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15 Best Bourbon Brands For Cooking (2023 Updated)

best bourbon for cooking

Last Updated on November 5, 2023 by Lydia Martin

Believe it or not, bourbon is not just good for sipping — its natural flavors will complement many of your favorite recipes for cooking.

Unfortunately, not all brands will make great additions to your culinary endeavors. 

To save you the trouble, I’ve explored the bourbon world to bring you a carefully curated list of the best bourbon brands for cooking.

Check out if your favorite brand made it to our list. 

Top 15 Bourbons To Use When Cooking

15. Kentucky Gentleman

Kentucky Gentleman on desk with glass and cooked chicken

Average Price: Roughly $13.99 (Total Wine)

ABV: 40%

Why We Like It:

Kentucky Gentleman proves that you don’t have to spend a fortune to buy top-shelf bourbon for cooking.

For just slightly under ten bucks, you can have a decently-flavored bourbon for your culinary ventures. 

“Elevate dishes with bourbon’s flavorful essence; culinary magic in every drop.”- Liquor Laboratory

It added the right amount of dried cherry and sweet caramel notes to my beef stews, salad dressings, or roast turkey.  

Read: Popular Flavored Bourbons 

14. Buffalo Trace

Buffalo Trace with cocktail on table

Average Price: Roughly $24.99 (Total Wine)

ABV: 45%

Why We Like It:

As a general rule I like to follow when it comes to cooking with bourbon, I choose sweeter bourbons because when they caramelize, they will add a rich, syrupy taste to your dishes. 

We liked cooking with Buffalo Trace because of its sweetness, especially when making desserts like luscious creme brulee, sticky bread pudding, or a lovely pecan pie. 

Buffalo Trace is made with a mash bill consisting of corn, rye, and barley malt before it is put inside new oak barrels for aging.

This whiskey may be pricey if used solely for cooking, but you can sneak in a few sips or two. But is Buffalo Trace really difficult to find?

13. Redemption Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Redemption with glass and biscuits on desk

Average Price: Roughly $28.99  (Caskers)

ABV: 44%

Why We Like It:

Redemption Straight Bourbon Whiskey is another good bourbon for cooking, and we have to say this works extremely well in most savory dishes and sauces.

This bourbon has a lot of characters and will add beautiful caramel and charred oak notes to that barbecue chicken or slow-cooked ribs. 

Redemption is a rye-forward spirit, with a whopping 21 percent rye in its mash bill. It is crafted by none other than Master Distiller Dave Carpenter. 

Read: How Much Sugar Does Bourbon Contain?

12. Four Roses 

Four Roses with blackberry bourbon smash on table

Average Price: Roughly $39.99 (Total Wine)

ABV: 40%

Why We Like It:

Four Roses bourbon blends up to ten different recipes, giving the final spirit a mellow flavor profile with plenty of rich fruit, sweet oak, and caramel.

It will hold its own extremely well in various dishes: from savory stews and sauces to dessert frostings.  

As the name suggests, Four Roses is more aromatic and floral when sipped neat.

It’s priced at just a little over $20, so it’s fairly easy to stock up on this once you run out. 

11. Elijah Craig Small Batch

Elijah Craig with glass and crackers on desk

Average Price: Roughly $23.49 (Total Wine)

ABV: 47%

Why We Like It:

A bottle of Elijah Craig Small Batch bourbon may be a bit pricey for cooking, but trust us when we say you’ll want all that caramel and vanilla goodness in your stew or dessert. 

This bourbon’s got plenty of robust caramel, apple, and brown sugar, with a hint of spice that comes out more when cooked. 

The Elijah Craig Small Batch is made with batches of only 200 barrels or less, consisting of 8 to 12-year-old bourbons.

This exclusive production process ensures you get a superior quality spirit every time. 

10. Old Forester

Old Forester on table

Average Price: Roughly $28.99 (Drizly)

ABV: 43%

Why We Like It:

Old Forester has a unique combination of flavors — oak, pine, soft vanilla, and bright orange — making it one of the best bourbons to cook with.

You can use it as a multitasking tenderizer for your steaks, doubling as a flavorful sauce. 

We love adding a bit of Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, garlic, shallots, salt, and lots of pepper to our Old Forester marinade.

It will leave the steak inside the fridge to soak up the bourbon mixture for a few hours [1].

9. Coopers’ Craft Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Coopers’ Craft on desk with glass and cranberries

Average Price: Roughly $25.99 (Caskers)

ABV: 41.1%

Why We Like It:

Coopers’ Craft Kentucky Straight Bourbon has low alcohol content and a decent flavor profile — gentle caramel, apricots, cinnamon, and just a touch of grain. 

