Given the millions of German immigrants who poured into Wisconsin in the 1800s, it’s so surprise that America’s Dairyland is also home to some of the best bratwurst in North America. Milwaukee’s Miller Park is the only Major League Baseball stadium that sells more brats than hot dogs, but the state’s bratwurst capital—the self-proclaimed “Bratwurst Capital of the World”—is Sheboygan. The city on the shores of Lake Michigan has hosted its annual Brat Days festival and parade each August since 1953.
The city’s bratwurst boom began in the 1920s, when the advent of the home refrigerator extended the sausage’s shelf life. By the ’40s, brat stands were popping up around Sheboygan County.
That’s when a local tradition took hold. Most of those brats stands grilled their all-pork links over charcoal and served them on semmel rolls, also called “hard rolls.” Customers brought the practice home, adapting it into the “brat fry,” a cookout that doesn’t involve any actual frying. (I’ve asked why it’s called a “fry” over the years. Locals have chalked it up to regional dialect. Maybe it’s because it’s a social gathering similar to a fish fry.) Locals might have brat fries in their backyards or host one as a fundraiser for a high school or church.
And chances are they’re cooking brat patties, not the tube-shaped sausages popular elsewhere. That’s right: The bratwurst capital of the world likes its sausage in burger form. Credit the Miesfield family, which sells a dazzling array of bratwursts—in flavors ranging from cordon bleu to pineapple teriyaki—at the iconic Sheboygan butcher shop Miesfield’s. Second-generation owner Chuck Miesfield was a busy man, and he didn’t want to fuss with a sausage every time he was craving a bratwurst, so he came up with a recipe for an easy-to-cook all-pork patty that uses the same seasoning as the family’s signature Grand Champion Bratwurst. Patties have since replaced links at many area cookouts and on restaurant menus.
Basils II, Denmark
This Northwoods-style bar between Sheboygan and Green Bay is known for its char-grilled burgers—in both beef and brat form.
Charcoal Inn, Sheboygan
A local favorite since 1984, Charcoal Inn serves Sheboygan-style fast food, which means brats, burgers, and steaks grilled over charcoal, at two locations. They split traditional Miesfield’s brats to make their own brat patties.
The Old Fashioned, Madison
This is elevated Wisconsin bar food, served just a stone’s throw from the State Capitol. The Sheboygan-style brat burger comes from Miesfield’s.
One of Sheboygan’s oldest restaurants, Schulz’s, est. 1953, serves a beloved, butter-soaked brat burger. The rolls come from Sheboygan’s Hi-Lo Bakery.