I have to be honest with you and admit that the only way you’ll see me drinking whiskey is in a sour. Most often, I’m eating my whiskeys and bourbons. I just can’t do brown liquors, y’all. Too many run-ins in my young adulthood put me off of them altogether. But this Uncle Nearest Whiskey BBQ Sauce is one that I’ll always come back to. It’s smoky, with a smidge of spice. The sweet foundations of the sauce come from robust molasses and caramel-y brown sugar, assertive flavors from onion and garlic, blended with the smoky flavors of spices likes cumin, balance the sweetness out exceptionally well. All the while, a charcoal-sugar cookie vibe of Uncle Nearest whiskey beams through. Shooooooo…I need a moment just thinking of it.
Okay, the moment’s up. Let’s do it.
Who is “Uncle Nearest”?
To get to the recipe, we need to pay homage to the man, the myth, the legend, Nathan Green. Known by his closest kin and acquaintances as Nearest Green, this formerly enslaved Black man stayed on after Emancipation and continue working for his former master, Rev. Dan Call, in Lynchburg, Tennessee. Dan Call was a preacher/distiller whom Jack Daniel- yes, that Jack Daniel- went to work for. While working his whiskey stills, Call found that young Jack had potential, so he put Green AKA Uncle Nearest, in charge of showing Jack the ropes. The rest was history.
Good ol’ Jack ended up buying Call’s distillery and kept on Nearest, who had grown to become one of his dearest friends. While Jack Daniel’s is now a worldwide name, Nearest isn’t, despite his being responsible for teaching Jack Daniel all he knew about distilling whiskey.
Enter Fawn Weaver, historian, philanthropist, and founder of the Uncle Nearest 1856 Whiskey brand. Fawn decided to write a book based on Uncle Nearest’s life as told to her by his kin. The gems she uncovered inspired her to helm the company named in his honor. Not only is she distilling a legendary spirit, she even purchased the tract of land where Uncle Nearest taught Daniel the craft.
An amazing whiskey developed in tribute to the great Nathan Green.
What makes this whiskey so special?
To Hector, Uncle Nearest has primary cinnamon and brown sugar notes with a smoky, woody finish. Those are bolstered by hints of honey and vanilla with a bit of “meadowy-floral.” It has a crisp bite to it, for sure.
Insightful, no? Especially considering that Uncle Nearest’s 1884, which I’m using for this recipe, is filtered through sugar maple charcoal before being aged in charred oak barrels. Besides being a great whiskey to sip, this small-batch blend is curated by a descendant of Nathan Green himself. What better reasons than those to pick up a bottle?
If you’re more focused on practical whiskey purchases, the fact that it’s a great whiskey to eat is where the buck should stop. As is the case with any of my sauces that I incorporate booze into, only something I’d sip from a glass will do. Well, I mean, only what Hector will sip from a glass. It is whiskey, after all.
What is BBQ Sauce?
BBQ sauce is a tangy condiment that’s usually tomato- or vinegar-based. Mine just so happens to be both; more tomato than vinegar, but both nonetheless. BBQ sauce is most commonly slathered on grilled or smoked meats, though some folks also use it to sauce fried foods.
In short, your BBQ sauce needs to have either tomato or vinegar as its base. I use tomato paste because I prefer a thicker sauce. Tomato paste also has a more concentrated tomato flavor, so a little goes a long way. If you have only tomato sauce, you can use that instead of the paste, but your sauce will be thinner in the end. Balsamic vinegar is a personal favorite of mine, especially in recipes that I know I’ll use for grilling. Because it has notes of figs and molasses, it blends well with the other flavors in this sauce. You can replace it with apple cider vinegar, malt vinegar, or fruit vinegar (like guava or passion fruit). I stay away from white distilled vinegar because, added to the harsh finish of the whiskey, the taste of the sauce will border on acerbic.
