17 Best Bourbons For Cooking That Every Chef Needs

Coming up with creative dinner ideas night after night isn't for the faint of heart. You may have tried to mix it up with ingredients, but one surefire way to spice up your meals is to add a splash of bourbon into your next creation. That's the beauty of cooking with bourbon, which happens to be just as versatile as it is delicious. If you're someone that likes to sip on it as well, then you're in luck. Just as you should only cook with wines you'd drink, the same goes for bourbon. Don't grab the cheapest one you can find! Instead, cook with a bourbon that you'd be just as likely to mix into your next Old Fashioned.

This liquor has a serious pedigree, too. Bourbon is nothing less than the spirit that has helped to define America's liquor industry. All bourbons are whisky that must be made from at least 51 percent corn, according to World Whisky Day. There are also rules that govern distillation proof (less than 160) and storage. 

But it's not all rules and regulations when it comes to cooking with bourbon. Draw on your creativity, as you can use bourbon in almost everything, from your main course to dessert. Here are some of the best bourbons you can use when cooking time draws near.

Jim Beam

As the world's most popular whisky brand, according to The Spirits Business, Jim Beam comes to top of mind for many drinkers. While many drinkers reach for a glass of Jim Beam to sip on, it also works wonders as a marinade or sauce.

If there was a scale of bourbons that ran from light to more intense, Jim Beam would rank somewhere on the cleaner, lighter side of things. Because it's crisp with a subtle smokiness, it is a must-have bourbon to lend new flavor to weeknight meals. With its slightly sweet notes of vanilla and caramel, as per some reviewers on Connosr, it makes a heavenly pairing with umami flavors like those found in soy sauce. Consider adding it to your next marinade, steak sauce, or stir fry concoction. Plus, at around $16 for a 750ml bottle, Jim Beam won't break the bank when you add it to your favorite sauce.

Cooper's Craft

When cooking with bourbon there are a few important things to consider. First, with such distinct flavors in the mix, sometimes less is more, so have a light hand. Just a splash of bourbon adds a surprising amount of depth and flavor!

Cooper's Craft could be just that spirit. FIrst, it sources its own toasted and charred barrels, as per its website. This gives the bourbon (and your next meal) a deep, rich flavor. 

In particular, Coopers' Craft Original 82.2 proof has a lightly toasted aroma along with a hint of sweetness. If you were to take a sip of this, you'd notice notes of fruit, oak, and spice. Josh Wiese of Coopers' Craft told StyleBlueprint that it's the beech and birch charcoal that adds those unforgettable notes to your dish. Because this is more spice and fruit-heavy than some other bourbons, Cooper's Craft works well to bring a unique brightness to marinades and glazes.

Four Roses

Four Roses bourbon is a smooth bourbon that brings out the best in cocktails. That also makes it a dreamy addition to many recipes. This 90-proof bourbon is heavy on the floral, honey, and spice notes. And because it's aged for a minimum of 6 years, according to Four Roses, the flavors create a complex final product that's silky smooth. But don't let the finesse fool you, as this bourbon packs some serious punch. For those reasons, it would be the perfect addition to a bourbon pecan pie.

Unlike other brands, Four Roses makes 10 different bourbons and uses unique combinations from each batch to create its custom blends (via Bourbon Obsessed). It also uses a proprietary strain of yeast, which helps to impart further uniqueness to its bourbon. If you're the type of chef who wants to incorporate deep, smooth flavor into your recipes, you'll love cooking with Four Roses bourbon.

Coopers' Craft 100 Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon

If you were expecting Coopers' Craft to be a small-batch, family-owned distillery, you're in for a surprise. As Distillery Trail reports, it's actually owned by Brown-Forman, the powerhouse company behind Jack Daniels, Woodford Reserve, and plenty of other well-known spirits. But don't let that stop you from trying Coopers' Craft's 100 Proof Kentucky Straight bourbon in your next recipe.

That's because this is not just any bourbon. Coopers' Craft explains that the bourbon has been aged in barrels that have grooves cut into them, which allows the spirit to have more contact with the wood as it matures. The result is a wonder. As The Bourbon Culture reports, the final bourbon a lovely mix of banana and vanilla bean aromas, followed up by notes of sweet raisin and oak. The bourbon is a great accompaniment to savory dishes, perhaps as a soy and bourbon glaze. Add some brown sugar to make a mouth-watering sauce for your next pork roast.

High-proof bourbons like this are great for catching a flame, so you can potentially flambé some bananas with it to really bring out the caramelized flavors in the fruit. Of course, you can't go wrong with stirring this into a sauce, too.

Redemption Straight Bourbon Whiskey

When cooking with bourbon, the truth is that there's no need to break out your very best whisky. Save that for sipping and instead reach for something that's drinkable but has more middle-of-the-road pricing. Redemption Bourbon is around $30 a bottle, which means you won't feel like crying as you pour a splash into your favorite recipes.

