Finding the Best Bratwurst in Wisconsin
This is a rundown of the bracket results from Sunday's Great Brat Challenge. There were numerous surprises, well beyond ALDI's second place finish.
This is the final list of bratwurst entries.
- Christman Meat
- Eden Meat Market
- Glenn’s Market
- Jacobson Bros.
- J.L. Richards
- Karl’s Country Market
- Kramarczuk's (from Minneapolis)
- Loehr's Meat Service
- Mr. Baseball's Brats (made for Uke by Usinger's)
- Ray's Meats
- Ream's Elburn Market (from Elburn, IL)
- RJ's Meats
- Roseland Bratwurst - aka, Mystery Brats II - aka, ALDI brats
- Roundy's - aka, Mystery Brats
- Sausage Haus
- Schmeisser's Homemade Sausages (from Niles, IL)
- Sendik's Fine Foods
- Sheboygan Brat Company
- Spar's (from Buffalo, NY)
- Thuringer Meats (from Arlington Heights, IL)
The poultry brat participants were:
- Glenn’s Market Turkey Brats
- Karl’s Country Market Turkey Brats
- Miesfeld’s Chicken Brats
- RJ's Meats Chicken Brats
(Photo swiped from Fat Sal)
I should have limited the amount of samples in the first round, because my judges quickly were filled up and became rather sick of bratwurst by the final round. The taste-off took 5 hours from the first tasting until the championship vote was cast.
About the Judges
This wasn't just a bunch of Cheesehead yahoos picking their favorites. Yes we had assorted Milwaukee area food lovers, but we also had several food and dining professionals judging. They included an encased meats educator, an online ethnic restaurant critic, the creator of a champion commercial barbecue sauce, and an online beverage and spirits commentator.
Analysis of The Great Brat Challenge Results
This exercise in insanity began with my wanting to pit 4 bratwurst makers that advertise themselves as "Champion" against each other. The four are Glenn's Market, Karl's Country Market, Miesfeld's and RJ's Meats. Of these four "Champions," only RJ's advanced out of the first round. Both Karl's and Glenn's missed advancing by one vote, Karl's losing to Mr. Baseball and Glenn's losing to Usinger's. You can read whatever you want into Usinger's producing Mr. Baseball's Brats.
Of special note is Miesfeld's, often held up as the standard for bratwurst excellence in Wisconsin, and more importantly, in Sheboygan. Miesfeld's received only one vote in its first round heat.
Mass Produced Brats
Johnsonville, Roundy's, Klement's, Usinger's, Mr. Baseball, Roseland, and Sheboygan Brat Co. are what I consider mass produced brats. Surprising to me, many of these did well against the specialty sausage makers, with all but Johnsonville and Roundy's advancing from the first round. Both Roseland and Sheboygan Brat Co. made it to the finals, and Usinger's missed advancing by one vote.
Johnsonville, like their Sheboygan County neighbor Miesfeld's, deserves special recognition for receiving only 2 votes, less than even the storebrand Roundy's received.
High-End Grocery Brats
I have 3 brats that I would include in this category - Sendik's, Gooseberry's, and J.L. Richards. They are from the meat section of grocers/caterers, not from a stand-alone butcher or sausage maker. I found all three of these to be forgettable, although Gooseberry's did advance to the second round.
Perhaps this is a precursor to the result of this week's Packers-Bears game. Of the 3 brat entries from Illinois - Ream's, Schmeisser's and Thuringer - none advanced out of the first round.
Ream's bratwurst held a special distinction in yesterday's contest. Of the 30 different competitors, Ream's was the only bratwurst to receive 0 votes. ZERO! A complete shutout.
Ream's call themselves "Fine Illinois Bratwurst," their emphasis, not mine. Indeed, no better description is possible.
The poultry brats were disdained by the meat eaters yesterday with one exception. Karl's Country Market's turkey brats were judged to be the best and were described as the most like a pork bratwurst.
By the time the final rolled around, I let a few of my non-voting helpers know that ALDI had advanced this far. When the voting commenced, it was clear that Roseland (ALDI) and Schwai's were the leaders. I asked my assistant to taste some samples just in case there was a tie.
When the votes were counted, Roseland and Schwai's were deadlocked. My assistant cast his vote for Schwai's (he did not know the brat identities) and another late voter showed up and chose Schwai's. Thusly, a cultural tragedy far exceeding Brett Favre in a purple jersey was averted.
The Sheboygan Bratwurst Co. offerings were new to me. I'd seen their Google Ad show up here, but the first time I saw them offered in a store was at Woodman's a couple weeks ago. They did very well, reaching the final round, as well as receiving the most votes of any brat in a single round with 13 votes in the first round. At $1.99 a pound at Woodman's, Sheboygan Brat Co. brats are a bargain, too.
It was a super event, and attended by some of the World's worst bloggers, but never again. In this format it took too long to complete and I was on the verge of losing control a couple times (I misplaced my numbered entry list once which was needed to decipher the results).
Hopefully, this will provide you some useful guidance when you go shopping for superior encased meats.
Follow-up: In the interest of science, my family did a mini-taste test again tonight, this time serving the brats on buttered City Bakery hard rolls. This second element changes the taste perception of certain brats greatly. Bottom line, some of the "Champions" are Champions for a reason.