It’s officially summer and that means barbecues, cook-outs, and picnics. It’s probably one of the best times of the year to have a group of friends, a bunch of cold beer, and cooking with an open flame. (Well, provided you’re not in Southwest Colorado, where we are under severe fire restrictions. You’ll just have to grill your food indoors.) There’s something special about the smell of freshly prepared food, the cool, crisp beverages, and the unbeatable conversations over picnic tables and yard games. You don’t need an excuse to drink more beer, but a good way ensure you’ll have plenty of beer to drink is to cook with it.
Beer, and craft beer especially, is such a versatile ingredient for food because it does so much. It can add acidity, sweetness, savory, spicy, or bitter aspects, depending on the style of beer, and all beer can add moisture to meats and veggies cooked on an open flame. Need to add some acidity to your salad dressing? Add some fruity sour beer. Need a little sweet in that barbecue sauce? Add some of your big imperial stout. Need a little herbal note to your marinade? Go with a big West Coast IPA or a coriander-heavy wit beer. Worried about your chicken being too dry? Stick a can of beer up its ass. Beer can do anything.
Beer can chicken is probably the easiest and most visually awesome of all beer recipes. Start with your preferred dry rub mix. I recommend around 2 tablespoons of each of the following: rosemary, thyme, onion powder, garlic powder, black pepper, salt, paprika, and cayenne or crushed red pepper, depending on your heat tolerance. Coat the bird inside and out with your preferred fat (vegetable oil, butter, olive oil, etc.), then cover it with the rub. Open your preferred can of lighter beer, drink the first gulp, then shove it in there. Put the bird in a medium to high heat grill (again, if you aren’t under a total fire ban like we are; we don’t condone starting more massive fires just for your beer can chicken) until done.
If beef is your go-to, I highly recommend grilled fajitas with a beer marinade. Start with a piece of skirt steak or some other thin cut of beef. For the marinade, you’ll need malty beer, like an amber, brown ale, or stout. The darker the beer, the more chocolate-roasty notes you’ll get. The lighter it is, the more caramel-butterscotch flavors. Pour your beer into a sauce pan on low heat with a teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper to taste (depending on the beer, you may need to add some sugar as well). Once your beer is decarbonated (all the bubbles and foam are gone), remove from the heat and let it cool. Once it’s cooled to room temperature, soak your steak in the marinade for at least an hour. Grill your steak on high heat, caramelizing all those delicious residual beer sugars, and finish with your desired fat by melting butter on the top or drizzling it with oil.
Maybe handling dead animals is not your thing. I understand completely. One of my favorite vegetarian dishes to grill is cauliflower. I start with a big head of cauliflower, cutting it into big chunks and placing them into a bowl. Make a marinade of a can of wit beer (I prefer Allagash White, but I understand if you want to use a cheap knock off brand and drink the delicious Maine beer), 1 tablespoon of cornstarch, panko bread crumbs, onion flakes, brown sugar, 1 teaspoon of garlic powder and onion powder, and salt, pepper, and cayenne or crushed red pepper to taste. Pour the resulting mixture over the chunks of cauliflower in a bowl. Toss the cauliflower to coat evenly, then let soak for half an hour. Grill on high until done.
Robbie Wendeborn is the head brewer at Svendæle Brewing in Millerton, New York. He is also a former beer plumber at Ska Brewing.