Take three bites of any well-cooked meat, and you’re going to want one thing: a drink. Knowing how to pair meat with certain beverages, like wine, is going to be critical to your entire dining experience. I mean, think about it, does washing down a tasty steak with a glass of water sound ideal?


Though usually more a practice of fine dining, pairing food and drinks is also an essential part of backyard barbecues. If you’ve got a bigger crowd, you’ll need to think outside the box to create these pairings; but with a little bit of creativity and an understanding of the basic principles of pairing, you’ll easily be able to create fantastic food and beverage combinations on the spot.


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Basic Principles of Pairing

A list of ways to pair wine and meat will only take you so far, but if you learn the premises behind meat and wine pairings, then you’ll always be able to make the right complimentary choices!


  • Use common sense. If it doesn’t seem like it’s going to make sense when acted out, maybe don’t try it. You don’t have to wow by making unexpected choices. Just start with great basics.

  • Bring the best out of each other. If your meat has any kind of spiciness to it, then you’re going to want to combine it with a wine that has a bit of a lighter, smoother flavor to it.

  • Match the power of the dish. If your brisket is really, really strong, you are going to want to pair it with a drink that is bold enough to stand on its own as well.

  • The alcohol doesn’t have to carry the liquid team. Serving straight whiskey with a huge steak will leave everyone a little thirsty and a little too tipsy. Make sure that you’ve got some great non-alcoholic drinks to pair with the main dish and the main drink for the under 21 club you’re catering to.

  • Bubbles beat fat. Fat can really coat your whole mouth with a flavor that is difficult to wash away with a glass of water. If you bring some carbonation to the table, however, then you can wash the fat off your tongue with relative ease.


If you’re pairing things with untraditional grilling items, like the 12 things you never thought to grill, then you can be even more creative with your drink selections!

Red Meat and Drinks

Red Wine

Steaks and red wine is a cliche older than Hollywood, and it’s grounded in some decent science. The richness of the steak pairs exceptionally well with the fruitiness and acidity of the red wine. Truthfully, you can’t go wrong by serving someone a nice steak and a bottle of Merlot. The key to this pairing is the tannins, which can counter some of the bitterness that fat is going to bring to your palette. If you have a super flavorful meat with a strong rub, any Cabernet, Pinot Noir, or Malbec will be a perfect pair.

Whiskey

Whiskey typically has a deeper, caramel flavor that mixes well with steak. Something really simple, whether on the rocks or a straight-forward cocktail, will allow the flavors of the red meat to come through. Obviously you may not be chugging whiskey to stay hydrated while tearing you through a steak, so you may want to make a simple cocktail to prevent the whiskey from overpowering your senses.

Stout or Darker IPA

The full body of the stout is not going to get lost within the richness of the steak, but it can cut through the bitterness left by the fat that might not have broken down in the steak. 

Red Juice: Pomegranate or Cranberry

Tannins are not something that is just found in red wine! In fact, pomegranate and cranberry juice contain plenty of tannins. These tannins are great at cleansing your palate and setting you up for a fresh experience of the steak each time you bring the fork to your mouth. If you have red meat in front of you and want to drink heartily without consuming too much (or any) alcohol, some kind of red berry juice will do the trick. 


If the pure juice is too strong, combining them with a bit of sparkling water, or even turning them into a cocktail, might be the perfect move. Sparkling liquids will add a bubbly, popping chemical reaction to your mouth, which can wash out the flavors and cleanse your palette with ease.

Chicken and Drinks

If chicken is prepared right on the grill, then it will flow really well with lighter and more flavorful liquids.

Chardonnay

Because chardonnay has a medium or full body, it pairs really well with chicken and turkey, but white wine, in general, goes really well with poultry. Trust me, the experience of a roast chicken goes very well with the light tang of a white wine. 

Sauvignon Blanc

An even lighter kind of white wine than a Chardonnay, the Sauvignon Blanc might not be the right choice for all kinds of chicken. If there are any notes of garlic or rich butter in the chicken, or even a heavier cheese like a gouda cream, then you’ll want to stay away from the lighter of the white wines. However, if the chicken is not overcooked and is not over seasoned, then this really light wine can complement it well and cause you to focus on the more subtle flavors of your meal (including the veggies).

Tea

This drink is absolutely counter-intuitive, but if you pair a great grilled chicken with a light green tea, it’s an awesome combo. It’s great for a lunch where you need to get back to work afterward. Also, pairing a hot tea with a good chicken allows you to keep grilling all winter long, because you’re sipping on hot liquids.


Seafood and Drinks

Seafood needs a good amount of acid to bring out their fullest flavors. This is why lemon and lime go really well with seafood, or any other kind of acidity really. Cocktails that have tomato or lemon in them will be ideal for seafood, but white wine will pair really well in a pinch.

White Wine Food Pairing

We know white wine goes really well with chicken, but it also pairs well with seafood. White wine relies on the non-colored pulp of green and yellow grapes, and has been around for thousands of years. In the dry white wine varieties, you turn the sugars completely into alcohol and they make for a more tangy, more aromatic experience. When the wine is sweeter, all of the sugars have not fully converted into alcohol. Sparkling white wines are also great. 

White wine is lighter in flavor, making it perfect for seafood since it plays well with the lightness and saltiness of the seafood you’re grilling up.

Gin and Oysters

Gin pairs really well with oysters. Now, part of this is probably simply that oysters and gin are two really classy foods. But gin also has a floral component, an herbal taste, that really brings out the sweetness of the oysters. If you slowly eat the oysters and gin with one another, you can appreciate both the floral and sweetness flavors at the same time.

Sparkling Water

Ah, and finally, sparkling water. It has gathered quite a following in recent years as a healthy alternative to heavier sodas. Sparkling water is also a great mixer or non-alcoholic pairing to go with seafood. If you have a spiked sparkling water, you don’t need too many other flavors to line it up with seafood. But if you have a non-alcoholic version, even a subtle citrus or lime or lemon flavor will really help you savor your fishy dish.

Ready to light it up?

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