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Barbecue Primer

What to Drink With Barbecue

Whether you’re chowing down on ribs slathered in a sweet, tomato-based sauce or on pulled pork in a tangy vinegar dressing, follow these tips to find the perfect beverage to go with it.

By Jessica Brassard
Rack of barbecue ribs with iced teaPam McLean/Getty Images


Since barbecue is a product of the American South, it makes sense to pair it with an American spirit that is also from the South: bourbon.  

The way bourbon is produced plays a role in making it sing with barbecued meats and sauces.  By law, bourbon must be made of a grain mixture that consists of at least 51 percent corn, making it taste sweeter than spirits created with a greater percentage of barley, rye, or wheat. After it is distilled, bourbon is aged in new American oak barrels whose insides have been charred, which imparts a sweet woodsy, vanilla flavor that complements meats that have been smoked or cooked. And its mild sweetness pairs well with both the sweet and the spice of barbecue. 

A versatile choice, bourbon can be enjoyed neat, on ice, or in a wide variety of cocktails. A Mint Julep is a great classic cocktail to pair with barbecue, says Nate Adler, the beverage manager at Blue Smoke Restaurant, in New York’s Battery Park City. “Not only is it culturally significant and pays homage to what they drink in the South, it is perfect with barbecue because the sugar and mint cool anything spicy and complements the sweet. You don’t even realize there’s bourbon in it.” 


Lemonade, iced teas, and sweet teas are great choices with barbecue, but it’s a good idea to seek out sodas that are traditionally enjoyed in the regions where barbecue originated, says Eben Freeman, the head of bar operations and innovation at the Altamarea Restaurant Group, in New York. “It may sound romantic, but there is something to be said for drinking something that is born of a certain climate, using something as elemental as the water, the soil, the heat and humidity of a place. It’s going to make you understand the genius of why people in different parts of the country and the world drink different things with different foods,” he says. Freeman suggests southern staples like wild cherry-flavored Cheerwine ($12 for 24 cans,, created in North Carolina in 1917, root beer, spicy ginger beer, or Dr. Pepper.

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Quick Tip


Broccolini is a cross between conventional broccoli and Chinese broccoli. It’s slightly sweeter and more tender than its relatives. If you substitute conventional broccoli in this recipe, cut it into long spears before cooking.