If you’re one of those people who really enjoys a quality steak, and wants to get the most out of it every time, you probably put a fair amount of thought into the whole experience—from choosing a steakhouse, to finding the right cut of meat on the menu, to asking the chef to prepare it just the way you like it. You probably also think about the gastronomy and flavor profiles of the various sides on the menu. It’s true that the best quality steaks are often more enjoyable when prepared in a simple and unassuming way, but it’s also true that when all the details are just right, a steakhouse dinner can be one of the most satisfying culinary experiences out there.
So what about beverage choices? People who visit a highly rated steakhouse are constantly asking waiters and chefs about how to pair drinks with different cuts of beef, and whether certain beverages can noticeably enhance the flavor of steak or even diminish it.
There is a piece of conventional wisdom that often gets repeated. Red wine is good with red meat, and white wine is good with white meat. By this logic, a nice Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc should go well with lobster or many different cuts of fish—and it does. Steak would therefore the red wine territory. Indeed, red wine can be a highly pleasurable and flavor enhancing when it comes to red meat.
But not all red wines are perfectly paired with all steaks. For example, when ordering a steak that’s particularly fatty, such as one of the various cuts of Kobe or Wagyu beef, consider a more full-bodied red wine. The tannins in the wine will be more intense, and will make the fats in a steak more flavorful. If you order a lean cut of beef, a lighter red wine will serve you well.
But what if you’re not a red wine drinker? Should you pair a premium steak with white wine, beer, cocktails or even soft drinks?
Washing down your steak with a cold beer for a glass of chilled white wine can be an extremely pleasurable experience, and many steakhouses actually recommend it. A premium whiskey or scotch can also be a flavor enhancing choice. These dark liquors have robust compounds that complement the flavor of many steaks.
It’s difficult to go wrong when it comes to pairing a beverage with your steak dinner. Sure, there are conventional and popular choices. There are “purists” who consider it a crime to pair a steak with anything but red wine or single malt scotch, while others fly in the face of tradition and pair steak with ice cold soda. One thing you may want to avoid is choosing a beverage with too strong or distinct flavor, such as sugary ginger ale. Drinks like this can sometimes cover up the flavor of steak rather than enhance it.
At the end of the day, the best strategy is to simply pay closer attention to how your chosen beverage interacts with the steak on your palate. After all, conventional wisdom is never more important than personal taste.