Choosing what to drink with live-fire cooking isn’t a precise science: the best strategy for a successful food and beverage pairing is to start with what you like. And if the match is less than perfect, you can always open another bottle. But it’s helpful to have a roadmap when you need some inspiration—or when you have too many options from which to choose—so we created these handy (and printable) pairing guides for the best wine and beers to pair with live-fire food.
Strategy: The myth that all beef is best enjoyed with some crazy tannic, oaky red wine is just that. Instead, look for a red with pure, unbridled fruit that will match wood-smoked steaks, roasts and burgers in juiciness and flavor.
Pair with: Bright, juicy reds; Substantial, fruit-forward reds
Strategy: Because lamb has a little of its own inherent funk, it can stand up to a more rustic wine, particularly reds with a slightly herbal or mushroomy character. The lightly tannic quality and high aromatics of many orange wines are also fantastic with lighter lamb dishes – essentially white wines for a red wine vibe.
Pair with: Lightly tannic orange wines; Earthy, medium-bodied reds
Strategy: High acid wines – of both the red and white varieties – are what you’re looking for across the entire roast pork spectrum. They’ll nimbly cut through the fattiest of pork bellies and won’t overwhelm the leanest of pork loins.
Pair with: High-acid, full-bodied whites; Bright, juicy reds
BBQ + Smoked Meats
Strategy: Super unctuous barbecued meats, in all their saucy, tangy glory, call for wines that can handle over the top richness and texture. Either go for a fizzy wine, that will refresh your palate between bites, or nab a red with a big jolt of acidity that will meet it in the middle.
Pair with: Sparkling wine; Bright, juicy reds
Chicken + Turkey
Strategy: Chicken and turkey are relative blank slates when it comes to flavor. In choosing a wine for these, just consider the rub or sauce you’ll be using on the bird. Savory, herbal roast chicken will go with a fuller bodied white, spicy wings might call for a juicy rosé, mushroomy coq au vin definitely needs a red with some heft.
Pair with: Savory, full-bodied white; Rosé; Earthy, medium-bodied reds
Strategy: The brininess of clams, mussels and lobster becomes more pronounced in the presence of woodfire, the salt and smoke interacting in a very cool way. Look for a minerally white wine that will join this party or do as those in the south France and find a nice, lightly fruity rosé that will go with just about anything.
Pair with: Minerally white; Rosé
Strategy: There’s little more a whole roasted fish needs than a squeeze of lemon. Apply this same philosophy to the wine that you serve with it. Choose a white wine based on the texture of the fish; something light and flaky will need a lighter white, a meatier fish needs a more substantial white.
Pair with: Citrusy, medium-bodied white; High-acid, full-bodied whites
Strategy: A perfect food in all ways, there’s little that won’t pair with pizza. Some will say to pair with the toppings, some will reach only for Italian wines, but really, drink what you like. For the greatest of high-low pairings, opt for Champagne.
Pair with: Sparkling wine; Rosé; Bright, fruit-forward reds
Strategy: When wood-roasted, vegetables become amped-up versions of themselves; greens get slightly more bitter, root vegetables get sweeter, mushrooms get earthier. Choose wines that have a similar concentration of flavor. White wines for greens, red wines for more substantial veggies.
Pair with: High-acid, full-bodied whites; Earthy, medium-bodied reds
Strategy: Applying heat to any fruit – be it over wood fire or on the stovetop – will concentrate and intensify its sweetness. When pairing sweets with dessert wine, the wine ought to be sweeter than the dish itself. Put lighter colored/yellowish fruits with golden wines, like Hungarian Tokaj or Italian Passito and red or dark-colored fruit with red or deep brown wines, like French Banyuls or Madeira.
Pair with: Dessert Wine
Beer Pairings for Live-Fire Food
Strategy: When beef meets wood fire, it develops darker flavors as the meat becomes nicely caramelized. Look for beers that mimic that depth and sweetness with malt complexity. Lighter versions, like ambers and brown ales are best with braises, whereas stouts and porters will go with charred meats.
Pair with: Lightly sweet, malty beers; Deep, dark beers
Strategy: Lamb’s in the earthy, gamey range of the flavor spectrum, making it a good companion to beers that also have a wild side. Look for Euro-style farmhouse ales and lambics for loins and chops and something brooding and roasty for substantial roasts.
Pair with: Tangy, funky sours; Deep, dark beers
Strategy: Hop-forward beers are a twofer when it comes to pork; they not only have bubbles to cut through fattiness but a serious bitterness, too. On the other hand, malt-forward beers can bring a toastiness to the equation that will complement pork’s umami flavors.
Pair with: Bold, hoppy beers; Malty, lightly sweet beers
BBQ + Smoked Meats
Strategy: There is nothing mild about tangy pulled pork shoulder or an expertly smoked brisket. So that the beer doesn’t get lost in the equation, match the intensity of barbecue with equally full-bodied brews. Something with dark-roasted malts or a hefty dose of hops ought to do the trick.
Pair with: Boldly hoppy beers; Deep, dark beers
Chicken + Turkey
Strategy: Use beer as a nifty flavor highlighter. Pour a grassy, hoppy beer with chicken dishes that are particularly herb-centric. And with a spice-rubbed turkey, choose an aromatic, spicy wheat beer. The whole is better than the sum of its parts with these complementary pairings.
Pair with: Boldly hoppy beers; Spiced, fruity beers
Strategy: Anyone who’s been to New England in the summertime knows that there’s little better than a super cold bottle of lager with a seaside clambake. Calling on taste memories is a great way to think about pairings without being overly cerebral. In the same way, a citrusy gose can mimic a big squeeze of lemon overtop a buttery lobster roll.
Pair with: Light, crisp beers; Tangy, funky sours
Strategy: The saltiness of a crisp-skinned whole fish can be amplified with a minerally, brisk beer, like a pilsner or a kölsch. To subdue this seaspray quality, look to more saison-style brews, that bring juicy lemon or orange flavors.
Pair with: Light, crisp beers; Spiced, fruity beers
Strategy: Malty beers have a strange affinity for the inherent sweetness of tomato sauce (something to be remembered when it comes to wood-roasted meatballs and lasagna, too) and thus are exemplary with pizza. But if it’s a Friday night and it feels right to pick up a six-pack of crisp Peroni on the way home, well, no one can fault you for that either.
Pair with: Light, crisp beers; Malty, lightly sweet beers
Strategy: Beers that are more hop-forward than malt-forward really work with the green or earthy characteristic of roasted vegetables. This equaled bitterness allows all of the other flavors of the vegetables to really stand out. For more substantial veggies, like sweet potatoes or beets, look for a pale ale or an IPA that is matched in weight, too.
Pair with: Light, crisp beers; Boldly hoppy beers
Megan Krigbaum is a New York City-based wine and spirits writer and editor. She’s the former deputy wine editor of Food & Wine magazine, a contributing editor for PUNCH, and a regular contributor to other publications.