Cooking with alcohol myths, debunked

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Beer, wine, and spirits are co-conspirators in one of the kitchen’s biggest myths. It’s widely believed that dishes made with alcohol are rendered non-alcoholic in the process of, say, simmering a beurre blanc sauce or baking a bourbon pecan pie. In reality, no matter how long it is sauteed, broiled or boiled, a recipe can never be fully rid of its alcohol.

Cooking With Alcohol

As a substance, alcohol is volatile, explains Harold McGee, author of On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. Its molecules will evaporate not just when alcohol reaches its boiling point, a chilly 173 degrees Fahrenheit compared to water’s 212 degree Fahrenheit boiling point, but any time it is exposed to the air.

Despite its ability to dissipate, “it’s impossible to cook out all of the alcohol [in a dish],” says McGee. Even after extensive heating, a small proportion of its molecules will remain bonded to molecules like water present in the mixture. How much sticks around depends on several factors, including the recipe’s other ingredients, the temperature it is cooked at and the length of time for which it is cooked.

“The higher the temperature, the quicker the evaporation,” McGee explains. “The longer the cooking time, the greater the cumulative evaporation.”

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), baked or simmered dishes that contain alcohol will retain 40% of the original amount after 15 minutes of cooking, 35% after 30 minutes and 25% after an hour. But there’s no point at which all of the alcohol disappears. Baking or simmering an alcohol-containing dish for 2.5 hours will still leave 5% of the alcohol content behind.

The Variables & Results

One thing the USDA’s chart doesn’t take into account is the size of the pan in which the alcohol is cooked. “The greater the surface area, the greater the exposure of the alcohol molecules to the air, the faster they will escape,” says McGee. So, there will be less alcohol in a beurre blanc sauce simmered in a large stockpot than one simmered in a small saucepan; mini bourbon pecan pies will be more alcoholic than a single large pie.

Exactly how alcoholic the 40% or 25% or 5% of alcohol leftover in a dish after cooking directly depends on the ABV, the alcohol by volume, of the liquor used. When cooked at the same temperature, for the same period of time, in the same sized pot, the alcohol molecules in beer and rum will evaporate at the same rate. However, beer typically has an ABV that ranges from 3.5% to 9%, while the ABV of rum is typically around 40-75.5%. Consequently, even when all other conditions are the same, the completed dish will be less alcoholic when made with beer than that when made with rum.

Although alcohol remains, it’s highly unlikely that dishes cooked with alcohol will cause intoxication. The amount of wine, beer, or spirits found in most recipes is so small that, even if left uncooked, an adult would never feel its effects. Still, an alternative might be preferable when preparing food for children, pregnant women or those in recovery.

Man cooking French beer batter for fish

How To Substitute Alcohol

There are some simple substitutions that can replicate similar flavors to wine, beer, and spirits, says McGee. “You can give the impression of a hoppy beer with a little coriander and malt syrup; wine with a little vinegar, though wine vinegar do still contain a small amount of residual alcohol; vermouth with something like Seedlip botanical distillate; rum with a little brown sugar and vanilla.”

Alternatively, try switching out the liquor for a non-alcoholic beer, wine or spirit which will have all of the flavors, without the ABV.

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These vintage booze ads will make you remember summers gone by


Though it’s been shorts-and-short-sleeves weather for a good few weeks already, this weekend we finally reach the officially decreed beginning of of summer.  It’s time to fire up the air conditioner, finalize vacation plans, and prepare for a few months of non-stop leisure – sipping chilled cocktails by the pool, enjoying an icy cold beer at the ballpark, drinking mimosas on the beach, or swigging straight from a bottle of Rum while sitting beneath a coconut tree.

[Note: Alcohol Professor is not responsible for any concussions received from falling coconuts, should you choose to pursue the latter course of action.]

There’s just a mellow vibe to the summertime months that nothing else comes close to matching.  It’s a season of vacations and picnics, baseball and fireworks – tailor-made for relaxation and reflection.

Liquor companies have long been aware of the emotional appeal of summer, so I decided it would be clever to kill two birds with one stone, and feed my sense of nostalgia while spending a few blessed moments away from the hot sun.   And after trawling through shelves, boxes, and stacks of paraphernalia, it’s my pleasure to present you with these warm-weather selections from my climate-controlled archives!

Beer is, of course, a steadfast summertime standby.  Whether it’s popping open a cold one after mowing the lawn, sharing brews with friends on the patio, or bringing the cooler along for an outdoor adventure, it’s a beverage that’s perfectly suited for the lazy hazy crazy season.


But Beer certainly isn’t the only option: Whiskey can also be a soothing accompaniment to sweltering afternoons and steamy summer evenings.


Vodka’s clean and crisp character makes it another perennially popular option for dog day cocktails, and Smirnoff has smartly capitalized on that phenomenon over the years, offering a variety of ads that capture the casual, carefree elements of the season.


One can also beat the heat while branching out, and sip on something slightly less predictable – say, a fine European-style aperitif.


Though it should be noted that warm weather isn’t always about lying back and let the world wash over you – sometimes it’s preferable to take a more active role, seek some excitement, pursue the perfect wave.  (And then enjoy a celebratory cocktail afterwards.)


And now that I’ve been looking over all these images and dreaming of summertimes past, I’m feeling the need to get outside myself.  It’s time to face the heat, find an ice-cold cocktail, and celebrate the start of a new season!



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Featured Image Credit: fermate/iStock.