sausage: the bratwurst.

Green Bay Press Gazette reporter Dan Higgins was the first to toss a can of lighter fluid on the argument this week with a story headlined: “Should you parboil brats? Nope. And science can tell you why.”

Now he’s done it — kicked off a ruckus that will echo from backyard to backyard as grill masters argue for weeks to come — from Memorial Day to Labor Day and beyond.

On one side are those who advocate parboiling the plump pink-hued sausages for 10 or 15 minutes immersing them in a bath of beer and onions, bringing them to a boil and simmering then finishing them on the grill. Higgins noted that grilling cookbook authors Steven Raichlen, Jamie Purviance and the America’s Test Kitchen advocate that method saying it shortens grill time and adds beer and onion flavor to the brat.

Side two says nope — you just put the uncooked brats straight on the grill at a temperature of about 300 degrees, but you have to tend them and turn them every couple of minutes to maximize browning and make sure the brats don’t split and lose their juices.

That’s the method recommended by Johnsonville Sausage — one of the biggest purveyors of brats in the state and a sponsor of Madison’s annual jumbo-sized World’s Largest Brat Fest, which, unfortunately had to go “virtual” this year because of COVID-19. Milwaukee’s renowned Usinger’s sausage maker splits the difference, recommending parboiling, but notes that the direct to grill method can be used as long as it’s done slowly over not-too-hot coals.

Higgins turned to Jeff Sindelar, a meat science associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, to settle the debate. Sindelar said, “Parboiling isn’t the best for bratwurst. Because you want to provide gentle heat. A slower increase in heat.”

According to the professor, brat cooking involves the unfolding of proteins in the meat and casing — and the proteins bind the fats, salt, ground meat and spices to create texture and flavor.

That’s best done over a medium-low heat of the grill. Sindelar said parboiling speeds up the unfolding process and can result in a mushy meat texture, the development of rubbery casings and separate the casing from the sausage. So, there you have it. It’s settled science. Now those backyard grill masters won’t be fencing with tongs this summer. Unless, of course, they move on to other topics — coarse grind for the brats? Or finer grind? Say, should we use lump charcoal or briquettes? What about gas? Enjoy the cookouts — and never give unsolicited grilling advice to someone with tongs or a barbecue fork in their hands.