David L. Katz, MD
Photo: Mackenzie Stroh
Q: When I cook with wine, how long does it take to burn off the alcohol? And if I'm cooking for someone with substance abuse problems, should I eliminate alcohol from the recipe?
— K.M.Webb, Scotsdale, Arizona

A: You're very conscientious—and you're right to be concerned. Alcohol does burn off with heat, but exactly how much depends on the method of cooking, time, and temperature.

A dish baked for an hour burns off roughly 75 percent of the alcohol. A dish baked for two and a half hours burns 95 percent—which means some alcohol is still left even after all that time in the oven. If you're doing a flambé—lighting the alcohol in a skillet—only about 25 percent is lost.

For most people, the amount in a cooked dish is trivial. But for someone with a history of alcoholism, it would be best to leave out the sherry—and all other spirits. The taste, and possibly even the mild effect of the alcohol, could lead to a relapse in a person battling alcoholism.

Since you mention that you're cooking with wine, you'll be happy to know that there are reasonable substitutes. Your best bet is to try experimenting with nonalcoholic wines. And in a pinch, you might find that a combination of grape juice and red wine vinegar can give a close approximation of red wine. White grape juice combined with white wine vinegar can substitute for white wine.