FOLLOWING THE nose-to-tail, no-waste ethos, more chefs and bakers around the country are cooking with spent grains, the aromatic byproduct of beer brewing. Most commonly comprised of malted barley, spent grains can also include rye, oats or wheat. Incorporating the softened grains into foods is more than a way to be economical and sustainable: It can add textures and flavors that range from earthy to nutty to chocolaty, depending on the beer of origin.
Because the grains go bad within about 36 hours of being strained from the wort (the liquid that becomes beer), chefs tend to cook with the whole wet grains right away—folding them into bread and pizza doughs, adding them to soup stocks or mixing them into raw meatballs.
In other cases, chefs freeze freshly used packets of spent grains. Another option, said Erica Shea, co-founder and owner of the Brooklyn Brew Shop, a store specializing in home-brewing kits, is to spread them on a baking sheet in a single layer and bake in a low oven for 8 to 10 hours. “Then you can keep them practically forever,” Ms. Shea said. She suggests sprinkling the whole grains into banana bread dough or milling them into a flavor-packed flour that lends itself to everything from graham crackers to cheddar scones.
While the grains don’t impart beery flavors, they do express certain elements of the beer from which they came. “Sometimes we pair dishes that use spent grains with the beer they came from, which gives you some similar flavors,” said Adam Dulye, chef at the Monk’s Kettle in San Francisco.
Good news for the home cook: Spent grains are plentiful. The average gallon batch of beer produces 2 to 3 pounds of spent grain, and a little goes a long way. They typically go to local farms for animal feed, but ask your local brewery if they’re willing to share some leftovers. Or befriend home brewers, who will certainly have some on hand. Then you, too, can experiment with adding spent grains to scones and pizza crusts, and discover one of beer’s more virtuous sides.
Hoecakes and Cookies
Chef Adrian Villarreal makes a spent-grain Southern-style hoecake topped with short ribs braised in beer and served with glazed root vegetables. This spring he’ll debut an ice cream sandwich composed of spent-grain cookies and stout ice cream.
For Veggie Burgers
The Monk’s Kettle, San Francisco
Thanks to a regular supply of spent grains from the local brewers who keep the restaurant stocked with beer, chef Adam Dulye regularly includes spent grains in the chickpea veggie burger. Some cuts of beef, lamb and game are crusted in spent grains before being grilled.
Birreria at Eataly, New York
Eataly head baker Paul Mack makes an earthy, nutty bread using spent grains from the three beers brewed upstairs at the Birreria. The bread, which is baked seven days a week, is served in the restaurant and is also for sale by the loaf. Additional spent grains from the brewery are taken to Arcadian Pastures in upstate New York to feed Gloucester spot pigs that are butchered at Eataly.
In Pizza Dough
Deschutes Brewery, Portland and Bend, Ore.
Executive chef Jeff Usinowicz mainly uses spent grains for baking—it’s in the dough for the brewpub’s thin-crust pizzas and special sandwich breads—but he has also added the grains to beer batter for fish and chips and to a graham cracker crust for cheesecake. Additional spent grains go to nearby Coleman Ranch; the grain-fed cows return to the brewpub as meat for burgers.
A version of this article appeared May 5, 2012, on page D6 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Grains Well Spent.