Depends on the Meat
"I will try to avoid the Great Belgian Cop-out (because there is a Belgian beer to pair with anything) and say that I generally prefer beers in the amber to brown range, maybe a little darker for red meat and game. The malt character is my main focus, with varying levels of hop presence depending on the course. Grilled chicken? You don’t want anything to overpower it, so why don’t you try something with a little caramel malt, balanced to lightly sweet, like a nice blonde or light amber ale. Sausage? You want a little more hop on this one to cut the fat. I’m immediately thinking of the Genesis from He’brew, a dry-hopped ale that falls somewhere between an amber and a pale ale. A little hop will accentuate the spice in sausage, so don’t go overboard (unless you like the heat). Steaks? I like to go a little darker, from a robust porter (512’s Pecan Porter comes to mind) even to the lower alcohol spectrum of imperial stouts, say 8-9%. I want a roasty malt character, dry and balanced to stronger and slightly sweet depending on presentation. Oatmeal stouts also work well. Veggies are fun to pair: Try a dunkel weiss with vegetable kebabs, or an American brown ale with grilled portobellos." — Justin Bonard (The Meddlesome Moth)
Local Dark Lagers
"My go-to answer for the grill has long been dark lager. This term can include American Black Lagers, German Schwarzbiers and Dunkels, as well as some bocks and Oktoberfest styles. Dark Lagers are great all-around the BBQ brews for several reasons: the smoky, charred, caramelized and melanoidin flavors that come from the grill are also imparted by the various processes that produce the higher-kilned, darker color character malts that these beers will often contain in abundance. The resulting flavor harmonies can become quite obvious, and very satisfying.
Typically dark lagers do not have high enough ABVs or hopping rates to start a fist fight with spicy hot BBQ sauces. On the contrary they will often have enough richness left in their body to provide a foil for capsicum heat. This same richness can provide harmonies with sweeter BBQ sauces, especially if you pour a bit of the beer into your sauce and let the two heat up together before you brush your meat.
Most of the other styles (i.e. porter, dry stout etc.) that might also exhibit those first two characteristic are not refreshing enough to be appealing on sunny days when we are drawn to grill. Dark lagers tend to be a bit brighter than dark ales.
This is a style local brewers in the Bay Area are getting better at and making more of. Linden, Moonlight, Craftsman, Unita, Upright, and Lucky Hand have all put out dark lagers I have enjoyed recently. This keeps us from relying on (mostly) German imports that can be muted by the rigors of time and travel." — Sayre Piotrkowski (St. Vincent Tavern and Wine Merchant)
Medium-Bodied, Balanced Brown Ale
"A medium-bodied, balanced, brown ale is something that will never go wrong with grilled foods. Nothing too malty, too hoppy, or too bitter will do—you want to find a perfectly balanced brown ale. A few that come to mind are Brooklyn Brown, Abita Turbodog, and Avery Ellie's Brown." — Sarah Huska (Eureka! Burger)
"With grilled foods, I turn to the bigger and bolder beers—the fizzy 'yellows' just won’t do. Grilled foods are complex: you have smokiness; caramel roastiness; dripping fattiness and char bitterness. Wrap it all up, and this is fairly intense package. So regardless of whether you’re cooking a fat ribeye or soy-marinated eggplant, look for a beer that can stand up to the food, round-for-round. Many beers will fit this bill: from a rip-snorting West Coast IPA to a Baltic Porter, but what I would serve would be a nice, intense Double IPA. The greater malt backbone of a Double will resonate with the roast & smoke, while smoothing the rough edges off of that char. Meanwhile the hops, carbonation and high alcohol will cut through the grease and cleanse the palate—so you’re ready for the next bite!" — Anne Conness (Simmzy's & Tin Roof Bistro)
American Ambers and Pale Ales
"With grilled food I always recommend American Ambers and Pale Ales—especially if we are talking about grilling out on a nice summer day, and here's why: these beers can match the caramelized and smoky flavors imparted by a grill, yet are as approachable as the fare itself. They are also widely available at grocery stores and bottle shops alike, and I feel like availability is a key factor. I know that in the right setting such as a beer dinner you could really get down with some more dark belgian offerings, but I find with most people I kind of have to sneak pairings by them—I don't need to point out the nuances of the pairing for it to work, it just needs to work. Have you ever sat through a movie with someone who keeps pointing out the directorial brush strokes instead of just letting you immerse yourself in the story? It can be brutal. So if your companions want to get nerdy, by all means talk about the Maillard reaction that happens when meat is grilled and how amber-to-brown malts can mimic that, but isn't your food getting cold?" — Chris Elford (Saison)
