Barbecue season is in full swing and that means meals full of delicious, smoky foods and all the classic side dishes you’ve come to love. From weekends to holidays, there are plenty of chances to gather with friends and family, fire up the grill, and enjoy a meal together.
While much has been said about the food, from which meats to cook, to seasonings and side dishes, drinks are often forgotten. The meal is the star, after all, but that doesn’t mean beverages should be neglected.
Sometimes finding the perfect drink pairing can make a meal that much more delicious. But what do you drink with BBQ? How do you figure out what goes well with each dish? Don’t worry, you don’t have to try every drink out there to learn how to match drinks with your barbecue menu.
Although it’s easy to just grab a six-pack of a random brand of beer to bring along when you’re invited to a barbecue. Beer is cheap and everyone loves it so it’s an obvious choice. But imagine if you could find something even better to wow your hosts and guests.
Instead of mindlessly reaching for whatever’s convenient, you’ll learn exactly what to bring to enhance whatever is being served. Soon you’ll discover the magic of food and drink pairings that will have your taste buds electrified with flavors you never knew existed.
How to Choose Drinks to Go with Barbecue
Barbecues are a laid-back event that is usually quite casual so there’s no need to splurge on expensive beverages. Instead, find affordable options that are still delicious but will allow you to buy in volume so there’s enough for everyone to enjoy.
Because many barbecues happen during the day, look for drinks that have a low-alcohol content because you’ll be day-drinking and won’t want to overdo it. Something with a light, refreshing, or fruity flavor that can be served chilled is always a good idea because it helps combat the summer heat.
Make sure to put a little less alcohol into your mixed drinks so you don’t have to worry about a hangover. Not to mention a high alcohol content can actually make your spicy dishes taste even spicier. Instead, opt for something light and sweet that will complement both spicy and salty foods.
Wines to Pair with Barbecue
Sparkling wines and bubbly ciders are an excellent option, as is boxed wine because it’s easy to bring along to a picnic and you won’t have to worry about broken glass. There are countless flavors of cider to choose from so it will be fun selecting new varieties to try with friends.
Depending on what you’re grilling, some wines are better than others. Red wines pair well with smoky or spicy meats and a Pinot Noir or the more affordable Cru Beaujolais easy to drink and has a low alcohol content too.
Try to match your wine to the sauce while keeping in mind the type of meat that is being served. Smokier barbecue requires a wine with higher acidity. Red Zinfandel goes well with Kansas City barbecue because it brings out the black pepper and complements the molasses in the sauce.
Tangy Memphis barbecue goes well with white wine that has brighter notes or a touch of citrus. White wine is also classically paired with fish, chicken, and pork. Fattier fish goes great with Chardonnay or a white Burgundy. Chardonnay is also perfect for vegetable burgers or beef burgers served with mushroom sauce.
A rosé is an excellent option because it’s served chilled and its acidic nature can stand up to the strong grilled flavors. Prosecco and Cava help beat the heat and go well with just about anything. Skip the Champagne though because it’s too formal and may be too heavy for a light get together.
For meat-heavy barbecues that feature steak, ribs, or beef tenderloin, you’ll need a heartier red wine. Pork and salmon also go well with Pinot Noir, as do smoked meats and those that incorporate bacon.
Overall, try not to take your pairings too seriously or you will lose the simplicity and casual feel of your gathering. Try out different drinks to see which you prefer or have a wine tasting at your next barbecue to find new favorites.
Best Beers to Match Your Meal
Like wine, there are different types of beer that have a signature flavor and go well with certain dishes. If you’re making a specific style of barbecue, there is a beer to go with each kind.
For Texas-style BBQ, the meat is the star of the show so it’s best to choose amber or blonde ale that won’t overpower your protein. Cream ales, on the other hand, complement the sweetness of Kansas City BBQ which features a sweet sauce that incorporates molasses.
North Carolina BBQ features a vinegar-based sauce so you need something to balance out the acidity and a milk stout or dark lager will do the trick. For the dry rub on ribs or pulled pork found in Memphis BBQ, opt for a Porter or Scotch Ale. Amber Ales or lagers also go well with pulled pork and can even be used to braise your meats.
For classic burgers, choose a hoppy IPA that will complement the meat. For sausages and bratwurst, opt for a lager that pairs well with the smokiness and spiciness although a pale lager might be better with chorizo.
Lighter proteins like chicken which are often marinated in herbs or citrus flavors go well with brighter beers like Pilsner. Wings also go well with Pilsner and its light notes help balance the sauce and heat of the chicken. Wheat beers are great for eating with vegetables and seafood for those who don’t want something as heavy as steak.
However, just as red wine can stand up to hearty meats, you’ll need a dark Porter or any beer with a robust flavor that won’t be overwhelmed by steak. If you’re using a rub, you can match it by choosing a beer that has a chocolate or smoky element.
Ribs are also quite hearty so they are best paired with a stout that can match their boldness and flavor.
Food and Cocktail Pairings
In addition to wine and beer, cocktails are a wonderful way to enhance a barbecue because they are light, refreshing, and served chilled. They are somewhat more laid back than wine and the flavor pairings are endless.
Cocktails can also pair by either contrasting or matching similar flavors in the meal. Spicier dishes or meats with a rub will need something light and sweet to help cool down the heat. Herbs also tie in drinks to marinades or enhance flavors with every bite.
Punch comes in so many flavors and is ideal for hosting summer barbecues because you can mix up a big batch in advance. Guests can serve themselves, lending an air of casualness and ease to the event. Just make sure to keep it well chilled and to make enough so you don’t run out before the main meal has been served.
Experiment with a variety of bitters, liquor, soda, fruit juices, simple syrup, and refreshing citrus elements to make a delicious drink. You’re sure to find a recipe to use up the various bottles you have lying around or you can invent your own punch.
Because punch is so light and often fruity, it may not stand up to bold meats but is ideal when served before the main meal. It also goes well with appetizers and lighter fare such as grilled vegetables, chicken, and seafood.
Margaritas are another excellent option and need not be served only when eating Mexican food. Add pureed fruit and fresh juice to flavor the basic margarita recipe. Make frozen margaritas by blending with ice and you’ll have a hit on your hands for those blistering hot summer days.
You can even add jalapeno for a spicier margarita to pair with heartier dishes. Margaritas are great paired with seafood or skewers with marinated veggies and chicken or shrimp.
The Mojito is a summertime classic for a reason. It has just the right amount of sweetness and mint gives it freshness and a hint of brightness. They can also be flavored with oranges, mangoes, strawberries, and even green tea.
Sangria is made by adding red wine to chopped fruit and other ingredients. Because it has a deeper base, it will pair well with beef and pork because it is hearty and has a bolder, deeper flavor.
Like punch, Spritzers are another excellent drink for summer days and can be enjoyed by everyone. They are a lighter alternative to sangria because they often feature white wine or juice along with tequila, rum or vodka. You can even add in champagne or soda water for more fizz.
Combine refreshing fruits like cucumbers, oranges, cherries, watermelons or strawberries to personalize each drink. Garnish with citrus or sprigs of fresh mint and pair them with lighter appetizers in anticipation of the barbecue main course.