How to Use Beer in Barbecue
Posted by Jake Eller on
A barbecue without beer...well, it’s no kind of barbecue for us.
The combination of beer and BBQ is time-tested and undeniably perfect. In fact, there are ways to pair your beer with BBQ outside of just washing down that brisket with an IPA (although, admittedly, we’d always recommend that too).
Today, we’re gonna look at a few foolproof, creative ways to combine that beloved beer flavor and some good ol’ fashioned 'Q'.
As a Marinade or Brine
This is probably the most obvious option on our list. Marinating your proteins before cooking is always a good call. A big-on-flavor marinade or brine can really make all the difference when it comes to your final, cooked product. While bathing your pork in a bucket of beer does sound enticing, with a few other ingredients and aromatics, we can really make the beer-marinade sing. Try adding some garlic or rosemary to the mix to compliment that malty beer flavor. We’d think of the beer as more of a base for a marinade or a brine.
As a good rule of thumb, the heavier the protein, the darker of a beer you want to use. When marinating something like chicken or fish, stick with a lighter, more crisp beer. The delicate nature of the meat will be able to carry the beer’s subtle flavor. On the other hand, when working with something like brisket or ribs, you really want to bombard your protein with the beer flavor. Use a dark porter or a stout here to really make sure the beer can stand up to the flavor of the meat.
As a Baste/Mop
Basting (or ‘mopping,’ as us Grillaholics call it) is a great technique to have at your disposal for any piece of meat. With mopping, we can impart just about any flavor in the world...given we make a nice, flavor-packed liquid to use. For us, there’s no better candidate than a nice porter or stout. You don’t have to do anything too complicated here, either! In fact, we’d say the simpler, the better.
Our go-to is a simple mixture. One part dark beer, one part barbecue sauce, and a bit of butter. The sugars in the beer and barbecue sauce will combine with the fats in the butter to help create an incredible brown crust. We recommend to mopping 3-5 times during the cooking process. Don’t be shy -- the more you mop, the more flavor you get!
Building a Sauce
Making a barbecue sauce can be as simple, or as complicated, as you want it to be. We’ve tried fantastic sauces that have well over a dozen ingredients, all incorporated with borderline-scientific precision and space-age cooking techniques. Then, we’ve had other, equally incredible mixtures that seem to require little more than a few ingredients mixed up in a pot. A classic example of this is a BBQ sauce made of just brown sugar and apple cider vinegar - It's GREAT on pulled pork!
The most simple way to use beer to do this? Add half part beer, and one onion, to one part bottled, pre-made barbecue sauce. Simmer for a few hours, very gently. This will add that malty, hoppy beer flavor to your favorite barbecue sauce. For us, it’s a simple winner.
But, there are absolutely endless combinations. With the huge wealth of craft beer varieties out there today, we’d definitely suggest experimenting. Whether using a fruit-forward beer paired with delicate fish, or a mixture with vanilla and coffee to a pork shoulder; beer and barbecue sauce are a match made in heaven.
Perhaps try a cider in your sauce while you’re at it!
Beer Can Chicken
Sorry folks. We had to put this one on here. It’s a classic! For the unindoctrinated, all you need for this barebones approach is a can of beer, some cooking oil, and a whole chicken. Salt and pepper helps, too.
First, get your beer. It doesn’t matter what kind it is, but something ‘middle of the road’ tends to be our choice here. We really just want that super basic, straightforward ‘beer’ flavor. Now, drink half of the can (or the entire thing, plus half of another can -- we aren’t judging).
Next, take all the giblets and innards out of your whole chicken. Coat the bird evenly in oil, then with a liberal sprinkling of salt and pepper.
From there, place the beer can on a solid surface. Grab a chicken leg in each hand, and pop the bird cavity over the beer can. Transfer the bird-on-a-can to your grill grates, and balance it like a tripod, using the two legs and the can. It looks silly, but trust us -- it’s mighty tasty. From there, cook on medium-high indirect heat. The result will be a deliciously moist, juicy chicken with some awesome, malty-hoppy flavor!
In a Braising Liquid
We’ve talked a bit about campfire/grill braising in the past. The short version: braising is cooking meat in a pot, with some liquid.
For us, beer is a natural, welcome companion to that conversation. When braising, you’re typically going to be working with heavy, hearty sorts of proteins and meals. And so, often the braising liquid is a rich, red wine. Or, it may be a heavy beef stock. Instead -- we say reach for the beer!
A dark stout is going to be a fantastic pairing in your next braise. The combination of the malty, heartiness in the beer itself will play wonderfully off the ingredients in your pot.
And what’s more -- it doesn’t have to be anything too scientific. You want the braising liquid to be about halfway covering the protein, but other than that -- have a field day! Our simplest, most enjoyable suggestion? A bottle of beer, an onion, some carrots, celery, and a few cloves of garlic.
There are loads more ways to incorporate beer into your next BBQ! We’d always suggest experimenting on your own. Make some glazes, or some sauces. Try soaking your wood chips in beer. Do your own thing!
Or...Is your favorite marriage of beer-and-barbecue missing from our list? Let us know in the comments below!