Coffee and meat? Given coffee's ability to pair with just about any flavor in the culinary universe—fruit, chocolate, spices, herbs, nuts, even subtler flavors like cedar and smoke —it was only a matter of time before chefs began to experiment with the possibilities of coffee and meat.
As it turns out, the naturally acidic properties of coffee—much like those of red wine—pair deliciously with, and even accentuate, the savory tones of meat. And not just one kind of meat, either—great recipes for coffee-rubs or coffee marinated chicken, pork and beef are just a click away, lest the master grill chef feel limited in scope.
Ground vs. Brewed
Coffee enhances meat in several different ways. To start, coffee grounds act like a spice, pairing well with other spices (coffee is a plant, after all) to comprise a fantastic spice rub for meat. Cooks have embraced a number of recipes (such as this Java Rub) to bring out the flavor of meat on the grill. When cooked, the grounds caramelize, adding their natural sugars to the mix and hardening along the edge of the meat into a tasty crust barbecue enthusiasts call the bark. Besides flavor, the bark provides a crucial practical value—it seals in the moisture of the meat.
One of the great strengths of brewed coffee is its ability to act as a tenderizer. Either the natural acids or the enzymes (experts are divided on which) present in the organic coffee bean effectively dismantle the complex protein collagen, one of the chief substances holding muscle tissue (or a cut of meat) together. The enzymes in coffee, known as proteases, break down the peptide bonds (chemical bonds between two amino acids) found in collagen, gradually softening the meat.
An easy recipe: simply brew a pot of fresh coffee, allow it to cool, and marinate the meat for at least 24 hours. (Or, for a kick, try this Molasses Coffee Marinade recipe.) The result is an amazing tender, spicy cut of meat, with a delightful contrast of sweet and savory throughout.
My Coffee Got Sauce
Coffee makes an outstanding addition to BBQ sauce. Once again, the acidic, and often smoky or chocolaty flavor notes in coffee are a perfect complement to many of the strong, savory tones of traditional meat sauces. Try this Brown Sugar Coffee BBQ Sauce or Coffee Bourbon BBQ Sauce.
So prepare your coffee marinade, apply your coffee spice rub, dab on a healthy swab of coffee BBQ sauce, and fix yourself a tall iced coffee while you await your latest grilling masterpiece—now enhanced by one of the world’s favorite beverages.