Grilled Sausage with Ayinger's Celebrator
"With heartier grilled meats, I like to my beers to have a strong malt presence. Typically, Doppelbocks, Scotch ales, or Brown ales work great with steaks and burgers. If I'm going with lighter foods like fish, veggies, or chicken, a lighter style such as a Belgian Pale pairs beautifully. These beers are lighter but still full flavored, with a fruity, mildly spicy yeast profile which complements the interaction between the mild flavors of the food and the more robust qualities given off by grilling them. As for a personal favorite, it doesn't get much better than grilled sausages with Ayinger's caramelly, toasty masterpiece, Celebrator." — Chris Quinn (The Beer Temple)
"I really like a good rauchbier with a grilled porkchop or steak (T-bone or NY Strip if someone else is buying—sirloin if I am). Seek out a light to medium-bodied smoked porter. I don't want it to be too heavy since I'm cramming close to a pound of meat in my gullet, and I want the intensity of the smoked malt to match the charred goodness of the meat. If it's something like grilled veggies or maybe even grilled shrimp, something light and Belgian like a wit or a saison usually hits the spot." — Adam Sivits (Whole Foods Beer Room (Bowery, NYC))
"To me, grilled food is all about being outside with friends at a picnic table by the grill, and nothing is gonna enhance the experience better than a good pilsner, like Victory Prima Pils. Sure, something with a bigger body like an ESB or a brown ale will provide a better malt element to complement your dinner. But you're grilling, and it's about the friends, enjoy something crisp and full flavored, but not too intense." — Matt Eggers (Dog & Duck Pub)
"One of my favorite styles to enjoy with grilled steaks is a rich, complex doppelbock. Ayinger’s Celebrator is my favorite commercial example. Doppelbocks are hearty with a lot of melanoidin or toasty flavors as well as a subtle sweetness and dark fruit flavors. It’s an excellent match to the caramelization on a good steak. For lighter grilled meats like chicken or pork I love an Irish style red ale with a lot of toffee and dark fruit flavors." — Melody Daversa (Karl Strauss Brewing Company)
Go Meat By Meat
"Chicken: I would likely pair bbq chicken with a malty Imperial IPA or a bitter brown such as Oscar Blues G’knight or Upslope Brown.
Steak: I love to pair see steaks paired with a Belgian Quad like Straffe Hendrik, though I can’t stress enough that you must consider what sauce you will finish the steak with and what will accompany the protein on the plate. So much of what is happening around the steak is really what matters to the synergy of the pairing.
Sausage: for bratwurst, go with hoppy pilsner, pale or IPA. Weisswurst: Wheat, saison, or hefeweisse. Boudin Noir: Flemish Brown, Oude Bruin, or Belgian Quad. For Summer Sausage: drink a brown ale or porter." — Ryan Conklin (Old Major)
"My catch-all beer I always provide my guests is an Oktoberfest/Märzen Bier such as Spaten Oktoberfest. The malty sweetness connects with the juices of the meat; the carbonation scrubs off any fat and oils from your mouth; the hoppy character will help cleanse your palate for the next bite." — Gilbert Perez (Terms of Enbeerment)
Epic Santa Cruz Brown Ale
"For veggies and lighter meats like chicken I tend to go for dry, spicy, peppery saisons. For sausages and dogs, German Marzens and Schwarzbiers work perfectly. For bigger meats like steaks or barbequed pork, hoppy brown ales are perfect. Epic Santa Cruz brown ale kills it at barbecues. I always try to keep some on hand." — Jack Van Paepeghem (Meridian Pint)
Something with Malt Sweetness
"I tend to avoid hoppy beers for barbecue as they can sometimes overpower or clash with more delicate grilled items. Usually, I want something with a bit of malt sweetness to pair nicely with the caramelized char of the grilled meats or vegetables. One of the most perfect matches I've found yet was grilled asparagus rubbed in olive oil, salt, and pepper paired with Chimay Red. The grilled character paired wonderfully with the caramel malt sweetness while the yeasty earthiness matched up beautifully with the vegetal quality." — Christopher Barnes (I Think About Beer & Columbia Distributing)
"When it comes to grilled meats, I like to use German and Bohemian Pilsners. The bitterness in both styles make for a great match with the charred flavor of meats, as well the beer is crisp enough that more delicate items like vegetable and fruits will stand out as well." — Peter Campagna (O&B Restaurant Company)
