12 Ways To Cook With Whiskey

Cocktail lovers are likely familiar with the versatility of whiskey. It's the star of several popular beverages such as the Old Fashioned, Whiskey Sour, and Manhattan. However, whiskey isn't just for drinking; it's also a valuable ingredient for cooking. Whiskey can impart a rich and smoky depth to sauces, marinades, and even desserts, elevating the flavors of various dishes in unique ways.

There are many types of whiskey, each with a distinctive flavor profile. For instance, bourbon, an American whiskey, is made primarily from corn mash and has sweet, oaky, and warm spice notes. While rye whiskey, made from rye grain, is more peppery and herbal. There are also Scotch, Irish, Canadian, and Japanese whiskeys, to name just a few. With such a range of flavors, whiskey offers a multitude of culinary possibilities, making it a valuable ingredient for any creative home cook or professional chef.

1. Use as a substitute for vanilla extract

There's a reason why homemade vanilla extract is often made by steeping vanilla beans in bourbon whiskey. Vanilla and bourbon have similarly complex notes of sweetness, spice, and rich, woody undertones. Although most store-bought vanilla extracts are made with ethyl alcohol and not bourbon, it's clear that the two ingredients share many of the same qualities.

Fortunately, when you're out of vanilla but have some bourbon handy, it can serve as an effective vanilla extract substitute in most baking recipes. Use an equal amount of bourbon in place of the vanilla extract and likely no one will notice the difference. Not to mention, vanilla extract is notoriously expensive. Using whiskey in its place will not only replicate a similar flavor in your baked goods, but it'll also save you money.

The exception to this substitution is when vanilla is the primary flavor, such as a vanilla frosting or vanilla ice cream. In those cases, while bourbon will still produce a tasty result, it will create a noticeable difference in flavor.

2. Deglaze a pan for a quick sauce

Whiskey tends to pair well with meats such as pork and chicken. If you've ever finished cooking a pork chop or chicken breast and wondered what you could use to make a quick yet flavorful sauce right in the same pan, you may want to reach for a bottle of whiskey.

Pan sauces are made by deglazing the pan you used to cook your meat. This works by removing the cooked meat and pouring a liquid into the hot pan. Then, you scrape the flavorful browned bits on the bottom of the pan, known as the fond, which will release and help create a sauce along with the liquid. 

Although wine is commonly used for deglazing, whiskey is another good option, considering the range of flavors it can add to your final dish. You'll want to choose a whiskey with a flavor profile that works best for your recipe. For a dish where you want notes of pepper, you might want to choose a rye whiskey. While a Canadian whisky may be a better choice for something lighter and fruitier. Consider adding garlic, herbs, and butter to round out the whiskey sauce before pouring over your meat and serving.

3. Make Kentucky bourbon balls

Chocolate lovers who appreciate a strong whiskey-forward flavor will want to try no-bake Kentucky bourbon balls. Perfect for parties, the holidays, and gift-giving, these sweet Southern confections combine bourbon with nuts, graham cracker crumbs, and chocolate for a tasty alcoholic treat.

Similar in concept to rum balls, bourbon balls are an easy-to-make dessert since there is no baking required. The only cooking involves toasting the pecans, which are then steeped in bourbon to infuse maximum whiskey flavor. All the ingredients are then combined to form a dough that is rolled into balls and coated in cocoa powder and sugar. One batch will make nearly three dozen balls, which makes them ideal for sharing.

The result is a cross between a cookie and a cake. And while kids may find them tempting, these bourbon balls are better suited for adults, as the whiskey doesn't have the opportunity to cook off due to the lack of baking. They're delicious but boozy.

4. Add to glazed carrots

Glazed carrots are a classic side dish and yet another instance where the addition of whiskey can elevate a basic recipe. The sweet and earthy flavor of carrots would match up beautifully with the herbal and citrus notes of an Irish whiskey to create an irresistible dish for serving everywhere, from a weeknight dinner to the spread at your holiday table.

In these honey-glazed carrots, you can add a splash of whiskey to the pan along with the other glaze ingredients. The alcohol will mostly cook off while the carrots roast in the oven, but the flavor of the whiskey will remain and have your dinner guests pondering your secret ingredient.

Aside from Irish whiskey, you may want to consider bourbon. While Irish whiskey can provide a fresh taste, bourbon, with its caramel notes, can enhance the natural sweetness of the carrots. Which whiskey you select may depend on the time of year and the other foods you're serving.

5. Include whiskey in your pickle brine

No one enjoys a flavorless pickle, but with whiskey added to the brine, that won't be an issue. Boozy pickles have grown in popularity in recent years and there's good reason. It's a creative way to infuse the flavor of your favorite alcohol into crunchy, tangy fresh vegetables. These moonshine pickles are just one instance of the trend.

To add some extra spice and punch to your next batch of homemade refrigerator pickles, add a shot or two of rye whiskey to your brine recipe. Let the pickles infuse in the fridge for several days before tasting to obtain the most flavor. If you don't have time to make your own pickles, however, you could simply pour out a portion of the brine from your store-bought pickle jar and replace it with whiskey for the same effect.

When you've finished the pickles, don't waste that boozy brine. Either add additional vegetables to the jar and make more pickles, or use it to craft a pickle juice cocktail.

6. Make a barbecue sauce with extra depth

A delicious barbecue sauce is all about the complexity and balance of flavors. One way to quickly add complexity to your homemade sauce is with whiskey. The smoky and oaky notes of bourbon can help balance out the spiciness of peppers, as seen in this bourbon-chile barbecue sauce. The result is a barbecue sauce that's smoky, spicy, and sweet.

