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May 20, 2009

Meditation on a Memorial Day sacrament

brats.jpgThis Shallow Thought Wednesday, a beautiful and poetic ode to the pleasures of Memorial Day and summer, may be one of the finest pieces guest poster John Lindner has ever written for us. The photo not so much. EL

Some men barbecue. Others grill.

The wizards, philosophers, theologians, alchemists and related mad scientists of barbecue (of which there are about eight distinct spellings, all correct as far as I can tell) know things. They are shamans of not just heat, but of the quality of heat. To them, the fuel that feeds the flames over which they cook is an indispensible ingredient, a seasoning rudimentary and reliable as salt. They have evolved intricate psychological profiles of those who were raised in dry rub families versus those whose forebears apply “sauce.” They hold contests.

Grillers paint with broader strokes. The pinnacle of their art is demonstrated in performing, simultaneous, the feats of flipping a burger and taking a good long pull from a beer. Over the course of summer, their arms lack hair from knuckles to elbows. ...

I’m a griller. Until just last week, I’d always been a charcoal man. Recently having received a new grill, I’m now all about propane. True, LPG lacks the the challenge of charcoal, but it is extremely explosive. So, that’s a plus. More importantly, in this age of instant gratification and gratuitous instafication, propane eliminates the monastic patience charcoal demands of its adherents. With charcoal, one can cook only when the briquettes are glowing. Propane, on the other hand, is born ready. Fire away.

The barbecuist’s ultimate canvas is the rack of ribs, a foodstuff defiantly comprised of 75 percent bone accented treacherously by gristle. When a tight-rope walker falls, he, mercifully, dies. When a rib barbecuist stumbles, he may live -- scorned, repudiated, snickered at -- for decades amid the ashes of his reputation.

Grillers are appreciated merely for showing up.

No, there is no comparison between barbecuist and griller. The one’s a scholar, the other a tool. Yet as much as I aspire to culinary distinction, I laugh at the pains taken by the bbq aesthetes. Because, though I lack the precious refinement of the their arts, I, skillless and impatient, can grill something as good or better than ribs: bratwurst.

All the correct ingredients distilled from centuries of careful testing are packed into each weiner. No muss, no fuss. And bratwurst grilled is as good or better than other meats bewitched by all the power of the barbecuist’s arts. Burn the brat? So much the better. The carbon adds depth to the kraut. They’re easier to eat than ribs and they are, ideally, bone free.

Today is the gateway to summer. Tomorrow is preparation for the swan song of a Labor Day blowout. Bratwurst, packed with everything a fool needs to succeed, is forever.

This Memorial Day, I wish you cookouts, and picnics, and Usingers.

Posted by Elizabeth Large at 9:59 AM | | Comments (45)
Categories: Bar-B-Que


age of instant gratification and gratuitous instafication

Again, awe.

...and now I want Andy Nelson's for lunch.

"their arms lack hair from knuckles to elbows. ..."

I'm half way there already!

Bratwurst, packed with everything a fool needs to succeed, is forever.

The man is a poet.

When I read this I thought I felt a tear running down my check. But then I checked and it was bbq sauce.

I keep telling my wife we need a grill. This wonderful ode to grilldom will be on her dinner plate tonight. Women just don't understand what a grill means to a man.

If it is true that Everything I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, then I will forever be a Texan. And that said, I believe it is brisket, not ribs, which truly tests the mettle of a barbecuist, particularly around getting the tenderness just right.


I am a charcoal-man all the way. But don't forget the importance of the vessel itself. After investing in a Texas-style grill, complete with a separate smoke box, I am back to my Weber kettle. I think it is the vents and shape that make the heat easy to control whether I am BBQing or grilling.

John :

Bratwurst question(s) -- I have promised to bring brats to a few grillouts this weekend. Then, this!

Should they be parboiled before grilling?? Where should I buy them? etc. etc.

Say some more!

Well put, JL. By the time the BBQer has completed his mission, the griller has done the deed, stuffed themselves, and is passed out in the hammock. Someday, I hope to plumb a grill to the house's main gas line. Until then, I am covered by 5 refillable propane tanks - you never know when...

"Some men barbecue. Others grill."

...and let us also salute the women who grill (and barbecue), who appreciate the challenge, danger, and the sense of triumph when you get it right.

Great column.

Great post. Gratuitous instafication – brilliant.

swerve ... shameless self-promotion.

Tired of going outside to smoke when you're having dinner or drinking? Welcome to the awesome world of Marlbrau – beer with nicotine my latest post on Midnight Sun. I even have my own personal hate groupie there who hate hate hates everything I've written. Sweet.

Great post jl.

I love to grill, with charcoal in my Weber kettle, and do it a lot. I like using the mesquite wood chips that have been pre-soaked. Creates lots of heavy smoke that flavor the meat well.
My neighbors probably don't like it much, although it smells divine to me.

Boy, there sure is a lot of shilling going on for midnight sun on this blog.

Well, on the plus side, Owlie's promotion has not yet used the words classy or awesome.

Sunshine Kid,
brats should be simmered in beer. Throw in onions, peppers, etc. to taste, if that's your thing. The more stuff you toss into the beer, the more esoteric and barbecuist-like you appear to bystanders, which can enhance your grill cred. And if you can find fresh sauerkraut? Well, no one can touch you for high livin' and worldliness.

MD, yeah, brisket, see, that's so inside baseball. Grillers can't get their heads around brisket. Ribs we understand, at least conceptually.

brats should be simmered in beer.

Brats should be seen and not heard.

