By Drew Olson Special to Published May 25, 2006 at 5:53 AM Photography: Neil Kiekhofer of Front Room Photography

Rush-hour traffic has progressed from unusually heavy to virtually unbearable.

Patience shrinks swiftly as the snarl grows. The frantic and frustrated have no use for the dawdling and distracted.

The Marquette Interchange at 4:55 p.m. on Friday?

Good guess.

But, we're talking about carts, not cars. The traffic jam in question is at the butcher counter at your local grocery store.

The warm, pleasant weather marks the unofficial start of the outdoor grilling season in Wisconsin. Butchers, bakers, cart wranglers and checkout clerks at stores throughout the area are bracing themselves for big crowds over the next four days.

In anticipation of the big feast, we asked a few local experts to compile a few critical tips for a successful backyard barbecue experience. The first one is both obvious and a blatant rip-off from the Boy Scouts of America:

Be prepared.

It's a good idea to make a detailed list and do your shopping a day in advance. The last thing you want to do just as your guests are arriving is sprint down to the store for beer, soda, ice, coleslaw, chips, salsa, ketchup or mustard. Make sure the grill is working and ready to roll. If your grill is gas, make sure that the propane tank is full (it helps to have a backup on hand). If you and your grill are "old school," make sure that you have charcoal and starter fluid.

With the basics covered, it's time to get specific. For that, we consulted a panel of experts that included Brewers TV announcer Bill Schroeder, local restaurateur Steve "Saz" Sazama and the vice presidents for sales / marketing of the two Milwaukee sausage companies: John Gabe (Usinger's Famous Sausage) and Dan Lipke (Klement's).

When he's not in the broadcast booth at Miller Park or in his boat, Bill Schroeder can usually be found standing in front of a Weber gas grill on his backyard deck. Last year, he parlayed his passion into a popular pre-game segment on Fox Sports North called "Bill's Grill."

"I take a lot of pride in my grilling," said Schroeder, who demonstrated his method for cooking steaks, burgers, brats, corn on the cob, shrimp on a skewer and even unconventional things like Cuban sandwiches (steak, shaved ham and cheese) and even pizza on his grill.

"I'm out there year round and I love it."

When asked to impart some of his best tips, Schroeder -- who spent eight years as a big-league catcher -- called for the heat.

"You've got to preheat the grill," he said. "If you're using charcoal, you have to let the coals burn long enough to get hot. Even if you're using gas, you don't just fire the grill up and put the meat on right away. You want those grates to be hot."

Like all outdoor cooking aficionados, Schroeder knows that having meat thawed to roughly room temperature before putting it on the flame promotes even cooking.

"I love doing chicken," he said. "I like to butterfly a whole chicken, take the backbone out, marinate it and then flatten it out and stick it on the grill with a brick on top of it. That cuts down the cooking time."

Barbecue sauce is a potential pitfall, Schroeder said. "A lot of people put barbecue sauce on their chicken before it is done and it just burns," he said. "I always wait until just before I take the chicken off to put that on.

"Another thing is that helps is to cook chicken with indirect heat. If you have coals, you pile them in the middle and put the chicken on the edges of the grate. If you use gas, put the chicken on low heat on one side of the grill, turn the gas up high on the other side and close the lid. That gives you the indirect heat and makes for more even cooking."

That method also works for ribs, which Schroeder can be tough to master on the grill. Sazama, who has been selling ribs at his restaurant, Saz's State House, for 30 years, said the key is to bake or slow-cook the ribs before putting them on the grill over low heat with the bone side down.

"It takes longer than normal," Sazama said of his method. "But, it really keeps them from drying out." And for sauce? "I like it when people use lots of my sauce."

When it comes to steak and burgers, Schroeder said that timing is everything.

"A lot of people overcook hamburgers and steaks," he said. "You want to take a hamburger off before it's actually done. As it sits on the plate, it's going to continue to cook. It's the same thing with a steak.

"When you're doing steaks, a lot of people take them off the grill and start eating them right away. You've got to let them sit so the juices will transfer back into the meat. If you don't do that, when you cut it open you're just going to get a pile of juice on the plate and it will dry it out inside.

Another big mistake people make is that they flip steaks and burgers before they are ready. You have to test them with your finger or the tongs before you flip. You don't use a fork, because you don't want any juices to run out."

