Best Bourbon & Barbecue Pairings for a Spirited BBQ

by Pat
Best Bourbon & Barbecue Pairings for a Spirited BBQ

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Two of my favorites, BBQ and Bourbon, what could go better together! Today we are going to look at how to make a spirited barbecue by sharing some of my Best Bourbon & Barbecue Pairings. Being from and still residing in Kentucky, we know a thing or two about bourbon and BBQ.

Whether you’re grilling chicken, pork ribs or beef brisket, the pairing of food and drink can add an extra layer of pleasure to your outdoor cooking experience.

So you’re looking to put on a killer barbecue for some friends and family? I can’t think of a better way to do it than by whipping up a batch of delicious barbecue ribs. But what’s the best bourbon and barbecue pairing to go along with this culinary treat?

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It’s a question we’ve all been asked before—and the answer is always, “It depends.” And I don’t just mean that it depends on the type of barbecue you’re having, I also mean that it depends on who is eating, when they are eating, and how they prefer their bourbon. So we decided to take on this challenge—we’re going to run through the top five pairs of bourbon and barbecue that I’ve discovered over the years.

If you’re looking to spice up your next backyard barbecue with some great food and drink pairings, this article is for you. We’ve got the recipe for the perfect bourbon and barbecue pairing. This was some hard work going through all this BBQ and bourbons, but anything for you guys!

Memphis BBQ Sauce Bourbon Pairing

We start out our list with what is probably the most popular BBQ sauce, Memphis Style! This sauce is sweet and tangy and usually made with ketchup and peppers.

Best Bourbon Pairing Memphis Style BBQ Sauce: Wild Turkey 101

Wild Turkey 101

Because of the complexity of this sauce, it is best served alongside an equally complex, yet equally smooth, bourbon.  The Wild Turkey added fruity undertones, a smokey flavor, and a complete umami flavor to the Memphis-style sauce, making it even better.  The sauce reduced the Wild Turkey’s 101-proof, allowing the flavors to shine through.  In addition, the sweet and spicy flavor lingering on the tongue was a pleasant surprise.

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North Carolina BBQ Sauce

There are three distinct styles of BBQ in the Carolinas because of their fondness for the dish. The tomato-based sauce is the most similar to what we call “BBQ sauce” in the United States. Though sweet and light, it has a nice balance of savory meaty and sweet molasses-like flavor.

Best Bourbon Pairing for North Carolina BBQ Sauce: Bulleit 10

Bulleit 10

One of my go to bourbons to tame the sweetness of a lot of dishes. The 10 Year Frontier Whiskey is known for it’s bold smokey flavor and complex finish. The flavor profile of the bourbon combines hints of vanilla and dried fruit for a strong, smoky finish.

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As a result of this connection, we were introduced to a flavor that neither sauce nor bourbon alone could produce. Together, they created a great smoky and oaky flavor.

Bourbon to Pair with Texas BBQ Sauce

One of the more popular sauces with several regional variations within the state. In general, a Texas style BBQ sauce uses molasses or brown sugar to sweeten the sauce, which is light and not spicy at all. Tasting notes: Tomatoes came through strongly on the front end with a spicy back end.

Best Bourbon Pairing for Texas BBQ Sauce: Woodford Reserve

Woodford Reserve

Woodford Reserve was the perfect match for this sauce in terms of proof and flavor. The kick of spice provided by the proof was a welcome addition to the otherwise bland sauce. A spicy undertone was added by the Woodford rye flavors, which filled out the sauce’s complexity. The bourbon’s rye spice complements the BBQ sauce’s flavor profile wonderfully. Together, they were a match made in heaven. In addition, goes great with indoor smokeless grills on cold, winter afternoons.

Eastern Carolina BBQ Sauce

This is the sauce traditionally served with the coastal region’s meat specialty, whole hog BBQ and a lot of chopped pork. It is thin and heavy on vinegar. In general, this vinegar-based sauce is hot.” This sauce is the thinnest of the bunch due to the substitution of vinegar for ketchup. Despite this, it is one of the most flavorful and most spicy sauces of the bunch. In short, it is vinegary, fiery, spicy, robust, and full of taste!

Best Bourbon Pairing for Eastern Carolina BBQ Sauce: Bulleit Rye

Bulleit Rye

Going back to one of our favorite everyday brands, Bulleit, but this time a Whiskey Rye was a perfect match. As soon as we tried the sauce, we knew that Bulleit Rye would be the perfect whiskey to accompany it.

With its strong, bold characteristics, Bulleit Rye can hold its own with the sauce. When combined with the sauce, the dill flavor of the Bulleit Rye creates a flavor that is almost pickle-like. Normally, this would not be a desirable flavor, but when paired with BBQ, it creates the ultimate flavor.

Alabama White Sauce Bourbon Pairing

Only situated in a small area of Alabama, this is the least prevalent main regional style in the country, but was made famous by Big Bob Gibson‘s one of the most beloved (and televised) traditional BBQ places. Northern Alabama is home to this mayonnaise-based sauce.

Vinegar, apple cider sugar, black pepper and salt are all used in this sauce in addition to mayo. The sauce had a strong mayonnaise flavor, similar to ranch dressing, with a subtle vinegar undertone.

Best Bourbon Pairing for Alabama White Sauce: Booker’s

Booker's Bourbon

The oil of the sauce mellowed the Booker’s, allowing the flavors to emerge that they wouldn’t have otherwise. We found that reducing the alcohol burn really opened up the bourbon’s flavor, and the sauce itself is not overly flavorful, so we didn’t miss anything. The sauce’s smoothness and the bourbon’s smokiness worked well together.

South Carolina Mustard Sauce

Another regional Carolina kind of BBQ sauce, and one of my personal favorites, particularly over ribs and hog. 

Instead of ketchup or tomato foundation, this sauce is made with mustard. The sauce has a sweet and smoky flavor like many red barbecue sauces. This sauce is always a hit with our family. In terms of flavor, it was mildly sweet and tangy with a good balance of apple cider vinegar and mustard.

Best Bourbon Pairing for South Carolina Mustard Sauce: Maker’s Mark

Makers Mark

Adding Maker’s Mark was a fantastic match. There was a wonderful fit between the sweetness of bourbon and the sauce’s sweetness, and the two flavors complemented each other. With each successive sip or bite, new flavors emerged and often melded together to create a mustardy sweetness with just a hint of wood.


In conclusion, we have provided some great bourbon and bbq pairings for a variety of regional BBQ types. The goal is to balance the spice and the fruitiness of the barbecue along with the sweetness and the smoke of the bourbon. Let us know some of your favorite bourbon and barbecue pairings in the comments below.

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