35 BBQ Cocktail & Food Pairings for Summer (2024)

June 22, 2023 by Anna-Bet Stemmet

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Summertime calls for the perfect combination of flame-kissed food and BBQ cocktails. Discover our top tips for creating harmonious pairings that will leave your guests craving more. Get ready to clink your glasses to a memorable summer! 

How to pair cocktails with BBQ or picnic food

Outdoor scene with refreshing BBQ cocktails and BBQ food set up on a veranda in daytime in a light, bright environment

Here are a few of our go-to tips to keep in mind when you pair BBQ cocktail ideas with grilled eats and picnic food this summer: 

  • Consider the flavors. Look for cocktails that complement the flavors of the BBQ or picnic food. For example, if you have smoky or spicy dishes, opt for BBQ cocktail recipes with bold flavors that can stand up to them. 
  • Match the intensity. Ensure that the strength and intensity of the cocktail align with the robustness of the food. Lighter cocktails work well with lighter dishes, while stronger cocktails hold their own against hearty BBQ fare. 
  • Balance sweetness. If your food tends to be sweet, aim for cocktails that are slightly less sweet to avoid overwhelming the palate. Alternatively, if your food is savory or spicy, choose cocktails with a touch of sweetness to provide a contrasting flavor.
  • Refreshing options. Outdoor gatherings call for refreshing drinks. Consider drink and BBQ food pairings with citrusy or fruity profiles, as they provide a thirst-quenching experience. Experiment with ingredients like citrus juices, berries, or tropical fruits in your cocktails.
  • Consider the occasion. Tailor your cocktail and BBQ food pairings to the occasion. For casual picnics, you can go for classic and crowd-pleasing options. For BBQ parties or more festive events, you can get creative and experiment with unique cocktail recipes.
  • Incorporate herbal and smoky notes. To complement the smoky flavors of BBQ or add an earthy touch to picnic food, cocktails that incorporate herbs like rosemary, basil, or thyme work well. You can also experiment with smoky ingredients like mezcal or flavored bitters.
  • Offer variety. Provide a range of cocktails to accommodate different preferences. Include options like light and refreshing cocktails, spirit-forward classics, and mocktails for non-alcoholic choices.
  • Consider the temperature. Consider the weather and temperature when choosing cocktails. For hot summer days, frozen cocktails or those served on ice are particularly enjoyable, while warmer drinks are suitable for cooler campfire evenings.
  • Enhance the experience. Think about the overall experience and presentation. Garnish your cocktails with fresh herbs, citrus twists, or colorful fruit skewers to add visual appeal and elevate the enjoyment of the drinks. 

Remember, personal preferences can vary, so feel free to experiment and adjust the pairings based on your guests’ tastes and the specific BBQ or picnic menu you have in mind. Cheers! 

1. Kentucky Mule

Kentucky Mule

Arguably one of the most popular cocktails for BBQ occasions in the United States, the Kentucky Mule combines smoky Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon with fresh lime juice and spicy ginger beer. We like to pair it with:  

  • BBQ ribs. The smoky flavors of the ribs complement the zesty and refreshing qualities of the Kentucky Mule.
  • Grilled corn on the cob. The charred sweetness of grilled corn balances the bold flavors of the cocktail.
  • Fried chicken. The crispy and flavorful fried chicken goes well with the tangy and zesty Kentucky Mule.
  • Coleslaw. The creamy and refreshing coleslaw provides a cool contrast to the perceived spiciness of the cocktail.
  • Watermelon salad. The juicy and sweet watermelon pairs nicely with the refreshing flavors of the Kentucky Mule. 

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2. Spicy Margarita

Spicy Margarita Cocktail

If you love summer BBQ cocktails with a bit of a bite, you can’t go wrong with a Spicy Margarita.  Adding some spice to your Margarita is a lot easier than you might think and is one of the more popular Margarita types that you can serve.  

Our Spicy Margarita recipe uses the same classic ingredients as a Lime Margarita and yields a harmonious balance of sweet, tart, sour, and spicy.  It is a great accompaniment for dishes like:  

  • Spicy grilled shrimp. The heat from the spicy shrimp complements the kick of the Spicy Margarita.
  • Chipotle BBQ chicken skewers. The smoky and spicy flavors of the chicken skewers enhance the fiery nature of the cocktails.
  • Jalapeño poppers. The spicy and cheesy poppers harmonize with the heat of the Spicy Margarita.
  • Mango salsa with tortilla chips. The fruity salsa adds a refreshing and tangy element to the cocktail.
  • Spicy guacamole. The creamy and spicy guacamole pairs well with the bold flavors of the Spicy Margarita. 

Learn more: Fuel the Fire! How to Pair Cocktails with Spicy Food 

3. Mojitos

Mojito cocktail with lime and mint garnish

One of the best BBQ cocktails on days when the weather is gorgeously sweltering is an icy Mojito. This minty-cool marvel combines Wray & Nephew Overproof white rum, lime juice, soda water, sugar, and freshly muddled mint; it’s like a kiss of coolness in a tall glass tinkling with ice and goes wonderfully with:  

  • Citrus-marinated grilled chicken. The tangy and citrusy flavors of the chicken complement the zesty Mojito.
  • Grilled pineapple skewers. The caramelized sweetness of the pineapple complements the refreshing minty flavors of the Mojito.
  • Cucumber sandwiches. The cool and crunchy cucumber sandwiches offer a refreshing contrast to the Mojito.
  • Caprese skewers. The combination of fresh tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and basil provides a light and flavorful pairing for the Mojito.
  • Fresh fruit salad. The assortment of seasonal fruits in a salad adds a juicy and vibrant element to the Mojito. 

