How to Pair Wine With Barbecue

There are a few dishes out there that beer hands-down wins the war over wine when it comes to pairings.

Barbecue is DEFINITELY one of those dishes

How to Pair  Wine With Barbecue

Let’s start off by clarifying that we’re not talking about throwing some steaks on a grill and calling that barbecue. The debate of what barbecue is is a topic for another day, but what we are referring to here is meat slow-cooked over indirect heat (or smoked) over several hours and then served with barbecue sauce, coleslaw, potato salad, beans, cornbread, or whatever other sides you feel worthy.

Smoked meat and wine? Amazing. My real problem with pairing wine with barbecue is not the barbecued meat on its own, its with barbecue sauce.

Most barbecue sauces have sweet and spicy flavors which generally do not pair well with wine. Sweet flavors in food need sweet wines to match, otherwise the wine will taste bitter and flabby. Spicy flavors also need a sweet wine to cool it down: a dry wine will seem hot and more alcoholic if paired with spicy food, and a wine high in alcohol will elevate all those spicy flavors. It isn’t very pleasant.

So really, we are very limited to wines that could theoretically pair well with barbecue. They must be sweet and low in alcohol.

I got so sick of the arguments with bbq and wine that I decided yesterday to make a bunch of traditional bbq fare, open up a couple of wines, and test it all out. I realize that there are many styles of barbecue, so I made sure to cover (most) of the bases.

The food

Carolina Pulled Pork, Memphis-style ribs and smoked beef brisket and served them up with cole slaw, potato salad, beans, pickles and potato chips. Then we made authentic Carolina, Kansas City, Texas and Memphis barbecue sauce.

The wines

  • Zinfandel

  • Shiraz (Syrah)

  • Carmenere

  • Riesling

Here was the general concensus:

We all loved each of the wines on their own (obviously).


The Carmenere didn’t really pair with anything because it was a dry wine with no residual sugar. Any “smoky”, charred flavors in it got cancelled out when paired with food, so it didn’t taste like much.


The shiraz was also bad. This was a fun one that was aged in whiskey barrels so on its own it had really rich black fruit characteristic and a nice dilly vanilla note from the oak. But the spices from the barbecue just overwhelmed the wine, made it taste super hot and took away all the fruity flavors.


This was the best of the red wine selection. On its own, the wine definitely had a little bit of residual sugar (sweetness) and was a total fruit bomb (like most zinfandels). The barbecue made it seem less sweet and took away most of the fruit and made it seem SUPER oaky, which is crazy since it didn’t smell or taste like oak at all on its own!


Of all the wines, the Riesling was by far the best with barbecue. It was the most sweet out of the bunch so it cooled down the sweet and spicy flavors in the food. When eating it with food, it actually didn’t taste sweet at just worked because the food was equally as sweet.

The Final Verdict

None of these wines actually went well with barbecue. The Riesling just worked the best and the Zinfandel was decent. The good news about this experiment is that I went from being totally anti-wine at barbecues to kind of not minding it. Because let’s be honest...before we sat down to eat I had backup beers waiting because I thought wine and barbecue was going to be absolutely awful. But it was just wasn’t amazing.

Bottom Line, this is all subjective so don’t get mad at me if you really think wine and barbecue go together. If you tell yourself it does, chances are you won’t mind it. But here’s my advice if you’re going to a traditional barbecue and HAVE to bring wine: bring a wine with residual sugar in it, like the following:

Wines to bring to a barbecue

  • Riesling

  • Moscato

  • Gewurztraminer

  • Zinfandel

  • Brachetto

Break out the beer if that’s your style, because for every wine that is tolerable with barbecue, there are 5 beers that will gladly step in to accomodate those sweet and spicy flavors.

Check out the video for footage of the wine and barbecue party! Cheers!


What Wine to Pair with Grilled Ribs

Fire up the grill and pop that cork! Wine and grilled ribs will work beautifully together as long as you've picked the right wine. Accompany it with homemade coleslaw and potato salad, or any of your favorite sides that aren't too sweet.

Lots of red wines pair perfectly with grilled ribs. Try Zinfandel, Syrah, or even Cabernet Sauvignon. Visit CaretoPair to find out more!

Do you retire your grill as soon as its not "grilling weather" anymore? Or in your world, is it always grilling weather? I feel like this time of year as fall creeps in quicker and quicker, we are trading barbecues and grilled dinners for pot roasts and soups...but I've decided to squeeze in one last recipe this season!

So let's get one thing I am not pairing wine and "barbecue". I am pairing wine with grilled ribs. What's the difference? True barbecue is when meat has been slow cooked for hours and is usually slathered in sweet, sticky sauce. Sweet foods and dry wines equal disaster, so please don't open a bottle of wine when you've made true barbecue. Its actually one of my greatest pet peeves when I see barbecue and wine paired together.  More info. 

Charred, Grilled Ribs and Wine? Yes. It works. Check out this wine pairing we did with grilled ribs and coleslaw |

The Pairing

Today we're talking about Grilled ribs, which are not slow-cooked all day like barbecued ribs, but cooked quickly over an open flame. Grilled meats all have delicious, toasty, charred, slightly burnt flavors in them which work perfectly with wine and beer.

What kind of wine? The biggest reds you've got! There are many wines here that will pair nicely, but in particular, I suggest opening a bottle of California Zinfandel with grilled ribs. Zinfandel is big on flavor and alcohol, which will stand up to the richness of grilled ribs. I like to call Zinfandel a "fruit bomb" because it can have flavors anywhere from raspberry and black cherry to black plum, blackberry, and raisin. Often the fruit character is jammy or stewed, which contrasts incredibly well with the grilled flavors of the ribs.

