Beef and Alcohol Menu Pairing

Chef Barry Strand | November 11, 2018


For restaurants it’s important to be able to maximize beef and alcohol sales by actively looking for ways to pair the two through different menu applications. Customers are no stranger to pairing beef with alcohol. In fact, according to Datassential’s Alcoholic Beverage Keynote Report, 24% of consumers say they already use wine in multiple applications, including cooking and drinking. Therefore, coming up with creative and innovative ways to pair alcohol with beef is something that would resonate well with your customer base.

Help Customers Understand Pairing

While it comes down to the customer’s personal preference, there are some general guidelines to follow when pairing beef and alcohol. The flavor of the dish should complement the flavor of the drink like a perfect seesaw.

A general rule-of-thumb is that the beefier the dish, the most robust the drink. It’s important to know that the beefiest cuts come from the front of the animal (Chuck, Brisket, Rib) and get milder as they get closer to the back (Sirloin and Round).

Another great pairing recommendation is to balance the scales between the dish and the drink. A spicy dish with a high alcohol content drink will enhance the spices while a less dry, sweeter, lower alcohol content drink will balance the heat.

With the diversity of beef flavors and beers available on the market, it’s important to offer a variety of beer options so your customers can find the perfect pairing. For example, a burger can be paired with a variety of beers, most of which can make the dish sing!

Don’t forget about the power of suggestion. If you feel comfortable, suggest a beer or wine pairing next to each dish on the menu.

Use Alcohol in the Cooking Process

Pairing a drink to a dish doesn’t mean the two need to be separate. Combining the drink with the food in the cooking process, or even combining the food with the drink, is a creative way to pair beef with alcohol. Like salt, alcohol brings out the flavor in food. It sinks into the meat, bonding with both fat and water. A marinade or a brine with a small amount of alcohol improves the flavor penetration. According to data from Washington State University, the University of Idaho and U.S. Department of Agriculture, alcohol that is simmered or baked as part of dish for 15 minutes will retain 40-percent of its alcohol content. After one hour of cooking, 25-percent will remain. To get down to single digits (5-percent) requires approximately 2.5 hours of cooking time. A quick pan sauce still retains a significant amount of alcohol.

It is advisable to cook with wine that you would drink, but your wine doesn’t need to be expensive. Braise cuts like Short Ribs and Brisket in red wine because they can take the heft of a Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah but use caution with leaner beef cuts that can be overwhelmed by red wine. Braise cuts from the Round in white wine so the beef can still shine especially with pounded out Round cuts like Piccata or Marsala.

Braise Brisket and Corned Beef in a good craft beer like a hoppy IPA. Try a dark beer, like a stout, in a beef stew or grab an inexpensive lager while simmering ground beef chili to elevate the simple flavors.

While there are some classic pairing dishes like, Steak au Poivre and Beef Bourguignon, customers are open to trying new, creative pairings. According to Datassential’s TIPS, Spring 2015, 59% of consumers said that they are likely to try a bourbon sauce at a restaurant. 

Other Creative Uses of Alcohol in Beef Dishes

Adding beef flavor to a drink is also a creative approach. Make a Bloody Mary by adding beef broth for a twist on the brunch classic. Add beef broth to mocktail recipes for an umami-rich beverage that only beef can provide. Use house-made beef stock for bone broth shooters or serve in a small bowl or tea cup. Don’t forget about pickling vegetables like onions in tequila or vodka. 

There are a variety of creative and innovative ways to work with beef and alcohol. Experiment a little and find out what works best for your establishment.

About Chef Barry Strand:

Chef Barry Strand works in the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Culinary Center, funded by the Beef Checkoff. Chef Barry leads the lab program which focuses on the exploration of new ingredients, equipment, and innovative beef preparations and cooking methods.