I may be a proud Chicagoan and a humble FIB, but I have a deep and abiding love of Wisconsin. And it’s not just me—we’re basically all in the tank for our neighbor to the north. Brush aside the things you don’t bring up at polite dinner (politics, sports, Ed Gein) and you’ve got nothing but beautiful lakes, delicious food, and a bar on every corner. Each summer Friday, the outbound Chicago interstates are choked with people desperate to get the hell away from work and up to their northern getaway of choice for 48-72 blissful hours.
But what if you could stay put and consume the very essence of America’s Dairyland in one delicious package? This is the challenge which consumes my very soul.
Armed with a meat grinder, a sausage stuffer, a turkey fryer, and a roster of very patient friends (including my longtime brisket-cooking partner and one esteemed junk food expert), I set out to squish as much Wisconsin as I could into a natural casing and corn batter.
There’s probably an entire world of Northwoods cuisine I’m giving short shrift to (fish boil culture, for one), I focused on what would fit in a sausage skin. My original recipe was double the following, but this is a bit more doable of a project for the home cook.
Feel free to double it and stock up. Are there multiple types of beer involved? You bet your ass.
- 2.5 lbs. pork shoulder
- 3/4 lbs. fatty pork belly
- 6 oz. white cheddar cheese curds, chopped
- 1 Tbsp. kosher salt
- 1 Tbsp. dry mustard
- 2 tsp. garlic powder
- 2 tsp. onion powder
- 1 tsp. honey
- 1 Tbsp. black pepper
- 1 Tbsp. smoked paprika
- 1/2 tsp. horseradish
- 1/2 cup very cold Märzen-style beer
- 5 feet prepared natural hog casings (I used salt-packed, but fresh from the butcher works too)
Cut the shoulder and belly into one-inch cubes and partially freeze for roughly 20-25 minutes before grinding and placing in the chilled bowl of a stand mixer. Add everything else and mix at medium-low speed for about a minute, until emulsified and slightly sticky. If it’s too stiff and bunches up, add more beer a splash at a time until you get a smooth emulsion. Refrigerate while you prepare your stuffer.
Stuff the sausages and maybe play this song while you do. Here’s where we’re going to switch things up: Twist off links at about 4.5 inches. We want to maintain the right ratio of sausage to breading, and early tests found that regular-degular bratwurst was a bit too big for an effective corn dog.
Once your links are ready, prick them on both sides with a toothpick to take care of any air gaps that formed during stuffing, and refrigerate overnight.
Bratwurst have that curved shape, so you’ll want to skewer these well to straighten things out a bit. When you’re ready to start frying, clip the links apart, skewer carefully through the middle, and poach in salted beer until just a bit underdone. Dry off thoroughly and let cool—or get battering.
I may not have grown up on the placid shores of Lake of the Woods, where the muskie practically offer themselves up as tribute, but I do know a thing or two about corn doggin’. The goal here was a flavorful batter that could equal the might of our brats.
- 1 cup flour
- 1 cup medium-grind cornmeal
- 2 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. baking powder
- 4 tsp. sugar
- 2 tsp. granulated onion
- 2 tsp. hot sauce
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. fresh ground pepper
- 1 cup buttermilk (or whole milk)
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 1/2 cup beer
Mix the dry ingredients together thoroughly, then gently fold in the milk and eggs until a thick batter forms. Thin it out with beer if it’s a bit too viscous— you want a batter that’s slightly thicker than pancake mix (the coarser cornmeal and thick buttermilk contribute a lot of texture), but one that still flows around your dog and doesn’t clump or seize up. Dip a sausage in there and see if it’s leaving any exposed gaps; if it is, make with a bit more beer in the batter. With a little practice, you’ll get a batter that’s thick and sultry in the way that polka king Romy Gosz was. When you’re happy with the result, let the batter sit at room temperature while you prepare the fryer.
Heat your oil to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Bite the bullet and pony up for the peanut oil—this is already a completely impractical project we’re in together. Pour some batter into a souvenir beer cup for ease of dipping.
Dust your sausages lightly in cornstarch or flour to take care of any remaining moisture. Dip the sausages in the batter, making sure every bit is coated, and gently lower into the fryer. Hold onto the stick a hot second while the batter firms up, then lower into the fryer. (You only need to drop a fresh-battered dog into the fryer once and watch it stick to the bottom to remember this lesson forever.)
Gently turn a couple times, and you’ve got golden-brown corn dogs in about four minutes. Try not to crowd the fryer, and let the oil come back to temperature between batches.
New Glarus Brewing, available exclusively in Wisconsin, is the essential craft beer of the state. And Spotted Cow is the brewery’s flagship pride and joy, to the point that out-of-state bars will occasionally get in trouble for trying to Smokey-and-the-Bandit the beer and sell it across state lines. The Brandy Old Fashioned is likewise the Very Wisconsin Drink of cocktail fans. We’re going to mustard both of these things.
- 1 cup yellow mustard seeds
- 1 cup brown mustard seeds
- 1 cup plus 1/2 cup smuggled Spotted Cow beer, divided
- 1/2 cup brandy
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
- 3/4 cup honey
- 3 tsp. kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp. smoked salt
Soak the seeds in the half-cup of beer, brandy, and cider vinegar overnight. Puree that whole deal the next day, then add it and the remaining ingredients to a saucepan and lightly simmer for 20 minutes. Remove and let cool.
Secret Stadium Sauce is a beloved piece of Wisconsin baseball history, born at the old County Stadium when, depending on which story you believe, foodservice ran low on ketchup and mixed it with barbecue sauce. A real culinary speedball.
I tried to go fancy on this, but my guests preferred the straight-up stadium sauce that was equal parts ketchup and barbecue with a bracing shot of brat mustard. Depending on which barbecue sauce you pick up, you may want to even out the character with garlic and/or onion powder.
It’s a fairly open secret that most fuzzy-memory supper club tomato soups start their lives in a can. And honestly, there’s nothing wrong with that. I set out to see if one might reduce it to a nightmarish degree and make a fun sausage dip. I’m happy to report that after letting a pot of tomato soup simmer for most of the day, taking it from about a quart to just under 12 ounces, it basically tasted like—get ready—tomato soup. I made ultra-condensed soup the hard way. A little balsamic to brighten it up after I took it off the heat and it was... fine.
But my god what a soup skin I created. Bite your head off.
My fryer co-pilot Raoul gets credit for this one, shooting a meaningful glance between the fryer and the souvenir beer cup half-full of batter when it became clear I was out of sausage. A few spoonfuls later and these hush puppy/fritter hybrids were the surprise hit of the day—possibly worth making on our own and saving several of the steps above.
After the fryer quieted down and I went back to join the party (too many episodes of Rescue 911 ruined me on frying near other human beings) the first thing I saw was my attorney friend Robert, clad in fancy Weekend Dad button-up with a big stack of empty paper boats. Likewise, junk food master Courtney was all about the cheddar in the brats. Even at the reduced brat size, my friend Charlie said that it would fit perfectly on the menu if Lou Malnati’s ever decided to get into the corn dog game. This really proves my point that Illinois people and Wisconsin people are not all that different, at least where culinary indulgence is concerned.
The mustard was a little horseradish-y in character for some, as I’d just made it that morning, but it mellowed out subsequently as is tasting excellent now as I sit here writing with a side of dipping mustard like a lunatic.
Snappy sausage, corn-flavored batter, hot mustard, and sweet sauces, with beer in pretty much everything, this was one of my favorite experimental days (no Stilton nachos!), and I’m reasonably sure we got the spirit of the north in there.