HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >


lye vs. baking soda for homemade pretzels

I want to make homemade pretzels, and my recipe calls for the lye bath. My beloved Alton Brown suggests baking soda instead. I like this idea, because I have it on hand. Does it work as well? Where does one buy lye? At the hardware store?


  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Actually I recall that Brown wanted to advocate lye but sort of legally had to nix it in favor of baking soda. I guess the network lawyers told him that there just wasn't enough time in a day, let alone a half hour to present enough warnings about the hazards to cover their legal butts.
    Neither here nor there..........sorry, I don't know how effective the soda method is and aside from drano, I don't know a source for lye. Good luck.

    1. I searched Freshloaf.com for possible sources of lye to make pretzels, and it seems that you can make a great product w/o the hassle of lye.


      1. As far as I know lye is an extremely caustic, and dangerous substance. Nothing that an amature should be using. Long, long ago you used to be able to buy it in a supermarket, from the same shelf that had Draino and household cleaners. My mom used to buy it to make homemade laundry soap.

        Here are a couple of webs that might be of interest:


        1. For fresh pretzels, baking soda is not alkaline enough to get the real crust. For pretzels that are going to be be completely dried hard, it makes less of a difference.

          For a primer on making pretzels in the Swabian manner:


          1. I tried making them a while ago and used baking soda. They where a slimy mess and I've given up.

            there was a thread a bit ago regarding your question, but my seach didn't bring it up.

            Here's another one though:


            hope it helps some.

            1. ive made alton browns pretzels several times using a baking soda bath, they come out perfect and delicious, they taste just like you bought them off a new york city street vendor. as for lye, i handle it in chemistry class (im in the 11th grade), we wear goggles, but not gloves and its always fine. my chem teacher says shes gotten it on her skin and, though it will leave a mark, it doesnt sting or burn. so if you can buy lye online and are careful to use goggles and gloves, im sure youd be fine. but you can make delicious pretzels without it.

              2 Replies
              1. re: sarathebeautiful

                I too have made Alton Brown's pretzels several times with the baking soda bath. They are perfect and delicious.

                1. re: janehathaway

                  I did too, with a bunch of 9 year olds and they all turned out fantastic with the baking soda bath. Their parents were quite impressed!

              2. I never ended up ordering it myself, but someone found a source for food grade lye and posted in this thread: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/342308

                1. Go for the baking soda dip. There's really no need to use a food grade lye dip for pretzels unless you're going into the pretzel making business and want really authentic flavor. Baking soda is a inexpensive and an easily found product, which gives reasonably good results.

                  My recipe calls for 1/3 cup soda dissolved in 3 cups of water and a quick 5 second dunk; longer than that and the pretzels may get a bit slimy. Use a spider or flat pasta strainer to remove them from the water and sprinkle with pretzel or very coarse salt. After baking I brush the pretzels with melted butter, which results in a soft but chewy crust.

                  Alton uses a substantially less concentration of baking soda, and dunks the shaped pretzels into the boiling water/soda solution.

                  Here's Alton's recipe link:


                  Here's the recipe I use:


                  I don't dip the baked pretzels in the butter, as the instructions call for; it's just a bit too much butter.

                  EDIT: Ok, I just realized I responded to a three year old thread, but what the heck, fall and winter are coming soon enough, what better time to make some homemade pretzels.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: bushwickgirl

                    Thanks for all the recent responses....it got me thinking I wanted to make pretzels again. I ended up using lye when I made them, and I still have some left.

                  2. Here's an article from this week's food section the LA Times regarding pretzels and pretzel bread. The author recommends food grade lye, which you can get on Amazon. She describes the different results you get from using lye, baked baking soda, regular baking soda, etc.:

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: emily

                      Timely, Interesting and informative, thanks for the link. I'll have to try it, over my baking soda routine.

                    2. Here is another thread on the subject - http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/342308 Sodium Hydroxide is the chemical name of lye. Use food grade or USP grade only -- the hardware shop cans of lye may contain other chemicals. Rubber gloves and eye protection are mandatory!

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: NVJims

                        This is my ancient thread....so I thought I'd tell you how it turned out for me. I asked the bakery in town that makes fantastic prezels what they use and where they get it and they said they use lye and they get it at the hardware store. They showed me what kind. That's what I did and it was totally fine...it did *NOT* contain other chemicals, it's 100% lye... so that's okay to use. I got all worried and used rubber gloves and safety goggles but know that the properly mixed lye solution used for pretzels is very, very weak. Note that lye is used in oven cleaners and drano at higher concentrations than what you will be using it to make pretzels. Also, people that make soap at home use lye in much higher concentrations, too. Where people might get in trouble is making it in the wrong concentration or ingesting the powder. So treat lye like you would all other household chemicals and play it safe.