As for the whiskey, in most BBQ sauce recipes, it’s optional, but not in this recipe. Use it.
What do I need to make Uncle Nearest Whiskey BBQ Sauce?
To make my Whiskey BBQ Sauce, you need a whole host of spices because I’m about that flavor life. Bay leaf, cumin, oregano, cayenne (optional), celery salt, pepper, and kosher salt are what season the sauce. Onion and garlic are the only veggies that go into this sauce, but they’re all we need. The rest of the sauce comes together with balsamic vinegar, tomato paste, molasses, worcestershire sauce, dijon mustard, brown sugar, and our dear Uncle Nearest.
The only thing you need is a pot, whisk, and a blender (an immersion blender is best). And that’s if you want a smoother sauce. If you’re okay with chunkiness, you won’t even need to puree it.
Do I have to use Uncle Nearest Whiskey to make this BBQ Sauce?
You don’t have to use Uncle Nearest Whiskey for this recipe. I mean, do I ever force you to do something you don’t want to do? Okay, I’m not talking about the “only use fresh citrus juices.” Or the “make your own stuff from scratch,” forcing! I don’t force you in other ways.
I do recommend using a good-quality whiskey. Again, always use a whiskey that you’d drink from a glass. In fact, this recipe will taste great made with bourbon, too. Don’t use scotch, though. It’s way too peaty for this recipe.
How do I begin the sauce?
Start by heating a small amount of olive oil in a saucier over medium-high heat. I prefer to use this type of pan because the thicker ingredients in the recipe don’t get stuck on its sloping sides. Regular pots and pans have corners that are great places for those ingredients to hang out in and burn.
Once the oil in the pot starts to shimmer, add the minced onions and garlic. Use a spoon to stir them frequently as you sauté them for 3-4 minutes. You want both the onion and garlic to take on a slight brown tint by the end of this cooking time.
What can I use in place of brown sugar?
Add the brown sugar to the pot, then reduce the heat to medium. Stir the brown sugar into the onion and garlic and allow it to dissolve, and start to simmer. Stir frequently to keep the sugar from burning.
If you don’t have (or like) brown sugar, you can use turbinado sugar or Sugar in the Raw. You can also use light brown sugar if that’s all you have. Don’t use granulated sugar, though. That does absolutely nothing for this recipe.
Once the sugar has dissolved and created a thick caramel-like syrup in the pot, add the Uncle Nearest Whiskey. Be careful to keep it from coming in contact with any flames since it’s, like, 93 proof. Use the spoon, or better yet, a whisk, to slowly stir the whiskey into the sugar mixture. Bring this liquid up to a simmer and allow it to cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently.
How long do I simmer the sauce?
After 2 minutes of simmering, add the kosher salt, thyme, cumin, black pepper, cayenne, celery salt, and bay leaf, as well as the tomato paste, molasses, balsamic vinegar, mustard, worcestershire sauce, and water. Stir these into the rest of the ingredients in the pot until the mustard and tomato paste break up and are smooth. Bring the sauce up to a gentle simmer, then kick back the heat to low.
Simmer the sauce for 15 minutes or until it’s reduced by half. It’s easy to tell if your sauce has reduced; just look at the line in the pot where it started and where it is after 15 minutes.
My sauce is too thick. How do I fix it?
If after 15 minutes your sauce is too thin, continue simmering it for another 5 minutes.
A too-thick sauce just means it was simmered too long. Keep an eye on your BBQ sauce to ensure you don’t reduce it too much. The consistency should be thick but still fluid, similar to heavy cream. If it’s too thick, you can thin it with a tablespoon or two of water. I recommend waiting until after you have pureed the sauce to properly assess whether it needs thinning, though.
Once the sauce is properly thickened, remove the bay leaf and discard it.
What’s the best way to puree the BBQ Sauce?
