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How To Cook With Alcohol (Without Destroying The Taste Of Food)

cooking with alcohol

Do a quick search online and you’ll find that many recipes call for some type of alcohol, such as wine, beer, and spirits. Why are we cooking with alcohol instead of just drinking it?

When used correctly in recipes, alcohol can improve the taste and flavor of foods. Whether you’re cooking with wine or adding a bottle of beer to the recipe, alcohol can take a basic recipe and make it incredible.

Here are a few tips and guidelines for cooking with alcohol such as which cooking wine to use or what other hard liquor to use if you don’t have the bourbon a recipe calls for. It’s also helpful to know how much alcohol is left in a recipe after cooking with wine, beer, or spirits. There are some people who are unable to consume any alcohol – can you still cook with alcohol or should you substitute and use a non-alcoholic liquid?

Let’s take a closer look at why and how we cook with alcohol and just how much of it remains in food after cooking.

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How To Cook With Alcohol
(Without Destroying The Taste Of Food)

When cooking with beer or alcohol,
does all of the alcohol evaporate?

No. The following chart should be helpful.

No heat application, immediate consumption 100%
No heat application, overnight storage 70%
Alcohol ingredient added to boiling liquid, and removed from heat 85%
Flamed 75%
Baked, approximately 25 minutes, alcohol ingredient on surface of mixture (not stirred in) 45%
Baked/simmered, alcohol ingredient stirred into mixture15 minutes
30 minutes
1 hour
1.5 hours
2 hours
2.5 hours


source: Minnesota Nutrition Council Newsletter

What can I substitute if a recipe calls for
beverages with alcohol?

The best, but not always the easiest solution, is to find another recipe without alcohol that will fill the need. If the beer or wine is a major ingredient in your recipe, or if a large quantity is called for, it makes sense not to attempt a substitute. The results could be unpleasant. In such a case, look for another recipe.

Often the alcohol required will be a small amount, such as a couple of tablespoons, and in this case there are several substitutions:

  • In recipes having plenty of seasonings, plan water may be substituted. Both the alcohol and a substitute may be omitted if the liquid isn’t needed for a gravy or sauce.

  • When cooking with fish, an equal amount of bottled or fresh clam or fish stock may be substituted. Just remember, bottled clam juice and some fish stocks are high in salt. Some people use white grape juice with fish.

  • Other substitutes include chicken or beef broth

  • Juice such as lemon, lime, apple or cranberry are all possibilities.

Reprinted from Fall 99 Issue Byerly’s Bag


How Does Alcohol Improve the Taste and Flavor of Foods?

When used in the right way, alcohol can boost the taste of food and bring out some interesting and unique flavors. When you cook with alcohol it bonds together with the water and fat molecules in the food. It’s these molecules that determine how the food tastes.

Flavors that are water-soluble help foods leave a lingering taste on your tongue. Flavors that are fat soluble emit an aroma from food that you sense through your nose. It’s this combination of taste and smell in varying degrees that gives foods its flavor.

When you add wine, beer, or spirits to recipes, the alcohol blends with the molecules to enhance the flavor that you taste in a dish. The concentrated flavors of alcohol can add a completely different taste profile to your favorite recipes.

Cooking With Wine

The first thing to remember when cooking with wine is to use the same wine that you would drink. Buying wine that is labeled as “cooking wine” is going to taste acidic and vinegary and will be full of additives not found in drinking wine.

On the other hand, you don’t need to buy an expensive bottle of wine to use in your cooking. Choose your favorite drinking wine or experiment with an average priced bottle of a wine you’ve not bought before. Fruitier wines aren’t always the most popular for sipping but they’re great in many recipes.

Some of the most common ways to cook with wine is to use it as a cooking liquid, as an ingredient in marinades, to add moisture to a recipe, and as a final touch of flavor in a finished dish.

The basic rule for cooking with wine is to use it as a flavor enhancer and not to mask or cover up the taste of food.

No matter what variety of wine you choose to cook with, remember that all wines contain some level of acids, natural sugars, and tannins.

During the cooking process the flavor of any wine will intensify so don’t go too heavy on the amount of wine you use in recipes.

Tips For Cooking With Wine

  • Never add wine to a recipe just before you serve it. Wine, both red and white, needs to simmer with foods for a while to bring out just the right taste.

  • Wine Choice - For recipes that use tomatoes or root vegetables, use a wine that’s less sweet and has a full body to offset the natural sugars in the vegetables.

  • Reduction - Use wine in recipes to reduce the amount of fat. If you’re sautéing onions or mushrooms you can replace some or all of the oil or butter with wine. The same can be done when making a stir-fry – leave out the oil and sauté with a light white wine.

  • Kitchen Pans - When making a reduction that uses wine, cook the reduction in a stainless steel or enamel pan – these pans work best with the acidic level of most wines.

  • Marinade - A marinade made with wine will help to tenderize meat but will also change the flavor a bit, giving the meat a “gamey” taste if you marinade for longer than 4 hours.

