Unique Ways To Incorporate Beer Into Cooking, According To An Expert

Beer's popularity as a quaff is unquestioned, given the fact that Americans consume about 6.4 billion gallons of the sudsy stuff each year. What's less appreciated about beer, however, is its wonderful versatility as a cooking ingredient. Sure, it's terrific in beer-battered fish, shrimp, chicken, or French fries. But did you know beer also makes a great ingredient for breads, soups, stews, salads, meats, and even desserts?

It's true. According to our expert, Jessie Massie, Executive Chef at the Sierra Nevada Taproom in Mills River, North Carolina, there are nearly endless ways to use beer in the kitchen (or outside on the grill). "There are so many ways you can incorporate beer into your cooking, from putting a light sour beer or citrus wheat into a homemade vinaigrette to doing what's called 'beer can chicken' on the grill," Massie said. "You don't have to be a pro in the kitchen, or a grill master to do those sorts of things but they can really elevate your food. And also, it's just fun to experiment!"

Beer can chicken is one of the best examples, Massie affirms, and for good reason. It's a beloved favorite of many backyard grill enthusiasts. Her recommended recipe for beer can-balanced chicken uses Sierra Nevada Pale Ale to bring extra flavor to grilled meat that's already bursting with it, thanks to a spice rub that includes salt and pepper, paprika, thyme, onion and garlic powder, and brown sugar.

Creative ways to add beer to decadent desserts

Beer can chicken and beer-battered entrées are well-known to most home cooks. What's not as well-known, according to our expert, is just how much flavor beer can add to preliminary courses like salads, and decadent, meal-capping desserts. "I think a lot of people think about using beer for cooking and marinating meat and stop there, but there are so many other ways to get creative," Jessie Massie explains.

One of her favorite ways to incorporate beer into dessert is by pairing Barrel-Aged Narwhal, a dark imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels, with peanut butter, dark chocolate, eggs, and sugar. The result is a delicious Flourless Narwhal Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake. To really kick things up a notch, she advocates putting a little whipped cream on top. Naturally, this too is made using beer. Start with one cup of heavy whipping cream, then add a vanilla bean, two tablespoons of confectioner's sugar, and two tablespoons of Barrel-Aged Narwhal, whisk them well in a mixing bowl, and you've got a unique and richly flavorful dessert topper.

Meat and beer, a perfect combination

Beer and meat are classic pairing partners, as we've already illustrated with beer can chicken. But there are plenty of other wonderful ways to put these two ingredients together. You can use beer to braise beef for stew, to glaze pork ribs, or to marinate steak. "Also consider," Massie notes, "that you can poach sausages and brats in a malty beer like a porter or stout, or even an American Pale Ale."

The beauty of beer as a cooking ingredient is that it's not only flavorful, but a natural balancer. Beer's bitterness balances out overly sweet flavors, while its maltiness acts as a perfect flavor complement to meat. That's why, by the way, beer is so often used as an ingredient in braises or marinades (that and the fact that it's also an excellent moistener and tenderizer). All of these benefits are on display when you poach and grill sausages with beer. The beer helps to keep the sausages moist and tender, guaranteeing they'll cook perfectly on the grill. It's also a perfect flavor match, not only for brats and sausage, but for onions and mustard, too.

Did we mention beer is also pretty good when you pull it out of the fridge cold and drink it while cooking? Well, it is.