The brand's High Rye Bourbon is a nice variety to keep on hand for its sweeter taste profile. You also get a heavy dose of smokiness in the mix, which is just what you want in many recipes. High Rye is meant to mimic the bourbons popular before Prohibition which, as Honest Booze Reviews points out, may not conjure up the sort of consistency modern drinkers want. Yet, as a cooking bourbon, it works pretty darn well. Add this to your next chicken wings marinade, pop it all into the air fryer, and enjoy your very own finger-licking dinner with a grown-up taste.

Old Crow

This bourbon is named after the scientist who helped to craft whiskey production into what it is today, explains Beam Distilling, the company behind Old Crow. It's aged for three years and contains cork, rye, and malted barley. Perhaps the most appealing part of this bourbon is that you can pick up a bottle for around $10. In the bottle are notes of vanilla and apples, while you might even pick up on some hints of honey. As Breaking Bourbon reports, those same flavors carry over to the palate, with scents of clove and other baking spices.

As a drinking bourbon, Old Crow leaves something to be desired. It's not that it's horrible, but we think that it needs more intensity. Yet this subtlety is exactly what makes it the perfect bourbon to keep on hand in the kitchen. This will definitely add a kick to your next batch of meatballs or glazed steak.

Evan Williams Black Label

Evan Williams is a bourbon that touts a rich history. According to the brand's website, Evan Williams the man was responsible for opening the state of Kentucky's very first distillery back in the 18th century. The brand, owned by none other than Jim Beam, uses charred oak barrels during its four-year aging period and utilizes local ingredients. While this all sounds nice, what does it mean for the final product?

Well, it's important to keep in mind that this is a bourbon that goes for approximately $10. Take a whiff and you'll pick up deep, sweet notes of butterscotch and vanilla, as per The Whiskey Jug, along with savory hints of pepper and corn. That makes it perfect to add to a bourbon cream cheese frosting the next time you get bit by the baking bug. All told, the price-for-value impact of this bottle can't be beaten. You may very well find yourself picking up a few extra bottles to keep on hand!

New Riff

For those looking to spend slightly more on a cooking bourbon, look no further than New Riff. This Kentucky Straight Bourbon will run you approximately $40 a bottle but the flavor payoff in your next dish makes the price point more than worth it. As Whiskey Raiders points out, this bourbon can work well as an ingredient. It's 100 proof, so it will catch a flame if you're bold enough to try a flambé. If your pan is hot enough, the bourbon will quickly catch fire and then burn off.

The corn-infused aroma of this bourbon is slightly sweet but the pepper and oak notes ensure this liquor doesn't lean too much towards the dessert side of things. If you've been dreaming up a salty and sweet sauce for your next BBQ then you can try this New Riff bourbon, maybe in a slightly decadent bacon bourbon barbecue sauce. You can thank us later.

Ezra Brooks

Ezra Brooks is the kind of bourbon you want to sip on by an open fire while cozied up with a book. It's got a peppery finish, making it a great sipping drink or cocktail component. Its notes of honey and maple syrup give it valuable depth, according to Master of Malt. The many facets of this bourbon are exactly the components that make it ideal for cooking applications.

If you don't rank so high on the veggie fanatic scale, try whipping up a maple and bourbon glaze with Ezra Brooks and drizzling it on some carrots before roasting the root vegetables. The buttery notes of this bourbon will come alive and the sweet and smoky tones will help to make your carrots sing. If you thought vegetables were boring, think again! Add a protein (or some more veggies) and an impressive weeknight dinner will come together in a flash.

Old Forester

Old Forester 86 is another bourbon brand under the Brown-Forman umbrella. Just one sip of Old Forester 86 makes it abundantly clear that they know how to craft a great spirit. So, while you can use Old Forester as the driving force behind your next Old Fashioned cocktail, this bourbon goes far beyond drinks. At around $20 per bottle, this bourbon has unbeatable layers. There's caramel, banana, candied ginger, oak, vanilla, dried fruit, and that coveted smokiness, reports The Whiskey Shelf. This is a bright, well-balanced bourbon that comes more sweetness than savory notes.

Try this as the boozy component of orange and bourbon glazed chicken breasts to wow dinner guests, where the bourbon's smoky, oaky notes will complement the citrus. It can also help tenderize the chicken itself. It's easy enough to throw such a glaze together in minutes, yet complex enough to wow your most serious foodie friends.

Wild Turkey 101

Wild Turkey bourbon dates back to 1869, when the Ripy brothers begin distilling, bottling, and selling their booze in Kentucky. The bourbon, which was crafted on Wild Turkey Hill, was on display at the 1893 World's Fair where it won over fans and cemented itself as a potent brand (via Wild Turkey).

With actor Matthew McConaughey as the creative director (via Wild Turkey), drinkers are guaranteed to get equal parts style and substance. Spirits Review notes that Wild Turkey 101 proof was also Hunter S. Thompson's go-to bourbon. At around $22 per bottle, it more than delivers as an intriguing and delicious bourbon. There are a lot of flavors to unpack in this complex bottle. The usual suspects of caramel and vanilla are definitely present, as well as mint, bitter orange, herbs, and cherry jam, as some Whiskey Base users have pointed out.

