Does Alcohol Evaporate from Cooking Wine?

How much alcohol remains after a dish is cooked? You might be surprised...

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Food Network Kitchen’s Bottle-of-Red Wine Sauce for Food Network One-Offs, as seen on Food Network.

Photo by: Renee Comet

Renee Comet

There's nothing like hanging out with friends and family at a summer picnic and grabbing a hot, beer-boiled bratwurst right off the grill. The alcohol-saturated meat is tender and moist, and yes, thanks, you'll have seconds.

Cooking food in alcohol or adding it to food is, of course, nothing new. Wine, spirits and beer are commonly used to add a burst of flavor and aroma. Think coq au vin, lager-spiked turkey chili, or pork brined in rum before cooking. Then there are specializes wines often thought of more for cooking than drinking — marsalas and the like.

And just about everyone, including many professional chefs and backyard grillers, believes that all the alcohol added to a meal during the cooking process evaporates (or dissipates), leaving behind only a faint aroma and subtle taste.

Are they right? Is your Bud-soaked brat "innocent" when it comes off the grill, or will you get a buzz from eating five of them? (Actually, after that many brats, a buzz might be the least of your worries.)

Myth buster

Sorry to spoil the party, but here's the real deal: Simply heating alcohol, or any other cooking liquid, does not make it evaporate as quickly as a child's allowance in a candy store. The longer you cook, the more alcohol cooks out, but you have to cook food for about 3 hours to fully erase all traces of alcohol. A study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Nutrient Data lab confirmed this and added that food baked or simmered in alcohol for 15 minutes still retains 40 percent of the alcohol. After an hour of cooking, 25 percent of the alcohol remains, and even after two and a half hours there's still 5 percent of it. In fact, some cooking methods are less effective at removing alcohol than simply letting food stand out overnight uncovered.

Consider a Brandy Alexander pie made with 3 tablespoons of brandy and 1/4 cup of creme de cacao. According to data from the Washington Post, the pie retains 85 percent of the alcohol in these ingredients. Main dishes follow the same scenario. In scalloped oysters, for example, with 1/4 cup dry sherry poured over the works and then baked for 25 minutes, 45 percent of the alcohol remains.

How about a chicken dish prepared and simmered with 1/2 cup of Burgundy for 15 minutes? Forty percent of the alcohol in the wine remains. A pot roast made with a cup of Burgundy and roasted for more than 2 hours, however, retains only 5 percent.

Influencing factors

The extent to which alcohol evaporates during cooking depends on two main things: heat and surface area. Hotter temps will burn off more alcohol, and a bigger pan with more surface area will produce the same result.

As a reference, here's a helpful rule of thumb: After 30 minutes of cooking, alcohol content decreases by 10 percent with each successive half-hour of cooking, up to 2 hours. That means it takes 30 minutes to boil alcohol down to 35 percent and you can lower that to 25 percent with an hour of cooking. Two hours gets you down to 10 percent.

Another tip: It's always a very good habit to cook with the same kind of high-quality wine that you'd choose to pour into a glass. A wine's flavor intensifies during the cooking process, so if you're making a sauce spiked with an old bottle of Thunderbird, the result will reflect it. Incorporate a quality wine instead and enjoy its flavor all the way through the meal.

Ready to decant?

Interested in cooking with wine? This Classic Chicken in Red Wine uses 2 1/2 cups of wine, simmering the chicken in a wine-stock sauce for 40 minutes before cooking it down to thicken for an additional 10 minutes. These garlicky White Wine Mussels steam in a broth made with a cup of something nice and dry. Bottle-of-Red Wine Sauce is no misnomer: the meaty chuck-laced sauce calls for an entire bottle of robust red, simmered for 90 minutes, then cooked down for another hour.

Remember, too, that any remaining alcohol in a dish can be a big deal — or even dangerous — for anyone who doesn't drink. Plan and cook accordingly.

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