Backyard chefs are discovering that low-and-slow cooking is a heck of a lot of fun to do — especially on relaxing summer days when company’s coming. And you can count on beer to do some wonderful stuff to food on a chemical level as it cooks. The alcohol in your favourite brew helps tenderize meat, while also enhancing certain flavours, like tomato and chili pepper. It also contains a small amount of sugar that sticks to food and caramelizes when it’s part of a sauce or basting liquid.
Hungry yet? Excellent. Here are some ideas for brining, braising or otherwise infusing food with beer to dress it up for its long date with some low heat.
- If you’ve got a bit of patience (and enough fridge space for a big slab of meat!), use a beer brine on your brisket before a long, slow cook in a smoker. Many brines also include brown sugar and Worcestershire sauce; a heavier-bodied beer that isn’t too hoppy will add depth to that mixture while lending a nice caramelized sweetness to the beef while it cooks. Try a brown ale, dark ale, stout or porter—and get ready to set aside a brisket-sized space in the fridge for a day or more while the brine soaks into the meat.
- Whether you’re a casual backyard griller or a competition-level pitmaster, adding beer to the mix will help you make your personal-best ribs. Lager-marinated spare ribs work well if you have time to plan ahead and rest the ribs in the fridge for half a day or so. If you don’t have time to marinate your ribs in beer, try basting them while they cook—beer-basted baby back ribs will get your guests licking their fingers. Either way, a pale lager is light-flavoured enough not to throw your carefully calibrated spice mixture out of whack.
- Attention, laid-back chefs: Stout-marinated jerk chicken is probably the easiest meal you can cook low and slow with beer. Simply add stout to an already-tasty jerk marinade (try a quarter-cup of beer per piece of chicken) and let the flavour soak in for 12 or more hours in the fridge. Then just cook your jerk low and slow as you usually do. For extra flavour, soak hickory wood chips in stout and put them in a smoker box (or directly on charcoal) as you grill. Why does stout work well with jerk? The deeply toasted malt in the beer and the crispy bits of chicken skin share a pleasantly charred flavour, while the brew’s natural sweetness balances the zing of lime and the intense spiciness of the seasonings.
- A “mop” is a basting sauce, and it’s usually pretty simple; often just a mix of vinegar, beer (usually a pale lager), Worcestershire sauce and chili flakes. If you make Carolina-style pulled pork with a beer mop, applying more mop every hour locks moisture and flavour into a pork shoulder as it cooks at low temperature. (You can easily find recipes for making pulled pork in a smoker, on the grill or in a slow cooker, too.) Bonus: The need to periodically brush more mop on your pork makes an excellent excuse for spending a whole, long afternoon in the backyard. You’re welcome.
- For another beer-infused take on slow-cooked pork, try making Mexican-style beer-braised carnitas. Like pulled pork, carnitas are slow-simmered pork—both dishes usually use a shoulder cut—and they are one of the tastiest taco fillings around. The mild sweetness of a Vienna or amber lager will give yours some nice malty flavours without overwhelming the other ingredients.
- A beer cheese dip involves shredded cheese (often cheddar), beer and a few other simple ingredients, all melted together in a cast-iron pan right on the grill. Think fondue, but tastier—because beer. You can make cheese dip with a wide range of styles, but beers that are heavier on malty and roasty flavours and light on the bitter hops work best. If it’s your first attempt, use a tried-and-true dark or brown ale. Serve with soft pretzels or slices of baguette and watch that dip get scooped away in a flash.