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Beer-cheese soup with bratwurst offers a crave-worthy taste of the Midwest. [Photograph: Jennifer Olvera]

Being a Midwestern gal, I appreciate a solid beer-cheese soup. Now, I know a rich, hot, cheesy soup may not sound like summertime fare (or maybe it does, if you're hardcore like me), but my version has a killer summer element that makes it feel somehow seasonally appropriate: grilled brats.

Spiked with hot sauce and cayenne, the soup has an undercurrent of smokiness from both bacon and the grilled meat. Meanwhile, it receives a bit of heft from the addition of potatoes, tang from dry mustard and Dijon, and richness from the addition of cheese, heavy cream, and milk. Not to be overlooked: the beer the brats cook in is also added to the mix.

It might be tempting to cook the brats on the stovetop instead, but something would be missing. You really want that smoky char incorporated into the soup. It makes a world of difference.

If you want the soup spicier, play with the amount of cayenne and hot sauce. Worcestershire, like the mustards, is key to building the favor profile; to remove them would land you with a one-note soup.

There are several keys to this soup's perfect texture. First, most versions of beer-cheese soup use cheddar and cheddar alone, but I find Velveeta offers an incomparable creaminess, especially when combined with a base of chicken stock, heavy cream, and whole milk. Second, I use flour to thicken the soup a bit, but you need to whisk it with some of the liquid before adding it in so you don't create lumps. And third, I add potatoes in small enough bits that they cook quickly and break down a little, also thickening the soup.

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