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Spirited Cooking with Alcohol

Cooking with alcohol is an easy way to add flavor, depth, and variety to your recipes. The molecules of alcohol actually bond with fat and water, which helps enhance flavor and aroma.

But how do you cook with alcohol? The choices are endless. You can choose to cook with most varieties of beer, liquors, and wine and have a flavor enhancer that makes your meal delicious. Alcohol can be used to tenderize meat when used in marinades, add flavor and depth to sauces, help enhance glazes for meats, and countless more versatile ways.

Myth Buster

A common myth is that alcohol vanishes when it is cooked. This is not entirely true; there are factors that must be considered, such as the amount of alcohol used, the volume and proof of the alcohol, and how long it is cooked. 

In order for alcohol to evaporate, it has to be exposed to air. Adding heat speeds the evaporation process. According to research conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, when alcohol is simmered or baked as an ingredient in a recipe for 15 minutes, it will still have 40-percent of its alcohol content remaining. After it has cooked for one hour,  25-percent of the alcohol will remain. In order for the alcohol content to be evaporated down to a single-digit content level of approximately five perecent, it will need to cook for approximately 2.5 hours.

Simple Ways to Use Alcohol in Your Recipes

  • Make Sauces – adding liquor to ingredients such as stock or butter when creating a sauce creates the perfect flavor blend to enhance sauces for pasta and meat.
  • Macerate Fruit – marinating sliced or whole fruit in liquors such as brandy or rum preserves the fruit, which can then be added to recipes or served over ice cream or with other desserts.  More delicate fruits and those with thin-skins such as berries and pears should not be marinated for too long, or they will over-soften. Fruits such as figs can withstand longer marination in alcohol without losing their texture.
  • Enhance Your Glazes – add spirits to glazes to intensify the flavors of your glazes, which can be brushed onto meats or added to baked desserts.
  • Spike Your Brine – all meat can be soaked in brine, which is made of salt, water, herbs, and spices to make the meat juicier and increase its flavor.  You can add alcohol to the brine to intensify the process, but be sure to get the proportions correct when mixing the brine.
  • Make the Perfect Pie Dough – if you add a small amount of vodka to the water that you will add to the dry ingredients, it makes the dough moist and prevents it from being easily overworked. The crust will not have an alcoholic flavor or smell when it is done cooking.
  • Enhance Your Butter – combining butter with herbs, spices, and alcohol can create a delectable combination to top your meat and fish entrees.
  • Flavor Your Preserves – add liquor and other spices to your fresh fruit preserves to create powerful and delicious flavor combinations. Be sure the alcohol flavor complements the flavor of the fruit, such as peaches and bourbon.
  • Flambé! – adding liquor and then lighting your food on fire is sure to impress your guests, as well as adding an intense flavor that remains after the alcohol is cooked out. It is best to use dark-colored varieties of liquor such as rum, brandy, or cognac. Bananas Foster is probably the most well-known example of a delicious flambé.
  • Spike Baked Goods – substitute some of the liquid called for in cake recipes with a sweet white or sparkling wine and then use it for making a sauce or glaze to enhance the cake. Wine can also be used to saturate cakes with flavor too.
  • Bread With Beer – give beer bread a try. Beer bread can be a simple, quick bread or a yeast bread flavored with beer. One tip to remembers is that a hoppy beer will result in a bitter loaf of bread.
  • Make Boozy Ice Pops – hard liquor will actually freeze if it is mixed with other ingredients in the proper amounts. Choose a fruit and then pick an alcohol that complements its flavor, such as pineapple and rum.

Adding alcohol to your cooking is a delicious way to enhance the flavor of your meals. The sky is the limit for the combinations you can create, and the internet is a great source for recipes ranging from simple to complex, depending on your culinary goals.


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Image of three cooking pots on a gas stove with alcohol on the back shelf

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Extension Educator:
Vicki Hayman – (307) 746-3531

University of Wyoming Extension

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Issued in furtherance of extension work, acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Kelly Crane, Director, University of Wyoming Extension, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of Wyoming Extension, University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming 82071.

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