Grilled meat and a cold beer — is there any better combination? While cracking open one of your favorite brews with a grilled steak makes for a delicious meal, some beer and meat pairings can’t be beat. So how can you unlock these amazing flavor combinations? We’ve got your back.
Below you’ll find almost everything you need to know when it comes to beer and food pairing. Whether you want to know a bit more about some types of beer or how to pair those beverages with meat, seafood and more, this guide will get you started.
As you dive into the world of beer and food pairing, you’ll discover just how many types of beer there are. You may also find that it’s challenging to classify the types of beer out there because they may be classified by:
There is an endless number of beer categories out there, and unless you’re a judge in a brew competition, you don’t need to understand all of them to cook with beer. Knowing a few basics will get you far when it comes to pairing meat and beer, so consider these common beer styles:
1. Pale ale: American varieties of this brew usually have a golden color and medium body. The hop flavor is medium to high, and the overall flavor is crisp, clean and often has notes of citrus.
2. IPA: An IPA, or India Pale Ale, can have a similar, golden color to pale ales but are sometimes a bit darker. With a richer color also comes an elevated flavor of hops and bitter notes.
3. Stout: A dark glass of stout has deep and bitter flavors, like unsweetened chocolate, espresso or burnt bread. These rich beers may also be known as porters since the names have become practically interchangeable.
4. Wheat beer: This category includes Belgian, German and American varieties. Belgian wheat beers have a citrusy zest, while German ones have a unique flavor of banana and clove. American wheat beers are crisper and cleaner with more of a hop flavor and fewer yeast and fruit notes.
5. Lager: Generally speaking, if a beer isn’t an ale, it’s a lager. The above beers could all classify as ales. A lager, though, is a pale yellow color and translucent, and the most popular variety is the American lager. With a low hops flavor and high carbonation, these brews often feature grainy flavors through additional ingredients, such as oats, corn or rice.
6. Pilsner: This brew is a type of lager, but it features a stronger flavor profile, which includes a bitterness, a maltiness and a spicy and floral hop taste. The color is light gold and mostly clear.
These and other beer styles can have flavor profiles that feature bitter, citrus, malt, grain, yeast, fruit and more notes. Lucky for you, those flavors pair well with a variety of grilled meats and foods. You just need to know what goes best with what.
When it’s time to serve up your grilled meats, you want to reach for a nice, cold beer. But how do you go about pairing meat and beer? While we’ll offer some specific pairings in a bit, some basic pairing tips will help you when it comes time to enjoy your meal. Try these different combinations or use them as a guideline:
1. Similar flavors: Some of the best pairings feature the same or similar flavors that complement each other. Light foods go well with light beers, while richer foods often pair nicely with rich brews. A beverage with a hint of citrus goes with meals that feature notes of lemon or lime.
2. Contrasting flavors: While matching flavors go well together, some contrasts can also create a dynamic meal. Sweet flavors from BBQ or grilled fruits go well with the zest of citrus-flavored brews or other bitter flavors.
3. Subtle flavors: Not sure how to pair? You can’t go wrong with a light beer that has subtle flavors. A lager or certain types of wheat beer have subtle notes that won’t overwhelm any type of meal. These are perfect pairings if you want a beer but also want your delicious meal to be the star of the show.
4. Cleansing flavors: Some flavorful meals require a bit of a palate cleansing. Fatty or fried meals or spicy dishes go well with a crisp, light brew that’s refreshing and cleansing. Salty, fried dishes can also cleanse your palate from heavier brews, such as stout.
With those guidelines in mind, you can start pairing beer and food, but if you still find the idea a bit overwhelming, we have some specific tips to help.
Maybe you’re grilling up food for a barbecue with friends and family, or you’re enjoying a small meal for yourself. No matter the company or the meal, the right beer can elevate almost any dish. Food pairings aren’t just for wine anymore. Whether you consult a beer pairing chart or find your favorite food on the list below, you’ll find there’s a style of beer that goes with any and every food. Follow our suggestions below or try to create your own pairings with your favorite food and brew to see what works.
With the robust flavor of a steak, you can choose brew with a strong flavor profile as the perfect pairing. An IPA with citrus notes and the flavor of hops is a favorite with any grilled food, especially a steak with a nice bit of char. If you like your steak simple, you can either do the same with your beer or bring more flavors into your beverage to contrast a delicious steak.
Hot wings and beer is about as iconic as steak and beer. A refreshing light beer can balance with the heat of buffalo wings, but if you’re using a BBQ sauce or something sweeter on any type of chicken, choose something with a citrus flavor or even bitter notes that contrast the sweet.
If you’re enjoying pork at a BBQ, odds are you’re tucking into some mouthwatering ribs. You can’t go wrong with a classic IPA, which has bitter notes that balance out sweet flavors in a BBQ sauce. You can also try an ale, preferably an amber option, with pulled pork since the crisp flavor will round out the savory and sweet taste of BBQ pulled pork.
