Thursday, June 27, 2013

Test Kitchen: Making Bourbon Whiskey BBQ Sauce

By Dru Chai

It's always fun to experiment in the kitchen, even for backyard smokers and grillers. I'm sure a lot of BBQ enthusiasts use the same rub or sauce over and over, because let's face it -- most people are too comfortable (or lazy) to stray outside the norm of what they like. Take BBQ sauce for instance. It's just so easy to just go to the market and pick up one of a dozen or so brands and types of BBQ sauce and call it a day. No fuss and no extra work.

I'll admit, out of the 2 years since I delved into the world of low and slow BBQ, I probably only tried making BBQ sauce from scratch a total of 6 times. That's definitely not very many, compared to the dozens of smoked meat that I produced. Making BBQ sauce is fun, no doubt. But it just doesn't have the sexy appeal of smoking a brisket, pork shoulder, or ribs -- drawing the oohs and ahhs from those waiting to taste the result of your hours of work.

When tasting BBQ sauce, it's a more subtle and subdued reaction -- like "oh that's good," "love the tang," or "that's got a kick to it." That was the reaction I got when I recently made some bourbon whiskey BBQ sauce. I was lucky enough to have some Four Roses Bourbon (Single Barrel) at my fingertips, so I decided to whip up a batch of BBQ sauce laced with the bourbon whiskey.

I put my homemade BBQ sauce back inside the bottle

Using alcohol in recipes can be a tricky thing. If not done correctly, it can overpower or even ruin whatever it is that you're making. I've see alcohol used in all sorts of recipes, but I think it's best used in sauces. Alcohol has such a strong flavor, that it needs to be reduced down -- whether a lot or a little -- but just enough so that it's not the dominating flavor. Think of a red wine reduction, for example. Alcohol should be an accent, or compliment to your recipe.

The ingredients that I used for my whiskey bourbon BBQ sauce:

- Water, ketchup, tomato paste, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper, chili powder, cayenne, paprika, worcestershire, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, and of course -- some Four Roses whiskey bourbon.

You can adjust the level of spice by adding red chili flakes, Sriracha, or whatever hot sauce you prefer. One of my favorites is the Tabasco chipotle pepper sauce. I added a few liberal dashes into the BBQ sauce.

So how did the BBQ sauce taste? After immediately mixing all of the ingredients together, it basically tasted like glorified ketchup, to be honest with you. The bourbon whiskey was too strong in flavor and overpowered everything. I felt like I needed some french fries to dip the sauce with. But after letting it simmer on low heat for a few hours, the alcohol burned off a little, and it tasted more like BBQ sauce. I refrigerated it overnight, and the sauce tasted even better the next day. All of the flavors and spices just melded together as one.

It was sweet, tangy, tart, with a little kick at the end. The bourbon whiskey was nice and subtle in the background, and the little heat at the back of the tongue was perfect. I bottled up some of the BBQ sauce back into the Four Roses sample bottle to save for a later use. I've got a versatile BBQ sauce that I can use on just about anything. I'm thinking of trying out some bourbon whiskey BBQ meatballs!