My Irrational Fear of Cooking with Beer

There are some things that beer geeks love that I’m resistant to. Food pairings is one, as I prefer to enjoy my beers straight up without enhancements or adulterations. Another is beer trading – it’s just such a hassle to get to the post office or shipping store and then worry about getting caught trying to ship beer. Despite my reluctance to do these things, I’ve tried both, and I think I’m slowly coming around to them. But there’s one thing that totally freaks me out that I don’t think I’ll ever get into: Cooking with beer.

I know, I know. Beer is a terrific ingredient that can add depth and character to many dishes. Adding beer to recipes makes them so much more interesting to pair with the beer you drink during the meal. People have cooked with wine for millenniums, why not beer?

Because in my little mind it’s just wrong, that why! The notion of pouring a perfectly good beer (especially an expensive one) into a pot or pan as an ingredient is the same as pouring it down the sink to me. Why screw up perfection by mixing it with vegetables or butter or whatever other unholy contaminants you can dream up? Why not just cook a nice meal and then have that beer along side it, the way it was intended to be enjoyed? Why ruin a perfectly good beer?

The other side of the coin is also troubling to me – cooking with crappy beer. It’s one thing to waste a nice bottle of oatmeal stout by pouring it into a pan of brussels sprouts (lookin’ at you, Don!), it’s another thing to ruin a bunch of decent ingredients by pouring in a bottle of Budweiser. Good beer or bad beer, it’s lose-lose in my mind.

Now I know some of you are probably screaming at your screen, saying I’m a troglodyte. Cooking with beer enhances both the ingredients you grace it with as well as the beer you enjoy with the meal. I understand this on an intellectual level, but the thought of pouring a beer into cookware makes my inner caveman want to run the other way. Fire bad!!!

I’m not sure why I have this irrational fear of cooking with beer (and I freely admit it’s irrational) but it struck me this morning that for all of my years of beer geekery, I’ve always put the idea out of my head. For whatever reason, the idea of cooking with beer totally freaks me out.

How about you? Do you cook with beer, or do you prefer to keep it pure and simple? Let us know in the survey and share your thoughts (and maybe your favorite recipes) in the comments below.


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64 Comments on “My Irrational Fear of Cooking with Beer”

  1. February 7, 2012 at 11:33 am #

    Try cooking with some of those moderate session beers that are out there. It won’t seem like such a sin that way. If its a good recipe the beer isn’t wasted–and you can always go get more beer.

    • February 7, 2012 at 12:27 pm #

      I know it’ll be okay – there’s lots of beer out there – but the whole thought of doing it (session beers or not) goes against my grain!

  2. February 7, 2012 at 11:39 am #

    I haven’t experimented with cooking with beer too much but when I slow cook a roast I do like to add beer to the crock pot because I read it’s a tenderizer.

    You don’t need to pick a $6 bottle of RIS to improve it either, something from an $8-10 six pack will usually do.

    Sometimes the beer adds some nice flavor, sometimes it’s not noticeable in the flavor but does help with the tenderizing. Of course, I’m sure there are plenty of times that I don’t notice it in the taste but I might notice it if it *wasn’t* in there.

    I would say there’s a dollar limit though on how much beer I’m willing to pour into cooking, at least until I confirm that I’m doing something significant with it.

    Boiling brats in beer is definitely worth it and even something like Bud or Miller Lite does add good flavor to it. Having a kegmeister at home makes that a lot more affordable.

    I’m looking forward to experimenting more in the future.


    p.s. Don’t give up on the food and beer pairings. That realm has been the cause for much enjoyment for me in the past year or so.

    • February 7, 2012 at 12:28 pm #

      I think Im’m gonna be getting into the food and beer pairing thing more and more – it’s interesting new ground to cover.

      • February 7, 2012 at 12:41 pm #

        Start with cheeses. I’ve found several beers that I thought were just OK by themselves but when paired with the right cheese were fannnnnnatastic!

        • February 7, 2012 at 12:49 pm #

          My favorite snack in the world is Dale’s Pale Ale with a room temp block of NY sharp cheddar and Triscuits, so I guess I’m already on my way!

  3. February 7, 2012 at 11:42 am #

    You’re a troglodyte. Cooking with beer enhances both the ingredients you grace it with as well as the beer you enjoy with the meal.

    Really? Beer is food. Why not cook with it. Plus, one rarely uses an entire bottle or six-pack for a recipe. You get to drink the leftovers while “eating” the beer.

    • February 7, 2012 at 12:29 pm #

      You had me right up to “eating” beer, at which point the hackles on my troglodyte neck went up…

  4. February 7, 2012 at 11:42 am #

    Cooking with smoked beer is a great way to introduce that flavor to a dish without the aid of a smoker. Try using Charkoota Rye in pulled pork, the crock pot edition. Awesome.