  • Adding Wine - When adding wine to a recipe, add half the amount called for and let cook for about 10 minutes. Then taste and add more wine, continuing to adjust the flavors. Using this method you’re able to control the flavor of wine in recipes.

  • Choosing The Right Wine - Some recipes will call for “1 cup of wine” without any indication of what type of wine you should use. Choose white wine for seafood, poultry, veal, and vegetarian recipes. Reds are best for dark meats such as game, duck, and beef. Reds also work well in chili, stews, and tomato pasta sauces. Stick to sweeter wines for desserts and if you’re cooking pork or poultry with a sweet sauce. If you choose not to consume alcohol for whatever reason (maybe you're pregnant), just know that there's many non-alcoholic substitutes you can use that will make your food just as delicious.

  • Fortification - Use fortified wines for an intense flavor. This includes sherry, port, madeira, and marsala. These wines have been fermented with the addition of other spirits, such as brandy. This fermentation concentrates the alcohol level and adds a rich taste of wine to recipes.

Cooking With Vodka

After taking a backseat for a while, vodka is making a big comeback.

One of the new trends is infusing vodka with different flavors, such as berries, apples, and vanilla. But vodka isn’t just tasty for sipping - cooking with vodka is just as delicious.

Vodka is great to use in marinades – it helps to tenderize the meat before cooking or grilling. It’s also good for deglazing pans and adding flavor to a sauce, particularly to cream sauces.

A classic dish found on many Italian menus is Penne alla vodka. This pasta dish is made with a creamy tomato sauce that’s been cooked with vodka to bring out the rich taste of the tomatoes.

Tips For Cooking With Vodka

  • Vodka doesn’t have a strong taste. When heated it’s ideal for bringing out the flavors of foods.

  • When roasting chicken, add a half cup of vodka to the bottom of the roasting pan. The vodka will help tenderize the chicken as it roasts and enhance the flavor.

  • Vodka and salmon pair well together – make a light vodka cream sauce to serve over grilled salmon.

What Are the Best Ways of Cooking With Beer?

Not only have we been making and drinking beer for thousands of years, we’ve also been cooking with it. The bitter taste of hops blended with the sugary taste of malt helps to enhance the flavors of a wide variety of foods.

Beer falls into three main categories – ales, lagers, and stouts. All three types are good in cooking, including strong stouts with their stronger malt taste.

Always choose a beer that’s going to complement and boost the flavor of the food it’s being cooked with. The same rule that applies to cooking with wine works with beer – darker beers go well with hearty dishes and lighter beers with less heavy foods.

Tips For Cooking With Beer

  • During the cooking process the flavor of beer intensifies. Using a lighter beer can produce a more smooth flavor than darker beers.

  • When in doubt, use a pale ale which pairs well with all foods.

  • When cooking meat dishes, use a strong ale that can complement the meat and bring out its flavors.

  • Poultry and seafood dishes go well with wheat ales, helping to balance out the acidity.

  • In dishes where there is cheese, choose a nutty beer, such as a Belgian ale.

  • Stout and dark ales add a deep richness to stews.

  • You can bake bread with beer, in which most of not all of the alcohol is evaporated. Use a lager beer when baking breads as the yeast in the lager can help the bread to rise.

  • Adding ale or lagers to batters makes fried foods light and crispy.

  • Don’t forget desserts. With so many fruity beers being made, baked and cooked desserts benefit from the slight hoppy taste of these beers.

The Best Ways For Cooking With Bourbon

Bourbon has a very distinctive taste – the flavor is much like a smoky vanilla and caramel fusion. Bourbon has its roots in Bourbon County in the state of Kentucky. The spirit is distilled from a mash of grain that’s anywhere from 51 to 80 percent corn with the addition of rye, barley, and sometimes wheat. Bourbon is aged for at least 2 years in white oak barrels which have been charred so they’re better preserved. When bottled, the alcohol level in bourbon will be 80 to 125 proof.

Bourbon cooks well with both savory and sweet dishes. It nicely complements pork and ham and is often used in marinades and glazes over these meats.

Tips For Cooking Dishes With Bourbon

  • Lower proof bourbon needs to cook longer with foods in order to allow the flavor of the alcohol to come through.

  • Use a more wheated bourbon when using it in sauces, jellies, and jams. These bourbons are warmer and sweeter than other bourbons.

  • Choose a bourbon that has a high rye content for fruit based recipes and with creamy sauces. The rye in the bourbon has a slightly smoky flavor that brings out the brightness of fruit as well as the smoothness of rich sauces.

  • Select a malted bourbon to enhance the flavor of pasta sauces, risottos, and other rice dishes such as pilafs. These malted bourbons also cook off well, leaving behind a nutty flavor in baked breads and desserts such as a fruit crumble.

