I got a jump on the 2011 grilling season courtesy of my husband’s birthday this past week. He requested a variety of traditional German sausages, which I was happy about because we needed a break from all those chicken-apple sausages, whose volume in California alone may be threatening to throw the Earth off its axis.
We don’t grill these rich sausages often, but have a blow-out once a summer, which friends enjoy because many of them never venture beyond fresh Johnsonville “brats.” I try to include several bratwürste, bockwurst, knackwurst and ringwurst — at least — plus a few wieners for good measure.
In case you’re unfamiliar with any of those names, I’ll provide details at the end of the article.
Wurst makes up an expansive universe whose glories I was exposed to early in life by my German-born mother and grandmother, and includes smaller sausages served hot and those of the cold-cut persuasion. The former is reasonably represented in the United States by Midwestern and East Coast producers, with other odd wurst-making butchers scattered around — but things can be bleak if you aren’t near any of them and have to resort to mail order.
We in the El Cerrito-Albany-Berkeley corridor may not be down the street from the likes of a Stiglmeier, but we’re in good shape for German grilling sausages thanks to San Leandro producer Saags, German/British deli , and Berkeley Bowl West (920 Heinz Ave, Berkeley).
Nordic House (2709 San Pablo Ave, Berkeley) also has a sausage or two, and even carries bockwurst these days.
Sadly, the East Bay’s own Saags was purchased by Hormel in 2006. Though the facility has kept up small-batch, traditional production and continues to turn out respectable wurst, I fear that won’t last forever.
Spectacular German sausage requires a drive to in Mountain View, where they make almost every meat product they sell. It’s worth the trip — but be advised that Dittmer’s is temporarily closed due to a fire, so check before you schlep down there.
If you decide to duplicate this meal for your next patio party, you’ll need a few other things.
Offer a selection of mustards. Pick up sweet Senf for milder, white sausages, something sharp for the bratwürste, and a basic Dijon. Sauerkraut is a must — and it should be heated. The Junket can hook you up with imported mustards and kraut.
If you bump into a bottle of imported curry ketchup, bring that home, too.
The consensus among the people I’ve fed is that toasted, cheapo hot dog buns allow the sausages to shine more than whole wheat or facier rolls.
Here are some suggestions, but keep in mind that wurst varies by region, and that U.S. products may vary considerably from their German counterparts. All sausages listed are pre-cooked and should have natural casings.
Bavarian Bratwurst Mild, usually coarse, pork sausages with marjoram, ground coriander seeds and sometimes a little nutmeg. This is my mom’s childhood Marktplatz Bratwurst, and they’re often simply called “German-style bratwurst” here.
Nürnberger Bratwurst Small, thin, coarse pork sausages with plenty of marjoram and sometimes a hint of cardamom. Brown them well.
Smoked Bratwurst Large, smoky and spicy — often of beef and pork. If you like Polish kielbasa, you’ll like these.
Bockwurst Stateside, ockwurst is similar to Weißwurst (or weisswurst) — white sausage — and generally made of very finely ground veal and pork, parsley, green onion, white pepper and a hint of clove or mace. Traditionally poached to keep them intact for optimal snap and juiciness, I nevertheless grill them — very gently using the indirect method and low heat — as my mother stands by having a kanipshen.
If you don’t eat veal, substitute all-pork bangers for bockwurst.
Knackwurst Often called “knockwurst” in our land, they’re very plump, well-seasoned, lightly-smoked pork and beef or pork and veal hot dogs that come short and long. Knackwurst can be garlic-heavy — though these may be called “garlic sausages.”
The natural casing snaps big time when you take a bite — thus the reference to the German verb knacken, “to crack” — so grill like bockwurst.
Ringwurst A chubby ring of Fleischwurst, or German bologna, upwards of a pound and made with some combination of very finely ground beef, pork or veal. Generally mild, these rings are sometimes garlicky. Grill whole and cut into thick slices.