Usinger president shares sausage grilling secrets
OMC: Are you a winter griller?
FU: Yes. I really prefer garden tomatoes on my sausages, but I do grill all winter. The knobs on my gas grill are all broken because they cracked in the cold. I have to use a pliers to start it up.
OMC: How many sausages do you eat a week?
FU: I sample them at work once or twice a week. I eat them at home, too.
OMC: Have you ever tried a veggie "brat?"
FU: No. I have never had any interest.
OMC: Is the 4th of July the busiest brat holiday?
FU: Really from opening day until Labor Day is our brat season. And it depends a lot on the weather. During the three-day weekends in the summer, if the weather is good, the store get cleaned out.
OMC: How long has your family been in the sausage making business?
FU: My great, great-grandfather started the business in 1880. I'm the fourth generation. I grew up hearing about the business every night at the dinner table. I started out working at the plant Downtown when I was 16. Then I worked there during college, too. I went to Madison and got a degree in agriculture, specifically meat and animal science. I have been working full time for the company since I graduated in 1980.
OMC: Has the recipe / taste of the brat changed over the years?
FU: No, the (classic) brat has not changed very much at all. We have added many new flavor varieties like Cajun brats and garlic brats, but we haven't tinkered with the original too much.
We have to honor the customers' expectations of the product. They grew up eating a Usinger's brat tasting a certain way and so that's how they expect a brat to taste.
But this is why we can have so many successful sausage makers, because people identify certain flavors with how it tasted when they were growing up and that's what they want to consume as an adult, too.
The only changes we've made are a little less salt because people are more sensitive to salt these days, but not there's only so far you can go. Salt brings out a lot of the other flavors. Also, our equipment, keeps getting more and more modern.
OMC: How many different sausages does Usinger's make?
FU: 120. We have a full selection at our store on Third Street. We have a lot of European specialty sausages.
OMC: Do you have a similar approach to cooking hotdogs?
FU: Are you really gonna open that can of worms now? (Laughing.) Haven't you had enough?
OMC: Lay it on me.
FU: "Hotdogs" – also called wieners or frankfurters – come with or without a casing. Most hotdogs are skinless. The casing is removed before the consumer buys it. Usinger's has a natural casing, which give the wiener some snap when you bite into it. There's more resistance. The casing keeps the spices and flavors in when you cook it as long as it doesn't get pierced or split in overcooking.
OMC: How do you cook your hotdogs?
FU: Sometimes I grill them, but I prefer hot water. I boil water, turn off the flame and drop it in for five or 10 minutes. I'll even microwave them, but not for too long or they get weird and deformed.
OMC: And, I'm sure I know the answer to this, but do you ever put ketchup and mustard on your dog?
FU: No, no, no. Tomato and onion only again.
OMC: So many people in Milwaukee were saddened by the passing of your sister and business partner, Debra, last year. How has it been without her?
FU: There were five kids in our family, but Debra and I were the closest in age. We were number four and five. We grew up together. We were very close. We worked together every day and we socialized.
She had a large personality. I handled the inside operations and Debra was the outside person. We're all still adjusting to her not being here. We miss her humor and her personality. But part of the strength of a business is to fill in holes when you need to and to continue on.
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Yeah, good article. Interesting that they have 120 different kinds of sausage, and one of them is NOT a beer brat.
Who knew there was so much to grilling a sausage! Great tips. Great article.
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