As much as we like to savor a beer on its own, beer is not just for washing down pretzels. You can also use beer in recipes — similar to the way you can cook with wine. Here's a quick guide to cooking and baking with beer, including top-rated recipes to try.

By Jackie Freeman
April 24, 2017
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Beer's Balancing Act

Cooking with beer adds a deep, earthy flavor to savory dishes such as chili, soup, and stew; and a nutty, caramelized flavor to baked goods. It's great for just about every cooking technique, too: baking, braising, deglazing, battering, sauces, marinating, and simmering.

Here's how it works: The hops used in brewing beer make it bitter by nature. However, the malt found in beer provides just enough natural sweetness to balance the flavor perfectly. In addition, foods high in sugars — vegetables such as carrots, corn, and onions (think caramelized onions) — are balanced by the bitterness. The bitter edge also helps balance very rich and creamy foods, like this Guinness Beer Cheese Dip, cheese soup or French onion soup (instead of wine), and cheese fondue.

The Right Beer for the Right Recipe

Fried Foods

Want a stack of crispy onion rings, beer battered fish, or fried shrimp? Replace fizzy seltzer water in your batter with a light beer, such as lager, to make the batter light and airy. Avoid stout, as it can turn the batter an unappetizing shade of gray.

Watch as Chef John reveals the secret to crisp, never soggy, Beer Batter Fish & Chips.

Use a light lager for these perfectly light and crispy Coconut Shrimp.

Photo by Yan

Soups and Stews

Go with something dark and rich, such as a porter, when making this Boilermaker Tailgate Chili.

Slow Cooker Chicken Taco Soup is a lighter chicken chili that can be made with a wheat beer.

This top-rated recipe for Beer Glazed Brats and Sauerkraut uses lager in the mix.

Photo by lutzflcat

Baking with Beer

  • Beer bread is a classic quick bread where the beer, along with baking powder, provides natural yeast to help the loaf rise. Use a light lager unless you want a dark, bitter bread like Guinness Bread.
  • When baking with chocolate, reach for the darker stouts. The chocolate notes are brought out by the complex, dark beer.

Stout and chocolate are a match made in heaven in these Chocolate Beer Cupcakes.

Marinades and Sauces

Love me tender! Though it has less acidity than wine, beer helps tenderize meat just like a wine marinade. It also helps caramelize the outside of seared meats, like steak, and adds an earthy, smoky flavor to barbecue sauce.

Sweet molasses balances the dark, bitter beer in this recipe for Beerbecue Beef Flank Steak.

Tips for Cooking with Beer

Which Kind of Beer to Use?

Just like white and red wine, light and dark beers have distinctive flavor profiles. Often a recipe calls for beer without giving you an idea of where to begin. Here are some general guidelines for how to cook with beer:

  • Wheat beers are great with chicken and seafood
  • Ales, porters, and stouts are perfect for pork, beef, and lamb.
  • Belgian ales go great with hearty meat and game.
  • Nut-brown ales pair well with stews and cheesy dishes.
  • Fruity beers are good choices for desserts, unless your recipe specifically calls for a particular beer.

If you're still overwhelmed with all of the choices, pale ale is a versatile choice: it's hoppy, rich and fruity, without being overpowering. But, look out for the India Pale Ales (IPA's): they might be great to drink, but are often too bitter to cook with.

You Get What You Pay For

Just like cooking with wine, what you put in is what you get out. So, while you don't have to break the bank to buy a nice beer for cooking, don't pick the bottom of the barrel either. Use something you would enjoy drinking, because as you cook, the flavors will reduce and intensify. And, don't forget to check the beer's expiration date!

What About the Alcohol?

Afraid that serving your kids some cupcakes or stew made with beer might get them, well, a little buzzed? Fear not. Beer does not have much alcohol to begin with (it's mostly water), and as soon as you cook or bake with it, the alcohol evaporates quickly.

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