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Backyard barbecues get a boost from grilled food and wine pairings

Michelle Martin, for Busch’s Fresh Food Market
These grilled food and wine pairings will make backyard barbecues sizzle this summer.

People are spending a lot of time at home this summer — especially outdoors, where small groups of family and friends can gather for safe, socially-distant meals from the backyard grill.

And like many meals, grilled foods can taste even better when paired with wine, and wine can taste even better when paired with grilled foods.

Planning to grill this summer? Here’s how to pick the perfect pairing every time.


When it comes to a grilled steak, nothing pairs better than a red wine — and a tried-and-true favorite such as cabernet sauvignon is a great choice. But if you want to take your pairings up a notch, choose a red wine based on the type of steak you’re grilling.

Fattier cuts such as New York strip and ribeye pair best with robust red wines that have high tannin — the compounds found in grape skins that add bitterness and complexity. Drinking a red wine with high tannin on its own can dry out your mouth, but drinking it with a fatty steak acts as an astringent, removing the fattiness from your palate. A shiraz or Bordeaux are two great options to pair with fattier cuts of meat. 

For leaner cuts like sirloin, try a lighter red wine such as a pinot noir. These wines have a lower acidity that cuts through the texture of the steak.

Also consider the way you’re grilling the steak. A steak that is more charred will be more bitter, so consider serving a fruit-forward red wine such as grenache or sangiovese to balance the taste.


The lighter the meat, the lighter the wine — and white wines and roses are the perfect match for grilled chicken. Try an oaked chardonnay, which cuts down the bitterness of the charred meat. 

But you can take your grilled chicken-and-wine pairing a step further by choosing a wine that complements the type of marinade you’re using.

Spicy marinades — especially those that incorporate chiles — pair well with reisling, a sweet white wine that helps to cool the palate. For Middle Eastern- and Indian-style marinades, try chenin blanc or a Gewürztraminer wine.

Herbed marinades pair well with a light sauvignon blanc, while Asian-style sauces can be served with a sweet moscato. And for lemon-based marinades, a crisp, light pinot grigio is a great option.


The all-American burger and a beer combo is still a sure bet for any backyard barbecue, but wine goes just as well — and perhaps even better.

A medium-bodied red wine such as merlot is a great choice for any burger, but consider other wines based on your burger toppings.

A classic cheeseburger with cheddar pairs well with Rioja or Chianti — both of which have a higher tannin that cuts through the stickiness of the cheese. Add a stronger cheese such as Gruyere or Asiago to the burger and pair with zinfandel, which has bold fruit-forward notes. Or top your burger with mushrooms and pair with pinot noir, whose subtle tannin creates the perfect balance.

Pork and barbecue

As a general rule, pork pairs best with white wines such as sauvignon blanc as well as light reds such as pinot noir. But the pork dish — and the type of sauce — also can influence the pairing.

When grilling pork tenderloin, which can be on the drier side, choose a buttery chardonnay or a flavorful zinfandel for balance. Pork chops, which tend to be fattier, are best paired with a wine whose tannins can cut through the fat — cabernet sauvignon is a great choice.

For barbecue ribs, a bold red wine — Barolo or Bordeaux, for example — creates a perfect pairing. But also consider the type of sauce you’re using. North Carolina-style barbecue sauces, which have a tangy vinegar base, go well with rose. Wet and tangy barbecue sauces pair best with fruiter wines such as Lambrusco or shiraz, while dry rubs do well with earthier wines such as merlot.


White wines always pair best with grilled seafood. That’s because they have fewer tannins than red wines, which can interact with fish oils and leave a bad aftertaste. But you also can choose a wine based on the type of fish you’re grilling.

Fattier fish such as trout or tuna pair well with a buttery chardonnay or white Burgundy. Grilled salmon pairs best with lighter-bodied wines such as pinot noir or Beaujolais, while grilled white fish is best served with crisp white wines such as chenin blanc or pinot grigio.

Depending on its marinade, grilled shrimp can be paired with a number of different varietals, but a few go-to wines include sauvignon blanc, chino blanc or rose.

To learn more about summer’s best grilled food and wine pairings, visit buschs.com.

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