If you're spending an entire day slowly smoking a brisket or pork shoulder to [a beautifully charred, impossibly tender piece of barbecue magic, it's safe to say that you care about the quality of your meal. Right?
So don't just assume that your favorite IPA will be alright to chug alongside that plate of food (it won't — the hops will overpower your food, and the 'cue will negate your brew's flavors, leaving little more than a harsh bitterness). Or worse yet, don't serve your plate of 'cue with whatever watery, macro-brewed suds are sold by the thirty pack. Your cookout deserves better.
That said, it's best to keep things relatively simple. Trying to get super specific by pairing a different bear each menu item that's coming off the grill is fine at a multi-course restaurant meal, but that doesn't work so well at a casual backyard affair.
Keep these in your arsenal and you'll be well prepared any time you need to impress the hell out of any crowd.
Which is why we're sticking to three multi-purpose pairing options that'll mesh nicely with most anything you're serving, from buttery grilled corn to a rich, well-charred sausage or smoky and sweet pulled pork.
Pick one style, hit your local bottle shop for whatever brewery's version looks good to you, and fill a cooler.
Light, but With a Little Spice
"Saison," also sometimes called "Farmhouse Ale" is kind of a nebulous term.
Some interpretations try to capture the of wild fermentation from the style's Belgian countryside roots. The results are musky and/or tart, driving the flavor into more unique territories. That's great if you're a craft beer devotee who wants to try something interesting, but not so much if you're serving to guests with a wide range of preferences.
Stick to saisons that don't boast about "wild" yeast or sour notes and you'll be in good hands. They're dry, crisp, and usually pack peppery yeast notes and light fruit flavors. That makes them powerfully refreshing on sunny summer days and a great companion to rich and smokey barbecue.
Look for: Brooklyn Brewery Sorachi Ace, Saison DuPont, Ommegang Hennepin, Goose Island Sofie, Hilliard's Saison
Roasty, but Not Overwhelming
No, they're not just for the winter months. A darker beer works surprisingly well with 'cue, since the roasty malt flavors meld with the smoky char and intense savoriness of a good steak or burger. And because they tend to be lighter bodied, a little less intensely flavored, and lower in alcohol than stouts, they're easy to gulp down on a warm, sunny afternoon.
Pick up something that's not loaded with special flavors or overloaded with booze. A bourbon-aged imperial porter with coconut or chocolate might be good for a low-key evening in, but not so much for a sun-soaked cookout.
You want a porter that's relatively light in both body and ABV, with a not-too-heavy flavor. The toasted malt flavor will give your rich grilled food a sturdy but not overwhelming backdrop.
Look for: Founder's Porter, Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter, Deschutes Black Butte Porter, Smuttynose Robust Porter
Crisp and Easy-Drinking
Think of these as a more flavor-packed version of standard barbecue cooler options like Bud Light or Miller High Life.
Pilsners, a sub-type of lagers, are crisp and light enough to be entirely crowd-pleasing, but the good ones have an extra twinge of subtle hoppiness and a cracker-y malt aspect. They're more flavorful than those go-to macro brew options, but are still plenty easy to knock back on a hot day.
The pale, malt-driven brew works because it's so unassuming. Some are hoppier or more intensely flavored than others, but in general, pilsners don't pack huge tasting notes that'll get in the way of your food — just a trace of hops and spice to give the deep grilled flavors of your dinner a slight counterpoint.
If you're an IPA fan, look for options that are imbued with higher-than-usual hop profiles. Otherwise, stick with the crisper and not-too-bitter renditions.
Look for: Pilsner Urquell, New Belgium Shift, Otter Creek Mantra, Jack's Abbey Hoponius Union, Bell's Quinannan Falls, Victory Prima Pils, Sixpoint The Crisp, Firestone Walker Pivo Hoppy Pils