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Monday, January 25, 2010

Alcohol Substitutions in Cooking

It seems that many recipes call for alcohol and as a strictly non-drinker, it's not something that I keep in my pantry. However, I have found that there are a few simple ingredients from my pantry that substitute well for alcohol in many recipes. For a more extensive chart with substitutions for less generic alcohols see

Light beer- chicken broth or Sprite (Use your judgement based on the recipe.)
Heavier beer- beef broth or root beer
Red wine- chicken broth or red grape juice
Sake- rice vinegar
Sherry- orange juice
White wine- chicken broth or white grape juice

 I have read that when it comes to putting beer in bread or marinating meat in it, there is no substitution. I will beg to differ. One year for Christmas a friend gave me a beer bread mix and a can of Sprite. The carbonic acid that gives Sprite it's fizzyness will make the bread rise in the place of the yeast in the beer. Perhaps it didn't taste exactly like beer bread, but what it did taste like was AMAZING.
 Part of the reason beer marinated meat is so good is that the alcohol breaks down the muscle fibers making the meat more tender. The carbonic acid in soft drinks will do the same thing. The best steak I have ever had was a filet mignon in Argentina. A close second was an ordinary New York cut steak marinated several hours in Sprite and cooked over a camp fire and seasoned with salt and pepper.

I have also heard many times that cooking with alcohol gets rid of the alcohol content. That's only partially true. Below is a chart created by the USDA that I found on a kitchen myth website. So some of it cooks out, but not all of it. But before you get to paranoid, remember that ordinary bread with yeast contains alcohol. The rising takes place because those little micro-organisms produce alcohol. A major part of that fresh baked bread smell is the burning of the alcohol. A tiny bit of alcohol in your food is not going to hurt you.

Alcohol Burn-off Chart
 Preparation Method  Percent Retained
alcohol added to boiling liquid & removed from heat 85%
alcohol flamed 75%
no heat, stored overnight 70%
baked, 25 minutes, alcohol not stirred into mixture 45%
Baked/simmered dishes with alcohol stirred into mixture:
15 minutes cooking time 40%
30 minutes cooking time 35%
1 hour cooking time 25%
1.5 hours cooking time 20%
2 hours cooking time 10%
2.5 hours cooking time 5%


  1. Years ago I had a roommate who had a list of alcohol beverage substitutions. She never did give me a copy of the list (it was at her home in Arizona, and we lived in Southern California).
    She did teach me, though, that I could use Cranberry Juice instead of Burgundy. I just have to make sure it has as much juice as possible, not cocktails or drinks, which have more sugar and water. Cranberry juice may have some, since it is so tart, but use as little as possible.
    Never having tasted burgundy, I can only go by what I have tasted, and I love the recipes that I have used the Cranberry juice instead of burgundy.

  2. That's a great tip. I'll have to try it.