"Plain and simple, grilled food loves beer. If you want to get down to the science of it, kilning of malt and grilling of meats elicit an amazing transformation within each, called the Maillard reaction (which can create some really fun flavor compounds called melanoidins). Put frankly, this creates a myriad of symbiotic, and echoed flavors between these two elements of your meal. One of my favorite ways to highlight this is with traditional carnitas (pork) tacos and bock. You see, carnitas are usually roasted to the point of being crispy, so think soft, super flavorful porky goodness with a light crunch. Then, consider the bock: a rich, luxurious lager with deep flavors of fresh brown bread, caramels, and dark fruit replete with an elegantly clean finish. Now what say we add one more element, say, smoke? Say Aecht Schlenkerla Ur-Bock? This bock is actually classified as another subcategory, rauchbier. It gets its smoky character from a very traditional mode of kilning malt: over an open beechwood pit. All put together, this is the best possible way to spend your afternoon. Period." — Elliott Beier (Owen & Engine)
"In the summer time, I literally grill everything and I always tend to reach for the saisons. The citrusy, herbal, spicy flavors of a saison are perfect with grilled chicken, fish, and vegetables. A lot of the flavors in the beer actually tend to mimic some of the spices I use for the food, making the pairing even more enjoyable." — Anne Becerra (The Ginger Man)
Sauce or No Sauce?
"When deciding what beer to drink with grilled foods it really depends on what kind of meat, and sauce or no sauce. When grilling lighter meats like chicken or sausage with no sauce I like to pair it with a lighter beers. German lagers like Marzen or pilsner would be great. Schonramer pils is one beer that I would choose. The beer is light so it won’t over power the meat and has malt sweetness that matches the caramelization of the meat. When you're serving darker meat with sauce, I would go with a darker beer like a American brown or amber. The beers are big enough to hold up to the meat and have just enough bitterness to balance the sweetness of the sauce. Tenaya Creek’s Calico Brown and some bbq ribs, perfect!" — Patrick Callahan (Bouchon Bistro)
Just a Little Smoke
"The beer I choose is dependent upon the protein, the rub/seasoning being used, and the sauce. I tend to rely on resonant food pairing with barbecue, trying to find similar flavors instead of contrasting elements. For a general pairing, I like to go with a malt-forward amber or red to accentuate the caramelization of the barbecue. I also enjoy a light rauchbier with grilled food. When I say light, I mean light on the smoke, not necessarily light in style. Piwo Grodziskie makes a great Grätzer beer that is a smoked sour wheat that went really well with some grilled salmon my wife and I made last summer. The lemon we used with the salmon went right alongside with the sourness of the beer and the smoked wheat malt lent itself wonderfully with the grilled salmon. It didn't overwhelm the palate as some smoked beers tend to do but snuggled up with the grilled/smoked aspect of the salmon instead." — Dave Woodruff (Steamworks Brewing Company)
Roasty and Not-So-Roasty
"I generally pair grilled foods, mainly beef, with beers that have a nice roasted character to harmonize with the smoky charred flavor that that lovely open flamed Weber creates. One of my favorite beers for this is Sierra Nevada's Tumbler with a sirloin steak. It has a great malt profile with a touch a smokiness.
But when it comes to pairing grilled foods in general, it depends what you're grilling. Take a weiss wurst for example: it would pair much better with a hefeweizen than a porter. The roasted notes in the porter would be too much for the delicate flavor of the sausage while the hefeweizen with its light, bright flavor would accompany the sausage nicely." — Troy Zitzelsberger (Reilly's Taphouse & Brewing Co.)
"In my opinion a backyard cookout calls for a beer that not only pairs with the entrée on the grill but with the scene of the day, so something relatively sessionable (meaning I can drink a couple pints enjoyably) is called for.
A couple of specific pairings: grilled salmon with lemon and black pepper with saison, a classic farmhouse ale style from the Wallonian region of France (near Belgium) brewed to last through the non-brewing months of the summer (so historically it’s a summer beer). It needed to be refreshing for the farmers in the fields, but also big enough to keep until brewing got going again. Generally these beers have a lemony tartness, high carbonation, and distinct peppery tones, making them perfect to marry with the lemon and pepper in the salmon and the carbonation and acidity will also cut through the richness of the fatty fish.