The wide range of aromas in this beginner-friendly bourbon means it works well in almost any dish you have in mind. Bourbon vanilla cupcakes? Bourbon pork chops? Candied bacon? Wild Turkey 101 checks every single box!

Buffalo Trace

It's quite common to find entry-level bourbons that are aged for 3-4 years. But Buffalo Trace bourbon ups the ante with an aging period of at least 8 years. That imparts an intense oaky character to this bourbon, making it the dream accompaniment to your next BBQ. Pour a little into your cocktails, then pour some into a quick marinade for steaks, burgers, and chicken wings before they go onto the grill.

This may not be the most complex bourbon, Liquor.com notes, but what Buffalo Trace lacks in twists and turns, it makes up for in sheer flavor and value. Imbibers will detect sweet notes such as butterscotch and toffee, along with some baking spices that help to highlight the savory notes like black pepper. But the char is the main player here, a flavor that will accentuate any meat and bring the sizzle to your next barbecue.

Elijah Craig Small Batch

Fruitcake may not be everyone's favorite holiday dessert, but when made from scratch and while avoiding common mistakes, it can ascend to new levels of deliciousness. Part of the process often involves soaking dried fruit in spirits, such as bourbon. That tasty mixture provides a boozy finish for your cake and your next festive gathering.

That's where Elijah Craig Small Batch comes in. This bourbon has luscious caramel and vanilla notes, but it's also bursting with notes of juicy dark fruit, as per Whiskey For The Ages. It would work well with additional fruit like cherries when it's added to a holiday fruitcake. 

This isn't a subtle bourbon. Instead, it's a well-blended mouthful of spice, fruit, and body. With its lingering finish, it would accentuate any fruity dessert. This is the perfect bourbon for those who have been in a cooking rut and need something to kick their kitchen inspiration into high gear.

Heaven Hill

According to Whiskey.Rocks, Heaven Hill, in operation since 1935, has the world's second-largest inventory of bourbon. Classic Kentucky bourbon is definitely Heaven Hill's forté, which is made all the clearer when you crack open a bottle of the brand's Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.

The liquor inside has slight floral aromas, along with some sweeter notes of caramel. On the palate, this bourbon isn't too aggressive, but is just the right level of smooth subtlety. Don't expect to be knocked over the head with flavor or intensity. These characteristics make it the ideal bourbon to add to your next meal. And its hallmark bourbon notes of caramel would go well with a glaze of brown sugar and apple cider vinegar, perhaps drizzled over some succulent, tender brisket. Or, you can take Heaven Hill's own recommendation and try this in a whiskey cake with a coconut and bourbon topping!

Ancient Age 10 Star

As yet another lighter-intensity bourbon to make the list, Ancient Age 10 Star is not going to knock your socks off with power. But that's exactly the bourbon you need for certain occasions. For a bourbon-based Manhattan with other craft ingredients, you may want something that works well with others, after all.

Ancient Age 10 Star is a bourbon that is happy to play second fiddle. And for those who prefer only a hint of bourbon in their recipes, this is the answer to your culinary prayers. At $15, it's a fantastic value that you won't feel guilty about adding to your next batch of bourbon apple fritters. 

We know that "faint bourbon" doesn't exactly sound appealing, but Ancient Age is balanced and quite tasty on its own. The flavors in this bourbon are comprised of the usual suspects of baking spices and butterscotch, so you can expect it to be the perfect secret ingredient to boost sauces and baked goods. This is one of Whiskey Culture's favorite bourbons and we can totally understand why!

Basil Hayden's Bourbon

Basil Hayden Bourbon seems to have audiences torn. Malt Review wasn't exactly a fan of this spirit, calling its subtle taste a "disappointment." But Liquor.com refers to this as an "easy-drinking bourbon" that works great in Old Fashioneds and other classic cocktails. 

We admit that this is another bourbon that won't knock your socks off, but when you consider that it's smooth and perfectly balanced, that ups the intrigue a bit more. We especially like this as the boozy component of a bourbon whipped cream. It doesn't dominate the cream and instead provides lovely vanilla notes.

If you're able to spend slightly more on a bourbon, then you can't go wrong with keeping a bottle of this in your pantry. It also doesn't have the longest finish, which means the flavor is enjoyed by your taste buds but doesn't linger on the palate. This means you can appease both lovers and more lukewarm fans of bourbon with this middle-of-the-road option.

Old Grand-Dad Bourbon

If bottom-shelf bourbon isn't your thing, then saddle up because Old Grand-Dad is here to change your preconceived notions. If you can look past the cheesy label and somewhat dated color palette, you might actually be surprised by what lies inside the bottle of this Kentucky Straight Bourbon. Old Grand-Dad is a surprisingly youthful spirit, as VinePair concludes.

It'd be easy to pass a cheap bourbon off with just the bare minimum baking spice notes but there's a bit more here. Think dried berries, green apples, and even some creamy overtones. Sometime around elementary school, we learned not to judge a book by its cover. Old Grand-Dad is a prime example of how that axiom rings true well into adulthood. The contents of this bottle may very well surprise and delight you. It's primed for baking applications, too. Here is the upgrade to your bread pudding that you've been hoping for!