I prefer a smooth whiskey BBQ sauce because I’m usually using it on top of grilled meats. Chunks of onion or garlic tend to burn on the grill, especially since there’s a good amount of sugar in this sauce. To puree the hot sauce, I think an immersion blender is the safest tool to use. Depending on how big your pot is, you might have to transfer it to a smaller vessel to fully cover the blades of the immersion blender. Submerge the blender head completely in the sauce and puree it smooth.
If you don’t have an immersion blender, carefully pour your reduced sauce into a blender. Place the lid on the blender and remove the plug from the center of the lid. Cover that hole with a folded towel to keep the sauce from spraying you as it blends. You must vent the blender because pureeing hot sauces causes pressure to build up. That pressure will cause the lid to blow off, burning you and causing a huge mess.
Now that sauce is pureed, it’s a great time to assess the thickness. You can dilute it with a bit of water now that you have your final result.
Is this Whiskey BBQ Sauce safe to serve kids or those abstaining from alcohol?
Because the sauce simmers and most of the alcohol cooks off, you can serve this to kids. The fact of the matter is, you’re probably going to further heat it to top other meats, so it will continue to cook off more alcohol. The percentage of residual alcohol will probably be on par with the vanilla extract you add to your yogurt or shakes.
If you have people who are abstaining from alcohol, you might want to warn them that the flavor of the whiskey is still present. Sometimes, people in recovery avoid anything that tastes of alcohol because it triggers them. The whiskey flavor will not cook off, so be transparent and let them know.
How do I use Whiskey BBQ Sauce?
Now that you’ve crafted your whiskey BBQ sauce, you might need some inspiration on how to use it. Though each of the following recipes has its own sauce, those sauces are easily swapped for this one.
Pork Pinchos are marinated and grilled as instructed. Just replace the recipe’s Spicy Pinchos Sauce with this whiskey BBQ sauce.
Replace the Blueberry Balsamic BBQ Sauce on these Grilled Double-Cut Pork Chops with this whiskey BBQ sauce.
Toss these Air Fryer Chicken Wings in this whiskey BBQ sauce instead of the Guava BBQ Sauce in the original recipe.
This sauce is great on all of your grilled, baked, or seared meats. Anywhere you would use BBQ sauce, consider using this recipe instead.
How do I store the sauce?
Allow the sauce to cool completely before transferring it to a mason jar. Store the jar in the fridge for up to 5 days. If you’re into canning, you can do your thing and can the sauce for up to a year. Use your preferred method for canning, and that’s that. (I’m not a canner, so I won’t even begin to try to tell you how to do it)
When you’re pulling refrigerated sauce out to use, it’s important to use clean utensils to scoop it out with. Introducing foreign matter into the sauce will cause it to spoil faster. Also, only heat up what you plan to use instead of heating up the whole jar. Heating up the entire jar of sauce, only to return it to the fridge because you didn’t use it, breeds bacteria.
Can I freeze BBQ Sauce?
To get more life out of the sauce, freeze it:
- Spoon the cooled sauce into a freezer-safe bag or container. Press out any excess air from the bag.
- Freeze the sauce for 6 months.
- When you’re ready to use it, allow it to thaw completely in the fridge.
Where can I get Uncle Nearest Whiskey?
What touched me about the bottle of Uncle Nearest Whiskey I used for this recipe is the back label. Like all of their 1884 batches, Victoria Eady Butler curated it. She’s a 5th generation descendent of Nathan “Uncle Nearest” Green, which makes me feel like he’s, even more, a part of this recipe. So, though this post isn’t sponsored by Uncle Nearest, I can’t help but think it’s blessed by Nathan Green himself.
Find a bottle of Uncle Nearest using this Uncle Nearest store locator. Be sure to share this recipe with your circle, and let me know what you think of it in the comments below.