For grilled sausage? For me, bratwurst with sauerkraut and spicy mustard is a ballgame and cookout favorite. Go with hops to cut through the fatty sausage and lift the sauerkraut and mustard. A solid, traditional hop-forward Pils can do the trick, and an American IPA wouldn’t be out of line." — Kelsey Williams (Drake's Brewing Co. & Triple Rock Brewing)
Saison, Dunkelweizen, Belgian Quad
"If it’s just a piece of grilled chicken with minimal seasonings, then a nice, traditional saison like Saison Dupont will work. Saisons tend to have a rather broad (yet subtle) flavor profile and will often gently complement anything on the plate but rarely overpower it. What a saison does offer is a bit of acidity, a hint of earthiness, grassiness, and a slight pepper and herbal quality to it. If your grilled chicken is like mine and includes lemon, pepper, and traditional herbs like parsley and thyme, then the textbook saison from Dupont will knock it out of the park.
With sausages, I’m constantly reminded of when I got to go to Munich and eat great German food. I found out how much I loved the salty/sweet combination of traditional German sausages and a dunkel-lager or a dunkel-weizen. Something like Franziskaner’s Dunkel Weizen (dark wheat) offers a great contrasting sweetness (although not overly sweet) to a most likely salty piece of sausage. The beer comes with its fair share of carbonation that acts like little scrubbing bubbles to keep the palate fresh when eating the potatoes and other heavy sides that usually comes with things like bratwursts. When I think brats/sausages, I’m usually at a cookout or a party where I’m going to be going back for seconds and thirds…in that situation the dunkel-lagers and dunkel-weizens are around 5% abv and very “sessionable” so that if you wait an hour or so before chowing down again (but are still putting back beer in a social atmosphere), you aren’t going to have a fatigued palate or be too drunk/full to enjoy another helping of brats and potato salad.
With steaks, I usually like to ramp up the flavor profile in my beer a bit. I usually reach for a big Belgian Quad like a Bernardus Abt 12 or a Rochefort 10 the same way most folks reach for a robust red wine to pair with their red meat. A good quad will come with its fair share of dark fruits, much like a wine, and can be enjoyed throughout a long meal because it’s a beer that will change and often improve as it gets closer to room temperature."— Jonathan Whitaker (International Tap House)
Something with Bitterness and Roastiness
"For grilled food the first thing I'm looking for is a beer with enough balls to stand up to the char or the grill. Not necessarily big in alcohol, but there needs to be lots of flavour. Roastiness is important with grilled foods and so is bitterness because they can cancel out and mellow charred and burnt flavours in the meat, letting other flavors shine through and changing the experience of the food and the beer. For grilled chicken, the nuttiness and malt of a marzen or a dunkel would provide some contrast and the hop bitterness would cut through the crispy, fatty chicken skin perfectly. With grilled vegetables, I'd go with a Belgian Dubbel, something with less bitterness, but lots of sweet and caramelized flavours going on to bring out the natural sweetness of the vegetables. At barbecues, I also like grilled smoked pork rib chops with an oatmeal stout. The smokiness and pork flavor matching up with the creaminess and espresso notes of the stout make a bacon/coffee breakfasty thing happen and it's unbeatable." — Jesse Vallins (The Saint Tavern & George Brown Chef School)
"When choosing a beer to pair with grilled foods I really don't think you can do much better than a German Maerzen. The malty overtones are a perfect foil to the char from the grill. When I think of grilled foods, I think of barbecues and being outside in the summer time. So while bocks or brown ales or even porters and black IPAs would pair well with these sorts of dishes, I want something with a little less body that I can imagine drinking a few of throughout an afternoon of food going on and off the grill." — Henry Joseph (The Pony Bar, Upper East Side)
"Typically when I'm grilling I'm pulling my beers from a cooler, which means I'm looking for something that is good ice cold. I'm a fan of the can and luckily there more and more great canned beers on the market these days. I like an American Pale Ale while I've got the grill going, especially in can. APAs are flavorful, versatile with food, not too high in abv and have enough hop bitterness so I'm not downing them like I might water or PBR.
