3 Tips for Cooking and Baking with Alcohol

updated May 1, 2019
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When you are a self-professed booze-hound and a baker at heart, it is almost too easy to incorporate flavorful alcohol into everything from weeknight dinners to luscious birthday cakes. Honestly, though, I’ve made more than a few mistakes along the way when trying to add the smoky sweetness of bourbon to dinner or the dry sweetness of Champagne into cake.

I’m going to cash in on those mistakes in the hopes they will be helpful for anyone who’s looking to booze-infuse their food. Here are three of my favorite tips for cooking with alcohol.

Why Cooking and Baking with Alcohol Rules

Cooking with alcohol — be it beer or blush wine — is fun for sure, but most importantly is adds distinct flavor. Yes, you can substitute vinegar or stock for recipes that call for wine or skip the liquor in many baked goods, but you’ll miss out on the nuanced flavors of fermentation added by wine and beer, or the herbal, smoky, or even floral flavors of liquors in these recipes.

It’s been suggested that alcohol carries more aroma to our noses and improves our dining experience. More importantly alcohol helps to bind fat and water in everything from marinades to sauces, naturally enhancing flavor with minimal effort.

(Image credit: Faith Durand)

1. Buy booze you want to drink.

Obviously the more tasty your bottle of wine or liquor, the more flavor and aroma on the plate. Since few recipes call for cooking with the entire bottle of wine, pick something that you will enjoy drinking either before during or after cooking with it. If you go with something your don’t enjoy drinking, you’ll be able to taste that whether it’s in a glass or in your brownies.

2. Don’t get your food drunk.

Think of adding alcohol to your food as working on a curve. Too little and you won’t taste it, and too much means that the alcohol will mask some of the dish’s flavor. It’s nearly impossible to set a hard-and-fast rule about how much alcohol you can add to a dish, so start with what the recipe writer suggests, taste, and add with care.

(Image credit: Melissa Ryan)

3. Know when to add which alcohol.

Each form of alcohol cooks and tastes differently depending on when it is added, so here are a few suggestions on when to use what and how to add it.


Beer is great for baking into quick breads and for meaty braises, but much of the beer’s flavor will cook out here. If you really want to taste the beer you’re cooking with, sauces are a wonderful place to start. Try adding beer to vinaigrettes, cheese dip, or even steak sauce. Avoid reducing beer, as this can result in a bitter bite.

Recipes for Cooking with Beer


Ah, wine the most beloved booze of chefs and home cooks alike. Reds are best for braising, while white wines make great deglazing liquids. Either can be added to pan sauces and vinaigrettes.

When it comes to baking, try substituting some of the liquid called for in cake recipes with a sweet white or sparkling wine and then using more of the same for making a sauce or glaze to enhance the cake. Wine can also be used to saturate cakes with flavor, too — just be sure to add the wine mentioned in the recipe for the best results.

More of Cooking with Wine


Of the three forms of alcohol, liquor is the hardest to add. You want to add enough of the liquor to taste it without overpowering the food; flavored spirits or even liqueurs are some of the best ways to do that. Making a simple syrup with either for coating cakes or muffins is an easy way to add their flavor without drowning out the baked good’s flavor.

As for cooking with boozes like bourbon, whiskey, or rum, these work particular well for deglazing when sautéing or can be added to stews or braises. In both instances the alcohol will mostly cook away, leaving only flavor in its wake.