When It Comes To Cooking With Whiskey, Skip The Top Shelf

From drinking it neat to using it in cocktails, whiskey's complex flavor profiles make it one of life's great pleasures. It's equally delightful in cooking, enhancing recipes from marinades and sauces to decadent desserts.

But while a top-quality, expensive whiskey is ideal for sipping, cooking with whiskey calls for a slightly different approach. The type of whiskey used in a recipe can significantly influence the flavor of a dish, but fortunately, you don't need to use a rare or expensive bottle for cooking. Save the top-shelf bottles for drinking.

However, since one of the main purposes of cooking with alcohol is to add flavor, avoid opting for the cheapest whiskey. As with cooking with wine, choose a whiskey that you enjoy drinking, and that has a pleasing taste to ensure the most satisfying results. You can also match different flavor notes in your whiskey with complementary flavors in your dish.

What kind of whiskey is best for cooking with?

From bourbons and ryes to Scotch and Irish whiskies, there are plenty of options for cooking, with the best choice depending on the ingredients you're pairing it with. Scotch, for example, adds a smoky depth to steak sauces and is traditionally used in the Scottish dessert cranachan. However, for a wide variety of dishes, a great value bourbon is often the most versatile. Its deliciously sweet flavors of caramel and vanilla can elevate many dishes.

It's important to remember that due to its high alcohol content, whiskey is flammable, especially when higher-proof, and can be a fire hazard when used near an open flame. Carefully measure it and use only a small amount in cooking to avoid overpowering the dish with its strong taste.

Contrary to popular belief, not all the alcohol burns off when cooking with whiskey. The amount remaining depends on the cooking time and method. Therefore, if you're seeking the flavor of whiskey without the alcohol, consider using alcohol-free varieties.

Use whiskey to elevate both sweet and savory dishes

Whiskey pairs naturally with rich, meaty dishes like ribs, chops, and steaks. It also works well as a marinade, tenderizing the meat while infusing bold flavors. A little goes a long way; just over a quarter cup is typically sufficient for marinating about five pounds of baby back ribs.

In addition to savory dishes, whiskey enhances dessert sauces. The sweetness of bourbon is perfect for a Tennessee whiskey barbecue sauce, while a dash of earthy Scotch can elevate a creamy steak or chop sauce. It's also great in a sticky caramel sauce for drizzling over ice cream, brownies, or pancakes.

Bourbon can even take your baking to the next level. Consider adding it to blondies, pecan pie, bread and butter pudding fruit, or cream cheese frosting for cupcakes. Whichever way you use it, you're in for a delightful treat that doesn't necessitate splurging on an expensive bottle.