For the main course I like to keep some bottles in the fridge. I like Bieres de garde or American Brown ales with chicken. Dogfish Head's India Brown is fun one. Schlenkerla brews a smokey Marzen that is great to open with brats off the grill. I should warn you, not everyone loves the smoke in that beer. I love to grill ribeyes. Top it off with a little compound butter and something big and hoppy to cut the fat and I am in heaven. Something like Three Floyds Arctic Panzer Wolf Double IPA would hit the spot." — Gabriel Boden (Revolution Brewing)
Hefeweizen with Grilled Bratwurst
"Amber brews such as British style pale ales have a gentle nutty and bready flavor more akin to a wheat bread crust, so they pair with grilled chicken breast. One can go with a Bass ale and a honey mustard glaze. American Pale ales also work here and also with burgers. Something about that brilliant pineapple Cascade hop flavor and crisp bitter snap in that All-American classic Sierra Nevada go so well with a medium rare burger with fresh onion and tomato. American Pale ales also work great with grilled veggies, especially when sharp garlic flavors are around. Grilled seafood, especially with citrus marinades calls for wheat beers. I like an Allagash Wit with grilled fish or shrimp tacos. There is an earthiness in this Wit that works with the light meatiness of the seafood and a generous squeeze of lime and topping of fresh cut cilantro can work together with the coriander and orange peel which all wit beers must express. Savory barbecue sauces require some body and sweetness, you will need to work with perhaps a Doppelbock, or Imperial Stout. I like Fegley's Insidious, a Bourbon barrel aged Imperial Stout for such occasions.
My favorite grill pairing of all time has to be a Hefeweizen with a grilled bratwurst, served on an Italian bread with spicy brown mustard and sweet sauerkraut. I find the key to taking this pairing over the top is in the ancillary ingredients: esame seeds on the bread and the use of sautéed onions, brown sugar and bacon drippings in the sauerkraut. A good German Hefeweizen such as Franziskaner with its big velvety body, and expressive banana and clove flavors is best." — Alex Crowe (The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College)
Depends on the Spice
"A lot depends on the spiciness of the food. Being in the Southwest I love grilling food with a lot of heat to it. To offset the heat I like drinking either a Belgium style wit beer that has coriander and orange peel in it or a German style hefeweizen that has banana or clove notes. Examples would be Hoegaarden or Weihenstephaner Hefeweizen or Paulaner Hefeweiss." — Ron Kloth (Papago Brewing Company)
The Whole Range
"Greasy foods like sausages pair well with hoppy beers like IPA where hop bitterness stands up and balances. Chicken and veggies demand a milder flavor profile. Styles like a Bohemian Pilsner, Kolsch and Munich Helles pair nicely. The distinctive clove and banana esters of a German Hefeweizen can add a contrasting yet refreshing twist. Though steaks pair well with the hoppy APAs and IPAs, grilled and roasted meats open themselves to the flavors in the roasted malts found in darker styles like porter and stout. For a more exotic chioce, contrast with the sweetness of a Belgian Quad or Schwarzbier. To bring lure the grilled character of the charcoal qualities, try a smoked beer like Rauchbier or Alaskan Brewing Company's Smoked Porter." — Jim Brady (Bone Island Brewing)
Pair With the Weather
"I prefer to pair my beer to the weather. Hot summer days are for very dry IPAs and wheat beers. Cool summer nights: Belgian dubbels and English porters. Cold and rainy means Russian Imperial Stout, Belgian quads, and Rauchbier.
When pairing the beer to the food I like the idea of contrasting flavors, I don't believe food and beer should taste the same (what a boring world that would be), but they also shouldn't overpower one another. For chicken, it's best to stay light unless you have a very heavy sauce. Try amber, bitter, brown, or pilsner. For sausages: Three words for you. German, German, German. They got is right hundreds of years ago, don't mess with it. Munich Helles, Oktoberfest, Vienna Lager, and Bock. For steak? Now we're talking, This is where you bring out the big guns. Belgian Strong Dark, Russian Imperial Stout, sweet Double IPAs and Scotch Ales."— Chris Karl (Yogi's Grill & Bar)
Goose Island Honkers Ale with Flank Steak
"Rich, savory flavors from the grill are wonderful complements to the malt sweetness and subtle roast of English Milds, Bitters, and Special Bitters. A classic Chicago food pairing is Goose Island Honkers Ale with a lightly seasoned flank steak." — Eric Hobbs (Penrose Brewing)