National Bratwurst Day--we visit the very best place for wurst

For National Bratwurst Day, which is unofficially Monday, August 16 (there is another school of NBD that celebrates August 3), we wanted to praise the brat by visiting the place that calls itself "The Best of the Wurst": TJ's Country Market in Mahtowa, Minnesota.

Located near Cloquet just off I-35, TJ's is an excellent stop on the way to Duluth or beyond, or as an excellent destination on its own, with lots of fishing and camping in the area.

TJ's motto is:
There is no place
Anything like this place,
Anywhere near this place
So this must be the place.
You have never sausage a place!

TJ's makes about 38 kinds of brats, including kraut, cranberry, hulawurst (made with pineapple and ham), carmelized onion, pepper jack, and more.

Oh yes, there are meats here.
Oh yes, there are meats here.

TJ's owner, Tom Bislow, gave us the scoop on his brats, telling us his best sellers are pepperjack brats, wild rice brats, and, in the non-brat category, potato sausage. All of the sausages are created in the kitchen of the store--the Wurst Kuche--carefully prepared in small quantities. They also have a smokehouse called the Wurst Rauchhus. Bislow and team processed a mind-blowing 23,000 pounds of sausage in 2009.

It's true, we never sausage a place.
It's true, we never sausage a place.

This Sunday we stopped by as grillmaster Bruce Schneider  manned the BBQ during Sunday's flea market in TJ's parking lot. Schneider was preparing for a bratwurst showdown: Viking brats (red cabbage, red onion, cheese,) vs. Packer Brats (onion, green pepper, cheese.) Schneider and Bislow were warm and welcoming as we tried samples of both brats, filling us in on their craft and the store's operations. The winner: the Viking brat--the sweetness of the cabbage and onion blended seamlessly with the sausage, which was also prepared with beer, as Schneider says, "without the beer it wouldn't be a brat."

The Wurst Bus
The Wurst Bus

We didn't want to leave without a photo of Bislow, and when we asked for the honor, he turned to Schneider and asked, "Should I go get the TJ?" The answer was yes and with that Bislow disappeared into the store to return with a giant stuffed bratwurst and top hat ready to pose like the TJ's mascot, a very happy guy with top hat waving and hand out jazz-style.

And with that we wished the guys a very happy National Bratwurst Day. As we prepared to hit the road, Bislow added, "And be sure to tell the world you never sausage a place." It was true, we hadn't.

TJ's owner Tom Bislow doing the TJ
TJ's owner Tom Bislow doing the TJ
all photos by Michelle Leon

Bratwurst cooking suggestions from TJ's
Please do not overcook! That is the most common mistake in preparing brats. And don't pierce the casing with a fork or knife, as the essential juice will run away.

On the grill: Frozen brats can be placed on a preheated grill with the heat reduced to medium. Turn frequently. Cook for approximately 30 minutes or until done. Use thermometer.
Or parboil: Place brats in a pan of cold water; bring to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes. Instead of water, brats can be parboiled in beer, or a combination of beer, water, and onions. Place parboiled brats on grill at medium until browned with an internal temperature of 160 degrees.
Or in a frying pan: Fry brats in beer with chopped onions for 20 minutes or until done at medium heat.

TJ's Country Corner
2751 Market St.--Box 948
Mahtowa, MN 55707
218.389.6257 or toll free at 877.620.9001

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