Cooking Myths: Recipes With Alcohol

This weekend I was watching reruns of Alton Brown’s Good Eats (one of my all time favorite cooking shows), and I caught an episode that was completely dedicated to cooking with alcohol…well, mainly wine and beer. Lately I have taken an even more increased interest in incorporating these flavors into my own cooking, so I quickly hit the record button on my DVR. Coincidentally, Alton proceeded to breakdown the science behind two specific recipes that I have been experimenting with extensively myself; wine marinated lamb steaks and beer bread. But that wasn’t the nugget of information that piqued my interest.
Cooking with Alcohol
We’ve all seen those cooking shows, live demonstrations, or even have a drunk uncle who glugs a hearty dose of bourbon whiskey into a barbecue sauce and says “don’t worry, the alcohol will cook off”. It’s easy to see where this general assumption would come from.  Is common knowledge that the boiling point of alcohol is significantly lower than the boiling point of water, but the cold hard fact is that you can never cook off the entire amount of alcohol that is added to a dish. You can get close, especially with longer cooking times, but you might be surprised to find out how much of the alcohol content ends up residing in the food you ingest:

Time/Process Alcohol Remaining
Immediate Consumption: 100%
Boil & Remove: 85%
Flamed: 75%
15 Minutes: 40%
30 Minutes: 35%
1 Hour: 25%
2.5 Hours: 5%

It’s worth noting that the amount of alcohol in your finished dish would also be divided among the total number of portions you were preparing, but it merits attention to know it’s there. Everyone that cooks and shares meals with friends and family knows that you inevitably encounter individuals with certain dietary restrictions. Being in tune with your ingredients, and how they react during the cooking process, will make you that much more of a versatile grill master. So go ahead and tuck this little nugget of information in your back pocket for the time being.  You never know when you may need it in the future.

And in case you’re interested in sampling some of those boozy recipes that Alton was featuring on Good Eats, here’s the links to his full rundown over on the Food Network site:

Cheddar Cheese Beer Bread
Lamb Shoulder Chops with Red Wine

Just a fair warning though. If you’ve never had beer bread, be prepared to become addicted. One taste and your mind will run wild with all the different flavor combinations to pair with your favorite brews.

13 comments on “Cooking Myths: Recipes With Alcohol

  1. Great bit of information there. It made me think of something else, when you reduce a sauce with broth in it too much, it concentrates the salt and makes it too salty.

    I’m guessing the same would be true with alcohol in some sort? i.e. only the pure alcohol is evaporating or fuming off while the other ingredients remain behind which could leave a bitter taste if too much of it evaporates. Pure speculation on my part and reason to experiment. Quick – to the liquor store!

  2. Good information to be aware of. I utilize (3) cans of beer when cooking up a 3 gallon batch of BBQ sauce. I have found that malt vinegar and malt syrup will enhance the flavor the BBQ and give it that beer taste without dumping a 24 pack into the pot.

  3. I also saw the “Good Eats” segment in question and his findings were delivered in such a way that they were just as misdirecting as the original common lore, if not moreso. They totted up the alcohol, from wine vinegar in the salad dressing to a flambeed dessert and indicated that the consumer would have had more than a drink’s worth before adding a glass of wine, even after the cooking. The problem was that they were calculating the ENTIRE amount of liquor added during the cooking of the ENTIRE recipe for each individual portion. Nor did the program investigate whether baking for 30 minutes removed the same amount of alcohol as braising for the same period or whether a rapid boil that significantly reduced a sauce would reduce or concentrate the remaining alcohol.

    If I tossed a bottle of beer or hard cider into a large pot of soup and cooked it for half a day, each portion of that soup would contain, not 25% of the alcohol in the original bottle, but 25% divided by however many portions I served, probably a minimum of five, ergo there would be 5% of the original alcohol in each bowl, and since the average beer or cider is less than 10% alcohol to begin with, each serving would contain less than .5% alcohol. I’d call that nominal,
    and would feed that soup to a child without a qualm. Nobody is likely to have trouble driving home after eating a chop that was marinated in wine, even if the marinade was converted to an accompanying sauce. You just have to be sensible. I might let a ‘tween have Baked Alaska, but probably not Bananas Foster or Crepes Suzette.

  4. Jason

    I’ve found that vodka imparts a certain buttery, ‘silky’ texture to pastas. In my student days, I had a entire notebook dedicated to the wildest booze based recipes we could conjure. Me and my mates got an off campus apartment, and we must have tried every alcohol combination in the world – beer with bourbon, vodka with wine, all drizzled on top of any meat we could get our hands on – turkey, beef, pork, chicken…

    The results weren’t exactly impressive, but for college kids – heck, it was all a whole lot of fun!

  5. I’ve seen whiskey used for deglazing (probably on Good Eats…), but has anyone here run across any good bbq sauce recipes which use whiskey/bourbon/whatever? Feel like that would be tasty…

  6. I didn’t realize it never totally cooks out. I’m a big fan of adding a coffee stout or chocolate porter to chili or BBQ sauce. One bottle spread out to so many, after a good amount of time reducing should render it almost harmless, but still. I had no idea.

  7. I recently went to a restaurant and had a steak with peppercorn sauce. The resaurant did not write on the menu that the sauce was loaded with bourbon. The sauce was very boozy, and we complained that the menu did not mention alcohol was in the peppercorn sauce. My partner doesn’t drink, and actually got tipsy on it. If a chef is going to serve alcohol in food, he needs to inform people. A recovering alcoholic could accidentally relapse unknowingly, or somebody with a medical condition that is supposed to avoid alcohol could be made sick.

  8. I am not supposed to have alcohol, so I called the restaurant where they had delicious bread pudding with whiskey sauce & asked if the alcohol cooked out of the sauce. They said yes it cooked out. Not being a drinker, not even of beer or wine, I did not know I was eating alcohol when I ordered the bread pudding. I thought it was just the flavor of the whiskey. No wonder I didn’t feel well after my dessert- guess my medicines didn’t like the alcohol. But I thought people who worked for the restaurant would know. I think she even went to the kitchen & asked. People should be informed. Thanks.

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