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A Wurst-case scenario for the summer

12 Jul 2011, 17:11

Published: 12 Jul 2011 17:11 GMT+02:00

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In a nation so frequently associated with sausages, it’s perhaps unsurprising that barbecuing should enjoy such popularity in Germany. Every year as soon as spring starts to break through the darkness of winter, charcoals begin to glow beneath grills, and plumes of fragrant smoke drift upwards from parks and gardens across the country.

Germans, of course, are not alone in appreciating a good barbecue – Australians, Argentinians, and Americans all enjoy a long tradition of burning meat in the outdoors. Each tradition has its subtleties, however, and there are a few aspects of German Grillkultur that should be appreciated before donning an apron and reaching for the fire-starters.

Whether the result of some primal urge to provide meat for the clan or just the opportunity to drink beer in the garden on a Sunday afternoon, barbecuing in Germany, as in many other countries, tends to be male-dominated, at least as far as handling the tongs is concerned. Sabine Schröder, a 42-year-old team assistant from Neetze, a small village in Lower Saxony, and her husband, Bernd, 47, have a barbecue almost every weekend between April and September.

“Sometimes I start the fire, and I can put charcoal on the barbecue,” she explains. “But grilling is a man’s thing. My part is to make a salad.”

Bernd’s part is to cook the pork sausages and fillet, the marinated chicken, turkey, and steak they get from their local butcher, and he’s well-prepared for the task.

“We have a big iron barbecue, and Bernd has a little suitcase with tongs, a fork and knife; all the equipment you need,” Sabine says.

Charcoal is king

Another hard and fast barbecue rule in the Schröder household concerns the use of charcoal. Sabine’s unimpressed by news of Germany’s first public electric barbecue, which has recently been installed in front of the St. Michaelis Church, close to the harbour in Hamburg.

“Cooking with electricity or gas is not really barbequing,” she says, reckoning that charcoal gives the food a special taste. They aren’t, however, advocates of dousing the hot coals with beer, a common practice amongst German grillmeisters. “We think it’s a myth that it gives flavour to the meat,” she argues. “We like to drink the beer instead.”

The Schröders’ preference for charcoal-fuelled barbecuing is reflected in a study recently conducted on behalf of the supermarket chain Lidl, which found that over 70 percent of Germans favoured the method to sizzle their sausages. The survey also established that 90 percent of Germans throw some sort of Wurst on the grill every time they have a barbecue.

Firing up the coals at home might be a luxury that the Sabine and Bernd, who have a 300-square-metre garden, are able to enjoy but it’s not always afforded to those living in bigger towns and cities, even if they do have their own patch of grass. Most Germans can relate stories of strife over smoking barbecues and unwanted odours, as well as impart advice about how often you’re allowed to have barbecues and how to avoid upsetting your neighbours.

Some will say you shouldn’t grill every week, and it’s important to make sure you down smoke out those living next to you. Another tip is to inform your neighbours ahead of time when you’re going to have a barbecue, so they can close their windows and mentally prepare for the extra noise. Or you can always simply offer them a few extra sausages as tasty compensation for their trouble.

Going electric?

Story continues below…

Those living in apartment buildings with only balconies and small gardens face an even bigger challenge cooking outdoors, particularly if they wish to use charcoal. Most apartment buildings’ Hausordnungen or “house rules” – ban the use of charcoal barbecues on balconies for safety reasons, and tenants with gardens are frequently limited to a certain number a year.

“We’re only allowed to have electric barbecues,” says Aileen Tiedemann, a 34-year-old who lives on the second floor of an apartment building in the Hamburg suburb of Eimsbüttel. “So I go to my parents’ house or a park to have a proper one.”

This desire to have a “proper” barbecue goes some way to explaining the popularity of Einweggrill – a small disposable grill consisting of an aluminium tray, charcoal, and a metal mesh. Every summer stacks appear in supermarkets and petrol stations, and every weekend in parks across the country groups of friends and families gather round them to grill packs of supermarket sausages and drink beer.

Accompanied by tubs of ready-made potato and pasta salad, and a baguette or two, food prepared on an Einweggrill might not be an aficionado’s idea of a barbecuing, but it does demonstrate many Germans’ belief that all you really need to enjoy grilling is pleasant weather, a few bratwurst, and a bit of space away from anyone you might upset. And some charcoal, natürlich.

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Your comments about this article

18:52 July 12, 2011 by trevor999
The first (and only) time my wife and I got a Einweggrill the charcoal burned through the bottom of the aluminum tray and set the table on fire...Good thing we had lots of beer...
19:07 July 12, 2011 by Englishted

Agreed it is always good to have lots of beer.

