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We Asked Bartenders The Best Bourbons For Cooking

We get it, you don’t want to waste your favorite whiskey by using it to cook with. Instead, you’ll be sipping your Booker’s and Blanton’s. That’s where cheaper alternatives come in. You wouldn’t want to miss out on the extra kick bourbon or rye whiskey can give to your favorite recipes. But what exactly is the best bourbon to cook with?

“The best bourbon for cooking usually the least expensive,” says Diane Wade, bartender at the Hound’s Tale Corner BARkery in Williamsburg, Virginia. “Since most recipes that call for bourbon require cooking down the alcohol, it’s unnecessary to spend a lot of money on something so fine that will be mixed in with other flavors and taste profiles.”

Matt Tanner, concept beverage manager at Pappas Bros Steakhouse in Houston disagrees. He believes, when cooking, you should start with the mainstays in your liquor cabinet. “I’d go with the bourbon you enjoy drinking, because much like cooking with wine, you don’t want to cook with wine that you wouldn’t drink.”

To give you options, we asked some of our favorite bartenders to tell us the best bourbons (and one Tennessee whiskey) to cook with.

Wild Turkey 101

Emmanuel “Manny” Pressley, bartender at Brabo Brasserie in Alexandria, Virginia

My mom is a chef, so I feel comfortable in the kitchen. I am a big fan of adding alcohol to dishes and bourbon is a common ingredient in my house. When considering a bourbon for a dish, I think about tasting notes, affordability, and the dish itself. I personally like lighter, seafood dishes and tend to go with bourbons that are great for de-glazing. My recommendation for cooking bourbon is Wild Turkey 101. This bourbon does a great job of picking up every flavor left in the pan while incorporating its own deep and sweet caramel notes.

This adds a nice depth to scallop, crab, and fish dishes.

Old Crow

Marc Borel, beverage director of Rainbow Lodge in Houston

When it comes to cooking with bourbon, like Old Crow. It has a full of flavor that will stand up in sauces and creams on dishes.

Evan Williams Black Label

Drew Hairston, beverage manager at Dirty Habit in Washington, DC

When I am cooking with bourbon, I like to use something simple and affordable that won’t hurt my wallet. Evan Williams Black Label bourbon is a solid go-to. It isn’t bonded, so you won’t have to wait longer to cook off the extra alcohol and you aren’t sacrificing quality and flavor with this choice.

George Dickel No. 8

Josh Cameron, head bartender at Boulton & Watt in New York City

Although not a bourbon, I like to cook with George Dickel Tennessee Whiskey. It’s a great pour-over-venison whiskey. Its Tennessee kick opens up the game and brings out the flavor. I soak it for a about 3 hours, Dickel, salt, and pepper, then throw in a grill or something cast iron. Nonstick has no place in-game cooking. I want to taste those Tennessee Mountains.

Evan Williams Single Barrel

Allie Klug, Bar Manager at Cleo in New York City

When you’re cooking it’s really important to remember that the alcohol burns off and all your left with is the actual flavor, so what you use is important. Evan Williams Single Barrel is an outstanding bourbon that is priced on average in the $20 range, so you aren’t breaking the bank. I’ve made batches of whiskey bacon jam with this bottle and now I’m not allowed to come to a party without it. Plus, you can enjoy what’s in the bottle while you’re cooking.

Jim Beam Black

Stephen George, beverage director at 20|Twenty in Carlsbad, California

The best bourbon for cooking would kind of depend on the technique. If making a sauce, I would say Jim Beam Black. Its extra barrel aging adds some concentrated bourbon character when cooking down in a sauce, yet still, very cost-effective. If looking to flambe, use something higher proof. I’ve seen Fred Noe flambe pork chops with Bookers Bourbon (I don’t know if I would go that high end, but he knows people).

Elijah Craig Small Batch

Sean Beck, beverage director of H Town Restaurant Group in Houston

I’ve always loved the stuff from Heaven Hill and while I have used the outstanding Elijah Craig Small Batch on numerous occasions, it’s probably a bit pricey for average use. Fortunately, Heaven Hill also makes the wildly accessible Evan Williams Black Label. It’s a bit sweeter and more obvious, but frankly, when you are using bourbon in a dish, you want the obvious Bourbon traits. It’s got robust caramel, lots of apple and vanilla and some really great cinnamon spice on the finish, which comes out more once it’s been cooked down. It’s also got a little more alcohol.

