It’s grilling season. There are only a few phrases that get me more excited than these three words. Sure, “Free beer” and “Do you want to balance the checkbook?” (a phrase my wife and I used when, well, you know…) get my blood going too, but “Its grilling season is right up there with those phrases. Let’s say it’s in third place. Now that we have established the phrases that rev my engine, let’s get down to a discussion of how beer and barbeque belong together like lovers in a Cialis commercial.
First things first; barbeque means different things to different people. For some, the simple act of throwing meat on a grill – gas, charcoal or electric – epitomizes the cooking technique. Others will disagree and say that is grilling; barbeque requires low, indirect heat and excruciatingly slow cooking. For our purposes, we will use the first definition. Meat (or veggies if that’s your thing) cooked on a grill, over a heat source is ‘que to us! And, nothing goes better with smoky, delicious grilled foods than cold beer. But, which beer goes best with each different type of food? I’m glad you asked, I have a few suggestions.
Perhaps the most common food found on grills in backyards across the country is the humble hamburger. I get weak in the knees at the thought of a medium-rare burger dripping with cheese on a potato roll with lettuce, tomato, pickles and home-made barbeque sauce (I grew up in St. Louis, so my sauce choice is sweet, brown sugar or molasses-based). Finding a beer to match this culinary equivalent of Nirvana may seem simple. Many might say just grab an IPA and go. I disagree. Sure the hoppy bitterness will provide a wonderful foil for the flavors of the burger, but a beer with a bit of smokiness will really make it sing. Try a black IPA, smoked porter or regular porter. You’ll thank me.
Beef is the king of all meats. Throw a superbly-marbled ribeye on the grill and nothing short of magic is in the offing. A rich cut of beef like this deserves a rich beer to go along with it. In this case, a stout black as midnight and thick as motor oil is just the thing. The dark, roasty flavors that develop in the kilning of malts for stouts provide a perfect contrast to the char crust that steak develops when cooked on the grill. Leaner cuts of beef like New York Strip or hanger steak require a slightly less aggressive approach. These cuts tend to be milder in flavor and thus would benefit from milder beers like brown ales.
Chicken (and anything that tastes like it)
There are several different ways you can go here. A straight-forward, throw-it-on-the-grill a slap some BBQ sauce on it preparation is most common. The crispy, umami flavor of the skin, slathered with sweet, tangy sauce just begs for a rich lager like dunkel or even a crisp, refreshing Vienna lager. For those who get a bit fancier and use citrus juices and herbs on their chicken, I recommend grassy, herbal saison. And, if you go the jerk route, you will probably want something to put out the fire in your mouth. Look for a helles lager to soothe the burn.
As I said earlier, I grew up in St. Louis. To us barbeque meant just one thing grilled pork steaks – Boston butt cut in to steaks – cooked until crispy on the edges and then glazed with sweet sauce. My father taught me to baste the steaks with beer as they cook to add yet another amazing layer of flavor. But, to others, pulled pork or ribs are the order of the day when it comes to putting the pig on the fire. No matter how you like it cooked, pair your pork with wee heavy. This Scottish style is made with smoked peat malt and is reminiscent of single-malt Scotch with its sweet, dark fruit and earthy flavors.
No matter how you define barbeque, I think we are all in agreement that any time meat meets fire good things are bound to happen. Once the cooking is done, all you need to do is arm yourself with an appropriate brew and settle in to a tasty meal.
A few brews you can find locally to pair with your charred meat include:
Orkney Skull Splitter Wee Heavy
Creamy and smooth, yet full of fruity goodness, this heavy-weight (8.5% ABV) will elevate your pork dishes in to barbeque Valhalla.
Leinenkugel’s Helles Yeah
Bright and citrusy, this Wisconsin version of the classic German style makes a great companion to spicy chicken dishes.
Intuition Ale Works King Street Stout
Locally-brewed and full on delicious, this stout will holds up nicely to a rich, thick steak.