Beautiful brat board for a sumptuous celebration
Article and photo by Lisa Crockett
Brats on the grill are practically synonymous with summer, particularly the celebrations that take place in July. A quick trip to Tony’s for whatever is fresh and tasty from the butcher and the deli, some drinks in the cooler, a few pints of ice cream and cones, and you’re ready for a party in nothing flat. Anything grilled tastes like summer, but a delicious, fresh bratwurst is especially satisfying and can be a new experience every time since brats lend themselves to a nearly endless array of combinations. At a Memorial Day grill-out this year, I ate a jalapeño-pineapple brat that felt like a mini vacation to a white sandy beach. For the Fourth, I’m looking forward to some chipotle ranch brats, and for Labor Day, I think I’ll go with a classic cheddar bacon.
Most cookouts seem to offer more than just brats, which means I need to plan my eating strategically. As much as I really want to try that jambalaya flavored brat, I also want a juicy burger, a bit of the smoked chicken breast, and possibly a baby back rib (or two). At nearly every summer party I’m lucky enough to attend, I find myself distracted at the thought that my one tiny little stomach can’t possibly contain all the goodness there is on offer. I’m not above conning friends and family members into giving me little bites of their goodies so I can sample a maximum amount of deliciousness, and I love the idea of finding ways to decrease serving sizes of delicacies so that I and my guests can have a little of everything. When I stumbled across the idea of a “brat board” – pretty much the same thing as a charcuterie board with sausages instead of salami and other cured meats, I wondered why I hadn’t thought of it myself. Genius.
When I try a new recipe or food idea, I typically follow the directions exactly and then mix things up when I make them again, so I have sort of a baseline for comparison. That proved difficult this time around since the author of the recipe lives in a big city on the east coast and has access to varieties of cheese and sausage that I do not, so I improvised by looking for ways to provide a nice balance of salty, sour, sweet and hot. The directions I’ve provided here are a good guideline, but if you’re doing a brat board of your own, simply focus on flavors you enjoy and you can’t go wrong.
My board included bread and butter pickles and Port Salut cheese, both choices that others might find odd, but which added a nice sweetness and richness to the board without overpowering the dominant, smoky flavors of the brats. For starchy elements, I offered baguette slices and dill pickle potato chips (don’t judge, they’re delicious) and my guests topped both of them with a myriad of combinations of the rest of the board’s delights. Water crackers, Ritz crackers, pretzel bites, and even tortilla chips would be at home on a board like this.
At a gathering I hosted recently, I put this board out at the beginning of the party before any of the other food was ready to go, so my guests could really enjoy the complex flavors offered before making decisions about what their main dish would be. Sausage, pickles, potato chips and cheese all pack a salty punch, so I was sure to have plenty of cold beverages to wash it down. The board was a lovely way to open the party and welcome my guests, giving them a little something to take the edge off and giving me time to visit and socialize before I had to get serious about manning the grill.
When dinner rolled around, people were hungry but not starving, so we could proceed at a leisurely pace. There were burgers and steaks, chicken and even some tender pork shish kabobs along with various sides provided by generous friends. The evening ended with s’mores around the fire pit. I had a bite or two of nearly everything and even had a little room at the end of the night for one perfectly browned and blistered marshmallow. It was everything a summer party should be, with lots of delicious flavors and room for me to taste them all.