Wine and BBQ Pairings
Sure, you could bust out the same six old pack stocked in the fridge. Or you could step up your BBQ game, pulling a surprising new player off the bench to star in your backyard feast: Wine.
Turns out your smokey, savory spread pairs perfectly with red wine, white wine, sparkling wine and even rosé. Why discriminate? Venture forth with these BBQ-wine pairings for your next grill sesh.
Wine Pairings by Meat
Your BBQ street cred matters to us. That’s why we’ve taken the time to put together this list of BBQ-and-wine combos that are sure to wow the backyard crowd.
1. Wine With BBQ Chicken
What wine pairs well with barbequed chicken? BBQ chicken gets a helping hand with a range of white wines.
First, consider the spice rub on your chicken. Herby roasts flavored with rosemary, thyme and other popular chicken seasonings require a fuller-bodied, herbaceous but off-dry white. “Earthy” white wines will complement the right flavor notes here without going overboard.
Second, consider the chicken’s sauce or glaze. Sweet sauces are brightened by sweet white wine, while a tart or acidic glaze pairs best with those off-dry, earthy whites described above.
Depending on your chicken’s spices or sauce, opt for the following wines:
- Unoaked warm-climate chardonnay: Warm-climate chardonnay will be silkier and sweeter than its cool-climate cousins. Think fruit-forward pops of fresh pineapple, papaya and lemon with a medium body and buttery-smooth finish that stands up nicely to charred chicken breasts, with or sans sauce. Chardonnays from Australia, Spain, South Africa or California are your best bet here.
- Sauvignon Blanc: This herbaceous white wine complements dry spice-rubbed BBQ chicken as well chicken smothered in vinegar- or mustard-based sauces.
2. Wine With Pulled Pork
Pork is a versatile type of meat just made for enjoying with wine. What wine goes with BBQ pork? Pair the shredded showstopper, pulled pork, with red wines leaning on the fruit-forward and acidic sides. High acidity cuts through pork’s innate fat, while richer fruit profiles brighten pulled pork’s signature smokiness. We recommend:
- Pinot noir: Opt for the berry-forward, velvety smooth pinot noir when barbecuing plain cuts of pork, such as a meaty pork chop. Pinot noir’s acidity also makes it suitable for pulled pork sandwiches smothered in a sweeter red BBQ sauce.
- Red zinfandel: Highly acidic yet lighter and brighter than many other red wines, red zinfandel has a tartness that matches perfectly with succulent pulled pork.
3. Wine With Beef Brisket
Brisket may be the holy grail of BBQ party fare. This near-divine cut of meat deserves an equally strong, bold and flavorful wine that’ll complement brisket’s signature smokiness while also dancing nimbly between those fatty, melt-in-your-mouth bites. What wine should you serve alongside beef brisket? Our mouth is watering just thinking about the following combo:
- French Cabernet Sauvignon: Bordeaux born-and-bred Cabernet Sauvignon has the weight and structure to stand up to beef brisket. It’s leather, tobacco and bell pepper flavors actually deepen those found in your brisket as well, while its heavy tannins stand up to the dense meat.
4. Wine With Hamburgers
There’s nothing quite like that first bite into a fresh-off-the-grill, juicy hamburger. And there’s nothing quite like pairing that hand-held bite from heaven with the right complementary wine.
We like our hamburgers with two specific kinds of red wine:
- Barbera d’Asti: An oak-aged Barbera packs a flavorful, sharp-tannin punch yet finishes with notes of tart cherries. If you’re craving a cheeseburger or love slathering on the condiments, make Barbera D’Asti your go-to pairing.
- Syrah: Syrah (also known as Shiraz) is a dry, tannin-forward red wine. Its flavors tend to mellow out as sips linger, making it a great palate cleanser between bites of your juicy burger.
5. Wine With Steaks
Are you even a griller if you don’t sling a few steaks on the grill every season? And are you even living life if you don’t properly match your steaks with your wine?
Across the world of steak cuts and types (umami-bomb ribeyes, dense porterhouses, tender top sirloins, oh my!), there’s a clear red wine duo that’ll make steak night in your home one to remember:
- Malbec: Malbecs delivery a dark, fruity, even jam-like set of flavors with each sip, plus a strong body and crisp tannins but a surprisingly soft finish. It’s a luxurious partner to heavy, marbled red meats that’ll still let your steak be the star.
