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Sara Hansen

What Wine Goes Well with Barbecue? Tips for Pairing Wine with Grilled or Smoked Food

We’ve talked before about beers that pair well with barbecue, but what about for the wine lovers? Beer is not the only alcoholic choice when it comes to enjoying great grilled or smoked food, as there are some delicious options of wine to pair with barbecue. 

It’s just a matter of balancing flavor profiles and choosing combinations that enhance each other versus overpowering each other. Choosing a good bottle of wine to pair with what’s in your cooker can really help elevate the final result.

But, with so many options of wines available, things can easily get confusing fast. It’s not as easy as just saying a red wine or a white wine. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered! In this article, we’ll break down what you need to know about pairing wine with barbecue and which wines go with specific meats and other foods. Let’s take a look:


General Tips:

Before we get into specific types of wine for certain types of grilled or smoked foods, there are some general tips to keep in mind first:

  • The main goal is to pair flavors that complement each other, not fight against each other. So, match like characteristics between the food and the wine. Match weight with weight, intensity to intensity (of flavors), acid to acid, etc.
  • Contrasting flavor profiles can greatly help balance the overall taste out very well. Like salty and sweet or sweet and spicy. For example, if you’re cooking beef and going big on spice, then you’d want to go with a fruit-forward red wine or a bold Rosé with a hint of sweetness.
  • The bold flavors from smoking food can overpower many lighter wines. So, think big bold wines when trying to pair with bold smoky flavors. That being said, when barbecue is done right it shouldn’t be a smoke bomb, just like when wine pairing is done right the wine should not be the dominant flavor.
  • “Red wines with meat and white wines with fish” is not an accurate statement. Some fish, like salmon, have a bold flavor when grilled, so a red wine would actually pair better. And some meats, like pork chops, pair well with some types of white wines.
  • Save delicate wines with delicate items on the grill like light white fish, shellfish, fruit, and light desserts.
  • If the outside temperature is above 68°F (20°C) then red wines should actually be slightly chilled for the best flavor. Even the boldest red wines are best enjoyed at “room temperature”, which is actually 65°F (18°C).
  • It may be more convenient, but avoid drinking wine out of plastic cups if possible. It does affect the taste of the wine. If you’re going to take the time to pair wine with your grilled or smoked food, you don’t want to ruin it with something like that.


what wine goes well with barbecue | wine pairing for BBQ | pairing wine with barbecue
Source: Vindulge


Pairing by the Type of Wine:

Of course, pairing wine with barbecue and grilled food can be broken down the other way around, based on the type of meat/food you are cooking. But, since certain wines can go well with several different food options when it comes to outdoor cooking, in this section we’ve broken down wine pairings by type of wine:


Red Wines

Generally speaking, for most beef cuts and BBQ sauce-covered proteins, reds will often be your best bet. An easy-drinking Malbec or Shiraz is a great choice for most grilled beef dishes, especially those with no sauce and a simple dry rub

Other great options for when you are grilling bold-flavored burgers include Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Grenache blends (like Côtes du Rhône).

For a great, thick-cut grilled steak, like a NY Strip or Ribeye, you can really elevate the flavors of the beef with a Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Cabernet Franc.

For things like grilled chicken cuts or pork ribs with a BBQ sauce, go for a bold and fruity red that is not too high in tannins. Good options would be Zinfandel, Merlot, or Syrah. You want something that can stand up to the flavors of the meat.

Zinfandel, especially a full-bodied and oak-aged one, is also a great choice for boldly-spiced smoked beef brisket.

Pinot Noir is another incredibly versatile red wine option. It is great with a smoked whole chicken or whole turkey that has a rub, smoked beef brisket, grilled salmon (especially when grilled on a wood plank), grilled lamb, and pork dishes, like pork tenderloin and pork chops.


White Wines

White wines are much more versatile with grilled food than many people think. In general, white wine is fantastic with lighter options of grilled seafood like white fish, shrimp, oysters, etc. Two specific options that are delicious with grilled seafood are Albariño and Verdejo, because of their zippy acidity and rich stone fruit flavors.

Chardonnay is a great pairing with simply seasoned grilled chicken and pork, as well as meaty fish and shellfish (halibut, cod, lobster, etc.). But remember, Chardonnay itself comes in a very wide variety of styles, from full-bodied and oaky to light and crisp with no oak. So, pair light food flavors with light Chardonnays and bolder, smoky food flavors with the full-bodied and oaked Chardonnays.  

Another delicious option with most grilled poultry, fish, seafood boils, and even lightly-seasoned pork chops is Riesling, with its excellent acidity and light fruit flavors.

If you’re grilling a variety of vegetable options, go for fresher style Chenin blanc for a delicious combo.

For grilled fruit and grilled desserts with fruit, Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio make a great pairing.


what wine goes well with barbecue | wine to pair with grilled seafood | pairing wine with barbecue seafood
Source: Social Vignerons


Sparkling Wines

Everyone loves bubbles! Thankfully, sparkling wines are some of the most versatile options when it comes to pairing wine with barbecue and other grilled or smoked food. These wines are great with grilled seafood, grilled chicken, grilled vegetables, and grilled desserts. 

For great overall pairings when cooking these types of food, you can grab some French Champagne, Spanish Cava, or Italian Prosecco.

If you are grilling a heavier seafood option like salmon and want a sparkling wine, a Rosé Champagne makes a fantastic pairing. 



Similar to sparkling wine, Rosé is another incredibly versatile option with grilled and smoked foods. Due to the acidity found in most good quality Rosé’s, this type of wine makes an excellent pairing for both light grilled foods (like lightly-seasoned chicken wings and seafood) and bolder cuts of meat (like beef and pork).

Like Chardonnay, Rosé’s have a wide range of styles from bold and darker flavors to light and crisp flavors. For a bolder Rosé, go with one from Spain, South America, or Washington State. A bold Rosé can also actually pair very well with smoked brisket if you don’t want to do a traditional bold red wine. For a fresh, light, and elegant Rosé go with one from Provence (France), Oregon, or other options made from Pinot Noir grapes.


Pairing Wine with Barbecue Can Create Some Delicious Combos

As you can see, there is a wide variety of wines that can pair very well with grilled, barbecued, and smoked foods. There are even some instances where certain red wines AND certain white wines can pair with one particular type of meat or seafood. 

So, it’s important to emphasize that when pairing wine with BBQ, focus on drinking what you like. If you’re smoking a whole chicken but prefer red wine, you are not strictly relegated to white wine. In that instance, go for a red like a Pinot Noir, that can still elevate the taste of the chicken and suit your preferences.

You may not be really familiar with each type of wine we mentioned above, but at least now you could go into your local wine store and know exactly what to ask for based on your preference in the type of wine (red versus white, etc.) and what you are cooking.

Do you have a favorite wine pairing with grilled or smoked food? Are you going to try one of these pairings above soon? Leave a comment below. We want to hear all about it!

Now that you know how to pair wines with your grilled and smoked foods, you can take your outdoor cooking to the next level with the award-winning Pitmasters and Grillmasters here at BBQ Champs Academy. 

In our virtual BBQ cooking classes, you’ll learn competition-caliber cooking techniques step-by-step as well as valuable insider secrets, all in stunning high-def video. Check out our All-Access passes to get the full inside look or you can buy the classes you want individually.

Make sure to also click Subscribe on the BBQ Champs Academy YouTube channel to stay on top of all the latest BBQ news and insider info straight from the pros!

Sara Hansen

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