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August 13, 2021

Grilling Meat, Smoking Meat, and Pairing Wine Oh My!

Growing up in California, where the spring, summer and fall seasons often marry into one another, throwing meat on a grill (veggies too…eye roll) is a frequent occurrence. As younger guys, this meant drinking beer while mainly crushing burgers, dogs, and chicken legs. The concept of grilling vs. barbecuing vs. smoking never really crossed our minds. Occasionally, we had a friend over to the apartment with his cousin from South Carolina and he would inform us we were “grilling” and not preparing “barbecue.” There’s a difference!? Later in life we would discover this guy’s cousin was a real provider of high-quality knowledge!

In addition to NOT pondering meat prep options, considering what wine to pair with our grilled meat during this epoch would have forced us to punch ourselves in our own faces. Can you believe the taste of brussels sprouts ⁠—grilled or not⁠⁠—was gross for a period of time? The inaugural Lucky Rock grilled meat and wine pairing experience was a hallmark one, ushered in by way of a Yellow Tail Shiraz (Syrah) and slightly over-grilled, cheap London Broil steak (college budget). However, this was a pivotal moment as now the grilled meat and wine pairing juices started to trickle in all of its glory. 

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It is fun to reflect on genesis moments in one’s life, a course correction if you will. Nowadays, we still do much more grilling of meat than barbecuing (c’mon we have kids and are running a wine company), yet we know the difference. As with wine, you will find loads of opinions on the jargon and methods associated with the crafts in question. So, to clear things up a bit, here is a quick break down of the basic differences in grilling vs. barbecuing vs. smoking:


Think direct heat source, hot and fast! Typically grilling is most appropriate for smaller cuts of meat. A good example here is grilling a tasty 1-inch-thick ribeye steak. Get that grill up to say 450 °F and sear both sides, then pull it off at your preferred level of doneness. For us this is a total of  ~10 minutes. Wrap that bad boy in tin foil for 8-10 minutes and boom – medium rare perfection.

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Think indirect heat source, slow and consistent! The meaning of the word “barbecue” has its regional interpretations. In South Carolina, we’re talking “pork butt”, while in Texas this can mean “beef brisket”. Many times, the territorial differences are based on the dry rubs and sauces employed on the meat. The actual processes can have many similarities – low temperatures, often an indirect heat source, consistent temperature, long cook times and large cuts of meat.  


To us this meat treatment is basically synonymous with barbecuing, but adds the application of wood smoke. Depending on the type of meat you are smoking, there can be different varieties of wood chunks used such as hickory, mesquite, apple, and cherry. Often this style of barbecuing is done at a slightly lower temperature than regular barbecuing, say 175°F - 250°F. This can naturally extend the time needed to get to the sweet spot where fat and connective tissue render into the meat. Some famous meat smoker once said, “if you are looking you ain’t cooking!”

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Now that you have enough understanding of the differences between grilling, barbecuing, and smoking meat..you can officially be a pain in the ass at the next neighborhood cookout ;) 

Next, let's move on to the exciting part and pair some basic wines with these carnivorous delicacies!

There are so many online recommendations for this topic that we won’t bore you with a lengthy list of loose stabs at the “perfect summer bbq pairing”. Rather, the aim is to provide you with a few specific pairings that we have come to enjoy over the years. In our humble opinion, the best way to get more comfortable with pairing wine and whatever style of outdoor cooked meat you prefer is to simply just start!

Grilling wines suggestions:
  • Wild Caught Salmon – Pinot Noir, Chinon (Cab Franc), fresh styles of California Cab Franc, Sauvignon Blanc
  • Ribeye Steak – Malbec, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon 
  • Bone in Chicken – Gamay, Chardonnay, Etna Bianco (mainly Carricante), Pinot Noir
Barbecuing or Smoking suggestions:
To make this simpler we are assuming a salt and pepper dry rub. The range of rub and sauce choices can greatly influence wines that pair with this genre of meat.
  • Pork Ribs – Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, Grenache, Etna Rosso (mainly Nerello Mascalese)
  • Beef Brisket – Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Malbec, Syrah
  • Smoked Chicken – Pinot Noir, Barbara, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Chardonnay

Extra tip: Don’t be afraid to chill your reds! As you can see, most of the recommendations we have made are red wines. Often these pairings are taking place outside in the warmer months. This environment can leave you with a warm and even hot glass of wine – yuck! For more info on chilling red wines check out our blog “Chilled Red Wines – What to Know.”

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