- Cabernet sauvignon: The peppery, smokey qualities of a good bottle of cabernet sauvignon are a match made in heaven for a simple salt-and-pepper seasoned steak cooked perfectly on the grill.
6. Wine With Grilled Fish
Not every type of fish will cook well on the grill. Those that do include wild-caught salmon, snapper and swordfish steaks, among others with similarly meaty flesh. Fish fillets must be able to withstand the ultra-high, searing heat of grill grates without going dry. Likewise, BBQ fish needs a wine that won’t overpower the dishes’ flavors and seasonings.
- Oaked Chardonnay: Chardonnay makes the cut again, this time in its glorious oak-aged form. Oaking Chardonnay gives a glass its unique buttery-smooth finish not quite found in any other type of white wine and makes a beautiful partner to most grilled fish.
7. Wine With BBQ Ribs
Last but never least, BBQ ribs paired with wine make an elevated meal great for game days, backyard parties or even just a special family meal. Go with zesty, earthier red wines for beef ribs and sweeter, acidic red wine for pork BBQ ribs, like the options listed below.
- Cabernet franc: For BBQ beef ribs, turn to the versatile, dry and earthy cabernet franc, whose medium body but lush peppery notes will bring out the best in beef short ribs.
- Red zinfandel, merlot: For BBQ pork ribs, stick with red wines carrying bright berry notes, distinct acidity yet moderate tannins, such as red zinfandel and merlot.
Regional BBQ and Wine Pairings
Overall, there is a guiding rule of thumb when pairing the right wine with regional barbecues:
- “White” sauces — i.e., vinegar or mustard-based — go with earthier white wines.
- “Red” sauces — i.e., tomato, brown sugar and/or molasses-based — go with full-bodied, sweeter, dark-fruit red wines.
Bear this BBQ sauce and wine pairing rule in mind when starting out, but don’t feel the need to adhere religiously. Rules, after all, are made to be broken.
1. Kansas City BBQ
When most Americans think of barbecue sauce (outside a specific region, of course), they think Kansas City-style. The tomato and brown-sugar sweet sauce sits in grocery stores from coast to coast and is drizzled, dipped, dolloped and dowsed over beef, pork and chicken alike.Given its tongue-clicking sweetness, Kansas City barbecue sauce needs a fruity yet complex red wine that’ll match and deepen the flavors of its region’s slow-smoked meats. For that, stick with the cabs — cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon, that is.
2. North Carolina BBQ
The kicked-up, sweet-and-spicy North Carolina BBQ sauce features four staple ingredients: salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes and vinegar. Hang out in the western part of the state, and that sauce will contain ketchup and apple cider vinegar — whereas, in the east, they keep things simpler with a leaner, tarter vinegar and pepper spread.
When any North Carolina BBQ is on the menu, it tends to go atop pork. And when pork is on the menu, there’s no greater option than the full-bodied yet silky and soft-finishing pinot noir.
3. South Carolina BBQ
Hold on, North Carolina — your neighbors to the south have something to say about doing barbecue right. South Carolina brings its signature twist to regional barbecuing with its distinct yellow-mustard based sauce. As tangy as it is tasty, mustard can present a few pairing challenges. Look to the ever-versatile sauvignon blanc when mixing a South-Carolina mustard-based sauce. Its subtly earthy but vibrant palate won’t fight the funk of the mustard atop your barbecued fare.
4. Texas BBQ
Texas boasts four official styles of barbecue within its borders. However, each type tends to be harmonized by its base meat, a traditionally slow-cooked beef smoked over hickory, oak or mesquite wood.
These fragrant woods give Texas-style BBQ a salivating-worthy smokiness and depth regardless of the beef cut. Texans prefer to layer that beef with a sweet-and-smokey tomato-based barbecue sauce. Finish off your Texas-sized feast with a full-bodied, dry and bold red wine, epitomized by a syrah.
