Does Cooking Burn Off All the Alcohol in a Recipe?

Flambe away? Not so fast! How much alcohol is really burned off? We've got the scoop.

Here in the Test Kitchen, we receive questions about cooking with alcohol at least once a week. While this is not a new technique (cooking with alcohol has been around for hundreds of years), concerns about alcohol are becoming more common.

So does the alcohol really cook away during the cooking process? It seems the answer is a bit more complicated than a simple yes or no.

Experts Weigh In

Nutritionists from some leading universities set out to solve the mystery once and for all. Using the same recipe, they used a few different cooking and prep methods, then tested the end result for alcohol concentration.

The big failure? Flambe! That impressive flash of fire in the pan would make you think all the alcohol burns off but an amazing liquor-drizzled dessert like Quick Bananas Foster will retain 75% of the alcohol after the flame is put out.

On the other end of the spectrum, a longer cook time means less residual alcohol. So go ahead and make Slow-Simmering Beef Bourguignon without fear that the wine will cause trouble. After 2½ hours, only 5% of the alcohol stays behind. So after cooking low and slow all day, it’s safe to say most, if not all, of the wine has lost its alcoholic punch. Thank goodness all that glorious flavor stays behind. After all, that’s the real reason we’re adding booze to our food, right?

Is Alcohol-free the Way to Be?

Now you’re thinking to yourself, Does it really matter? That depends upon whom you’re feeding. Many of the readers who ask this question have an allergy to alcohol, so in that case it definitely matters. Not only do those folks need to avoid cooking with alcohol, they’ll want to avoid extracts, too. Most extracts are made using alcohol. While alcohol-free extracts are available, they’re still labeled as containing some, albeit less than half a percent.

At the end of the day, what ingredients you cook with and the methods you use are totally up to you. Now you can make an informed decision and maybe win a question at trivia night.

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Sue Stetzel
Sue has been part of the Taste of Home family for over 16 years. Her collection of magazines dates back to the premier issue in 1993. When she isn’t writing, she’s answer your burning cooking questions and working with our team of Volunteer Field Editors.