Is the 999 in trevor999 a phone number in the U.K. just incase you need the fire service?
19:09 July 12, 2011 by marimay
They grill here, not bbq. There is a difference. And, it is quite inferior here as well. IMO, of course...
19:59 July 12, 2011 by Roxt
So..it's her job 'as a woman' to make the salad? Cookouts should be left to the men? Interesting...I was always pretty darn good on the grill, but now that I'm married...my husband loves to grill. It's nice to have a break every week and let him cook the main course. However, a cookout with only a salad sounds really dull to me. Are there any other sides that are left to this 'woman'?
21:04 July 12, 2011 by german-guardian
@ Roxt

well, salads can also come in many many forms. Also soup is always good. I don't think people will be eating grilled food every day. So...
21:17 July 12, 2011 by lunchbreak
@ Roxt

Vive la différence!
23:28 July 12, 2011 by Eastard
Cooking on the grill is challenge to get the food done before the cook is... Really good grilled food is not done quickly... rather it is conducted towards being ready for serious seasoning at or shortly after the cook and guests are really ready. The final smells should be worth eating themselves... Never cook too much... let the sides fill the void...

Beer is by far the best when wolfed down during uninhibited conversations about things that really don't matter with friends waiting to eat... Having one or two young ladies get slightly ahead of the curve is nice...

I would love to come to Germany and mix skills... I have found that European tastes are different from the USA...
00:04 July 13, 2011 by wxman
As an American of German decent, I'm sure our love of outdoor grilling had German origins, along with beer drinking of course. It's an absolute must from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Prosit, mit gemutlichkeit!
09:37 July 13, 2011 by freechoice
i am shocked! how can barberque be only enjoyed in the western worlds? the rest of the world also enjoys grilling meat over a charcoal fire too!
10:03 July 13, 2011 by Englishted

True but in many parts you can't eat a pork sausage ,shame.
10:57 July 13, 2011 by marimay
There are better things to eat off the grill than a pork sausage.
13:07 July 13, 2011 by Englishted

True, but many very nice meals do use pork cuts .

The sausage was just a example for @freechoice.

But we need better weather than whats coming this weekend.
15:06 July 13, 2011 by Gretl
I don't grill, I barbeque, which means indirect coal heat and smoking. My favorite is baby back pork ribs. (But I love grilled wurst.)

That said, I only seem to be "allowed" to barbeque when my husband is deployed. I think men think that an external equipment package is required to operate a barbeque. However, he thinks chicken and hotdogs are only done when they are mostly black. Ugh!

So yeah, he burns the meat, I make the corn on the cobb, baked beans coleslaw, and potato salad. At least we don't go hungry if the meat is inedible.
22:36 July 13, 2011 by minnes1951
As a Brit in Schwaben, I've never been into the whole barbeque culture. Friends have tried their best to change my mind. Neighbours have asked me to help and have served fantastic menus from the grill. Friends finally decided that I might be won over and bought me a gas grill for my birthday. It's now collecting dust in the cellar.

Invite me to a BBQ and I'll be happy to provide wurst, meats and salads. But if you're coming here for a meal it'll be the hob and the oven that provide the repast.

I remain a British BBQ heathen.
13:07 July 14, 2011 by freechoice
do you think German swine smells more than swine from other countries? the smell is strong! what do they feed them with? or how do they kill them?
08:19 July 15, 2011 by german-guardian

German swine smells very good, because anything that German can only be good.
15:29 July 15, 2011 by Gretl
@minnes1951 - you made me pull out my Kindle (loaded with the Oxford dictionary) to look up "hob". Good job - and thanks for the new word!
17:47 July 15, 2011 by Englishted
"Also soup is always good." from german-guardian #5

We are talking BBQs soup is useless it puts the coals out.
17:52 July 15, 2011 by marimay
Soup at a bbq, now that's just sad.
18:34 July 15, 2011 by dinerouk
I live alone so don't need a BBQ I use an airfryer, just prick them on top first.
22:01 July 16, 2011 by abbo
I am deviating a little. Many, many, years ago when i was a british soldier in Osnabruck my diet, in retrospect, seemed to consist of bratwurst, bockwurst and Osnabrucker beer. I am now seventy and pretty good for my age, BUT, the wurst i buy now does not seem the same as it did all those years ago from the street vendor who cooked outside the local bar.

Has the health and safety brigade ruined the sausage as knew it, or am i just going old and "dopey", better still can someone tell me where to get "gut wurst" in the London area?
18:16 July 17, 2011 by CoolBlueIce

... Yes... You just go ahead and enjoy that delicious boiled Brit food. (Yuck!)
22:38 July 17, 2011 by farmon
America and Australia have large German populations. Of course we are going to like the same kind of barbecues and beer.
12:30 July 18, 2011 by andy_jm
"The first (and only) time my wife and I got a Einweggrill the charcoal burned through the bottom of the aluminum tray and set the table on fire..."

What on earth was it doing on a table???
17:40 July 18, 2011 by Englishted

Waiting for the next bus.
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