Curious About Cooking with Beer? Here’s Everything You Need to Know
Photo: Liz Andrew/Styling: Erin McDowell

Sure, you’ve been known to crack open a cold one here and there while making dinner. But have you ever added your brew to the pot? There are lots of perks to baking and cooking with beer—and we’re here to break them down for you. Buckle up, things are about to get sudsy.

Why Cook with Beer?

Beer can add a whole new layer of flavor to a variety of recipes. Generally, it offers malty, earthy notes to everything from stew to cake. But beer’s exact flavor contribution depends on its style. All beers are split into two main categories, ales and lagers. Ales (IPAs, stouts, porters, etc.) are typically earthy while lagers (Pilsner, Kölsch, märzen, etc.) are more dry, effervescent and crisp, but even within those two categories beers can look and taste majorly different (for instance, bitter, light IPAs and robust, dark stouts are both ales). Based on how they taste, you can trade some water or stock in a recipe for a brew and get delicious results. You can really experiment anyway you’d like, save for one rule of thumb: Just like when you’re cooking with wine, don’t cook with a beer that you don’t like the taste of.

Beer is made with bitter hops and sweet malted grains. Keep that balance in mind when you cook: Bitter, crisp beers can offer an edge to decadent foods (helloooo, beer cheese fondue) while malty, dark beers can enhance and deepen the flavor of meat dishes and sweet desserts (bring on the shepherd’s pie). The main perk of cooking with beer is the flavor, although it can also tenderize and moisten meat if added to a marinade or braise. In baking recipes, beer offers both flavor and leavening. Due to its carbonation, beer gives cakes, breads, biscuits, pancakes and other treats extra lift and a tender mouthfeel. 

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, most of the alcohol evaporates while the beer cooks.

What Types of Beer Can You Cook With?

There are more than 100 beer styles in the world. Here are a few of our favorites to start cooking with:

Witbiers, which are top-fermented and brewed with wheat, are generally dry and citrusy (think Blue Moon). They work wonders in light, airy desserts that also have a citrusy profile, like an orange cake or lemon loaf, as well as in fish recipes. Spicier witbiers (like those brewed with coriander) can hold their own against red meat, too.

You know those big-brand beers like Bud Light that are all straw-colored with lots of bubbles and a low ABV? Those are Pilsners, and they’re super crisp, bubbly and refreshing. Its bright flavor is great to pair with seafood and sausage. Use it in a beer batter for fish (it offers the same fizz as club soda and way more flavor), pulled pork or in place of water when steaming shellfish. Mexican lagers like Corona also work in similar recipes.

IPAs, or India Pale Ales, are famous for their bitterness since they’re brewed with a wide array of hops. They can be great additions to fried foods, seafood, marinades for chicken or pork and anything with cheese, since the beer’s bitterness will balance its richness. Just be sure not to pick an IPA that’s too intensely bitter—it could throw off your recipe’s overall taste.

Porters are great for desserts because they’re brewed with dark roasted malt, hence their chocolate and coffee flavor notes. Substitute some of the liquid in a cupcake or cookie recipe to give the batter some malty, nutty nuance. It’s also great for a beef stew or pot roast. Amber and brown ales work wonders on baked goods too, thanks to their nuttiness and caramel notes. King Arthur Baking suggests reducing the beer into a syrup on the stovetop first for a more intense, concentrated flavor. 

Stouts are darker and more intense than porters but have a similar flavor profile. They’re usually more on the bitter side with bold notes of coffee and cocoa, making them a great addition to savory and sweet recipes alike. Use a stout when you’re making stew, braising lamb or beef or cooking a roast. You can also add it to cake, brownies or even frosting. It also can be reduced for a savory gravy or glaze.

Dos and Don’ts

  • DO let your beer come to room temperature before cooking with it. Open it right before you plan to use it and let it sit for a few minutes, so the bubbles can mellow out.
  • DON’T use too much beer in a single recipe. It can break down meat, veggies and everything in between if there’s an excess.
  • DO use full-fat dairy. Beer’s acidity can curdle lower-fat ingredients like skim milk.
  • DON’T bake a beer dessert too far ahead of serving it. Its flavor can change over time, so it’s best to bake and devour on the same day.
  • DO cook beer low and slow. There’s a reason it’s such a popular stew and soup addition.
  • DON’T rely on a beer’s subtle flavor notes to enhance a recipe, but rather its main flavor profile. The subtleties may cook away.

Ready to bake and cook with beer? Here are a few of our favorite recipes:

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