Ted Reader’s take on how to pair beer with grilled food
It’s good to be Ted Reader these days. The Canadian chef and cookbook author recently published Beerlicious: The Art of Grillin’ & Chillin’ (Fenn/McClelland & Stewart), a 300-page ode to beer and barbecue—as Reader puts it, his “two favourite things”. When the Georgia Straight catches up with him by phone, it’s nearing 30 ° C outside of his Toronto home. Reader is drinking a beer and has brisket, top sirloin, and chicken cooking on a smoker in his back yard.
“My favourite memory in my back yard is anytime with my friends and with my family, and I’m just firing up the grill, and I have a beer fridge in my garage,” Reader says, adding that he has about 30 types of beer in it. “I’m turning on some music, watching my kids run around and play, and then sitting down and just eating and talking and telling stories.”
This recollection, which sounds a lot like his current reality, is what fuels Reader’s passion for beer and barbecue, which he says go together “like peanut butter and jelly”. When it comes to pairing beer with barbecue—whether you’re cooking with it or throwing one back with a meal—Reader says that, like wines, certain beers are best paired with particular foods.
“Ales would be like red wines if you compared beer to wines, and lagers would be like white wines,” he says. “So white wines [and lagers] would go with fish, seafood, poultry, and white meats like pork, and red wines [and ales]—for a little more substance—would go with beef, veal, lamb, and game meats, but can also work well with seafood, and can work well with poultry.”
In Beerlicious, Reader uses 101 beers as the basis for 101 recipes. These range from the foolproof Creemore Pilsner Steak (a basic charcoal-grilled New York strip loin marinated with beer, soy and Worcestershire sauces, garlic, and onions) to the more complicated Head-to-Foot BBQ Terrine with BBQ Sauce Jelly.
When asked for his favourite recipe, the author is quick to say the Beef Wellington, a beer lover’s take on the traditional English dish. In Reader’s version, beef tenderloin is marinated in Duvel Belgian Strong Golden Ale and grilled before being coated with Dijon mustard, layered with Portobello mushroom caps, and wrapped in puff pastry. The Wellington is then barbecued on a wooden plank—Reader favours western red cedar—until flaky and golden brown.
If your idea of manning the grill only goes as far as flipping ready-made patties and hot dogs, Reader suggests simply adding a splash of your favourite beer to whatever’s cooking.
“It can be as simple as taking a burger, grilling the burger, and thinking, ‘I’m going to drizzle this with my favourite beer,’ and see how it tastes,” he says.
For more adventurous cooks who are ready to put together a beer-tasting menu, Reader recommends heading to a reputable liquor store with a menu already planned.
“Tell them you want to have four different beers and what you’re thinking of cooking,” he says. “They can then guide you into pairing those.”
When it comes to finding his own mojo behind the grill, Reader has learned that it’s about cooking what you know, having fun, and experimenting with different beers and recipes. He says not to get too hung up on finding the specific beer a recipe calls for, but substituting something similar—and possibly local—instead.
“ ‘Any beer is a good beer’ is my philosophy,” he says. “You know, not everybody’s a chef and not everybody’s a beer connoisseur, but pretty much everybody that I know likes to barbecue and likes to drink beer.”