Cooking with Good Beer, Is It Worth It?

I have a habit of holding onto beers way too long that I shouldn’t be holding onto, and I tend to drink the ones right away that I should probably hold onto for a time.  Well, this review is way late to the party, but this beer saved my bacon, and my chicken wings.  See yesterday was my youngest son’s 12th birthday.  As is our usual custom at our house he got to pick what he wanted for dinner.  He chose Chicken wings, mostly because he wanted them for the Superbowl, but we had something else.  So he had a hankering, and of course on his birthday we as his parents were going to indulge him.

I have a recipe for barbecue chicken wings that take beer in both the marinade and the barbecue sauce.  The only problem was that it calls for an Australian beer, and I have traditionally used Foster’s Lager for this.  However I forgot to pick up the Beer for the wings.  I’ll be damned if I am going to run into town to pick up an Australian beer when I have a whole garage full of perfectly good brews to choose from…but what beer?…

I chose a Lagunitas Wilco Tango Foxtrot  that had been sitting in my garage for over a year.  I was wanting something that would impart a little more flavor to my wings, but not overpower them or the barbecue sauce like a stout might.  I chose this brown ale from Lagunitas, which I think is a one run brew.  At least I haven’t seen it since it was released back around December 2009.

This turned out to be a stroke of genius.  Not only did it infuse the meat of the wings with a slightly roasted nutty flavor, it made the Barbecue sauce very rich and had a much deeper flavor than the previous times I have made it with an Australian beer.

The 22 oz bomber was the perfect size for this, because I used about half the bottle for the wings, and then I could drink the other half, just right.  The beer itself, was a relatively nondescript brown ale.  It was good in the same way many brown ales are good, but it was nothing special to drink.  What made it a lot more enjoyable was sitting in the garage with a couple of my sons and shooting the breeze while smoking a Perdomo 10th Anniversary Cigar on a sunny and cool day with the garage door open and my boys by my side.

In thinking back now, this was a great choice for the wings.  Everyone loved them and said it was my best batch of barbecue wings ever!  That is a pretty ringing endorsement from a pretty tough crowd in my house.  And I owe it all to the change in beer.  From a fizzy yellow lager to a rich malty brown ale, the difference was amazing and well worth the extra dollar or two for the better beer.  Now I’m thinking about a Sam Smith’s Yorkshire Stengo chili.  Don’t stop me, I’m on a roll…


UPDATE:  Thanks to a guy that calls himself “The Wookie” I have a link to the actual recipe I used.  It is a bit more confusing than in my book, because it lumps the marinade ingredients into the list of all ingredients.  The first 6 ingredients (except for the wings themselves) are for the marinade.  The remainder are for the Barbecue sauce.  I make a ton of wings and I double the sauce for my brood of 6 people (including 3 hungry male types).  To get the recipe click here.

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25 Comments on “Cooking with Good Beer, Is It Worth It?”

  1. February 28, 2011 at 12:34 pm #

    That sounds like a killer day, and the wings sound excellent.

    I’ve done similar things when pre-boiling bratwursts, but never quite noticed much difference (and felt wasteful for using the New Glarii products).

    • Don
      February 28, 2011 at 12:41 pm #

      I’m not sure I could bring myself to use New Glaris for cooking, but maybe a lesser beer, but something better than Bud or Coors. This was a great choice, because while it was kind of Meh to drink, for cooking it rocked! It really complemented the flavors that were already there, and gave the whole dish a richness and depth of flavor that was previously missing.

  2. February 28, 2011 at 12:34 pm #

    I believe in cooking with beer, but I don’t believe in the aging of (most) beers. I think that brewers release beers as they would want them drank. Seems that the brewers would (and do) age beers before they released them if they wanted them aged longer.

    • Don
      February 28, 2011 at 12:49 pm #

      Oh, Angela Jim and you would have a big disagreement here. He thinks most brewers release beers that are supposed to be aged, and very few store them before release. He’s talked a lot about it, and if that is what you all do at the Nebraska Brewing Company, all the more power to you. That is the way it should be done. However I think sometimes breweries release beer that is marginal or way too hoppy and say it should be aged, but if you want you can drink it now. Anyway the wings were great and I’ll be cooking with better beer from now on.

  3. February 28, 2011 at 12:35 pm #

    I’ll say the same I say about wine: you want to use something you would DRINK, not crap…but that being said, you don’t have to use the best of anything. If you think about it, if you take something yummy and reduce/concentrate it, it will be concentrated yumminess, but if you do that with something that sucks out of the starting gate, you will get concentrated suckiness 🙂

    Whenever I cook or bake with beer I always use something with flavor profiles that will add something to the dish. Otherwise it begs the question: why use it?

    • Don
      February 28, 2011 at 12:45 pm #

      Hi Katie. I guess I just used the Fosters for so long (like 4 years now) because that is what the recipe called for. In this case Necessity was the mother of invention, and I pulled out the Lagunitas WTF on a whim. I thought it would give more flavor, but I wasn’t totally convinced all the way up to the point I took my first bite! That was when I had the epiphany. I like your point about cooking with good beer, but probably not the best. This was a good beer, but I think the flavor I would have gotten out of a really expensive brew would have only been marginally better. So no more Foster’s for this recipe. I’m going to be looking for something with great flavor to deepen and enhance this recipe.