5. Alabama BBQ
Alabama BBQ tends to be more niche than it’s more famous regional counterparts. Yet the style highlights a series of ingredients no other region does, namely smoked and slow-roasted chicken smothered in a white sauce mixed from vinegar, salt, black pepper, cayenne, paprika and — most importantly — mayonnaise.
Hitting a perfect blend of creamy, smoky and spicy, Alabama BBQ chicken pairs wonderfully with warm-climate chardonnays, as well as earthy pinot gris and even dry rosés.
General Wine and BBQ Serving and Pairing Tips
Make the most of your wine and barbecue feast by keeping these serving best practices in mind.
1. Keep It Simple
We get it. Wandering down wine aisles at your local liquor store can get overwhelming. There are dozens upon dozens of wine varietals to pick from, and you just want to get back home and fire up the grill. At least that’s straightforward.
When in doubt, stick to this meat-sauce-wine maxim:
- White meats and white sauces go great with white wine
- Red meats and red sauces pair best with red wine
That’s it! Save yourself the headache and keep that tip-top of mind for simple wine and BBQ matches.
2. Cleanse Your Palate
Regardless of what’s on the menu, drink selections work best when they cleanse your palate with each sip. This means a drink should help cut through the fattier, heavier components of your plate without leaving behind its own muddling flavors.
Beer has traditionally been the go-to palate cleanser at BBQs. Yet in many ways, wine gets the job done better, particularly high acidity, dry white, red and rosé. The acidity and dry characteristics actually trigger a tingling sensation on your taste buds, resulting in the characteristic “tongue clicking” effect you may see when people drink wine. This is exactly what to look for in an ideal BBQ-wine pairing — or any meal and beverage pairing, for that matter.
3. Chill Out
Contrary to pop myths, both red and white wine can be chilled. Properly chilling your wine ensures the bottle’s full flavor expression — plus makes for a far more refreshing drink out there while you grill.
The ideal serving temperature for most white wines is slightly below room temperature, between 49-55°F. In contrast, red wine tastes best at a moderate room temperature, around 60-65°F. If it’s hotter than 65°F — indoors or out — go ahead and pop your bottle of wine in the fridge for up to an hour, bringing it back down to its best, most refreshing serving temperature.
4. Skip the Solo Cups
Plastic “solo” cups are cheap, convenient and probably reminiscent of some good college days. Yet they’re one of the worst vehicles for drinking many kinds of beverages — including wine and beer — for two main reasons.
First, heat will inevitably transfer from your hand to the beverage as you hold your solo cup. This warms wine (and any other drink) past its ideal serving temperature, altering its innate carbonation, smells and flavor. Second, the shape of a solo cup itself means sips of wine will hit the wrong parts of your mouth. Sure, it sounds a bit over-technical and even wine-snobby, but it makes all the difference.
Investing in a handful of stemmed wine glasses is useful in the long-run, saving you money while ensuring wine actually tastes as it should. Even cheaper bottles of wine will taste better when served in a wine glass, keeping any barbecue budget-friendly and extra delicious.
5. Let the Wine Breathe
Decanting is a fancy term for pouring a beverage out of its original container (in this case, the wine bottle) and into a serving container (often a glass decanter). While it may seem like yuppie nonsense, decanting wine is especially important for outdoor barbecues.
Decanting lets wine “breath,” a.k.a. lets the unique chemicals that have been trapped inside that bottle mix with fresh air. The interaction releases the wine’s full flavors and aromas, plus helps soften the sometimes aggressive and sharp tannins contained in many red wine varietals.
Many of the best wines to serve with BBQ will be tannin-heavy. Think cabernet sauvignon, syrah, red Bordeaux blends and Barbera D’Asti, which each benefit from a little aeration prior to drinking. Consider opening and pouring your bottle of wine into a second container about 30 minutes to three hours before serving, depending on the type of wine. Your taste buds will thank you.
6. Don’t Sweat It
You’re barbecuing, after all, not trying to win over the in-laws. Have some fun mixing and matching types of wine until you stumble on one that makes your ribs, brisket, wings, burgers — whatever — sing. Bonus points if you do impress the in-laws. Though now they might come over more.
Level Up Your Barbecue
Whatever you’re serving with your spread, you want your BBQ meats and veggies to be the star on the roster. That all starts with using high-quality pellet grills.