There’s a pretty good chance you’re cooking something this weekend, with food being the best part of Super Bowl Sunday. If you are grilling, there’s also a pretty solid chance that there’s going to be some sausages hissing and popping next to those burger patties. And while hot dogs are a necessity, grilling for a long football game with the crew at your place feels way more like a bratwurst job.
The links — full of pork, fat, salt, herbs, and spices (marjoram, coriander, mace, cardamom, and nutmeg with dried ginger and white pepper) — are among the most popular sausages around the globe and are sure to land on many a grill this week (no offense to Italian sausage or kielbasa fans). So let’s blindly taste some classic versions from the grocery store to find the best one for you to fire up.
Before we dive in, a little context. I lived in Berlin for 14 years. I have a deep knowledge of the massive world that is German sausages. Before you chime in with how many sausage types you think there are in Germany, I’m going to stop you. It’s way, way, way more than you think. Yes, Frankfurters, weisswurst, Weiners, bratwurst, and maybe even bockwurst get a lot of play in America but that’s barely scratching the surface. There are, wait for it, over 1,200 different types of sausages across Germany. Some are good, some are great, some are … let’s just say an acquired taste.
That all said, I’ve spent more than one or two beer-fueled evenings debating (arguing) over how much mace, cardamom, and marjoram a good fresh bratwurst should have, the ratio of lean to fat, and even casings (lamb adds a nice crack and umami bite but pork is traditional). Hell, I can give good arguments about the breed of pig to use — it’s Landrace or Berkshire, though Eurasian wild pig has its charms. I’ve even hosted parties/cookouts where we made our own brats while brewing beer (about the most German thing you can do).
That’s a long way to say, this is in my wheelhouse.
For this exercise, I went to four grocery stores and bought all the standard bratwurst they had. No cheese wurst or maple chicken smoked blah, blah, blah. Just the standard stuff that was either in the cooler with the bacon and hot dogs or the brats that were on the butcher counter next to the steaks and roasts.
That makes our lineup the following today:
- Whole Foods Butcher Counter Local Beer Bratwurst Sausage
- Trader Joe’s Fully Cooked Uncured Bavarian Bratwurst
- Impossible Bratwurst
- Kroger Classic Bratwurst
- Whole Foods Organic Bratwurst Savory Herb
- Olympia Provisions Bratwurst
- Beyond Sausage Brat Original
- Kroger Butcher Counter Wamplers Bratwurst
When it comes to grilling, tasting, and ranking these brats, I kept it pretty straightforward. All of the brats were cooked on a grill (Traeger at 400F) until their internal temp hit 165F (about 10 to 15 minutes depending on size). After that, my wife lined up the entrants on plates and served them to me blind. That said, it was painfully obvious which brats were the fake meat ones… but more on that later.
The ranking was pretty straightforward too. What tasted best? Was there a presence of marjoram (crucial!)? Mace, nutmeg, and cardamom? Was it soft and juicy with a nice fattiness? Or was it mealy and plain with too much sweetness? Those were my baseline parameters. Let’s get into and find you the best brats to grill this weekend!
(Quick note: every place I went to only had Beer Cheese Johnsonville Brats and not the Classic Johnsonville Brats, so they’re not ranked even though you’ll likely see them at your grocery store.)
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Part 1: The Tasting
Ugh. This is grainy AF. There’s a mild sense of salt and herbs but nothing really distinct. It’s not dry, but not juicy by any stretch.
This felt like an American having seen a bratwurst on PBS and then tried to make one themselves without looking up a recipe.
This is spot on. It’s a precooked version (which is the most ubiquitous brat in Germany) and hits the flavor profile perfectly. There’s a clear sense of dried marjoram, a nice pinch of mace, and cardamom. There’s a very faint sense of white pepper and dried ginger too. The sausage is lush and moist. The casing has a great crackle to it.
Where’s the mustard? This is really good and tastes exactly right for a precooked German brat.
This was savory with a nice sense of white pepper and umami with a whisper of marjoram. The texture wasn’t terrible but clearly faux meat. There was a nice attempt at a casing but no crack.
This was fine. If you smothered it in ketchup and mustard it’d be passable.
This had a nice crack and moistness punctuated by sharp spice and savory herbs — though not exactly distinct ones. The sausage was very good with a twinge of sweetness.
This felt like a classic American brat. The savory/spice mix was on point and the added sweetness gave it away as cheap but kind of addictive. I wanted more, especially with a dollop of mustard to counter that corn syrup.
This had a nice structure to it. There was a bit of crack on the casing. The precooked brat filling was pretty bland. There was a very mild sense of white pepper and garlic powder with maybe some paprika. I did get a whisper of nutmeg and cardamom at the end but not much else.
I really had to reach to find those flavor notes. They were there, but just barely. Overall, this felt blander than I’d like.
This was okay. The precooked sausage had a decent crack and meatiness. There was a mix of spices but they were pretty hard to distinguish. Overall, this was average.
This needed something to help it pop. Where’s the marjoram?
This looked … bad. Let’s just leave it at that. No casing so no crack. The “sausage” was mealy and plasticky. There was a sense of seasoning but it was indistinct. It was very chewy.
I spit this nonsense out.
This was damn good. The sausage was actually juicy, well-seasoned, and mildly spiced with a good sense of umami bite. This tasted like a good American brat with a vivid layer of sweetness counterpointing the spice and herbs.