Whiskey BBQ Sauce with Uncle Nearest Whiskey
- 3-quart saucier
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1/3 cup (50 grams) from 1/4 large white onion minced
- 5 cloves garlic minced
- 1/2 cup, packed (110 grams) dark brown sugar
- 3/4 cup (177 milliliters) Uncle Nearest 1884 Whiskey or your preferred brand of whiskey
- 1/3 cup (75 grams) tomato paste
- 1/4 cup (60 milliliters) balsamic vinegar
- 1/4 cup (70 grams) molasses
- 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
- 2 teaspoons worcestershire sauce
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon celery salt
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper optional
- 1 large bay leaf
- 1/4 cup (60 milliliters) cold water plus more to thin the sauce as needed
- Heat the olive oil in a saucier over medium-high heat.Once the oil in the pot starts to shimmer, add the minced onions and garlic to the pot and sauté them, stirring frequently with a spoon, for 3-4 minutes. The onion and garlic will take on a slight brown tint by the end of this cooking time.
- Add the brown sugar to the pot, then reduce the heat to medium. Stir the brown sugar into the onion and garlic, allowing it to dissolve, then allow it to come to simmer. Stir the mixture frequently to keep the sugar from burning.
- Once the sugar has dissolved and created a thick caramel-like syrup in the pot, add the Uncle Nearest Whiskey. Be careful to keep it from coming in contact with any flames since it's highly flammable.Use the spoon or a whisk to slowly incorporate the whiskey into the sugar mixture. Bring this liquid up to a simmer and allow it to cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently.
- After 2 minutes of simmering, add the tomato paste, balsamic vinegar, molasses, dijon mustard, worcestershire sauce, 1/4 cup of water, the kosher salt, thyme, cumin, black pepper, celery salt, cayenne, and bay leaf to the pot. Stir these to break up the mustard and tomato paste and create smooth mixture. Bring the sauce up to a gentle simmer, then reduce the heat to low.
- Simmer the sauce for 15 minutes or until it's reduced by half. *Use the line the sauce made in the pot (when it started cooking) as the gauge to see if it's reduced by half.* If after 15 minutes your sauce is too thin, continue simmering it for another 5 minutes. The consistency should be thick but still fluid, similar to heavy cream. If the sauce is too thick, thin it with a tablespoon or two of water. I recommend waiting until after you have pureed the sauce to properly assess whether it needs thinning, though.
- Once the sauce is properly thickened, remove, then discard, the bay leaf.Puree the sauce smooth using an immersion blender or by transferring it to a blender. Be sure to vent the blender lid.
- Assess the thickness of the sauce and adjust as desired by adding more water. Allow the sauce to cool completely before transferring it to a serving dish or a mason jar. Use right away or store, refrigerated, for up to 5 days.
Swaps and Subs:
- Replace the Uncle Nearest 1884 whiskey with your whiskey of choice or with bourbon.
- Use turbinado sugar, or Sugar in the Raw, or light brown sugar in place of the dark brown sugar.
- Swap the dijon mustard out and use yellow mustard instead.
- Replace the balsamic vinegar with apple cider vinegar, malt vinegar, or fruit vinegar.
- Because the sauce simmers and most of the alcohol cooks off, you can serve this to kids. However, since the flavor of the whiskey is still prominent, you should let people who are abstaining or in recovery know it's there.
- This sauce is great on all of your grilled, baked, or seared meats. Anywhere you would use BBQ sauce, consider using this recipe instead.
- Canned sauce is good for 1 year.
- When you're pulling refrigerated sauce out to use, use clean utensils to scoop it out with to limit the introduction of foreign matter into the sauce, which will cause it to spoil faster.
- Only heat up what you plan to use instead of heating up the whole jar. Heating up the entire jar of sauce, only to return it to the fridge because you didn't use it, breeds bacteria.
To freeze this Whiskey BBQ Sauce:
Spoon the cooled sauce into a freezer-safe bag or container. Press out any excess air from the bag.
- Freeze the sauce for 6 months.
- When you're ready to use it, allow it to thaw completely in the fridge.