Many meals are enhanced by the flavors imparted by alcoholic beverages used in cooking, such as beer and wine. Parents may rightly wonder if it's safe to feed their children dishes cooked with beer. It's an individual choice, but foods with beer in the ingredient list don't generally contain very much alcohol -- if any-- if they're cooked for a long enough time.
Alcohol Levels and Cooking
According to the University of Cincinnati and the Colorado State University Extension, most alcohol does burn off, but only if the alcohol is added first and the cooking temperature is sufficiently high for a long enough period, as heat oxidizes alcohol over time. Alcohol added after the cooking process will not burn off; foods cooked in this way should not be served to pregnant women, young children or people who want to avoid alcohol in their diets.
As a general rule, when food is simmered or baked for 15 minutes, 60 percent of the alcohol dissipates. After an hour, only 25 percent remains. After two and a half hours, all but 5 percent of the alcohol is gone. Pan size plays a role as well. Meals cooked with beer in small pans tend to take longer to lose alcohol content, as less surface area heats up. If you add beer to a boiling dish then remove it from the heat source, as much as 85 percent of the alcohol will remain. Similarly, if you add the beer after cooking or to a cold food, all of the alcohol will remain.
Several beer alternatives provide flavor without the alcohol. Tomato or apple juice can stand in for beer. If you crave that slightly malty flavor that beer imparts, try a sprinkle of brewer's yeast. For a splash of acidic taste, try a bit of vinegar or lemon juice. Non-alcoholic beers have a very similar flavor to normal beer, but add a negligible amount of alcohol to food.
Some cooks like to roast or grill chickens positioned literally atop an opened beer can with some of the beer in it. As the bird cooks, the beer steams up, creating flavor and moist meat. According to North Dakota State University, using beer cans as part of the cooking process may be unsafe. Beer cans are not designed to withstand the high heat of grilling or roasting, and can contain toxic chemicals or are coated with inks that shouldn't be in contact with food at high heats. Other concerns include skin injuries resulting from contact with boiling beer or steam burns. Instead of risking a boiling hot beer can, cook the chicken over a tube cake pan filled with beer -- or whatever liquid you feel most comfortable with.
Beer is commonly added to batters, as it enhances the flavor and texture of the finished fried item, such as onion rings or apple fritters. Add beer to beef stock and tomato paste, then use it to bake and baste a pot roast or beef brisket for two to three hours. Add vegetables such as potatoes and carrots in the last 45 minutes. Make a beer cheese dip for your veggies or pretzels by mixing cheddar, cream cheese, ranch dip mix, a small amount of beer and chopped green onions. Heat slowly over low heat until the cheese is melted and bubbly.
Based in the Southwest, Linsay Evans writes about a range of topics, from parenting to gardening, nutrition to fitness, marketing to travel. Evans holds a Master of Library and Information Science and a Master of Arts in anthropology.