Grilled seafood, especially shrimp, has a more subtle flavor that you don’t want to overpower with a rich and flavorful beer. Instead, choose light options or even subtle microbrews to go with crab or shrimp dishes. Seafood with a stronger flavor, like oysters, may go better with a robust stout for some contrast.
For fish, the best beer pairing depends on the preparation. While a fried variety, like fish and chips, would go well with something bitter or acidic, grilled fish dishes need something light. Beer pairings for salmon, for example, would include a pilsner or pale lager.
While grilled food can have a smokey char, cooking it in a quality smoker will deliver even bigger flavor. With that enhanced smokiness, you’ll want to pair the right beer. Choose something lighter that lets the flavor of your smoked masterpiece stand out. If you want to match the flavor, choose a stout with a similar deep richness.
If you have guests who don’t eat meat or you’re enjoying some sides before the main meal, you can still have delicious pairings of brew and food. Try wheat beers or light lagers to go with your sides and salads and create a refreshing meal. Other grilled meats and even desserts can also get paired up with a brew:
Almost any food can go with a nice beer, so keep that in mind no matter what you’re grilling or serving up for your next meal.
While beer makes a great companion to just about any grilled meal, you can also use the beverage in your cooking. From sides and sauces to main meals, beer can add an extra depth of flavor to any dish. Here are some of our favorite ways to use various types of beer in cooking:
Smoke, spice and savory pork play well with the dark beer included in our smoked chile verde recipe. Use a Mexican beer with flavors that work with this meal’s green chiles, cilantro and tomatillos for an even more authentic flavor.
This sweet, rich and savory sauce gets a flavor boost from two bottles of Guinness or your favorite stout. Pour it on smoked meats like brisket or use it as a dip when it’s time to eat. As long as your food has a robust flavor, it should pair nicely with this gravy glaze.
This classic use of brew in cooking involves propping a chicken up with a beer can inside the cavity. As the chicken cooks, the beer steams and helps keep the chicken moist, while the skin can get crispy all over since the chicken isn’t laying on one side. While the easiest way to achieve a delicious beer can chicken is to open a can of beer, you could use bottled varieties if you transfer it into an empty can.
When you use beer for this meal, choose ones that have these flavors:
Because of the flavors that work well with beer can chicken, it’s best to avoid stouts and other bitter brews. Pilsners or lagers could work well with beer can chicken, as would many German brews.
While a cold beer has got to be the drink of the summer, you don’t have to leave your brews behind when the weather gets cold. Incorporate beer into dishes like chili, soups or stews for added flavor. Replace a portion of stock or other liquids in recipes with a can or less of beer, depending on your preference. Stouts like Guinness add a richness and depth to stews, making them even heartier. Lighten up a soup with an ale, and enhance your chili with the same variety or a Mexican brew. Acidic or light beers can help cut through the richness of dishes, especially something like a chili and cheese lasagna.
With some final considerations, you’ll be preparing and pairing amazing dishes with your favorite brews. When it’s time for your next get together or you want a few more pointers on pairing beer and meat or other food, remember to:
1. Adjust amounts when cooking: No matter what you add beer to, feel free to adjust recipes to suit your tastes. Try different brews or change the amount listed in the recipe, adjusting other liquids, like stock, accordingly.
2. Cook off the alcohol taste: If you don’t care for a strong alcohol flavor in your meals, you can simmer sauces or the beer itself a bit longer before integrating it into the recipe so some of the alcohol taste cooks off and leaves the brew’s flavor notes behind. Avoid adding splashes of beer into dishes at the last minute unless you want a strong alcohol taste.
3. Think about food flavors with other food: If you still find the idea of pairing beer with food a bit overwhelming, think of it in more simple terms. What flavors would you pair with the food you’re preparing? If lemon goes well with chicken or seafood, choose citrus or acidic flavors in your beer pairings.
4. Let guests know the special ingredient: Be sure to let your guests know you used beer in your cooking in case any of them have an aversion to the beverage. If any guests have dietary restrictions, especially to gluten, they may not be able to have most beers, so keep that in mind as you cook.
5. Offer different varieties: Because there are so many possible flavor combinations and complements with beer and food pairings, have some different varieties on hand that will suit the meal. With more options, your guests can choose between their favorite lagers or ales, and you know that whatever they choose will make an amazing complement to what you’ve cooked.
6. Share your knowledge: Whip out your newfound knowledge on pairing meat and beer at your next BBQ. Suggest pairings to your guests and explain why different brews go better with different meals.
Follow the advice above, and you’re sure to serve up a mouthwatering combination of beer and grilled goods. As always, be sure to drink responsibly and encourage your guests to do the same.
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