Barley + Rye: The right way to barbecue with beer

Two pitmasters, one chef, and two beer experts weigh in with tips and tricks
Grilling season is upon us: Meat, meet beer.

Courtesy of D.B.A Barbecue

Beer shows up in all kinds of food recipes. It adds crisp texture to hunks of beer-battered fish and combines perfectly with a hot pretzel in beer cheese sauce. Beer goes in bread recipes, punches up broth for clams and mussels, and during the summer season, beer can help your grilled meats cook to a flavorful perfection.

Recent science even suggests that marinating meat in beer can reduce the health risks involved with grilling (they say the darker beer, the healthier your grub). But tasting priorities reign. Mark Alba, executive chef of STK Atlanta, says beer “tenderizes the meat due to natural enzymes that help break down tough fibers.” A beer marinade can add rich, caramel-like flavors with floral notes as well, Alba says.

But not every brew will give your meat the same result. We asked a few food and beer experts to share tips and recommendations, as well as their favorite beerinade techniques. Happy grilling.

Matt Coggin, co-owner and pitmaster at D.B.A. Barbecue

Favorite grilled meats: Sausage, Chinese short ribs, shish kabobs.

Favorite beers for marinade: Brown ales that add a nutty flavor. I recommend using beer with mustard and cider to marinate brisket. It helps tenderize and balances the smoke. We serve a lot of “session-style” beer, but Wild Heaven’s Ode to Mercy is great with the smoked brisket. The higher ABV is great with the fatty richness of our salt and peppered brisket.

Mike LaSage, co-owner and pitmaster at Bone Lick BBQ

Favorite grilled meats: One of my favorite meats to barbecue with beer is goat. Last year for the Beast Feast, I got with SweetWater’s brewmaster and we concocted a habanero IPA that we soaked a goat in for 48 hours. It pulled some of the gamey flavor out and help tenderize it. We also give some of our specialty sausages a beer steam, and then mop them with that while grilling.

Favorite beers for marinade: For my rib recipe, I use Miller Highlife. It is an easy drinking beer that doesn’t take over the flavor of the meat. “Just think about what beer you enjoy drinking when you’re eating some ‘cue. If grilling on a hot summer day leaves you with a lager in your double fists, play with that. Maybe you’re an IPA guy; give that a try. Regardless, it is never going to be horrible. It’s beer and meat! Just make sure more of the beer goes down the gullet. No need to go overboard feeding beer to a piece of meat that is not going to enjoy the buzz as much as you will.

Chase Medlin, former head brewer at Twain’s

Favorite grilled meats: Pork tenderloin.

Favorite beers for marinade: Porter or stout styles. I like to marinate the whole tenderloin with shiitake mushrooms in a mixture of the beer, minced ginger, and garlic, tamari, olive oil, ground black pepper, and a touch of sesame oil. After throwing the tenderloin on the grill, I cook the mushrooms and marinade in a separate pan, then brush the sauce on the pork while grilling. I finally pour the remaining sauce and mushrooms over the sliced tenderloin when serving. I like to serve the pork with grilled asparagus and jasmine rice, and pair it with a pale ale or IPA.

Rob “BrewRu” Merrick, resident beer expert at Cypress Street Pint & Plate

Favorite grilled meats: I love a good flank steak and pork loin.

Favorite beer for marinade: With my flank steak, I always look towards black lagers or Schwarzbier. Hit that with just a little liquid smoke or Worcestershire sauce, yellow mustard, touch of olive oil, salt and pepper sprinkle, and some minced garlic. With a pork loin, I like to use a dry saison with bright flavors. I add some lemon zest, a lot of black peppercorns, a touch of saffron, garlic, and a little salt.

Be careful of stouts—that burnt toast flavor can get too intense. For pork and chicken, I like those lighter citric flavors that the saisons can bring, especially in the summertime.

Mark Alba, former executive chef at STK Atlanta

Favorite grilled meats: I love hanger steak due to its rich, beefy taste. I use Asian-style marinades that consist of soy sauce, miso, mirin, kaffir lime, and lemongrass.

Favorite beer for marinade: I use Hitachino Nest Real Ginger, a Japanese medium amber ale with slight hoppy flavor. Choose a middle of the road beer such as a nut brown or amber ale. Light beers such as pilsners, light lagers, and pale ales add little flavor, while dark beers such as porters and stouts can impart an unpleasant bitter, smoky, and burnt taste.

Marinate the beef in a air tight Ziploc bag for no more than six hours. Overnight marinating is possible, but may leave your beef with a gray color and a mealy, mushy texture. It’s best to use a vacuum sealer if you have one. Season the meat aggressively with kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper. Baste with melted butter throughout the cooking process and cook to your desired doneness.

Editor’s Note: We updated this article in May 2018 to reflect Medlin and Alba leaving their positions.