Splash Some Bourbon Into Your Next Pot Of Chili For Deeper Flavor

Neat, on the rocks, or with a side chili — how will you enjoy your bourbon? Just when you think that you've heard it all, along comes a suggestion to whip up a big old pot of bourbon-laced chili. Unusual as it may sound, adding a splash of boozy bourbon might become your new favorite way to achieve bigger and bolder flavors. 

Delivering more complexity than broth or water, an oaky barrel-aged bourbon can impart notes of vanilla, caramel, and warm spices. Evidently, it's this sweetly spiced quality that allows bourbon to complement and contrast a savory and zesty chili. Plus, it's also worth mentioning that cooking chili with alcohol (bourbon or otherwise) can intensify flavors and aromas as it bonds better to fat and water molecules, resulting in a tastier spoonful of your chosen ingredients.

Basically, any chili recipe can benefit from a bit of bourbon. For example, add it into a chili made with beef, beans, and tomatoes for a twist on a classic. Alternatively, you could experiment with flavor by working the boozy addition into a maple and bison chili, or even a meatless recipe made with roasted pumpkin and chipotle peppers. Likewise, recipes with fiery, smoky, or umami-forward spices will also fare well with the bourbon given its deeply nuanced profile.

How to effectively work bourbon into your chili recipe

Cooking with alcohol, but especially liquor, can be a challenge due to its potency. Since it has the potential to overwhelm a dish, using alcohol sparingly and accordingly is essential. That said, when it comes to bourbon-infused chili, there are a few ways to go about incorporating the liquor. Feel free to use any of the following methods or combine them for a flavorful punch.

To kick things off, why not marinate meat in bourbon? Should you be using chunks of beef (but even venison or bison), letting the protein rest in a flavorful medley of bourbon, olive oil, and punchy spices prior to cooking can be a great way to infuse flavor from the get-go. However, you can also skip this step, and use bourbon the more traditional way by deglazing.

After browning aromatics and ground meat, deglaze by pouring about ¼ cup of bourbon into a pan to loosen up flavorful fond. While introducing the liquor this early in the process will effectively dilute the alcohol content, it can mellow its punchiness. In order to preserve more of its intensity and flavor, opt to add bourbon toward the end of cooking, simmering for a modest 15 minutes. Just remember that using bourbon as a finishing touch should only be reserved for the best of bottles. On that note, all that's left to say is, enjoy — or rather, cheers!