Proud Alum: Adam Perry Lang On Tubesteak Culture At The University Of Wisconsin

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College football kicks off in a big way this weekend. What should you eat while watching your school's team? In Proud Alum, we talk with a chef about their memories of tailgates past, and ask for their best parking lot recipe.

Adam Perry Lang avoids the word pitmaster, instead calling himself a "chef who likes to cook barbecue," a reference to his deep culinary background (C.I.A. graduate, Daniel, Guy Savoy in Paris) and chef-y approach to cooking meats for a long time over incinerated hardwood. Lang — who founded restaurants in New York, Las Vegas and London — is also the author of three books dedicated to the craft: BBQ25, Charred & Scruffed and the best-selling Serious Barbecue which is being re-released next month. But before he discovered barbecue (on a lark while working as a private chef in New Mexico), he attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison from 1989-1991. A college with a deep sense of tubesteak culture.

What do you remember about attending football games?

I remember getting a giant sheet of tickets at the beginning of the season and going to the games to tailgate with 150 or 200 other kids. When I was there, we really weren't the stars of the Big Ten, so we went to games to tailgate and have fun. We started off drinking and grilling sustenance stuff like brats (see recipe below). Brats are like the perfect stadium food. They are self-contained. You can stick them in a bun. There is little risk for cross-contamination. It's such a logical thing

How did you find cooking while attending college?

I was feeling a little bit lost, like the party was almost over...what am I going to do about it? I went to a job career center and met this wonderful counselor and we talked for hours. She had me take this test to understand what other people with my likes, what fields they are in. The results came back: chef, landscape architecture and advertising. I didn't come from a restaurant background. There wasn't a Food Network back then. It was like, how do I become a fishing boat captain? But I loved to cook my whole life. I watched shows like Great Chefs Of Europe and had this deal with my roommates — if they bought the groceries, I would cook the meal.

What would you cook for them?

Cornish game hens with Grand Marnier. Thanksgiving dinners in the spring. We went really bananas.

And then you ended up working with Odessa Piper at the famous farm-to-table place L'Etoile...

I remember walking up this massive set of stairs and smelling stock and wine reductions. I remember it being electric in there. I told her that I was interested in pursuing cooking as a career and that I would do anything — do dishes and put stuff away — and she said she was actually in need of somebody plating desserts at night: puff pastry, tartine. And then in my spare time I would train inside the kitchen and do stuff. It was my first exposure with farmer-chef interaction.

What is the key to buying the best sausage for a tailgate?

First and foremost, go with something ethnic. Italian or German. These guys have got it locked down. You can't really mess it up.

Adam gives us his top three places to eat and drink in Madison on game day.

1. State Street Brats

"I used to live in the Towers across the street, so it was shocking how there was this place that was so cool that was so close to where I lived. And I love brats, so I was all over it. It was a great room and just a great time." 603 State St, Madison, WI 53703

2. Der Rathskeller

"To be able to order a popcorn tub full of beer for like three bucks. I mean, how could I not go to school here? It was such a chill environment. In terms of the beers I was drinking? I don't have much recollection. I wasn't so culinary-driven back then." 800 Langdon St Madison, WI 608-265-3000

3. Prime Quarter

"This was the coolest thing. We had no money, but once a week we would go down to this place as guys and pick out your own steak and throw it on one of the grills around the restaurant. I think there was a salad bar involved." 3520 E Washington Ave, Madison, WI 53704

Beer and Caraway Braised Bratwurst

It's game day. You're almost finished smoking six racks of ribs, but suddenly your small party has become a blowout. Instead of stressing, look to this perfectly porky sausage to fill out your meal. Stuffed in a soft bun, it's the ultimate hand-held, no-fuss food. Because I always end up hanging out and eating all day, I grill the brats, and then let them wallow in a bath of beer spiked with onions and garlic, so they stay moist and get all yeasty and delicious. Extras like mustard, sauerkraut or caramelized onions certainly don't hurt.

From Adam Perry Lang's Serious Barbecue


Beer Bath

24 ounces beer (not light) or lager

1 large sweet white onion, thinly sliced

12 unpeeled garlic cloves, crushed

¼ cup canola or vegetable oil

1 tablespoon caraway seeds, crushed with a rolling pin or heavy-bottomed pan

4 flat-leaf parsley sprigs

4 thyme sprigs

1 ½ teaspoons crushed hot red pepper flakes (optional)


12 uncooked bratwurst

¼ to ½ cup canola or vegetable oil

12 soft rolls

2 batches Grilled Sweet Onions (see recipe below)

About 5 cups sauerkraut

Mustard of choice


1. Position two heavy-duty aluminum foil-wrapped firebricks about 4 inches apart on one area of a well-oiled charcoal or gas grill, and preheat all areas to high.

2. Combine the beer bath ingredients in a baking dish or disposable aluminum pan, preferably at 13 ½ x 9 5/8 x 2 ¾-inch lasagna pan. Place the uncovered dish on the bricks, close the lid, and preheat until hot, about 45 minutes.

3. Add the bratwurst to the bath. It's OK if the bratwurst touch and are not completely submerged in the bath. Close the lid and cook for 20 minutes, flipping the bratwurst once halfway through cooking.

4. Meanwhile, pour a film of canola oil into a baking dish or disposable pan.

5. Remove the bratwurst from the bath, roll in the oil to lightly coat, and place evenly across the grate with about an inch between each. Turn to brown and caramelize deeply on all sides, about 2 minutes per side.

6. The brats can be served at this point, or held in the beer bath over very low heat with the closed for up to 1 hour. Occasionally test the heat of the bath. The bath should remain warm, 140°F, but should not boil.

7. Serve the brats on soft rolls, topped with onions and/or sauerkraut, and mustard.

Grilled Sweet Onions

Makes about 2 cups

I often have a ton of these sizzling next to whatever meats I have on the grill – especially if I'm cooking burgers, because to me, caramelized onions are as essential as ketchup. With a cast-iron griddle you can give the onions some bonus caramelization. I didn't think it was possible either, but yes, this improves on perfection.


3 to 4 sweet white onions, peeled

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon finely ground fresh black pepper

2 tablespoons (1 ounce) unsalted butter

6 garlic cloves, peeled, and grated on a Microplane grater

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar


1. Cut the onions through the root end and lay, cut side down, on the work surface. Cut across, each half, following the natural lines, to make perfectly even 1/8-inch slices. You will need 6 cups.

2. Place a cast-iron griddle on a well-oiled charcoal or gas grill. Preheat all areas to high.

3. Toss the onions with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, thyme, sugar, salt and pepper.

4. Pour the remaining 1 tablespoon of the oil on the griddle and let heat for about 1 minute. Spread the onions on the griddle and decrease the heat to medium. Close the lid and cook the onions, without stirring, for 10 minutes.

5. Move the onions to one side of the griddle. Melt the butter on the cleared space, add the garlic, and stir to coat in the butter. Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir the onions and garlic together and cook with the lid open until the onions are completely tender, about 3 minutes. Pour the vinegar right onto the griddle and mix into the onions.

6. Serve directly from the grill or transfer to a bowl.