Bourbon Is The Unexpected Splash Of Flavor Your Little Smokies Need

Little smokies get their nickname the honest way: By looking and tasting exactly like what they are. The tiny cocktail sausages are about the size of a small chubby finger and come pre-smoked and ready to eat. However, most folks have their own special recipe for enhancing the appetizer, typically with some kind of barbecue sauce, preferably a homemade version. That's where bourbon enters the picture. The majority of barbecue sauce recipes overlook this secret ingredient that's both tasty and extremely compatible with little smokies. 

Of all the spirits available in the marketplace, bourbon is one likely to be described as having a smoky taste, similar to the smoky notes in a peated scotch whisky. With bourbon, the smoky flavor comes primarily from the new charred oak barrels in which it gets aged. Since the charred barrels have not been previously used, more of the "toasted oak" flavor gets absorbed into the bourbon. That's what makes bourbon a superb flavor mate for little smokies. 

There's no hard-and-fast rule for splashing bourbon into your little smokies sauce; it's pretty much compatible with most types of marinades and sauces. The key is letting the sauce and wieners simmer together for a long time, ideally in a slow cooker. Work your magic with ingredients such as brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, paprika, ketchup, mustard, grape jelly, or finely diced garlic and onions. The twist here is infusing a typical homemade barbecue sauce with bourbon, which affects the flavor in several ways.  

Bourbon brings spicy, smoky, and sweet flavor notes to little smokies

Apart from the compatible smoky characteristics of bourbon and little smokies cocktail wieners, bourbon brings several more subtle flavors to the appetizer party. Since bourbon is made with at least 51% corn, it imparts a touch of sweetness to the spirit, and consequently, to your barbecue sauce. Depending on individual bourbon distillers and how they mix and age the whiskey, you'll likely notice varying flavor notes of caramel, vanilla, and spicy undertones –– all of which make their way into those little smokies. 

A quick and easy way to get all that goodness into your slow cooker is to use bottled barbecue sauce and add a splash of bourbon. But with just a few extra minutes, a customized approach can make those little sausages sing. In this spicy little smokies recipe from Tasting Table, an unexpected ingredient drops some extra zing into the pot and onto your tastebuds. 

It's chili garlic sauce, which adds more of a kick the more you use. Adding the sweet and smoky notes of bourbon to this recipe, along with the Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, and premade barbecue sauce, helps balance the spiciness of the chili garlic sauce as it's all absorbed into the chunky little stars of the party — the little smokies. Serve with toothpicks and extra barbecue or mustard dipping sauce.