Many people use alcohol — whether spirits, wine or beer — to add flavor to everything from roasts to cakes.

Despite lore that says all the alcohol burns off when you cook it, that’s not always true. Here’s why.

salmon cooking with wine

Cooking with wine?

So you made a casserole and added wine to it before putting it in the oven to bake. Then your sister-in-law — or spouse, or neighbor — tells you there is no way that you should serve that to kids, because not all of the alcohol burns off during cooking — that’s just a myth.

Many of us have always heard that if you cook food with alcohol in it, the alcohol dissipates and all that remains is the flavor. Which is it?

How much booze burns off?

According to a 1992 study published by the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, the amount of alcohol that actually cooks off varies, based on how long the food has been cooked, how it’s been cooked, at what temperature, the type of baking dish used, the specific type of alcohol used, and the ingredients in the food itself.

In general, the longer you heat the booze, the less alcohol remains. For example, if you simmer the food for several hours, only about 5 percent of the alcohol will remain. But if you adding wine, beer or spirits to a boiling sauce just before serving, roughly 80% of the alcohol will still be left behind.

Nutritionists at Washington State University and the University of Idaho, together with the US Department of Agriculture, ran cooking experiments using both wine and sherry, and found that long simmering in a wide pan was the most effective way to remove alcohol from food, while baking appeared to be the least.

Alcohol burn-off chart
Preparation method Alcohol remaining Alcohol removed
Alcohol added to boiling liquid, removed from heat 85% 15%
Flamed (or flambé) 75% 25%
Stirred in and baked or simmered for… (see below) (see below)
15 minutes
30 minutes
1 hour
1 1/2 hours
2 hours
2 1/2 hours
40%
35%
25%
20%
10%
5%
60%
65%
75%
80%
90%
95%

* These figures are based on US Department of Agriculture Research

Low- and no-alcohol

“Nonalcoholic” is officially defined as containing no more than 0.5 percent alcohol — half of one percent.

If you’re trying to burn off as much alcohol as possible and want just the flavor, your best bet is a lengthy simmer. Leave the pan or pot uncovered so you don’t interfere with the evaporative process, and let the alcohol go.

Fortunately, if the alcohol is a problem in any way, it’s simple to substitute! For savory foods, consider using broth, stock, vinegar or juice to replace the alcohol — and for sweet dishes, experiment with juice, juice concentrates, extracts and flavored syrup.


Photo credit(s): Top photo of salmon with wine courtesy of Lars Plougmann

Original publication date: Oct 28, 2013

About The Author

Nancy J Price
Editor-in-chief

In addition to being the co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of Myria, Nancy J Price was one of the two original founders of SheKnows.com in 1999, helping turn it into one of the world's top lifestyle websites for women. While serving as the site’s executive editor for twelve years, Nancy also helped launch five national newsstand magazines. A history buff, she spent her first three post-SK years creating the Click Americana website, and writing the historical fiction time travel novel Dream of Time. Although she's a fourth-generation San Francisco Bay Area native who got her start interviewing and photographing bands in Northern California during the eighties, Nancy now lives in Arizona with her four kids and their menagerie.

Leave a comment