It doesn’t have that richness we prefer using for steaks, but it adds a touch of syrupy sweetness to sorbet, fruit jams, or jellies. 

You can also use this bourbon to make a great chutney everyone will go gaga over.

Add apple cider vinegar, ground ginger, and brown sugar to a simmering pan of diced tomatoes, and top everything off with a splash of bourbon. 

8. George Dickel 8-Year-Old Bourbon

George Dickel 8-Year-Old on table with glass and green olives

Average Price: Roughly $29.49 (Total Wine)

ABV: 45%

Why We Like It:

George Dickel is a bourbon ripe with fruit-forward flavors like cherry, orange peel, almond toffee, and oak.

It may be a bit too pricey and aged to be used for cooking, but a splash is all you need. 

Pour a bit when you’re warming up that cherry compote for ice cream or making that homemade blackberry jam. 

7. Evan Williams Black Label

Evan Williams Black Label with steak on desk

Average Price: Roughly $14.99 (Caskers)

ABV: 43%

Why We Like It:

Evan Williams Black Label has the signature flavors of a regular bourbon: toffee, caramel, candy corn, and charred oak.

There is also a bit of spice that only shines more once it’s cooked down, perfect for desserts like dark chocolate bourbon balls.

We use Evan Williams bourbon to deglaze a pan after pan-searing steak to pick up every flavor left.

We add just a bit of butter (or olive oil), rosemary, and lots of pepper afterward so it can serve as a savory steak sauce. 

Pro Tip: Don’t pour bourbon directly into a pan over an open flame — this can become a serious fire hazard. 

It’s best to direct the pan away from the flame, pour the liquor using a measuring cup, and then proceed with cooking in medium-high heat.

Also, note that high alcohol coagulates meats faster than you would like. 

6. Old Grand-Dad Bourbon

Old Grand-Dad with glass and tacos on table

Average Price: Roughly $21.99 (Caskers)

ABV: 43%

Why We Like It:

Old Grand-Dad bourbon is an easy-drinking bourbon with the perfect balance of spicy and sweet, and it’s a cheap hooch to boot.

We don’t mind splashing this generously all over our dishes for the $20 price point!  

The world is your oyster when it comes to cooking with this high-proof bourbon. You can use it for a boozy marinade, bourbon-based sauce, salad dressing, and dessert. 

Old Grand-Dad’s friendly flavor profile makes it appealing for beginners as a sipper, but those with more experienced palates might be left wanting more. 

5. Jim Beam

Jim Beam with orange cocktail on desk

Average Price: Roughly $19.99 (Total Wine)

ABV: 40%

Why We Like It:

You can never go wrong with Jim Beam when it comes to cooking.

This low-proof bourbon is available at any liquor store and will give your dishes all the bourbon-y goodness it needs without the spice and dreaded burn of high-proof liquors. 

The low-proof liquor can be incorporated into a finger-licking barbecue sauce or paste that you can slather all over your steaks at the next cookout [2]. 

4. Maker’s Mark Wheated Bourbon

Maker’s Mark Wheated Bourbon on table with glass and fried squid

Average Price: Roughly $21.99 (Total Wine)

ABV: 45%

Why We Like It:

A bottle of Maker’s Mark is a must-try for your culinary ventures. Like other wheated bourbons, this is warm and sweet, with vanilla and cinnamon flavors that are only enhanced when cooked. 

Aside from being one of the best holiday drinks, this bourbon can be used for many dishes.

You can use it in a tangy Southern barbecue marinade, pecan pie, or as a glaze to your dark chocolate Bundt cake. 

3. Four Roses Yellow

Four Roses Yellow on desk with glass

Average Price: Roughly $23.99 (Caskers)

ABV: 40%

Why We Like It:

The Four Roses Yellow Label is a pretty commonplace bottle you can pick up at most liquor stores the next time you plan to use bourbon for cooking. 

This bourbon has a nice bright profile with apple, pear, and brown sugar undertones that will make your desserts pop.

We like adding a splash when making cherry compote for ice cream or baking an apple pie. 

2. Old Crwow

Old Crow on table with glass

Average Price: Roughly $16.99 (Total Wine)

ABV: 40%

Why We Like It:

This bourbon has delicious flavors that hold its own on a savory, creamy sauce for steaks.

We simply add a dash to it to deglaze the pan, add half a cup of heavy cream, and season it to our liking. 

Of course, you can skip the cream, use stock and a bit of butter for something lighter, and season with salt and pepper as usual. 

