There’s nothing better than cold beer with a burger or a crisp white wine served with grilled fish. When pairing food with wine or beer there’s some steadfast rules; keep sweet with sweet, don’t allow either the food or drink to overpower each other, and more importantly, drink what you like. But things can seem to get a little complex when it comes to pairing smoked food with drinks. Below you’ll find everything you need to know to pair the perfect drink with your next smoked meal.
Beer or Wine
The first question you need to ask yourself when pairing drinks with smoked food is, “what to drink?” Beer or wine? The good news is the two are almost interchangeable with some simple rules of thumb. Most chef’s, sommeliers, and brewmasters agree that beer can be classified much like wine for the purposes of pairing.
For example; lagers, wheats, and pilsners are often likened to lighter-bodied white wines like Riesiling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Grigio.
Medium-bodied beers like ales, IPA, and bocks are treated like medium-bodied wines like Merlot, Zinfandel, Shiraz and Syrah.
Heavier-bodied beers like rye, porter, stout, or barleywine are treated like heavy-bodied wines such as Cabernet, Malbec, or very oaky Chardonnay.
The Secret of the Smoke
Smoking food doesn’t necessarily completely change its natural flavors or seasoning but instead enhances them and imparts a smoky quality to flavors that were already present. For example, when smoking a pork shoulder, it’s the spice rub that is going to add the bulk of the flavor to the pork while the smoke will enhance the spices and impart a smoked flavor based on the wood used. With that in mind, it’s important to understand that just because you’re smoking something doesn’t mean the beer or wine pairing should change from the same item that’s grilled or roasted. The main thing to consider is how long you plan on smoking. When smoking a pork shoulder all day, be prepared for big flavor, and when quick smoking a fish fillet, you’ll end up with a much more delicate taste experience.
It’s also important to remember that adding smoke enhances flavors therefore it might be necessary to go with a slightly heavier-bodied drink to compete or keep up with your meal. Again, it’s just a matter of smoking time and of course, the wood in the smoker.
|Wood Pairing Recommendations|
|Food Smoker Level||Smoking Duration||Smoker Chips|
|Light||Less than 3 hours||Mesquite, Oak|
|Medium||4 – 7 hours||Apple, Mesquite, Hickory|
|Heavy||8+ hours||Oak, Mesquite, Hickory|
You’ve smoked your center of the plate item, or side dish, and now it’s time to pair a beer or wine that either enhances or complements the meal. Let’s start with some lighter-bodied drinks and work up to heavy ones.
Lightly Smoked Food (Less than 3 hours)
Lightly smoked foods like delicate fish fillets (trout, Sockeye salmon), small poultry (Cornish game hen, squab) or even smoked vegetables and mushrooms should be paired with lighter-bodied wines and beers. A crisp white wine like a Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, or a lighter lager or wheat beer with citrus flavors will pair beautifully with any delicate smoke to enhance herbal and sweet flavors. Fruit or nut woods are often used for quick smoking to add just a touch of sweet smoky flavor.
Medium Smoked Food (4-7 hours)
Medium-bodied wines and beers like Merlot, Syrah, IPAs, and amber ales pair up nicely with sweet and smoky foods. Summer sausage, sweet barbecued ribs, or even smoked peaches and corn on the cob go hand in hand with the bitterness of an IPA or the dark berry and pepper flavors of a Syrah. Apple, mesquite, hickory, and other hardwoods pair nicely with medium-bodied wines because of their richer flavors.
Heavily Smoked Food (8+ hours)
Heavy-bodied wines and beers like Cabernet, Malbec, stout, and porter need big, bold flavors and fatty meats to keep them in check. Pair these big reds or dark beers with spicy foods or heavily smoked meats for best results. A spicy rub on a pork shoulder or ribs begs to be served with a South American Malbec or California Cabernet while the coffee flavors in a porter go perfectly with pork belly or bacon. The carbonation in beer also helps to cut through fatty cuts of meat like shank or belly that need more time in the smoker. Longer smoking times with harder woods like oak, hickory, and mesquite create deep smoked flavors that stand up well to the fruit, spice, and bitterness of heavy-bodied drinks.
Keep in mind these are just basic rules and with some experimentation you might find a pairing that defies all the rules here. The main thing to consider is picking one dominate flavor and working from there. Whether it’s spicy, sweet, bitter, or salty, start with a flavor, then factor in the amount of smoking time (long smoking period means heavier smoky flavor). Consider where that flavor will end up after smoking, and then pair your beverage.