Brew and barbecue

Is there anything better than a beer with your summer barbecue?

By Jamey Bradbury

How about a beer in your barbecue? From sauces and marinades to beer-soaked woodchips, there’s more than one way to barbecue with a tasty brew.

Beer Benefits

Why cook with beer when you could just pop open a cold one and drink it? For one thing, beer brings the flavor without the acidity, unlike other acid-heavy ingredients common to marinades, such as vinegar, wine or citrus. With less acidity, beer tenderizes meats without breaking down texture as rapidly as more powerful acids.

“Beer also really blends with and brings out the other herbs and spices in your sauces, especially the longer you cook them,” describes Travis Souhrada, the cook at Klondike Mike’s Saloon and Roadhouse BBQ in Palmer. He adds that beer comes in so many varieties and flavors that it’s easy to find the perfect brew to incorporate into sauces for nearly any meat, from salmon to chicken to steak.

Then there’s the cost benefit. “I’m really more of a bourbon guy myself,” Souhrada admits. “But that gets expensive. We make a nice bourbon sauce, but our hickory sauce, which is made with Alaskan Amber, is our second most popular sauce now – and it’s a lot more cost effective.” Home grillmasters can use a good quality ale to make more than a quart of marinade, and spend less than $5.

Finally, there may be a health benefit to grilling with beer. Charcoal-grilling meat leads to the creation of harmful chemical compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which have been linked to increased risk for cancer. But, in a recent study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, scientists revealed that the antioxidants found in beer – especially dark beer such as porters and stouts – can significantly cut down on these cancer-causing compounds. All you need to do is marinate the meat in beer before grilling.

Fire up!

A summertime treat that’s delicious and healthy? If you’re ready to fire up the grill, try one of these flame-tested techniques using your favorite local brew.

Marinades – The enzymes in beer help tenderize meat while infusing it with flavor. Souhrada’s go-to beer, Alaskan Amber, is the perfect choice for a marinade, since light beers add little flavor to the meat, while dark, intense beers can bring an unpleasant bitter or smoky taste to a dish. Combine beer with herbs and spices, seal a steak in your marinade for about an hour, then toss the meat on the grill and cook until it’s done to your liking.

Brining – While a marinade tenderizes and adds flavor, brining is best for adding juiciness to meats that tend to dry out on the grill: chicken, turkey breasts and pork loin chops. Combine a lighter beer, like Seward Brewing Company’s Crusty Whale Pale Ale, with spices and salt, for a brine that also works well with fresh salmon.

Barbecue sauce – Flavored beers, especially, make for exciting sauces, but Souhrada warns that beer can add bitterness. “The longer you cook your sauce, though, the more it takes the bitterness out of the beer and helps it blend better with the spices,” he explains. You can use a nice oatmeal stout or brown ale, or a fruit-based beer, like the Glacier Stout Cherry Lambic, to make a tasty sauce. Or, for a “mop sauce” that you can brush onto some spare ribs, you can combine two tablespoons of dry rub with one cup of a light beer.

Soaking wood chips – By soaking wood chips in liquid, the combustion rate of the wood gets slowed down, so it smolders and smokes instead of burning. The smoke will add complexity to the flavor of your meat. Use a beer with strong flavor that it can impart to your chicken or beef. Alternatively, you can pour your favorite brew into the drip pan of your water smoker to keep the meat moist. The flavor this imparts will be subtle, but becomes more pronounced as you drink beer alongside your meal.

Spray – For the simplest method, hold your thumb over a long-neck bottle of beer, shake gently, then move your thumb enough to release a spray of beer over your brisket, chicken or pork. Use a sweet, malty beer, like Sleeping Lady Brewing Company’s Braveheart Scottish Ale.

The possibilities are endless! This summer, choose a cut of meat, fire up the grill and don’t forget to grab a cold one – for cooking.

Alaskan Amber Salmon Marinade

2-3 lbs. Alaska wild king or coho salmon fillets
6 oz. Alaskan Amber Beer
6 oz. soy sauce
8 cloves of pressed garlic
2-3 inch piece of ginger, finely grated
3/4 cup finely chopped cilantro

Mix all ingredients (except salmon) to make marinade. Place fish in Ziploc bag, add marinade. Squeeze out all air from bag and then zip shut. Allow the fillets to marinate for 12 to 24 hours.

Grill fillets, skin side down using mostly indirect heat. If possible, add moist alder chips to the coals, or any local wood that you would normally use in cooking; apple, maple, hickory, peach, mesquite, etc. Cook until the fish flakes at the thickest part of the fillet. Serve with roasted red bell peppers and cold Alaskan Amber.

Brewmaster’s Note: I prefer king salmon as it is higher in oils which help prevent drying during cooking. Don't worry about fish oil; it is high in Omega-3 oil which is very good for you. Also note that 24 hours is great for a thick fillet, but I have had good luck marinating for as little as 3 hours.

Recipe by Alaskan Brewing Company Brewmaster Geoff Larson