This needed a dollop of mustard to counter all that corn syrup but had a great seasoning profile. This isn’t a classic German brat by any stretch of the imagination but it was a good sausage.
Part 2: The Ranking
8. Beyond Sausage Brat Original — Taste 7
Price: $8.29 (14 oz./4 links)
Beyond Sausages Brat Original boasts of having 35% less saturated fat on the packaging. The “sausage” is made from a mix of pea protein, coconut oil, sunflower oil, brown rice protein, potato starch, fava bean protein, and apple fiber amongst “natural flavors” (MSG), and calcium alginate casing (I had to look it up too).
The package states that you have to brush the link in oil before grilling, which … hard pass.
This is bad. Skip.
7. Whole Foods Butcher Counter Local Beer Bratwurst Sausage — Taste 1
Price: $6.99 (per pound)
This is the sausage from the butcher counter at Whole Foods. The ingredients are pretty simple: Pork, beer, “bratwurst seasoning,” pork casing, and WHEAT (they put it in all caps, not me).
This was the most disappointing by far. The good sausages in the butcher case are supposed to be better, right? These were worse. This was a grainy mess. Hard pass.
6. Impossible Bratwurst — Taste 3
Price: $9.99 (13.5 oz./4 links)
Impossible Bratwurst is made from a slurry of soy protein, sunflower oil, coconut oil, yeast extract, vegetal casing, modified food starch, and a ton of other stuff that’s way too long to list here. Bonus points though, it does list “marjoram” as an ingredient.
This grilled up pretty much like any brat on the grill with no extra fussing like Beyond.
This was fine. If you’re planning on adding some grilled onions and peppers, it’d pass. On its own, it’s not ideal. It just kind of tastes like you’re eating the inside of a plastic food bin that once held tasty brats.
5. Whole Foods Organic Bratwurst Savory Herb — Taste 5
Price: $7.99 (12 oz./4 links)
This precooked brat from Whole Foods is a “healthier” mix of ingredients. It’s made with organic chicken, sea salt, organic black pepper, organic red pepper, organic coriander, organic nutmeg, organic cardamom, and natural pork casing.
This grilled up pretty easily and quickly.
This was fine. I wouldn’t confuse it for a German sausage, but it wasn’t without its charms. In a bun with some spicy mustard and maybe some kraut and this would be passable.
4. Olympia Provisions Bratwurst — Taste 6
Price: $18.30 (12 oz./3 links)
This beloved brand from Portland, Oregon, is made with a minimalist mix of pork, pork fat, milk powder, salt, spices, dextrose, dried vinegar, and Hog casing.
This also grilled up nicely on the ol’ grill.
The addition of milk throws me here. That aside, this was pretty bland all things considered. If you’re cooking a big pile of onions and peppers, then you’ll be in a better place flavor-wise. On its own, this still needs some kind of sauce to pep it up.
3. Kroger Butcher Counter Wamplers Bratwurst — Taste 8
Price: $1.50 (2 links)
This butcher counter bratwurst is very local (well, to Tennessee/Kentucky anyway). The ingredients include premium fresh pork, corn syrup, salt, spices, lemon juice powder (which also has corn syrup), and spice extractives. That’s a lot.
This grilled up the best. It retained its juiciness and was still plump when it came off the grill at temp.
This was pretty good all things considered. It was really sweet — that dinged it a bit since it overpowered the spice and herbs in the sausage. That said, this would be pretty good on a soft roll with some mustard to counter all that corn syrup.
2. Kroger Classic Bratwurst — Taste 4
Price: $3.99 (18 oz./5 links)
These are the standard, cheap brats you get in the meat aisle at the grocery store. The ingredients include pork and spices and a bunch of stuff that ends in -ose, -ide, and -extrin along with corn syrup.
This shrank a bit while grilling but that sort of concentrated the flavors and moistness.
These tasted good. It was a tad sweet (but most American versions of anything are). Overall, this had the most American bratwurst vibe to it and would have really shined with a dab of spicy mustard with some grilled onions and peppers on a soft roll.
1. Trader Joe’s Fully Cooked Uncured Bavarian Bratwurst — Taste 2
Price: $5.49 (12 oz./4 links)
The only Trader Joe’s brat available is a precooked version from Germany. The ingredients include pork, marjoram, black pepper, nutmeg, mace, ginger, coriander, and pimento with pork casing (amongst other stabilizers).
This grilled up easily and nicely, holding onto its moistness.
This was far and away the best-tasting brat on the list today. It actually tasted like a bratwurst. It also had a nice crack to the casing, good moistness to the meat, and distinguishable herbs and spices that belong in a bratwurst.
Part 3: Final Thoughts
If you want the real thing this weekend when you’re grilling up before the game, then you’re going to need to make a trip to Trader Joe’s. The rest of the links on this list didn’t even come close. The rub here is that Trader Joe’s brats are only “okay” when compared to what you really get around Germany but that’s beside the point. They’re still good, well-seasoned, and cook up nice on a grill.
If a trip to Trader Joe’s is out of the cards, then just grab the classic cheap brats from your local grocery store. They’ll do nicely compared to the other crap on the shelf out there. Just beware of all that sweetness, add some grilled onions and peppers, and get plenty of spicy mustard.