And although its a common misconception that Zinfandel is "spicy", it does go excellently with foods that have a little spice going on in them. Think about spices you encounter in dry rubs.. those go great with fruity zinfandel.

Other wines that will work great with grilled ribs include Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Syrah (especially those from the Rhone Valley in France) or red blends. I suggest these because they generally have higher alcohol, bigger bodies, or both that will stand up to the big flavors in grilled ribs. Grenache and Syrah often carry black pepper flavors which will also pair excellently.

Lots of red wines pair perfectly with grilled ribs. Try Zinfandel, Syrah, or even Cabernet Sauvignon. Visit CaretoPair to find out more!

Some Wine Suggestions to Serve with Grilled Ribs:


  • Terra d'Oro Zinfandel, Amador County $
  • Ravenswood Zinfandel, any appellation $-$$ (found in most stores)
  • Francis Coppola Director's Cut Zinfandel, Dry Creek $$
  • Inglenook's Edezione Pennino Zinfandel, Napa Valley $$$


  • Torres Sangra de Toro Garnacha, Spain $
  • Chapoutier Belle Rouge Cotes du Rhone, France $$
  • Qupe Syrah, Central Coast $$

Cabernet Sauvignon/Red Blends

  • Spring Valley Vineyards "Frederick", Walla Walla, WA $$$
  • Cline Family Vineyards "Cashmere", California $$
  • Gamble Family Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley $$

So fire up that grill one last time this season and enjoy with a big glass of red wine! Happy Pairing!

Lots of red wines pair perfectly with grilled ribs. Try Zinfandel, Syrah, or even Cabernet Sauvignon. Visit CaretoPair to find out more!

Looking for a Pairing for Sweet Barbecued Ribs? Click here.

Thirsty for More? Check out these Pairings:

What Wine to Pair with Chicken Wings

What Wine to Pair with Roast Leg of Lamb

What Wine to Pair with Chinese Takeout

Smothered Onion Bratwurst Paired with Riesling

Serve this recipe with braised cabbage and German potato salad and you've got yourself a (really filling) meal!

Do you ever have one of those nights where you just want a glass of wine? "Every day!" might be your answer. I switch frequently from beer to wine and wine to beer. And that's what happened to me while making today's recipe. I was originally planning on serving these onion-smothered brats with beer. I mean, they're cooked in beer, isn't it obvious to drink beer with them? But this is an example of how you don't always have to follow the rules.

So I was really craving some Bavarian flavors when I found this recipe. I have seriously enjoyed the hot days this summer, but I'm also really missing my oven. All my poor German and French cookbooks are getting dusty as the majority of the recipes are hearty, cold-weather belly warmers. With these bratwursts though, I found a loophole.

The Pairing

Along with my cookbooks, a few bottles of Riesling in my collection were getting dusty too. That's when you know its time to open them! (Of course unless that dusty wine is special and you are intending to age it.) Truth is we don't drink Riesling too often. I find this strange because Riesling is one of the best wines to pair with difficult foods. Most sweet or spicy dishes are impossible to pair with wines. If you have a sweeter dressing on a salad or a spicy peanut sauce on some noodles, you can rule out most reds and whites to drink with it. The answer to all these tough situations is Riesling...or beer. And I usually go with beer. But not this time!

This meal really had a myriad of flavors. The key to the bratwursts is the sweet, buttery onions.  I served the brats with red cabbage (also sweet) and German Potato Salad (vinegary...and sweet...and bacony). The riesling, itself having been sweet with very high acidity, enhanced the sweetness and acidity in the food without overwhelming my palate. Besides beer, I can't think of a better pairing {wink wink}.

Suggested Pairings

In general, I suggest a slightly sweet Riesling. Avoid anything that says dry (or anything from Alsace, which are almost always dry). The one we had with this meal was a Kabinett Riesling. This means it  wasn't too sweet but did have some residual sugar. Look for "Qba", "Kabinett" or even "Spatlese" on the label. Anything sweeter will be too much for this recipe. If you're sticking with wine from the states, most should work as long as they are not intentionally a dessert or late harvest Riesling.

If you are in the mood for beer...your options are almost endless! Lots of beers will go with this dish, from pilsners to doppelbocks. Stay true to the origins of this meal and pick a lager from Germany. Some of my picks would be a German Helles, German Pils, Oktoberfest, Altbier, or Doppelbock.

The Recipe

As I mentioned above I served these beer brats with German potato salad and sauteed red cabbage. My stove was jam packed! But the meal gave us a filling dinner and plenty of leftovers. We used it in week 2 of our $30 grocery budget plan if you need a little inspiration. We served the brats in buns topped with the onions but you can easily omit that.

Recipe inspired by

Smothered Onion Grilled Bratwurst

Author:Dani (

Prep time: 5 mins

Cook time: 1 hour

Total time: 1 hour 5 mins

Serves: 4


  • 1 lb bratwurst sausage (about 4 links)
  • 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 bottle of dark lager, like a dunkel or bock. If you don't have this, a pilsner will work well too
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce


  1. Heat 4 tbsp coconut or olive oil in a large skillet. Once hot, saute onions for about ten minutes until golden. Add the butter and garlic and saute for another few minutes, stirring frequently.
  2. Pour the beer into the pan and add the brats. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for about 30 minutes.
  3. After this, turn an outdoor grill on to high. Remove the brats from the pan and set aside. Turn the heat back up to high and bring the sauce to a boil. Add the salt, brown sugar and worcestershire sauce. Stir frequently and cook, letting the sauce reduce and thicken up.
  4. While the sauce is cooking, cook the brats on the grill for a few minutes until they have the char you desire.
  5. When the brats are done, bring them back inside. Serve on buns with the onion mixture on top.

Happy Pairing!