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4. Tequila Sunrise

Top Shot of A Refreshing Tequila Sunrise Cocktail

For BBQ cocktail drinks that are as photogenic as they are refreshing, we like to serve a classic Tequila Sunrise. Filled with zesty citrus flavors and sweetness from the grenadine, it pairs well with:  

  • Grilled steak fajitas. Savory steak fajitas complement the sweet and fruity Tequila Sunrise.
  • Mexican street corn. The smoky and tangy flavors of grilled corn with spices and cheese enhance the sweetness of the cocktail.
  • Tomato and avocado salad. The combination of fresh tomatoes, creamy avocado, and tangy dressing provides a light and refreshing pairing for the Tequila Sunrise.
  • Grilled pineapple slices. The caramelized sweetness of grilled pineapple pairs well with the tropical flavors of the cocktail.
  • Chicken tacos. The tender chicken and flavorful toppings in tacos go hand in hand with the Tequila Sunrise. 

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5. Classic Martini

Classic Vodka Martini with Olives

The Classic Martini might not be the most obvious cocktail choice for a BBQ, but we actually love it for this very reason. It’s something completely different. Lean, taut, and simple to shake up with Bulldog Gin, or SKYY Vodka, it’s the perfect partner for:   

  • Grilled lamb chops. The rich and savory flavors of the lamb chops complement the elegance of the Classic Martini.
  • Stuffed mushrooms. Earthy and flavorful stuffed mushrooms provide a satisfying pairing for the cocktail.
  • Cheese and charcuterie platter. An assortment of cheeses, cured meats, and accompaniments offers a sophisticated and complementary pairing for the Classic Martini.
  • Smoked salmon appetizers. Delicate and smoky salmon on crisp bread or crackers adds a touch of extra luxury to the Martini.
  • Olive tapenade crostini. The briny and salty flavors of olive tapenade tease out the most amazing flavors from the Martini, and the crunch of the crostini rounds it all off perfectly. 

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6. Summer Spritz Cocktails

Variety of Spritz Cocktails

For light and lovely cocktails that go with BBQ, you cannot go wrong with Summer Spritzes. We love pairing these beautifully bubbly drinks with tasty eats like:  

  • Grilled bratwurst. The smoky and savory flavors of grilled bratwurst pair well with the refreshing and sparkly nature of Spritz cocktails.
  • Vegetable flatbread. Grilled flatbread topped with a medley of grilled vegetables, such as eggplant, bell peppers, and red onions, pairs well with the light Spritz cocktails.
  • Mediterranean pasta salad. A refreshing pasta salad with olives, tomatoes, feta cheese, and a light dressing complements the citrusy and effervescent Spritz cocktails.
  • Spinach and feta stuffed mushrooms. These bite-sized stuffed mushrooms offer a savory and satisfying pairing for Spritz cocktails.
  • Honey mustard pretzel bites. Soft pretzel bites dipped in a tangy honey mustard sauce offer a salty snack to enjoy with Spritz cocktails.   

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7. Sangria

Virgin Sangria Mocktail

No list of BBQ and cocktails would be complete without Sangria. Traditionally a Spanish drink, the age-old Sangria recipe features red wine, water, herbs, spices, and fruit. However, these days Sangrias have a wide variety of ingredients, which can be adapted to suit your style. Soda and brandy are common modern additions. We like serving this fragrant drink with:      

  • BBQ pulled pork sliders. Slow-cooked and succulent pulled pork sliders with barbecue sauce add a rich and savory element to enjoy alongside Sangria.
  • Grilled Teriyaki salmon. Grilled teriyaki-glazed salmon fillets provide a flavorful and moist seafood pairing for Sangria.
  • Antipasto skewers. Skewers with a mix of marinated artichoke hearts, olives, salami, and mozzarella cheese provide an indulgent pairing for Sangria.
  • Brie & raspberry phyllo cups. Crispy phyllo cups filled with creamy brie cheese and topped with fresh raspberries offer a sweet and savory combination that complements Sangria.
  • Strawberry spinach salad. A salad combining fresh strawberries, baby spinach, goat cheese, and balsamic vinaigrette adds a sweet and tangy note to accompany Sangria. 

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When enjoying BBQ, a refreshing and flavorful cocktail like a Kentucky Mule is a great choice. The combination of bourbon, ginger beer, and lime complements the smoky flavors of BBQ and provides a zesty kick. Its bold and tangy profile pairs well with various BBQ meats and adds a refreshing element to the dining experience.

With its bold and robust flavors, Texas BBQ calls for a cocktail that can hold its own. An unexpected yet completely amazing choice is the Classic Martini. The smoothness of gin or vodka combined with dry vermouth creates a sophisticated drink that complements the rich and smoky flavors of Texas BBQ. Its simplicity and elegance make it a perfect match for the hearty and indulgent nature of this BBQ style.

For a pork roast, a cocktail like a Mojito or a Tequila Sunrise are delightful choices. The Mojito, with its refreshing blend of rum, mint, lime, and soda water, brings a cool and herbal element that balances the richness of the pork. Alternatively, the Tequila Sunrise, made with tequila, orange juice, and grenadine, offers a fruity and vibrant flavor that complements the succulent nature of pork roast.

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