Wild Turkey 81

Alex Boyd, lead bartender at the Delta Hotels in Toronto, Canada

Wild Turkey 81 Proof is the best bourbon for cooking. It’s moderately priced and readily available with an intense flavor profile that won’t get lost in the food.

Four Roses Small Batch

Matt Sharp, bar director at Bosscat Kitchen & Libations in Houston

I like to cook with Four Roses Small Batch bourbon. Its hints of vanilla, oak and subtle spices stand up well in sauces and frostings.

Buffalo Trace

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Buffalo Trace Bourbon Review by Big Chief When the American buffalo blazed a trail across the Kentucky landscape before European colonization, they would leave huge tracts of land barren and cleared of all vegetation. One such sight was the home of Buffalo Trace Distillery it is said. So what better place to build a distillery then on cleared land right on the banks of the beautiful Kentucky River? Through the years this distillery would produce some of the finest bourbons in history made by some of the largest tycoons of the whiskey industry. In 1999 The Sazerac Company completed renovations and rebranded this site THE BUFFALO TRACE Distillery. The new keystone brand that would blaze the way forward as did the ancient bison had, would be Buffalo Trace Bourbon Whiskey. This bourbon that is over 8 years old of ridiculous amber goodness, makes you step back in time to a simpler way of life. With hints of warm caramel vanilla and honeysuckle on the nose, it teases you as if to say take a sip. When it does hit your lips you are greeted with a little brown sugar, buttery toffee and just a little spice to remind you that there is a buffalo roaming in there. It lingers on the tongue while the oak flavor arises and leaves you eager to take another sip. At under $25 you can find it almost anywhere and is a must on your shelf. Great for mixing or just sitting by a fire sipping it neat, this a very adaptable bourbon that is a go anywhere, do anything spirit. What better away to honor Americas Native Spirit than with an iconic majestic animal such as the American Buffalo. An extra for this review is the distillery itself. If you are driving through Kentucky pay them a visit and tour this historic site (free), sample several of their products and get served a bourbon ball. You won't regret the stop. #buffalotrace #bourbontrail #buffalotracebourbon #buffalotracewhiskey #bourbon #kentuckybourbontrail #veteranpodcast #podcasts #bourbonpodcast #bourbonreview #internationalpodcastday

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Josh Streetman, head barman at Motor Supply Co. Bistro in Columbia, South Carolina

For cooking, you’re going to want to go with a bourbon that contains more sugar — it needs to round and caramelize — especially if you’re making bread pudding or a creme brulee. My favorites for this would be a basic Buffalo Trace or Wild Turkey 81. At Motor Supply we use Old Crow for our house mustard, which is another good choice to add some sweetness in sauces or dishes.

Kentucky Gentleman

Jalin Roseboro, bartender at 54thirty in Denver

I always cook with a great low-end sour mash whiskey, like Kentucky Gentleman because it’s low cost and full of flavor. That’s the kind of combination we like.

Old Medley

Ben Gummere, bartender at Field Brewing in Westfield, Indiana

I enjoy cooking with Old Medles & Old Medley 12-year. When cooking with the spirit, it has a slight dried floral bouquet that acts like oregano and parsley while putting it into a sauce.

Maker’s Mark

Hailey Coder, lead bartender at The Park Bistro & Bar in Lafayette, California

Makers Mark, it has a warm sweetness to it without the bitterness of most bourbons. the spices bring out all sorts of delicious flavors like vanilla bean and cinnamon. It can be used for many things from baking Bourbon Bundt Cake to a good marinade on some southern barbecue.

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof

Guy Goldstein Sommelier at Arba in New York City

As the saying goes “You are what you eat”, a bourbon for cooking should be well balanced and add the flavors we seek at the end of the reduction process. Cheaper is not always the way to go. Elijah Craig Barrel Proof should reach the desired end result as it is caramelized, Fruity and spicy and at the same time offering mild notes of smoke to any meat dish.

Writer’s Pick: Old Grand-Dad

If we’re cooking with bourbon, we’re not going to spend a lot of money doing it. Luckily. Old Grand-Dad is cheap, spicy, and sweet. It’s perfect for dessert sauces and in boozy marinades.

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