Surprisingly, Old Crow and Jim Beam share the same mash bill. 

This bourbon has pretty traditional flavors when drunk neat, such as dominant corn and caramel flavors.

The spirit has a buttery-soft mouthfeel, perfect for holiday drinks. But what’s a good bourbon?

1. Wild Turkey 101

Wild Turkey 101 on desk with glass

Average Price: Roughly $43.99 (Total Wine)

ABV: 50.5%

Why We Like It:

Whether you’re making entrees or desserts, you can never go wrong with this high-proof bourbon.

We especially like using this in seafood (scallops, crabs, prawns — you name it) as it adds its own unique sweetness while still letting the delicate seafood flavors shine through. 

The spirit is made with a mash bill of 75 percent corn, 13 percent rye, and 12 percent barley.

It has beautifully complex flavors, like nutmeg, cinnamon, sweet caramel, and bourbon spice. 

Its flavors round out into a slightly grainy malt and a bit of smoky ash, all of which translate extremely well when drunk neat. 

Read:

Why Use It In Cooking 

Cooking with bourbon (or any alcohol in general) enhances the flavors of the food it’s paired with. 

This is done through molecular bonding, which occurs when alcohol bonds with fat and water molecules to help capture the flavor and make it more intense.

This is why a “meatier” sauce is created when alcohol is used to deglaze the pan. 

Bourbon has a unique, sweet, spicy, and oaky flavor profile that will complement many savory dishes.

It will enhance vanilla and caramel notes and add a bit of the charred oak flavor to any holiday meal you wish to prepare. 

Read: Top Bourbons For Thanksgiving

What Does Cooked Bourbon Taste Like? 

Bourbon Chicken

Cooked bourbon tastes syrupy with a bit of spice, like soft caramel chews or caramel-covered apples.

Naturally, bourbon has the dark flavor notes of caramel and vanilla, which would only get enhanced once it’s cooked down. 

Furthermore, bourbon has a natural oaky flavor, thanks to the aging process inside charred oak barrels.

This adds a natural smoky flavor to any dish you add, whether dark chocolate bourbon balls or a gorgeous slab of steak [3].

“Bourbon has a depth of flavor that many other spirits lack…” Lori Rice, Food Writer & Photographer

When bourbon is cooked, most of its alcohol content evaporates, leaving behind only the flavorful goodness of the spirit, making it kid-friendly. 

Bourbon’s dark profile works extremely well with other strong flavors, such as beef, pork, or turkey [4].

FAQs 

Can you cook with any bourbon?

Yes, you can cook with any bourbon. You also don’t have to spend a fortune choosing a bottle for cooking — Jim Beam, Heaven Hill, or Evan Williams will do just fine. We suggest you leave the pricier, top-shelf bourbon for enjoying neat. 

What are the best bourbons for cooking steak? 

Jim Beam is a great bourbon for cooking steak. Jim Beam has many traditional Kentucky bourbon flavors, like caramel, vanilla, and charred oak, that will translate extremely well as a marinade, paste, or sauce for the next time you’re cooking steak. 

Can you substitute whiskey for bourbon in cooking?

Yes, you can substitute whiskey for bourbon in cooking. The important thing to note is to find a whiskey with the right flavors to complement the dish and use a 1:1 ratio.

Canadian whisky has a light and mellow flavor profile, so it will work well with white meat, like chicken. On the other hand, bourbon has a richer profile, which will better complement dark meat like beef and duck. 

What is a good substitute for bourbon in cooking?

Brandy, Scotch whisky, cognac, rye whiskey, and rum are good substitutes for bourbon in cooking. These other spirits share much of bourbon’s original profile, like vanilla, caramel, and smoky flavors, with a bit of malted barley and fruit undertones. 

Final Thoughts

Bourbon, a versatile spirit, brings its distinct goodness to cooking. Its intricate flavor profile enhances various dishes, adding depth and complexity.

Among the top choices for culinary creativity is Wild Turkey 101, renowned for its sweet and spicy notes that harmonize beautifully with sweet and savory recipes.  

Remember, if bourbon doesn’t shine on its own, it won’t elevate your dishes either. For a milder touch, Old Grand-Dad and Maker’s Mark maintain their character while infusing dishes with a delightful bourbon essence. Experiment and elevate your culinary creations with these remarkable bourbons.

References: 

  1. https://www.food.com/recipe/bourbon-marinade-93773 
  2. https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/bourbon-balls-5510372 
  3. https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/16115/bourbon-whiskey-bbq-sauce/  
  4. https://greatist.com/eat/does-cooking-alcohol-really-burn-it-all-off
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