Popping open a frosty can to go with your grilled goods seems like a no-brainer, but which beer to choose? It depends on the style of barbecue and the way you cook and season the food, says Samuel Merritt, the founder of the certification programs Civilization of Beer and Certified Cicerone. For Memphis-style barbecue, which is typically pork dressed with a peppery, vinegar-based sauce, Merritt recommends an authentic Belgian Saison, like Saison Dupont ($9 a bottle). “Its bright, dry, and quenching acidity, along with its big, zesty effervescence, will cut through the savory fat of the meat,” he says. For the mustard-based sauces favored by barbecue fans in South Carolina, choose an American IPA, whose sweet, malty flavors will balance the tang of the mustard and whose hops and citrus notes will complement the peppery sauce.
In Texas, many devotees of the region’s slow-smoked beef brisket and pork ribs prefer their barbecue in a hot, vinegar-based dressing. For this style, try a rich, refreshing hometown brew like Shiner Bock ($8 for six cans), from Shiner, Texas, to help soothe the burn. Or try any beer with some malty sweetness to balance the heat and some hoppy, tangy notes to complement the tartness of the vinegar, such as an amber lager. If a rich, tomato-based sauce is preferred, Merritt suggests Guinness Draught Stout ($8 for six bottles). The beer’s bitter edge will accentuate the flavor of the tomatoes while its creamy smoothness mellows the peppery, salty meat.
If you prefer the Kansas City style of barbecue (meat of all kinds slathered with smoky, thick tomato-and-molasses- or brown-sugar-based sauces) try it with a Belgian Dubbel. This style of beer has been fermented with added sugars to give it some fruity sweetness but has a dry finish to counteract the richness of the meat.