Cooking with wine doesn't feel revolutionary. Most of us don't think twice about pouring a glug or two of crisp white wine into a pan sauce or a half a bottle of full-bodied red into a classic beef bourguignon.
As comfortable as we are uncorking a bottle of vino, pulling out the hard liquor for a recipe can feel strange to many home cooks. We often have no frame of reference for cooking with spirits, beyond childhood memories of Grandma's highly potent holiday rum balls.
While those rum balls packed a punch, spirits don't have to completely dominate a dish. Like wine, if used appropriately, they can add a subtle flavor without overwhelming the rest of the ingredients in whatever you're making.
For that reason, I often find myself adding vodka to my pasta sauce, tequila in my chicken marinade and bourbon to my barbecue sauce, as is the case in this week's Slow-Cooked Bourbon and Brown Sugar Country-Style Pork Ribs.
Bourbon is one of my favorite liquors to use in the kitchen. It has complex flavors with notes of vanilla and caramel that pair particularly well with pork. For these thick and meaty country-style ribs, the bourbon is added to a brown sugar-based barbecue sauce for a dose of added flavor with a bit of a kick.
The ribs are cooked for a couple of hours in the oven, most of the time at 250 degrees, which allows the fat to melt, leaving the ribs moist and tender. The last hour of cooking is spent at a higher temperature, interrupted by the occasional swabbing of barbecue sauce, which glazes the ribs and gives them just the right amount of stickiness. A few minutes under the broiler adds a touch of char, because who doesn't want a little char in their barbecue?
Because I like my bourbon barbecue sauce to have a little booziness to it, I add a couple of tablespoons right at the end of the cooking process. Without the added dose, the sauce will still have some of the flavor notes from the bourbon, but the freshness, cooked out while the sauce simmered, would be lost.
Serve these fork-tender ribs with your favorite coleslaw or potato salad. And don't forget the drinks. After all, you'll have plenty of bourbon left for a few mint juleps.
Meredith Deeds is a cookbook author and food writer from Edina. Reach her at email@example.com. Follow her on Instagram at @meredithdeeds.