You're right RoCK, thanks for pointing that out in an awesome classy way. Yes, I feel like a vulgarian for promoting myself, but hey, I get 2.3 cents for every hit on my posts while Sam is away and something called Sun Miles® that can be redeemed for air travel on Pan Am. Maybe I will cash them for a trip to Paraguay.

I miss Pan Am and TWA. Branff, too.

GREAT post, JL, but I disagree about the brand of brats. The BEST brats are made by the venerable, ineffable, Egon Binkert. His wurst (brat, weiss, and bauern) are works of art whose flavors are greatly enhanced by grilling, AFTER being brought to temp in simmering liquid (water, beer, don't matter). Whomp up a little German-style sauerkraut, and you're in grilling heaven!

Sunshine Kid, Binkert's is on Philadelphia Rd. about 2 blocks off Rossville Blvd. It's a smallish red-brick building, and the only signage is a small sandwich board at the curb. Don't boil them, but rather simmer them a few minutes in water (or beer), just to warm them, before putting on the grill.

If EL lets me promote my wife's classy blog, how could I find fault with Owlie's self promotion? Hey, stay classy and keep posting those awesome blogs.

Hey speaking of my wife's classy, awesome blog, which features restaurant reviews and discounts, here is something great from the Mrs. Why I think it's something on free ice cream at Walmart.

This sounds like something for everyone. Cold hearted capitalists like me get a positve story on Walmart. Warm hearted socialists like Lissa get free ice cream. And my wife will make millions of internet dollars, which on the currency conversion chart is roughly equal to the Zimbabwe dollar. I can't say for sure what the final payout will be, but I'm betting it will result in a trip to the Coinstar machine at the Superfresh.

Sunshine Kid

Get thee to Binkert's on Philadephia Road just north of Rossville Blvd...for Brats,and Natural casing hot dogs etc.

RoCK, it's a relief to know that your wife has a blog that keeps her equally busy. Tell her we appreciate her letting you waste so much time here.

I think in-house shilling is OK.

I thank you, RoCK, but TANSTAAFIC. Were I to accept free ice cream from Walmart, that would create a relationship where I would owe them something.

I just can risk dying owing Walmart anything. If there is an afterlife, that would damn me to someplace unpleasant for sure. Like Palm Beach during Senior Week.

Dottie, wise words. I'm familiar with Binkerts, but not their brats. That will soon change. Thanks.

every week is senior week in Palm Beach...

I'm with Lissa (yet again). Not stepping into a Walmart, even for free ice cream.

Is Binkerts up and running again? I know they had a pretty bad fire.

RoCK, I'm fairly sure I remember hearing that Binkert's was open again.

Lissa wrote: Were I to accept free ice cream from Walmart, that would create a relationship where I would owe them something.

No, it wouldn't. That's the great thing about capitalism.

Birkerts started up again last fall, just before Christkindlemarkt, although they didn't attend it due to not having sufficient stock built up yet.

Is Binkerts up and running again?

Their website says they are.

Thanks for the help.

The thing is I'm not the griller but a bringer of grill-able items. How long will pre-simmered brats take on the grill? I don't want to burden the griller with 45 minutes of brat-turning. Is the simmering just warming them up to a grill-able state, or is it actually cooking them?

Put another way, how can I make this quick easy for my host?

Sunshine, brats cook quickly if you're a griller. No longer than a burger. "Simmer" them into submission.

Two pesetas:

1) For the griller who largely sticks to barbecueing High Holy Days (Memorial, Fourth, Labor), charcoal makes infinitely more sense.

2) Those of us who feel the need throw down some steaks and lobster tail in the bitter of mid-Winter, the quick-and-easy of propane is a Green Goddess-send.

Sunshine, JL is correct. Simmered sausages should take about 5 minutes on the grill. They're cooked by the time they come up to temperature, so all you want to do is put pretty marks on them. FYI, no respectable German will serve a split sausage, so be nice to them and use tongs.

For some years, my husband and I grilled sausages for the Edelweiss Club's bratwurst stand at the German Festival--we used only Binkert's. We loved making SO MANY customers happy with those great sausages. Some folks returned 3-4 times during the course of a day! Oh yeah, a really good beer to accompany those lovely sausages is Michelob Amber Bock ... awesome! Enjoy!

Sunshine, probably too late with this suggestion, but I like to bring a big hunk-o-beef that's on the flat side (like London broil) that's been marinated for 3-4 days in 'fridge. It takes about 7-10 minutes per side (depending on how thick it is and how done you want it) and it serves a lot of people.

Our usual marinade is Worcestershire Sauce and whatever else we have in the kitchen. As long as you put some kind of acidic thing in there like vinegar the meat will get very tenderized and succulent.

Now I'm picturing a Worcestershire sauce and Lucky Charms marinade.

It isn't working for me, not at all.

I don't know, to me it sounds magically delicious.:-)

RayRay, you can try it and get back to us, right?

Just discovered instant gratification. (Is this paper running on autopilot now?)

Why yes, it is.

Laura Lee -- I, too, noticed the almost instant posting of messages. Perhaps EL is monitoring the blog full-time while waiting for the the 9:00 breakfast at her B&B?

Alas, I'm back now. EL

I have a hard enough time keeping up at "slow" speed. This is going to seriously damper my productivity at Ye Ole Place of Employment.

Yeah, if this instant posting continues, I think we are all (gleefully) in trouble!

Thanks for the help with the brats! They turned out great, and I was a hero.
I ended up getting them at Ostrowski's. I'll make a trip out to Binkerts next time.

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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