Cocktails and ’Cue

Perfect pairings for your Memorial Day weekend grilling-and-chilling extravaganza.


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This Memorial Day weekend, master the art of cocktail-and-food matching—and just in time for your backyard bacchanalia. Here’s a selection of top cocktail recipes paired with got-to-have-it grub, sourced from experts who know their barbecue.

Cocktail: Watermelon Cooler 

Courtesy Phil Surkis, bartender, B-Side BBQ, Oakland, CA

Pairing: Barbecue ribs

This cool, lightly sweet drink offsets spicy heat of barbecued ribs. For a non-alcoholic variation, omit the pisco and Aperol, and top up with club soda.

2 ounces pisco
½ ounce Aperol 
1 ounce watermelon juice (recipe below)
½ ounce simple syrup
¾ ounce lime juice
Lime wedge, for garnish

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously then strain into a tall Collins glass over fresh ice. Garnish with a lime wedge.

*To make watermelon juice, puree one cup of 1-inch chunks of fruit in a blender, then strain through a piece of cheesecloth or a fine-mesh strainer. Discard the solids. (Should produce enough juice for two cocktails.)


Cocktail: Down to the Bone Blueberry Lemonade 

Courtesy Down to the Bone Barbecue & Company, Stanhope, NJ

Pair with: Grilled burgers and hot dogs

Or anything else you’d enjoy with a cool glass of lemonade. This drink works equally well with bourbon subbed in for the vodka.

1 dozen fresh blueberries, plus extra for garnish
1½ ounces Stoli vodka (or Bourbon)
1 ounce simple syrup
3½ ounces fresh lemonade
Mint sprig, for garnish

Muddle the blueberries at the bottom of a cocktail shaker. Add the remaining ingredients and ice, and shake well. Pour into a sugar-rimmed mason jar. Garnish with three blueberries on a swizzle stick, and a sprig of mint.


Cocktail: Lavender Bee’s Knees 

Courtesy Michael David Murphy, beverage director, Niche, St. Louis, MO

Pair with: Grilled fish

At this hot spot, this drink is made with golden beets and served with grilled trout with radishes and snap peas. The streamlined version (hold the beets) should be a refreshing accompaniment to any white-fleshed fish made on the grill this summer.

2 ounces gin, such as Pinckney Bend
¾ ounce honey syrup  (stir together equal parts honey and hot water)
¾ ounce lemon juice
2 dashes Scrappy’s Lavender Bitters

Optional garnish: Moisten half of the rim of a coupe glass with lemon juice, and roll the edge in a mixture of lavender and salt. Set glass in the freezer to set.

In a cocktail shaker, combine all ingredients with ice. Shake vigorously, and strain into the prepared coupe glass.


Jazzy Mint Julep 

Courtesy Blue Smoke, New York

Pair with: Brisket or other classic ‘cue

The smoky, oaky flavor of bourbon complements the smoky flavor of barbecued meats. It’s no wonder so many barbecue sauces also feature bourbon as a key ingredient.

Fresh mint, plus a sprig for garnish.
2½ ounces Bourbon, such as Jim Beam Black
2 ounces lime juice
1½ ounces simple syrup

In the bottom of an Old-Fashioned glass or a julep cup, muddle the mint (using a muddler or the back of a spoon). In a cocktail shaker, combine the remaining ingredients with ice. Shake well and pour out into the glass with the muddled mint. Garnish with mint sprig.

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