Just as he isn't afraid to express his opinion during Brewers broadcasts, Schroeder didn't hesitate to weigh in on the great bratwurst controversy. During Thanksgiving and Christmas, family members often fight over the turkey leg. During the grilling season, conflicts arise whether or when to boil brats in beer and onions. Should it be done before cooking, after or not at all?

"I think it's a mistake when people boil brats before they grill them," Schroeder said. "I like to grill them up and then put them in a pan with beer and onions. They'll last hours that way and they won't dry out."

Dan Lipke, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Klement's Sausage Company, Inc., is a big fan of parboiling brats but said that it is strictly a matter of personal preference.

"We like to say that every grilling master is his own Patio Daddio," Lipke said. "For Dan Lipke, I've been at Klement's for 22 years and I do parboil in Miller products. Klement's is Wisconsin proud and we use Miller products in our beer brats, so that's what I use."

John Gabe, who is vice president of sales and marketing at Usinger's Famous Sausage, likes to drink a beer while his grill heats up or the brats are cooking, but he doesn't dunk the sausages before or after.

"Onions are fine, but beer sometimes imparts a flavor that some people like and some people don't," Gabe said. "If you've got a good bratwurst, we're really believers that you don't need a lot of stuff."

Lipke and Gabe both agreed that one of the major mistakes in brat cooking is that people rush to the finish.

"On the charcoal side, you have to let the coals go to a white ash exterior or you're going to get a taste from the fluid," Lipke said. "With a gas grill, the distance to the flame is perfect, but with coals you want to make sure that the sausage is eight to 10 inches above the fire. If it's too close, you'll split the casing."

Split casings lead to splatter. Splatter leads to flare-ups. Flareups can lead to burned brats.

"I'd say that it takes 20 to 25 minutes (to cook a brat), just like it says on the back of the package," Lipke said. "You should avoid using a fork to turn them, because it will unlock the taste of the product. Turn them often and keep the grill covered. I'd rather have the product on a little longer at low to medium heat than burn them up."

Gabe also endorses the slow, steady method.

"Grilling is an experience," Gabe said. "You need to take your time, close the lid once in awhile and kick back. I think you should enjoy it from the start of the process - from the minute you pick up those Usinger brats in the store."

Both Klement's and Usinger's offer a variety of different flavors of brats, including some that are pre-cooked. Klement's has unveiled a line of products called "Honest to Grillness," which come with grill marks and are ready for the microwave.

"They're for the yuppie mom," Lipke said. "It makes it look like she was standing in front of the grill."

Gabe said that Usinger's is excited about its specialty sausages, some of which feature chicken.

"We've got one that is chicken with Canadian bacon and Swiss cheese," he said. "It's like chicken cordon bleu. We've got a back and cheddar and a romano (cheese) and sun-dried tomato and a chicken Italian with mozzarella cheese. We found that chicken sausage can be dry because it's so lean, but if you put some cheese in there… who in Wisconsin doesn't like cheese?"

Who in Wisconsin doesn't like brats?

"I love them," said Brewers radio announcer Bob Uecker, who partnered with Usinger's to produce a line of "Mr. Baseball Brats," with proceeds benefiting the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Wisconsin.

Where does Uecker come down on the beer / boiling argument?

"My son boils them in beer before he grills them," Uecker said. "They're good, but I don't do that. With the "Mr. Baseball" brats, they have more spices and a little brown sugar in them. They're a little sweeter. Beer screws them up.

"I've had the chicken brats from Usinger's and they are really good. It tastes just like a regular brat."

Because of the baseball schedule and his penchant for fishing and golf, Uecker doesn't get to do a lot of grilling in the summer. "I'll do it once in awhile," he said. "I enjoy it."

Drew Olson Special to

Host of “The Drew Olson Show,” which airs 1-3 p.m. weekdays on The Big 902. Sidekick on “The Mike Heller Show,” airing weekdays on The Big 920 and a statewide network including stations in Madison, Appleton and Wausau. Co-author of Bill Schroeder’s “If These Walls Could Talk: Milwaukee Brewers” on Triumph Books. Co-host of “Big 12 Sports Saturday,” which airs Saturdays during football season on WISN-12. Former senior editor at Former reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.