By Sarah Koehler | Photos by Holly Leitner
As the days start getting shorter and the temperatures start falling, autumn is actually the perfect time for outdoor grilling. Why not have some friends over to watch the big game while cooking up the best burgers, brats and steaks the Lake Geneva area has to offer? Several top-quality, local butchers and meat markets are ready to me(a)t and exceed your autumn grilling needs.
Today, while many folks still use a classic Weber, grill options have also gotten a lot fancier, including “cooking systems” such as the Big Green Egg or other kamado-style cookers, plus smokers, flat-top griddles and more. The days of waiting 20 or 30 minutes for charcoal to heat up are gone, as many homes now have their grills tied directly into their home gas- line, allowing for year-round grilling. Whichever type of grill you choose, start with a great cut of meat, and then cook it to your likeness. For those new to the grill game, your local butcher can help you with advice for every kind of meat on every kind of grill.
Lake Geneva Country Meats (5907 State Road 50 East) offers a large array of hard-to-find cuts, as well as both fresh and frozen butcher cuts. Vice president Nick Vorpagel says the most popular item at the store is the fresh cherry bratwurst. “Every year we keep selling more and more of these,” he says. “It sounds a little weird, but this isn’t a super sweet sausage or packed with cherry. I think that people try it for the first time as a novelty or because they see so many other people ordering it, but then they love it and can’t imagine getting anything else.”
For fall, Vorpagel says bringing together pork and apples is the perfect classic combination: “Pulled pork shoulder with an apple-cider-and- onion barbecue sauce is a yummy twist on traditional pulled pork, or pork tenderloin and apple kabobs on the grill are delicious and a good way to use some extra apples. And, of course, pork chops and apple sauce is a classic!”
Lake Geneva Country Meats’ website also features recipes and game day ideas. Try the bacon-wrapped chicken tenders, or opt for “Green and Gold” brats: fresh cheddar and pepper bratwurst topped with Wisconsin cheddar cheese, caramelized onions, sauteed jalapeño peppers, chopped green onions and bacon!
Another option for fresh cuts of meat, personalized service and a wide selection is Johnstown Meat Company in Walworth (114 Madison St.) or Janesville (10249 E. County Road A). Owned and operated by “Frank the Butcher,” Johnstown is known for their high-quality products, many of which are boxed into packs for economical pricing and convenience. Frank is most proud of the store’s “old-world ways:” “We do things here the way it was done 100 years ago — everything by hand,” he says.
He’s also not afraid to experiment with new flavors — and he encourages customers to do the same! Recently, a new, smaller grinder was added to the equipment line at the Walworth location, allowing for smaller batches of product to be created. The Janesville location has larger equipment, and processes larger batches — literally thousands of pounds of meat each week.
Frank says the bacon-cheddar smashburgers and Johnstown’s hand- sliced bacon are customer favorites, but with this new equipment, he’s looking forward to trying things like brisket burgers, rib eye burgers and even short-rib burgers. He suggests these richer, heartier burgers for fall. You can also check out Frank’s videos on Facebook for more cooking tips, serving suggestions and store announcements.
Perhaps you’re looking for something that can be brought to your door instead? In that case, check out Alden Hills Organic Farms. Located in Walworth and managed by Emily and Levi Powers, the farm specializes in certified-organic meats, including grass-fed beef, pastured poultry and pork, and fresh eggs. Alden Hills operates on a pickup- and delivery- based model — no physical store exists. Place your order online for pickup seven days a week, or opt for Alden Hills’ delivery routes throughout the Lake Geneva area. Emily says Alden Hills’ best-selling item is their pastured, certified-organic bacon, and they often have a hard time keeping it in stock. But don’t worry — they’ll always have more in the works.
If you’re looking for top-quality classic meats or feeling a bit more adventurous and would like to try something new,
head to Wilson Farm Meats in Elkhorn (406 S. Wisconsin St.). Scott Wilson, a fifth-generation farmer, opened Wilson Farm Meats in 2004. In 2018, it became a USDA-inspected facility, which has allowed Wilson’s to sell their locally grown meats to elite restaurants throughout Wisconsin and Illinois, in addition to offering a full selection of fresh and frozen meats direct to consumers in their Elkhorn store. Wilson’s features classic beef and pork cut to order, and also offers more exotic seasonal meats like goose, pheasant, bison, venison, whole ducks and rabbits, Cornish hens, turkey and seafood.
Also carrying on a family tradition is Sorg’s Quality Meats and Sausages in Darien (N4290 U.S. Hwy. 14). Now in its second and third generations of ownership, Sorg’s specializes in custom butchering and meat processing, offering everything from chicken, steak and lamb chops to bison. Their wide selection of bratwursts (50 and counting) has won awards, and their on-site store also features plenty of complementary foods to serve with their meats, including local cheeses, homemade meat and fruit pies, vegetables, pickled products, sauces and seasonings, jams and jellies, as well as a variety of meat snack sticks, jerky and landjaeger.
No matter where you shop, the consensus from all of the local butchers is the same: don’t be afraid to venture a bit out of your comfort zone. For fall, try a new main-course meat, and pair it with something that reflects the colors of the season. Sample a seasonable grilled butternut squash, or lightly oiled and seasoned zucchini slices, and serve your meats with a fresh-from-the-oven slice of cornbread.
Or, for a simpler option, you can still grill up burgers, but opt for more “autumn flavors,” such as a chicken- apple sausage, or a rosemary-and-sage turkey burger. Serve with traditional stuffing, cranberry sauce and grilled (or roasted) baby red garlic potatoes. Once you begin experimenting with the area’s locally raised meats, you’ll find that grilling hours last much longer than the daylight.
Grilling Outside the Box
Frank of Johnstown Meat Company says that “yes,” you can grill a roast! Try a beef roast — either rump or chuck roasts work best — and grill them “low and slow” to get the same even cooking and tenderness you would get from the oven.
Aim to keep the grill at about 400 degrees; a 2-3 pound roast should take about 1 hour to reach a medium-rare temp (145 degrees internally).
You can also slice the meat for sandwiches and wraps!