Homemade Meat Feast: Germany’s traditional barbecue

Visiting Germany in summer, it is hard to avoid the scents of a longstanding German tradition, celebrated whenever the sun is out: Homemade barbecue, grilled over searing charcoal in gardens, parks or even on the balconies of high-risers. From early spring to late autumn is “Grillsaison”, and it is not unheard of that people fire up their barbecue even in winter.

The start of the season is a process described as “angrillen”, which usually includes friends, garden chairs and quite a bit of beer. Butchers, supermarkets and even fuel stations plaster their windows with posters of meat platters and charcoal, a combination that wouldn’t be mouthwatering in any other context. Meat, of course, is an essential part of German barbecues, and it is no surprise that “Bratwurst” features prominently on the grill.

Sausage, though, is only the tip of the iceberg. A variety of steaks, beef and pork, all kinds of vegetables (yes, vegetables!) and bread are being roasted. It may be worth mentioning that the favourite sort of bread in this context is French baguette, yet another result of European integration. Even more important than what’s on the grill is what is being served alongside the meat feast: Salads.

Germans are experts in salad creation, and many an expat in Britain will travel long ways to get their hands on a proper Kartoffelsalat, a dish that melts potatoes, pickles, mayonnaise and pieces of sausage into a culinary masterpiece. Just as tasty is the infamous Nudelsalat, made of pasta, and a growing variety of fresh alternatives to these classics, featuring all kinds of fruits and vegetables with growingly sophisticated sauces. A lot of this modern variety is owed to the vegetarian (and vegan) movement. It brought new ideas to the table: Skewers of Tofu, soy steaks, mushrooms, fresh vegetables and exotic dishes like Falafels are now at home on German barbecues. Burgers, on the other hand, remain a rarity.

“Grillen” can be an interesting experience for non-food related reasons as well. It is a well known German stereotype that homemade barbecue chefs are usually men– they handle the lighting of the fire, cook the meat, flip steaks and sausages, and gracefully accept the praise afterwards.

The meat, on the other hand, is only a very small part of the experience. The preparation of sides (like salads), the setting up of the table, the cleaning afterwards is often still a female job. As a guest, don’t fall into the trap of not recognizing the effort that happened besides and around the grill itself.

Barbecue Spin Offs: Don’t miss the Currywurst!

Homemade barbecue is not the only reason to fire up the grill, though. Germans like to barbecue, and reasons to go for it are engrained in folklore. There are regional differences to these traditions, but one outstanding habit is to cook outside on Mayday, often in the forest, together with friends. In many German parks and woodlands you will find official “Grillhütten”, special huts with a fireplace in the middle, that can be used to have a barbecue without risking to set the surrounding on fire. To add a bit of stereotyping: Yes, these grill huts are strictly regulated regarding building material, distance between roof and surrounding trees and hours of the day when they are allowed to be used.

Grilled meat is a part of German cuisine in general. Classics like the “Thüringer Rostbratwurst” or the “Nürnberger Würstchen” are common in restaurants, and Bratwurst of course is the German equivalent to fish and chips when it comes to a fast bite on the go.

One specialty should not be forgotten: The Currywurst. Berlin and the Ruhr district (in North Germany)have a bitter argument about where this delicious fast food was invented. The Ruhr district might be winning, because famous singer-songwriter Herbert Grönemeyer wrote the official hymn to this sausage. In his song he describes a typical evening of two buddies from Bochum, sharing beer and Currywurst, ending with trouble at home for spilling the sticky sauce all over their clothes.

You can try Currywurst in the UK, by the way. On the Roll in Edinburgh and Herman ze German in London have them on offer. Sadly so far they have not made the move to Manchester… yet!

Related Posts: German Sausage – From the Best to the Wurst

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