- Schwenker or Schwenkbraten is a marinated pork neck steak which originates from the Saarland (known there as Schwenksteak) and is grilled on a Schwenker (2). Normally either a green herb or red paprika marinade is used when preparing Schwenkbraten. Traditionally, Schwenkbraten is made of pork, but turkey variants have also become popular recently. Schwenkbraten are about the size of a hand in length and width and are about 1 cm to 3 cm thick.
- A Schwenker is a grill on which the Schwenker steak typically is grilled. The Schwenker consists of a fire bowl (or just the camp fire) and a swinging grill hung from a tripod or in fewer cases from a gallows-like structure. Schwenkers are sometimes created from various handy materials in an impromptu fashion, but “Schwenk-Grills” can be purchased in local supermarkets, and in DIY stores.
- A person who operates the Schwenker grill is also called Schwenker or less frequently, Schwenkermeister.
Grilling is done over an open beech wood fire. Charcoal is sometimes used, but that is regarded as sub-standard because the beech smoke is considered to be an important part of the process. Gas-fueled grills are never used (except in commercial snack bars).
Beside the Schwenker (1), also sausages (German bratwurst and French merguez), different vegetables (such as bell peppers), Brötchen (German bread rolls German cuisine), baguette (French type of bread) with garlic butter, potatoes and feta cheese (the latter three protected in aluminium foil) may be grilled.
Various side salads (usually a pasta (typically fusilli or spiralini) salad, a potato salad and a green salad), and baguette or even better Flutes are served with Schwenker. Many prefer specific beers (preferably a pils by one of the local breweries) with their Schwenker.
Legend has it that this style of cooking came to the region from South America. The region's Agate cutters had to travel further afield for their supplies as the local deposits became worked out in the early 19th Century and it is said that they enjoyed the Churrascaria they found in Brazil. The main similarity is that large chunks of meat are cooked over an open fire and served with vegetables.
The process of grilling the Schwenker is known as “Schwenken”, which not only describes the grilling process itself but also the social event which surrounds the grilling activity. In Saarland one would not be invited to a barbecue, but would instead be invited “Schwenken”.
In the nearby Hunsrück district of Rhineland-Palatinate, the local speciality Spießbraten is often served along with or instead of Schwenker. Raw meat, most usually pork neck or loin but sometimes also beef is marinated in a mixture of onions, salt and pepper for several hours. The meat is then roasted over an open beech log fire and served with potatoes and grated radish or seasoned cabbage. This is carried out in a similar manner to Schwenker, on a large grill resembling a wheel hanging down above the fire. The wheel is rotated slowly over the fire to ensure even cooking.
A dish beyond borders
Swinging grills and the aforementioned cuts are gaining popularity. If it's true that the Germans brought it from Brazil, it's also true that Americans brought it back to the U.S.A. USAF "AMMO" troops stationed at Morbach/Wenigerath Non-nuclear Munitions Storage Area (1950's to early 1990's) enjoyed occasional "End of the Road" parties at a picnic area located at the entrance to their "Bomb Dump." The main ingredient to the parties (aside from the Bitburger beer) were ample amounts of Schwenkbratens: known by the AMMO troops as "Schwenks." A very welcome term was the sentence: "Schwenks and Bits at the end of the road after Commanders Call!" Spießbraten was often used. Many AMMO troops and other service members brought this cooking process back to the States with them.
It is popular at beer festivals and other outdoor events and is also served in local restaurants, frequently accompanied with bratkartoffeln (sliced fried potatoes), onions and sweet cucumber.
For many years the town of Idar-Oberstein hosted an annual Spießbraten Festival.
- Prichep, Deena (2012-08-16). "Creating A Schwenker World, One Backyard Grill At A Time". npr.org. National Public Radio. Retrieved August 16, 2012.
- McGavin, Jennifer. "Grilling on a German Schwenker". About.com. Retrieved 24 September 2013.
- "Barbecues Around the World: Germany’s “Grillen” Barbecue". Bbqbarbecues. Retrieved 24 September 2013.
- SchwenkTheWorld. Foundation from Saarland which spreads the Schwenk culture all over the world by nominating ambassadors for each country.