7 Smart Ways to Use Beer When You BBQ, Plus 6 Beer-Blasted Recipes!

Pop open a cold one and fire up your grill.
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Photo: Brew and 'que at The Granary in San Antonio.

I'll never forget my first Oktoberfest in Munich (although there's a lot I can't remember). The year was 1976. I had come to Germany to study medieval cooking in Europe as part of a Watson Foundation Fellowship I won upon graduating from college. I remember finger-thick bratwurst grilled over pinecones at a street fair on the way to Munich. (So much for the cardinal rule of grilling only over hardwoods.) I remember schweinshaxen, Munich's famous juniper-and mugwort-marinated fresh ham hocks roasted on a charcoal-burning rotisserie at the landmark restaurant Haxenbauer. Above all, I remember the ochsenbraterai, ox roast, where a whole steer was roasted on a spit over a wood fire.

All of which is a prologue to the theme of this post -- beer and barbecue -- and how they work together. I'm not just talking about drinking beer at a barbecue -- the beverage of choice at grill sessions from Biloxi to Buenos Aires to Bali. No, I'm talking about how people around Planet Barbecue use beer in their smoking and grilling. So, pop open a cold one, fire up your grill, and try one of these flame-tested techniques featuring brew. What are the possibilities? Let me count the ways:

  1. As a soaking medium for wood chips. Slows the combustion rate of the wood so it smolders and smokes, not burns. Gives you a hint of beer flavor in the process.

  2. As a humidifying agent in your smoker. Add your favorite brew to the drip pan of your water smoker to keep the meat moist. May add a subtle beer flavor that becomes more pronounced the more beer you drink.

  3. As a marinade. The malty, hoppy flavor of beer particularly dark beer tastes awesome with pork, beef, and chicken, as in this Brazilian Beer Chicken recipe.

  4. As a basting or mop sauce. Mix 1 cup dark beer with 1 cup honey, 1 stick of butter, melted, and a few tablespoons of minced ginger. Use this mixture for basting spanferkel, German-style roast suckling pig, or smoked or spit-roasted pork shoulder.

  5. As a spray. A nifty trick I learned from a pit master in Austin. Put your thumb over the top of an open longneck (preferably a Texas beer). Shake gently, then slide your thumb back a millimeter or so -- just enough to release a carbonated stream of beer, which you direct towards the brisket, pork, or spit-roasting chicken in lieu of a mop sauce.

  6. As a barbecue sauce. Used sparingly, beer makes an interesting addition to barbecue sauce -- especially a flavored beer, like Belgian krik lambic (cherry beer). I say sparingly because the hops can leave a bitter taste in a sauce if you add too much beer. Click here for Cherry Beer BBQ Sauce.

  7. And, of course, for beer-can chicken. Make it with these recipes:

Steven Raichlen is the author of the Barbecue! Bible cookbook series and the host of Primal Grill on PBS. His web site is www.barbecuebible.com.

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