01 of 10
How to Grill Like a German - Barbecue German Style With a Schwenker
First, a caveat: Most Germans grill over hibachis or small, electric grills (to minimize smoke). Sometimes they grill on their balconies, but when this is not allowed, parks are used, where open fires are not often permitted.
If you are lucky enough to own a "Schraebergarten" (a small community of gardens), however, or be in a forested area where "Schwenkers" are allowed, you may enjoy the fun of an open beech wood fire and a grill suspended from a tripod set up.
Originating in... Saarland (southwest Germany, borders France) and adopted all over Germany, the "Schwenker" is a fun and delicious outdoor past time. My research has not clarified who first came up with the idea of a grill and tripod, but it does make sense. After all, a tripod is very stable on uneven terrain and can be put together and taken down with few tools. This grilling set up is truly low-tech, and yields great results.
The photo shows our "Schwenker" set up in Colorado, where we made do with American materials. Read on for more details.Continue to 2 of 10 below.
02 of 10
A Traditional Schwenker Evening Includes Pork Schnitzel and Bratwurst
You wouldn't want to have to choose between either bratwurst or pork cutlets, but a typical German "Grillfest" is usually short on beef products. Some great ideas for grilling:
- Lyoner sausage - rolled into a coil. Some bratwurst come this way, too.
- Turkey or chicken schnitzel
- Grilled vegetables
- "Schwenkbraten", a marinated pork roast or cutlets
In Germany, you can often buy pork cutlets ready-to-grill at the butcher's, but in the US, you will probably need to make your own.... A German pork cutlet or "Schnitzel" is a cross section of a shoulder roast, cut 1/2 to 3/4 inches thick. It has meaty sections tied together with fat and connective tissue. This tissue keeps the meat moist while grilling.
In the photo, I have an eight-pound roast. I cut off the half with the bone and saved it for another meal. The other four pound section was cut, parallel to what is facing us in the photo, into cutlets and marinated. This served 6 hungry people easily, even after one cutlet landed in the dirt while grilling.Continue to 3 of 10 below.
03 of 10
Marinade the Meat for the Schwenker - German Grilling
Traditionally the meat is marinated for at least 24 hours. You can get away with marinating just a few hours, if you are pressed for time. Onions and marinade are layered with the steaks in a bowl. Turn the steaks and make sure both sides are well-coated in marinade. Cover the bowl and refrigerate.
Click here for the traditional Schwenker Marinade Recipe.Continue to 4 of 10 below.
04 of 10
An American Innovation - Use a Ziplock to Marinade your German Schwenkbraten
Plastic zip bags are rare in Germany. I'm not sure why, but Germans do tend to be a little wary of plastics leaching undesirable chemicals, as well as landfill and use of resources. They do have other kinds of plastic bags, so this lack of zip bag adoption is still a mystery to me (as well as their slow adoption of the slow cooker).
But there are several arguments in favor of the zipper bags. They are sanitary, they do not leak during transportation, they are compact and fit into a... refrigerator more easily. You do not have to mix the cutlets, you just flip the bag over to stir. They also save water by being disposable. So feel free to break with tradition and use a gallon-size zippered bag for your German feast.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
05 of 10
Getting to the Heart of the Schwenker - Making Your Tripod
So now you are ready to grill. You have thoughtfully brought along three pieces of metal, each about six or more feet long. Also in your kit is a non-flammable way to knot them together at the top.
In the photo, you can see that we chose six-foot fence posts, but you could use sturdy rebar or other metal material. We leaned them together in a triangle and wrapped electric fence wire around the top to hold them. Then, we moved the tripod and positioned it over the fire.Continue to 6 of 10 below.
06 of 10
Set Up the Grill for the Schwenker
Ideally, you will want to raise and lower the grill to better control cooking times. Our round grill was borrowed from the smoker oven we have. The chain was a dog chain, cut into several pieces with wire cutters.
Some links were cut only on one side so we could attach and suspend the grill from the chain (in a triangle) and then the chain from the tripod. Before it was hung from the tripod it was checked and adjusted very carefully for balance.Continue to 7 of 10 below.
07 of 10
Grilling on a German Schwenker
The grill and chain was suspended over the wired-together top over the fire and coals. The fire was started about an hour before grilling to give us good heat rather than flames.
Traditionally, beech wood is used, however in Colorado we used juniper and pinon pine wood. Beech wood does impart a specific flavor, but its unavailability should not stop you from grilling. You may also make a charcoal fire for this project.
The chain loops around the top of the tripod and hangs down one side. We were... lucky with the fence posts because the stabilizer bar (the piece that looks like an arrowhead) was convenient for wrapping the chain to keep it from slipping. It was easy to unwrap and adjust the height of the grill.
Remove the meat from the marinade a piece at a time, shake off most of the onions and place it on the grill. In this session, the grill was very stable and did not tip because it was well balanced.Continue to 8 of 10 below.
08 of 10
Turning the Meat on the German Schwenker
The meat will take 8 to 10 minutes per side to grill. Stabilize the "Schwenker" (grill) if needed as you turn the meat. We forgot the barbecue tongs and had to use these little ones.
You may also want to grill foil food packets. We placed a separate grill over some coals and grilled some delicious vegetable packets. Turn as needed.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
09 of 10
Grilled Vegetables - A Healthy Addition to Your Next Outdoor Grill
Grilling vegetables is simple. The vegetables gain so much flavor from the outdoor cooking method that you can keep spices and salt to a minimum. We steamed vegetables in foil packets but if you have a grill basket, use it for a wonderful experience as well.
In the photo, you see 1 1/2 cups red and yellow bell pepper spiced with dried basil and freshly ground pepper. A little olive oil was added, too.
We also made mushroom packages that were consumed before they could be photographed. For them, I... quartered button mushrooms, added a tablespoon of white wine and a tablespoon of olive oil. A little pepper was their only spice.Continue to 10 of 10 below.
10 of 10
Living the Good Life - The Meat is Ready
Hot off the grill, the "Schwenkbraten" (marinated pork cutlets) is ready to go. I hope this tutorial inspires you to grill next weekend. Guten Appetit!