    …and there are many other wonderful uses for beer in the kitchen.

  5. February 7, 2012 at 11:51 am #

    I get that feeling, too, Jim. But I still cook with beer plenty. Here’s how I overcome it. A lot of beer-enhanced recipes seem to call for a 12 oz can or bottle of beer. Instead get a bomber of something quite good but not too expensive. A Ninkasi something or other generally works for me. Use half of the bottle (or whatever amount it calls for) in the recipe and enjoy the other half in a glass while cooking or, if you can wait, with the dinner itself. If you cook with wine, you likely employ this enjoyable tactic already!

    • February 7, 2012 at 12:32 pm #

      I think I need to just bite the bullet and do it. I’m sure I’d like the food I cooked with beer, but the whole idea freaks me out. I’m like a kid on a high-dive for the first time staring down at the water.

  6. February 7, 2012 at 11:54 am #

    No different than wine…don’t go cheap and don’t go expensive. Reducing a crappy beer will give you concentrated crappy flavors. And pouring an expensive beer into the dish won’t make it taste better than using a moderately priced one. Go over to my blog’s recipes section and make the beer and cheddar risotto. It’s not only awesome as-is, but making the rice balls the next day is a double-treat, especially when eaten with the beer you used to cook.

    • February 7, 2012 at 12:34 pm #

      Maybe I’ll give it a shot, Katie. I didn’t even know I had this resistence until I was mulling over topics for the Today Show column, when the idea of cooking with beer popped into my head as something to write about and I got all freaked out. Looks like I need to start baby-stepping into it…

  7. Chris
    February 7, 2012 at 12:00 pm #

    I love to grill with beer. Usually I marinate whatever meat I’m cooking in the beer, and sometimes I even poor it on while cooking it. I normally just use what’s in my fridge at the time. I hardly ever will use an “expensive” beer b/c I’m cheap. Smoking with beer is great too.

    • February 7, 2012 at 12:35 pm #

      I grill with beer too…one for me…none for the meat…another for me…still none for the meat… 😉

  8. Don
    February 7, 2012 at 12:01 pm #

    Jim, you’re an Idiot. Although this is not new information. Cooking with beer is a great excuse to drink any time of the day! For example on Sunday I made my wing recipe for the Superbowl. This recipe uses a beer for making the Barbecue sauce. The recipe calls for Foster’s lager, but I always use a brown or stout. So I needed to make the BBQ sauce and it was 9:30 in the morning. (This stuff needs to simmer for hours) The recipe called for a cup of the Sam Smith’s Oatmeal Stout I used, and the rest was for me. 🙂 Told the wife it was Breakfast beer, you know, cuz there is oatmeal in there. Even got her to take a sip, and I got to drink my breakfast! WIN WIN WIN Bro! Get on board with the program!

    • February 7, 2012 at 12:19 pm #

      True, Don. I make beer batter apple fritters sometimes. Perfect excuse to have a breakfast beer!

    • February 7, 2012 at 12:35 pm #

      I like the idea of beer recipes that don’t call for the whole 12 or 22 ounces…leave a little for the cook.

      • beercommdood
        February 7, 2012 at 1:22 pm #

        This is why I buy beer by the 6-pack. 1 for the meal, 5 for the cook. 😉

    • February 7, 2012 at 1:16 pm #

      Don one. Jim zero.

      • February 7, 2012 at 2:51 pm #


        • John King
          February 7, 2012 at 3:14 pm #

          I bet Jim loves Little River Band…Lonesome Loser!

  9. BeerBanker
    February 7, 2012 at 12:01 pm #

    every pot of chili I make gets a can of Dale’s…

    • February 7, 2012 at 12:36 pm #

      Most bowls of chili I eat are accompanied by one…

  10. Andy
    February 7, 2012 at 12:23 pm #

    Jim, Glad to know I’m not the only one with an irrational fear of pouring beer into a dish. I very much enjoy some recipes that call for beer, but I can’t be the one pouring in the beer or even be in the same room when it is happening. Freaks me out. Nonetheless, I will be the first in line for a helping.

    • February 7, 2012 at 12:37 pm #

      Hmm…maybe I can get my wife to spot for me. “Honey, I’m going to leave the room now…there’s a bottle of imperial stout next to the stove…I don’t want to know what happens…”

  11. February 7, 2012 at 12:26 pm #

    I agree with the others-it’s all about middle ground. Nothing that absolutely needs to be enjoyed by itself, and nothing crappy, either. Depending upon the recipe, you also get to enjoy most of the beer anyways!

    • February 7, 2012 at 12:38 pm #

      Maybe I should start with something that call for one ounce of Sam Adams Utopias – it’s a great excuse to give to the wife – it’s for DINNER honey. Don’t you want to feel the children?!!