When using whiskey in your barbecue sauce, it's important to pick a variety that complements the other ingredients. This will help you achieve the perfect balance of flavors. Keep in mind that barbecue sauces can differ significantly based on your region and personal preferences. Hence, choose a whiskey that aligns with your desired style.

It's best to begin by adding a small amount of whiskey to prevent the barbecue sauce from being too strong. Taste the sauce as it cooks, and add more whiskey if necessary. Remember, the longer you cook the sauce, the stronger the flavors will become.

7. Craft a caramel sauce with a punch

Bourbon whiskey has a distinctive flavor profile that includes subtle hints of caramel and toffee. This makes it an ideal ingredient for creating your own caramel sauce. Whether you're planning to drizzle the sauce over ice cream, use it as a filling for your favorite pastry, or add it to your coffee, incorporating whiskey can elevate your recipe. Adding bourbon to your caramel sauce will infuse notes of oak and vanilla, resulting in a complex and unique depth of flavor.

Apart from its flavor-enhancing properties, bourbon can also help offset some of the sweetness of caramel sauce. If you tend to find caramel sauces to be too sweet, whiskey can add a little bitterness and smokiness to balance out the flavors on your palate. The rich and smooth taste of bourbon-spiked caramel is a great way to enhance your desserts and add a touch of sophistication to your recipes.

8. Stir into chocolate sauce

Chocolate, like blended whiskey, offers a range of flavors and complexities. The two have limitless potential for pairing, so why not try them together in your next hot fudge sauce recipe? A couple of tablespoons of whiskey whisked into your chocolate sauce will enhance the flavor and help create a feeling of smoothness in your mouth.

Before making your chocolate sauce you'll want to first make sure that your blended whiskey and chocolate have similar or complimentary flavors. Take a bite of your chocolate and then a sip of the whiskey to see what you think. If you have different chocolates or whiskies to choose from, keep tasting until you find a pairing that fits well.

For a typical one-cup chocolate sauce recipe, start by adding two tablespoons of whiskey with the other ingredients. Taste and add more until the whiskey flavor is noticeable. You may have to simmer your sauce slightly longer than instructed in order for the sauce to thicken and compensate for the extra liquid.

9. Make a memorable cranberry sauce

Whether canned or homemade, cranberry sauce doesn't always have the best reputation. Some of the common complaints are that cranberry sauce lacks flavor or that it's just too sweet. Fortunately, whiskey can help, and bourbon, with hints of oak and caramel, is a good place to start improving this classic holiday condiment.

If you're looking to elevate canned cranberry sauce, empty a can into a bowl and stir in a splash of bourbon. Take a taste, and add more, if necessary. This will work best with the loose kind of cranberry sauce, not the jellied version, which is made to eat intact. Just keep in mind that there is no opportunity for the alcohol to cook off and it will be noticeable and full strength upon serving.

Making homemade cranberry sauce, on the other hand? Try adding bourbon to the water while you simmer the cranberries. This process is different from just mixing the bourbon with canned cranberry sauce, as it gives the alcohol enough time to cook off and infuse into the berries, resulting in a more complex and flavorful sauce.

10. Enhance fruit pies

Fruit pies may not always turn out as expected, particularly if the fruit used is not fully ripe or fresh. However, whiskey can be a game changer in such situations. It enhances the flavor of the fruit and adds subtle undertones, making the pie taste more well-rounded. If your fruit filling is too sweet, whiskey helps balance that out as well.

It's important to choose the right whiskey to complement the other ingredients in your recipe. For example, apples, peaches, and cherries pair well with bourbon or Scotch whisky, while raspberry and blueberry pies may be better suited for a single malt or Irish whiskey. You'll also want to keep in mind any spices or other flavorings you may be using.

When mixing whiskey into the fruit filling, start with 2-4 tablespoons, adjusting the amount based on your personal preferences. If your filling already contains a lot of liquid, it's better to err on the side of using less whiskey to avoid a watery pie.

11. Boost the flavor of your beef stew

When making beef stew, deglazing the pan after searing the meat is an excellent way to enhance the flavor. By using whiskey as the deglazing liquid, you can take it up a notch and add even more flavor to the dish. As you scrape up the brown pieces from the bottom of the pan, you can continue with the cooking process, where the whiskey flavor will blend together perfectly with the tender meat and vegetables of the stew.

For beef stew, the choice of whiskey can significantly impact the final flavor of the dish. Whether you prefer a smoky, woody, or sweet undertone, selecting the right whiskey can elevate your stew in different ways. To start, add about ½ cup of your preferred whiskey to the pan to deglaze and release any caramelized bits. Continue with your recipe as written, allowing the alcohol to cook off during the simmering process, while the rich, complex flavor of the whiskey imparts a mouthwatering dimension to your stew.

12. Whisk into your whipped cream

Homemade whipped cream is a delicious and versatile topping that can be made even more special with the addition of unique flavors, such as whiskey. Whiskey flavored whipped cream not only adds an extra layer of flavor to your desserts but also adds a touch of sophistication for special occasions.

When it comes to choosing the right whiskey for your whipped cream, consider the flavor you're looking for. A rich bourbon whipped cream can add a delightful complementary flavor to pumpkin or pecan pie, while a smooth Irish whiskey whipped cream would be excellent over chocolate desserts, like pudding.

It's important to note that you don't want to use more than 1-2 tablespoons of whiskey in your whipped cream. Use too much and you may end up with a watery or grainy texture. To ensure a good whipping, all ingredients should be chilled, including the whiskey. Start by whisking the cream until it begins to thicken, then gradually add the whiskey and sugar. Continue whisking until the cream forms stiff peaks. Be careful not to over-whip the cream, as it can become grainy and unappetizing