Why It's Okay To Marinate Soy-Bourbon Steak In Cheap Liquor

If you're Ina Garten, or just about anyone else with their own Food Network show, there's a chance you've never even heard of bottom-shelf liquor and might fall into a pearl-clutching fit of the vapors if anyone ever suggested that you purchase such an abomination. In such a case, you'll probably want to marinate your steak (Kobe, naturally) in 20-year-old Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve. The rest of us, however, have no need to do such a ridiculously ostentatious (and extremely expensive) thing.

Developer Christina Musgrave, who came up with this recipe for soy-bourbon steak, offers the following advice: "Don't use the good stuff when cooking — I'd just use a cheaper bottle of bourbon you already have on hand." If bourbon's not the kind of thing you tend to keep on hand, though, you can always just purchase a couple of mini bottles as you'll only need half a cup of booze for this marinade.

The bourbon is just one of the flavors going on in the marinade

Although the bourbon used in this steak marinade gets a shout-out in the recipe's title, it shares top billing with soy sauce, an ingredient that brings a salty element. The marinade also gets some sweetness in the form of brown sugar, plus some pungency from chopped garlic. There's also salt and pepper to round things out, as well as olive oil to help the marinade stick to the steaks. As to the meat itself, Musgrave favors using strip steaks, although the marinade would work just as well with less pricy sirloin. Once the steaks have soaked in the soy/bourbon sauce for at least an hour, they're then pan-fried. The result is beef that Musgrave calls "super tender" with "delicious flavor."

While Musgrave herself does not repurpose the marinade, there's no need to pour it down the drain. Even if the bourbon you used costs significantly less than your mortgage payment, discarding marinade is still a waste of food. To make the leftovers into a tasty sauce or glaze, you'll first need to boil the liquid as the USDA says that this will destroy any potentially dangerous bacteria left from the raw meat. Once this is done, you can then use it to accompany the steak or any vegetable or starchy sides you may be serving alongside it.

These cheap bourbons are pretty drinkable

If you typically only use bourbon in cooking, or even if you use it in bourbon cocktails that have plenty of other ingredients in the mix, you can likely get away with buying the cheapest brand you can find. If you want an inexpensive bourbon that will still pull its weight in a more spirit-forward mixed drink, though, you'll want to go shopping for a budget bourbon that's of fairly decent quality.

Kirkland whiskeys are usually a good bet, as Costco's house brand bourbon is typically made by a big-name distillery such as George Dickel or Jim Beam. You can also pick up other bargain-priced bourbons in your grocery store liquor aisle (if you live in a state where supermarkets sell booze, that is). Among the cheap bourbons we recommend are Evan Williams Bottled-in-Bond, Jim Beam White Label, Maker's Mark, Old Grand-Dad, and Wild Turkey 101. While prices might vary depending on where you live, these options can be had for under $25 per 750-milliliter bottle in at least some places, and the first two on the list may even come in below the $20 price point.

You can also opt to make booze-free bourbon steak

If you prefer not to cook with alcohol at all, you could always use a zero-proof bourbon substitute in place of that spirit. These, too, will vary in price, with some alcohol-free bourbon brands such as Bare Zero Proof and Spiritless Kentucky 74 costing over $35 per bottle (again, the standard 750-milliliter kind).

There are also a few other nonalcoholic bourbon substitutes that you may already have in your kitchen. While opting to use either ginger beer or apple juice in place of bourbon will give your steak a different flavor profile — not to mention converting this from a soy-bourbon steak recipe to one for soy-something else steak — you may find that they work just as well with soy sauce and garlic. As both of these ingredients are quite a bit sweeter than bourbon, though, we'd suggest cutting down on the amount of brown sugar in the marinade. If you opt to repurpose the marinade as a steak sauce, you can always add some extra sugar to taste after it has boiled long enough to kill off any bacteria.