  12. Sean
    February 7, 2012 at 12:42 pm #

    For those of us lucky to live in their distribution area Yuengling Lager has become my goto beer for cooking though that’s mostly brats. It’s reasonably priced, better tasting than the offerings from the Big 3, and supports a family run US based brewery (if that makes a difference for you). Cooking with beer is a great way to get rid of those bottles of beer that are a tad disappointing and you just don’t see yourself cracking open to consume (I’m looking at you New Belgium Snow Day). Don’t fear cooking with beer — just find beer at a price point that serves not only your recipe but your palette.

    • February 7, 2012 at 12:50 pm #

      You just reminded me that my wife signed me up for the lowest level of the Beer of the Month Club, and I’ve been wondering what to do with those clunkers. Maybe they’re a good place to start…

  13. February 7, 2012 at 12:57 pm #

    I understant your feelings as I am that way with wine. I hate drinking the dry varieties but they add a great flavor for cooking. The frugal part of me just hates waste.

    I have two great meals that call for beer. The first is a potato cheese soup that tastes yummy with the addition of the cup of beer. I tend to get a cheaper variety for that but the husband always has something hanging around. The other is for brats. The husband takes care of this although when the boiling happens depends on the type of brat. The typical way is boiling the brat then grill it. However, we have found with a cheese brat it is best to grill and then boil.

    • February 7, 2012 at 1:43 pm #

      Wine tends to sit around at our house, so I always feel like I’m doing a good thing (using it up before it goes bad) when I cook with it. Beer doesn’t hang around much, especially open ones! Still, cheesy recipes seem to be the lowest hanging fruit for beer cooking…

  14. beercommdood
    February 7, 2012 at 1:20 pm #

    Would you not cook with wine? Whiskey? Other spirits? No scampi? No bourbon glaze? No bananas foster?

    Beer is food, dude. Get over your irrational fear. And for what it’s worth, adding “beer” to a recipe is indeed stupid. There’s the right beer for the right reason, in the right quantity, at the right time, just as with any other ingredient when cooking.

    • February 7, 2012 at 1:43 pm #

      I agree my fear is irrational, that’s why I put it in the title. I think you’re right – I have to get over it. But that’s easier said than done…

      • beercommdood
        February 7, 2012 at 1:52 pm #

        Nah, just do it. It’s easy. It’s food. You ever get a bourbon glazed anything, maybe at a TGI Ruby Applebees? Was that difficult to overcome?

        When done right, you won’t taste beer, but something wonderful.

  15. February 7, 2012 at 1:34 pm #

    Agreed about using expensive or rare beer – who wants to waste something great on cooking? I’d probably never use something that I’ve never had before either. And yeah, reducing bad beer can concentrate the badness. I hate recipes that are so damn specific about which beers to use. But I’ve also found that there’s a lot of middle ground here, and I have way too much homebrew sitting around here anyway. I’ve got some stout that I’m planning on using in a stew recipe, and I’ve used several others as part of a saute to add an extra kick to the meal. It just seems like something worth experimenting with and if I’ve got some extra beer that I know isn’t going to light my world on fire, why not give it a shot?

    • beercommdood
      February 7, 2012 at 1:42 pm #

      Using great beer in a meal is not a waste. Using great cheese in a meal is not a waste. Using the absolute best cut possible from a grass fed free range cow is not a waste.

      People, get over your irrational views of beer (or wine, or spirits) as anything other than what they are… liquid foods.

      Enjoy a reduction using a fine Belgian ale. Just be smart about the one you pick, as all the flavors intensify and react to the other ingredients you use.

    • February 7, 2012 at 1:44 pm #

      Hmm, I do have some old home brew that could wreck just about any dish I add it to…

  16. February 7, 2012 at 1:56 pm #

    I will just keep these Car bomb cupcakes to myself then…stout chocolate cake with a whiskey ganache filling and baileys butter cream frosting.

    • February 7, 2012 at 1:59 pm #

      Funny – I almost posted that recipe here the other day. Guess I’m an irrational troglodyte AND a hypocrite!

      • February 7, 2012 at 2:01 pm #

        We have an entire Pinterest board devoted to recipes for dishes made with beer!

        • Don
          February 7, 2012 at 2:04 pm #

          Tamre, it’s like trying to teach a monkey not to throw its poo. Pretty pointless.

        • February 7, 2012 at 2:06 pm #

          Jim may not make any of the recipes, but it’s nice to have an idea of what’s out there. 🙂

          How the heck are you guys?!

        • February 7, 2012 at 2:50 pm #

          Really? You gals make meals and EVEN DISHES out of beer?! YOu could open a Portery Barn! 🙂

          Yes, I know I’m an ass.

