The trick is to smoke the meat and not make the meat smoke
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Grilled Brats (and Shoes) in Beer

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I try to learn from my mistakes and try not to repeat them, particularly because there are so many new ones out the to make. Friday night I made a real bad mistake that came halfway close to ruining a meal. This blog entry will describe what happened. Hopefully it may help keep someone else from making the same mistake without actually having to go through the whole process. The meal in question was called Grilled Bratwurst in Beer from the COOKS ILLUSTRATED SUMMER GRILLING GUIDE (see blog entry) which has been responsible for some great meals around here in the last month. Bratwurst is a tailgating staple out in the midwest, as I found out in college. I’d d never seen a brat until I moved to Detroit. While I’ve since direct grilled brats like you would a hot dog, until last Friday night I’d never made them in a beer hot tub.

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Meals like this make me appreciate having a 6 burner grill. The beer tub was over burners 4,5 & 6 while the brats were over burners 1,2 & 3. This gave me plenty of room to move the brats around in the event of flare ups. As you can see from the picture on the right, I did have to move the brats around a bit.

The recipe was simple enough and the America’s Test Kitchen folks had tried out all kinds of variations to come up with their recommended method used in the recipe. The onions were direct grilled and then simmered in beer in a disposable foil tub. Grilling the onions first gave them some extra flavor. Then the brats were direct grilled to sear them then and then it was into the beer for the brats. It is for meals like this that I really appreciate the extra real estate of a 6 burner grill. I was able to place the beer hot tub on the right side of the grill and I still had plenty of room to spread out the brats. You want to give the brats lots of room so you are able to move them around in the event of flare ups. You need to be careful not to pierce the brats when handling them, because the dripping juices will make for some massive flareups. I did have a few flare ups, but I simply moved the brats slightly to get them out of the line of fire. After grilling the brats they are simmered in the beer for around 15 minutes. You need to simmer the brats in the beer bath and this is where I ran into what I thought was going to be the biggest problem of the evening.

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The beer & onions in the foil pan, just before I attempted to remove them from the grill. The pan was put on the grill empty & the beer and other ingredients were added once it was on the grill. Keep your eye on the prize when you are lifting a flimsy foil pan filled with liquid off the grill

While the onions and brats were being direct grilled, the grill lid was up. Around the time the onions went into the beer bath the beer started boiling. I dialed the burners under the hot tub down to low which reduced the temps enough to get things simmering. I had a feeling though that when I closed the lid for the 15 minutes the brats were to be simmered in the beer, the temps would rise to a broil. So when the it came time to close the grill, lid I turned off burners 4,5 & 6 under the foil pan and I dialed down burners 1,2 & 3 on the other side of the grill to medium low. This meant I was indirect grilling the beer hot tub. I kept peeking to make sure I was simmering and not boiling, because if you broil the brats the skin will split. After 15 minutes it was back on the grill for the brats to give the a sear to crisp them back up. I kept the lid up for the last two minutes the brats were in the beer and put burners 1,2 & back up to medium for the brats and set burners 4,5 & 6 to low under the hot tub for the beer bath. After searing the brats for about 4 minutes they rested for 5 minutes while the beer & onions were simmered to reduce a little more. This recipe had you add mustard and spices to the beer so that the beer wasn’t thrown out at the end as is traditional, but instead is used as a condiment.

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The finished brats & beer were served on sub rolls. Fortunately I was able to save half of the beer/mustard sauce & onions

At this point I was breathing a sigh of relief. The brats looked great, I’d been able to tweak my burner settings on the fly to maintain a simmer and the sauce looked and smelled great. All that was left was to bring the foil pan back inside. Rather than carry the hot pan all the way into the house and risk spilling it, I’d brought a half sheet pan out to put the foil pan on. All I had to do was transfer the pan from the grill to the sheet pan sitting on my grill’s side table. Easier said than done as it turned out. I think part of the problem was I’d mentally moved on to the next step - eating. As I picked the foil pan up I held it by the two long sides. It was heavier than I expected, plus the onions began to shift towards one corner of the pan. This corner began to sag and when I was halfway to the side table one side of the pan suddenly kinked in a bit which had the effect of collapsing the pan so the heavy corner dropped. I wasn’t able to stop this process, but somehow as I sensed this I was able to shift the pan so the imminent spillage of beer & onions occurred over the concrete terrace (and my shoes and pant legs) and not the grill. I generally don’t wear shorts and I always wear shoes or sneakers when I am grilling and this spill reinforced my reasons why. Another thing I was happy about was I was wearing long BBQ gloves that went nearly up to my elbows. I don’t know how, but I managed to save about half of the beer and onions so it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

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Grilled brats in beer. Trust me your shoes certainly don’t need the beer bath

The brats were great. I couldn’t seem to stop eating them. The beer made them extra tasty. As for me: I had two new lessons to hopefully commit to memory and not make the same mistake twice. First don’t lose focus and think ahead to eating when you haven’t successfully finished cooking. Secondly be careful when lifting flimsy aluminum pans filled with scalding hot liquid, they can easily shift or collapse. There was a third lesson here that I’d already learned: Dress properly when grilling. Things could have been far worse, but hopefully this incident will be a valuable lesson.
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SOME RELATED LINKS:
Here is the link for the Picture Entry on Grilled Brats in Beer.

  GRILLED BRATS IN BEER Hot Dogs Picture Entry


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