  4. February 28, 2011 at 12:42 pm #

    Sounds lovely! I try to put beer in just about everything I cook… Sometimes meals are planned around the style I have on hand, other times I’ll be drinking a favorite while cooking and just decide to deglaze or reduce with the top of a fresh bottle. Thanks for sharing a story of a perfect afternoon and an improved-upon recipe!

    • Don
      February 28, 2011 at 12:51 pm #

      Thanks Kortney. I think I will be cooking with beer much more from now on. Using the better beer made such a huge taste improvement, I’m excited to try other things now.

  5. February 28, 2011 at 12:58 pm #

    Posting this without linking to the recipes for the wings and sauce is cruel 😦 Sounds great though!

    • Don
      February 28, 2011 at 1:04 pm #

      The recipe is actually pretty complex and would take a lot of time to type out, and well, I’m too damn lazy to do it. If you want the recipe it is in the Barbecue Bible around page 63.

  6. February 28, 2011 at 1:11 pm #

    I’ve cooked with crappy beer, with mid-range stuff, and with really fancy stuff. In my opinion, while the Bourbon County Stout banana bread was fantastic, it would have been almost as good with a mid-range stout. Of course, the BCS is way better than say Sam Adams Honey Porter for drinking. Bud isn’t good for much of anything. So I’d say that the mid-range craft stuff is probably the way to go for cooking.

    • Don
      February 28, 2011 at 1:28 pm #

      That is the conclusion I have come to as well Charles. It is ok for drinking, but can infuse great flavors into food. Its a win win when you can use a mediocre beer and make great food with it.

  7. February 28, 2011 at 3:10 pm #

    So does this mean you’re out of your funk? Sounds like a pretty fine day of craft beer, good food and great company, Don.

    I’ll second Katie’s comment about cooking with wine and beer. Use something you’d want to drink and enjoy. If only because you can poor and enjoy yourself a glass while cooking with it! We make a cheddar-ale soup for holiday pot lucks, and we always use a quality Christmas ale of some sort. It’s always a hit wherever we take it.

    • Don
      February 28, 2011 at 4:46 pm #

      Not sure I’m 100% out of my funk at this point. I drank the Lagunitas because it was there, not because I was really jonesing for a beer, and I still haven’t touched a whiskey for weeks. So while it is progress, I’m afraid the funk is far from over. 😦

  8. johnking82
    February 28, 2011 at 8:32 pm #

    I have a handful of 2008 Avery Mephestopheles (14.5%) and since I couldn’t drink them (I mean I could but it was a long, slow process), I started using this darker beer for dishes like chili and ribs. It adds a great sweet texture to the meat.

    As for Whiskey, how do you feel about Bernheim? My buddy is a distributor for Southern Wine and Spirits here in Kentucky and he brought it along for an Asheville trip. A fantastic wheat whiskey.

    • Don
      March 1, 2011 at 9:45 am #

      Bernheim is supposed to be made from an all wheat mash. No corn, so it can’t be classified as Bourbon, but at this point who cares? I’ve had some really fantastic artisnal whiskies that don’t use any corn, and they are fantastic. I haven’t had this one, but I’d love to try it. In speaking to people who have, they all agree it is a great whiskey. Oh, and cooking with Mephistopheles Stout would be fantastic. I imagine those ribs are very tasty. I love to drink it as well. It is a big and very hearty and robust stout that would go great with beef, like a nice steak.

  9. The Wookie
    March 1, 2011 at 4:53 pm #

    Don — Is this the recipe you use?

    I had these at friend’s party and asked for the recipe. He mentioned the BBQ Bible but also sent me this link. The funny part is he advised me not to use an Aussie Beer like Fosters and said he used Smuttynose Old Brown Dog Ale for this particular batch.

    For my part I love cooking with good beer but I prefer recipes that leave a half a bottle or so for the cook.

    • Don
      March 1, 2011 at 5:23 pm #

      That is it exactly! I’m going to link it in the post so others can give them a try. They are excellent.

    • Don
      March 1, 2011 at 5:31 pm #

      Oh, BTW, thanks for sending this link. I have updated the post so people can access the recipe if they want. The Brown ale really deepens the flavor. Funny how I discovered that by accident, and your friend already was doing it. It is a great recipe, and would be great for all sorts of meats including Ribs!

      • The Wookie
        March 1, 2011 at 7:34 pm #

        No problemo.

        FYI – My bud just experimented until he found a beer that fit the recipe. He has a rule that you have to buy a minimum of a six pack or a bomber of any brew so if you are going to cook with beer the recipe better use all the beer or the beer better be drinkable. It’s a good life rule. His best beer recipe is a beer based chili that is awesome but he won’t share the recipe. I think he is using a porter but there are several other ingredients I can’t figure out. One day I’ll get the recipe out of him.


        • Don
          March 2, 2011 at 9:47 am #

          Keep working on it. I have a 2 year old bottle of Sam Smiths Yorkshire Stengo, and I think I will try to make a chili out of it. I’m pretty sure that would be awesome.


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