By Richard Thomas
Bourbon barbecue sauce is a grocery and gourmet fixture these days, and once you start thinking about meat, sweet and tangy spices and bourbon all coming together, the next step is bourbon sloppy joes!
The thinking behind this recipe starts with taking a conventional homemade sloppy joe recipe and substituting bourbon for Worcestershire sauce. In this instance, I used whiskey from my dwindling supply of Buffalo Trace, a solid choice anytime you want to cook with bourbon.* The next idea is that once you have taken a turn towards bourbon-style sweetness, there are other things you can put in a dish that pair very well with the new twist on the old flavor. Raisins are a nice touch, just like they were with my bourbon pork chili, another ground meat recipe.
1 lb ground beef
1 medium green bell pepper, diced
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, diced
2 to 3 cups of plain tomato sauce
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp crushed red peppers
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp dry mustard
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 to 2 tbsp bourbon whiskey
1/4 cup of raisins
Put the ground beef in a skillet and break it up, either by hand or with a spoon. Fry it over medium heat until the beef is 1/2 or 2/3s cooked (there should still be some red), and then drain the grease away. You need some grease for flavor and to help fry the garlic, onions and peppers later, but not all of it, so draining at this stage ensures you keep just a little. You’re cardiologist will thank you for it later.
Add the diced onions, peppers and garlic to the ground beef, and cook until the onions and peppers go soft and the meat is browning. Pour in the plain tomato sauce and stir it into the beef and vegetables. How much tomato sauce you use depends on how much liquid you want in the sloppy joe. For a “saucy” sloppy joe, use the full three cups. For something more solid and less stew-like, use two cups.
Add in all the seasonings,stir them in, cook for about 10 minutes, then add the bourbon. Waiting to add the bourbon until now keeps as much of it as possible from evaporating in the cooking heat. After the bourbon is stirred in, add the raisins and stir them in as well. The raisins need no actual cooking, but a little heat plumps them up a bit.
Spoon out onto burger buns and serve.
* Tennessee whiskey would do just as well for a recipe like this, but I’m a Kentucky boy, so there you are.