Bourbon’s sweet, approachable profile makes it an ideal match for desserts, whether as a pairing partner or recipe ingredient. But there’s more to America’s native spirit than distinctive butterscotch and caramel notes, and plenty of other occasions to bring it to the dinner table besides the end of a meal.
One cuisine where bourbon finds a familiar savory friend is BBQ. The whiskey’s toasted character marries majestically with charred proteins pulled from straight off the grill. Beyond decadent desserts, bourbon’s sweeter side lends for seamless sipping alongside tangy BBQ sauce. Combining those two components also offers a surefire way to elevate the experience. And preparation is almost as simple as pouring a hearty glug of whiskey into the sauce.
When whipping up a bourbon-based BBQ sauce, choosing the right bottle is perhaps the most important consideration. Bourbons with a high proportion of wheat in their mash bills, such as Heaven Hill’s Larceny or Maker’s Mark, step up to the task because of their naturally sweeter profiles. For a sauce that finishes with a peppery bite, high-rye bourbons like Four Roses are the best way to go.
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The only real “preparation” involved in this simple sauce involves mixing already prepared ingredients. But before that, it’s crucial to burn off the alcohol from the spirit as the booze otherwise sticks out awkwardly in the finished sauce.
As with all things involving flames and ethanol, this step requires a cautious approach. Pour the bourbon into a saucepan, then place on a stove top with no other flammable materials nearby. Light the liquid with a naked flame — a long match or stick lighter are ideal — then let it burn for around 10 seconds. If the flame doesn’t extinguish naturally, covering the pan with an appropriate lid will quickly starve the flames of oxygen.
After this, the final details lie in the sauce’s other ingredients — and what to serve it with. Tomato ketchup provides sweetness and tang; rice vinegar delivers lively acidity; and Worcestershire sauce adds a savory dose of umami. With some staple powdered seasonings and a few minutes of cooking time to combine all the flavors, the easy bourbon BBQ sauce is ready for service.
Thanks to the ketchup base and time on the stove, the sauce reaches a fairly thick consistency that’ll coat the back of a spoon, especially at room temperature. This allows it to be enjoyed as a dipping condiment or a glaze for finishing slow-cooked baby back ribs on the grill or under the broiler. Our preferred serving? As a coating for crispy-on-the-outside, tender-on-the-inside chicken wings, freshly plucked from the air fryer, oil, or oven.
½ cup wheated bourbon, such as Larceny
1 cup tomato ketchup
¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
5 tablespoons rice vinegar
¼ cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Add the bourbon to a large saucepan, place on the stove top, and ignite the liquid directly using a long match or stick lighter. Allow it to burn for 10 seconds. If the spirit doesn’t extinguish naturally, cover with a tight-fitting, heat-proof lid.
Stir in the remaining ingredients and cook over medium heat for around 3 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure the dry ingredients dissolve and the sauce doesn’t splatter out the pan.
Serve as a condiment for fries, tenders, or burgers, or use as a glaze when finishing baby back ribs or crispy chicken wings.