        • February 7, 2012 at 3:08 pm #

          omg Jim…you took the words right out of my mouth. You’re usually a nice ass (that doesn’t sound right at all)…so it’s all good. Just don’t expect any care packages.

        • John King
          February 7, 2012 at 3:16 pm #

          My sister just posted in regards to those cupcakes.

      • Don
        February 7, 2012 at 2:02 pm #

        No, you’re not a hypocrite, you’re like those people that vote for more taxes for transit, so everyone else will ride the bus and get out of your way!

  17. Mathew
    February 7, 2012 at 2:08 pm #

    So far I have tried beer pancakes and beer floats. Beer floats count okay. Putting ice cream in a glass can take a lot of effort. I used a brown ale with the pancakes. With the beer floats I like to pair vanilla porters with chocolate ice cream and stouts with vanilla ice cream.

    I have also made Bourbon Chicken and want to make more desserts with bourbon and beer.

    • February 7, 2012 at 2:24 pm #

      Matthew – try making a lambic sorbet. It’s really easy as long as you have an ice cream maker. Other easy beer desserts: stout brownies with a bourbon ganache, Apricots poached with a Belgian ale served with cream.

    • February 7, 2012 at 2:52 pm #

      I’ve had no luck with beer floats. All I wind up tasting is hops, even with something as rich and smooth as Southern Tier Mokah.

  18. February 7, 2012 at 2:48 pm #

    Jim, I’m right there with you on the food/beer pairings, not because I’m scared of it or don’t like pairing beer with food, I just think there’s too much hype and the creep of the wine snobbiness into craft beer.

    But I do like cooking with beer, like everyone else here has said, look at it as a little for the recipe, a lot for me, a little for the recipe a lot more for me…

    We use whatever stray can or bottle we have in the fridge and add it to the marinade for our bison steaks.

    • February 7, 2012 at 2:53 pm #

      Well if you’re gonna eat a Bison, I guess it’s only right to buy him a drink first…

  19. February 7, 2012 at 3:02 pm #

    Try my beer chili and you’ll have a different opinion….

    • Don
      February 7, 2012 at 3:30 pm #


      • February 7, 2012 at 3:34 pm #

        I think it’s:

        -One pot of chili
        -Some beer in it

  20. February 7, 2012 at 5:50 pm #

    Folks here in MD have been steaming crabs and shrimp in beer forever! Another great dish is beer-steamed kielbasa and cabbage (I like to add banana peppers as well). You put ’em in in layers and the beer/kielbasa flavor permeates everything, Serve w/ or on potatoes.

  21. Dave
    February 7, 2012 at 6:18 pm #

    Beef stew and chili are the only things I’ve ever added beer to. Those are also the only things I’ve ever added wine to. Wine didn’t go so well in the chili, in my opinion.

  22. Kid Carboy Jr.
    February 7, 2012 at 11:51 pm #

    You can get amazing results with some pretty humble beers. I made an incredible pot roast the other day using only 2 bottles of Fat Tire that were left over in my fridge as the cooking liquid. Seriously, it was awesome.

    Just remember to salt accordingly, when you use beer instead of broth or stock in something. You’re going to need some extra salt, as beer is not naturally salty.

  23. Ben
    February 8, 2012 at 1:06 am #

    I have to agree with many of the posters above, beer definitely is a worthy ingredient. I’m definitely not going to add my $5 a 12oz bottle of Belgian to food, but Rogues chipotle ale in a pot of chili really cranks out some great flavors and then pairs nicely with it afterwords. Sam Caligione also has a recipe in a book of reducing pale ale/ stout to top on ice cream……is there really any more need for debate?

  24. February 8, 2012 at 11:35 am #

    Hey Jim; there are actually beer cookery sits out there in Cyberland–lots of recipes. Here’s a url for just one of them:

  25. February 8, 2012 at 12:36 pm #

    Steak and ale pies > Everything

  26. February 12, 2012 at 2:11 pm #

    I am not a big proponent of cooking with beer. I feel that most places that people use beer in food are using it as a gimmick and not because it brings anything to the party. There are a few rare exceptions but they are very few and far between. We use Stone Smoked Porter in our house chili recipe at the store because the smokiness of the beer and the rich malt character actually enhance the chili. We also sometimes will use a wit with steamed shellfish but other than those two items I really don’t add beer to any dishes.

  27. Jeff
    February 19, 2012 at 5:30 pm #

    I love cooking, and I love beer, yet I have never once cooked with beer. It’s something I’ve toyed with, in my mind, for quite some time. I guess I’m just not sure where to begin with it all, and I’ve never been real big on the pairing thing either. Great beer is like sacred to me. I’ll probably jump in the pool soon enough, though, and I’ll probably start with something good but not super rough to find or pay for. Perhaps some Yeti or Rasputin or something along those lines, if a stout is in order, or maybe some Sierra Nevada stuff, or something?

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