  • Use a small amount of bourbon to deglaze pans. This is a great way to release the final flavors of charred beef, pork, or chicken in the pan. When deglazing, let the bourbon simmer at a low temperature until it’s been reduced to a rich and thick syrup.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

When Cooking With Alcohol Does It Burn Off?

We use beer, wine, and spirits in cooking to bring out the flavors and enhance the tastes. But what about if you’re unable to have alcohol. When cooking with alcohol does all or any of it burn off?

The short answer is no, not all of the alcohol content will burn off during the cooking process. Even cooking a recipe that contains alcohol for 2.5 hours will still have about 5 percent of the alcohol retained in the food.  

Cooking With Alcohol When Pregnant. Should You?

When you’re pregnant, one of the firm rules is not to consume any alcohol

Doing so can harm your baby. But does this rule still apply when cooking with alcohol when pregnant? The answer to this will depend on how long the food has been cooked.

The longer the food is cooked, the more alcohol evaporates from the dish. If alcohol is added to the recipe during cooking time, this will mean less time for it to burn off. You’ll have to cook food for over 2.5 hours to get rid of all traces of alcohol. If you’re pregnant and cooking with alcohol to prepare a dish that you’re going to be eating, there are a few guidelines to follow:

  • Add alcohol at the beginning of the cooking time so it has plenty of time to evaporate.
  • Cook in a big, wide pan. It takes alcohol longer to burn off in a small pan. 
  • Use healthy pans. These are free from Teflon or PFOA.
  • Leave the lid off or very loosely on when cooking. This allows more of the alcohol to evaporate and escape from the pan.
  • Always cook or simmer foods for 2.5 hours or longer to reduce the amount of alcohol in a dish to 5 percent or less.

Consider substituting the alcohol in the recipe with another ingredient. Apple juice can replace hard cider, ginger ale can replace beer, and pineapple or orange juice can replace sherry.

Does Alcohol Evaporate When Cooking With Wine?

Cooking with wine follows the rule of cooking with any other alcoholic beverage. When added and stirred into a recipe, after 30 minutes of cooking the dish will retain 35 percent of the wine alcohol. When wine is added to a dish and not stirred in, after 25 minutes of cooking the recipe will retain 45 percent of the wine alcohol.

When Cooking With Wine Does the Alcohol Cook Out For Cirrhosis?’

If you’re cooking for yourself or someone who has cirrhosis there is always the concern that the wine in alcohol won’t evaporate and cook off. 

Cirrhosis is a medical condition that happens when the healthy tissues in the liver are scarred. When this happens, the liver can no longer function normally. The scarring can be the result of a hepatitis infection or the abuse of alcohol.

It’s important that if you’ve been diagnosed with cirrhosis that you abstain from drinking or consuming any alcohol. However, cooking with alcohol is still medically safe if you’re cooking dishes long enough to burn off most if not all of the alcohol.

This means cooking foods for 2.5 hours or longer.

Is There Still Alcohol When Cooking With Whiskey?

Although whiskey is a strong spirit with a high alcohol content, when used in cooking it burns off the same amount of alcohol as wine, beer, hard cider, and other spirits. During the cooking process, the flavors of whiskey are concentrated, bringing out the taste of smoky-sweetness from the barley malt. As well, the subtle taste of the sugar from the oak casks where whiskey is aged can come out in the cooking.

If a recipe calls for whiskey and you don’t have any available, you can successfully substitute either bourbon or scotch and still achieve the same flavor. As well, you can purchase just a small bottle of a single serving of whiskey if you need just a small amount for a dish.

Whiskey can add a nice flavor to many dishes. It works well with meats such as steak, bacon, and pork. It also pairs well in desserts, such as with flambéed berries or apples.

Final Tips For Cooking With Alcohol

Cooking with alcohol is the perfect way to enhance the flavors of foods rather than destroying it. Here are some final tips for cooking with alcohol:

  • Be sure to cook dishes with alcohol long enough. Not only will it burn off more of the alcohol, it will also make the flavor of the food smoother and richer.

  • When making soups and stews, add the alcohol to the pan after you’ve sautéed the meats but before you add any other liquid ingredients. This helps to deglaze the pan, so you get all the flavor of the meat. It also helps to get rid of the some of the harsh taste of the alcohol.

  • Be cautious when making a flambé. The burning alcohol will burn with a bright blue flame for just a few seconds before it burns off. Before adding the alcohol, remove the pan from the heat.

  • For gravies, make the roux first before adding the alcohol. Then add the alcohol and stir well before adding the other liquid ingredients.

  • Follow the directions in baked recipes very carefully. Baking is a chemical process that requires exact measurements – even more so when adding alcohol to the ingredients.

  • Always measure alcohol before adding to a recipe. Adding straight from the bottle not only makes measurement inaccurate, there is also the risk of the alcohol accidentally igniting.

About the author 

Nate Lau

Nate is an aspiring chef, and father of two. He is always on the lookout to try new healthy recipes and kitchen gadgets. He has a passion for cooking delicious miso black cod and enjoys a nice sip of pinot on occasion.

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