A roast in a covered slow cooker simmering in a wine or beer broth is going to retain more alcohol than a dish that’s cooked uncovered for two hours in a hot oven. Alcohol retention during cooking also depends on the size of the pan or dish. The smaller the cooking vessel, the more alcohol will be retained.
For sober guests in recovery with alcohol-use disorder, experts advise against cooking with alcohol or serving food that has the taste of alcohol.
Harry Haroutunian, an addiction medicine physician in Rancho Mirage, Calif., said home chefs can be dismissive of concerns about cooking with alcohol because they wrongly believe small amounts in cooked food don’t matter.
But for sober guests, he said, the taste of alcohol in food can be triggering. And another concern: Some of his patients use voluntary or court-ordered monitors that can detect even small amounts of alcohol through skin sensors.
“For some people, zero blood alcohol is critical,” Haroutunian said. “We have patients all the time on monitoring devices that pick up alcohol from meals that people thought had all burned off.”
Those who are pregnant or breastfeeding should be aware if the food they are served has been cooked with alcohol. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there is no safe level of alcohol during pregnancy. Parents of young children should also ask if foods, particularly desserts, are prepared with alcohol.
If you’ve recently eaten coq au vin (a classic French stew of chicken braised in red wine and a little brandy), and you want to know how much alcohol ended up on your plate, do some simple math. For instance, if a recipe calls for two cups of wine, remember that alcohol content in wine can vary but often is around 10 to 14%. Some will cook off, and any alcohol that remains will be divided across the number of servings in the dish.
What else you should know
Some desserts have uncooked alcohol, meaning they retain most of it. They should not be served to sober guests, pregnant or nursing mothers, children, people with alcohol allergies or anyone else who chooses not to consume alcohol. Some alcohol-laced desserts may include rum balls, bourbon truffles, bananas foster, tiramisu and Crêpes Suzette, among others. Vanilla extract also contains alcohol.
Becky Krystal, a food reporter and recipe developer for The Washington Post, wrote a useful guide on how to substitute for alcohol in foods. Unless you’re planning to set fire to the food, the alcohol typically is there to add flavor, which can be accomplished with easy substitutes. For red wine, try beef broth, unsweetened cranberry juice, tomato juice or even coffee. Instead of beer, use chicken broth or ginger ale. Apple cider can replace brandy, and rice vinegar can substitute for sake. The website Spruce Eats also lists several alcohol substitutes.
The bottom line
Don’t cook with alcohol if you’re serving sober guests or anyone else who doesn’t want to consume alcohol. Even though some of the alcohol does dissipate, under normal cooking methods, it never disappears entirely.