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Nov 23, 2010 07:20 AM

Once and for all. Does Alcohol cook out or not?

Most celeb' Chefs make statements like,"flambe to burn off most of the alcohol." Alton Brown makes reference to never being able to cook all the alcohol off. People will say, " I can't eat Wine Sauce, I'm an Alcoholic." So if the boiling point of Ethanol is 173.1 F and sauces are brought to the boil then reduced to a simmer and cooked to the desired thickness. Assuming we are at sea level 212 F does the job. How can there still be any alcohol there!?!?... Thanks...JJ

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  1. For all intents and purposes it DOES cook off, at least to the point that whatever's left is ineffectual. However it takes time--I believe 'ineffectual' is reached in about two hours, so quick sauces will have some content. Enough to bother an alcoholic? I don't know, maybe just the slightest hint, or taste, is enough to trigger addiction.

    I once found a chart showing time vs. alcohol percent, if I can find it again I'll post that for you.

    1. I don't know the kinetics of the sea-level equation, but it's my belief that Alton Brown is right. It is certainly a fact that a flash flambe will not remove the alcohol. A true Boeuf Bourgignonne stands a much better chance, cooked low and slow for a couple hours is reputed to remove the vast majority of the actual proof. However, huuuge caveat: I have several friends in recovery who avoid any foods which contain alcohol, not only for fear of ingesting actual grain but because the base taste is still there and can be a trigger for relapse. Never, never do I cook for a problem drinker using any kind of booze.

      1. I honestly don't know if/when all the alcohol burns off. I do know that some alcoholics in recovery wish to avoid all traces & tastes of alcohol, which is why they may refuse any sauces or preparations that include alcohol in the ingredients. It isn't worth the risk of triggering a craving or relapse for that food, no matter how wonderful it may taste. The reality of if any alcohol actually remains is not the issue. Of course, some people who do not drink will happily eat foods created with alcohol - but it is always best to let him/her make an informed decision.

        1. A flambe is the opposite - Most of the alcohol remains. In all cases, the food (what's it mixed with), heat and time factors into how much of it remains.

          Boiling and simmering something long enough gets rid of all the alcohol, but only in theory, and you'd still have to do it for a long time. It's no different than how a single distillation won't get you 100% pure of anything. Things just get contaminated. In this case, the the alcohol vapor can get trapped, the vapor can quickly condense back into the sauce, there could be uneven heating/energy distribution, etc.

          Getting back to the sauce, since sauces aren't reduced aggressively and it doesn't spend hours on the fire, it's best that those with problems avoid alcohol based ones.

          2 Replies
          1. re: ediblover

            My husband is an alcoholic and the alcohol content is irrelevant. He is extremely turned off by the smell and taste of alcohol and no matter how much you cook the item, he can still tell that it was there. If I order a dessert that has a teaspoon of liquor in it, he can tell from across the table.

            1. re: Kajikit

              I respect his choice to not have any alcohol in his food prep, recovery has on time limit.

          2. It takes longer than you might think. There's a chart here that I used to decide how to handle the wine in Choppino for a loved one who loves the dish, but is a recovering alchoholic. I simmer the wine alone for an hour before adding it to the recipe. The end result does not have an "alchohol" taste. I know this isn't the answer for everybody, but it works for us.


            6 Replies
            1. re: Liz K

              There seems to be a slight misunderstanding, I used the example of an Alcoholic as simply that, an example. I did not intent to be disrespectful of a very serious disease, I have close family members that are in recovery and I myself have been free of an Oxycontin addiction for 27 months. I thank all of you for your input and do apologize for any hurt feelings. Liz, that chart is informative and amazing! I had no idea there is so much alcohol retention over such a long cooking time. Thanks... Happy Thanksgiving All!...JJ

              1. re: Chef Jimmy J

                JJ, GOOD ON YOU. I mean that in the most sincere way, and applaud your candor and your recovery. I didn't feel that the question you posed was in any way disrespectful. Just sayin.

                1. re: Chef Jimmy J

                  I don't think you were disrespectful at all. It's a legitimate question. My sister is in recovery. She would never avoid vanilla extract or a dessert with a small amount of alcohol that she can't taste or feel. That's her own decision, though, and she isn't concerned about triggers that way. Others in recovery don't want to consume the stuff at all, regardless of if it's still alcoholic or not.

                  I think the question is also relevant to religious people who don't believe in alcohol at all. Muslims or Mormons, for example. You wouldn't tell a Kosher Jew to render the bacon fat down until you can't taste it, so I think knowing the truth in whether or not alcohol "vanishes" at a certain point is good information.

                  1. re: Azizeh

                    Excellent point and Thank You...JJ

                2. re: Liz K

                  Thank you for the chart! It's very useful not just for alchoholics, but also for moms deciding whether kids should eat coq-au-vin:)