12 Tips You Need When Cooking With Soda

"Fuller, go easy on the Pepsi!" While Kevin McCallister's cousin in "Home Alone" might not have been able to hold his cola, you absolutely should stock up, because while the drink can be refreshing, it also can help add some fantastic flavors to your next meal. Whether you're looking to bake a cake or roast a pig, soda has the power to enhance the flavor profile of just about anything. While working in the kitchen, you might have scoffed at the idea of cooking with soda in the past, but it's worth giving it a try, especially when considering the hundreds of flavor opportunities you have at your fingertips.

Sure, you don't need a spice cabinet full of sodas stored in test tubes and beakers (unless you want to fully embrace the mad scientist vibe), but with so many options, you have limitless potential. Even a switch between brands can have a subtle, yet lasting impact on what you're making. It doesn't matter if this is your first time diving into the world of cooking with soda or if you are a seasoned professional, here are several tips and tricks when it comes to cooking with soda.

Cola is a fantastic tenderizer

Maybe you were once sampling someone's ham, asked them what they used in the recipe, and were taken aback when they said Coca-Cola. Well, there's a method to that madness. Cola has a higher acidity level than other sodas, which already makes it a great tenderizer. In many ways, cola is the baking soda of the soft drink world. It has many uses, ranging from being used as a toilet bowl cleaner all the way to clearing residue off of car batteries. This is because cola has a higher acidity level than lemon juice, and all this acidity lets it stand out as a fantastic meat tenderizer. So whether you're braising a rump roast, looking for a different flavor to add to your roast beef, or you want to elevate the holiday ham to a new golden standard, cola is calling your name.

The beautiful thing about cola is that different brands have subtle flavor changes. Pepsi brings a slightly sweeter taste than Coca-Cola, while Dr Pepper enhances the usual caramel taste with hints of vanilla. You could even go the unique route and track down an RC Cola (if you can find it). With so many different flavor variations out there, you can always add something unique to your upcoming pot roast.

Tenderize veggies with soda

Have you ever tried to soften carrots, parsnips, or other large, solid vegetables, in boiling water? It takes a lifetime, doesn't it? It can feel like your entire meal is hanging in the balance as you wait on those carrots, and yet every time you stick a fork in one and take a bite, it's very obviously not done.

Wouldn't it be great if you could speed up the process? Short of whaling on the veggies with a hammer, there must be a better way, right? Well, put that hammer away, and instead, grab that cola you're using in a BBQ sauce marinade or juicy pot roast. Much like it can do with meat, cola has the magical power of tenderizing veggies. Don't worry, your carrots won't suddenly taste like Coca-Cola. Although, there will be a subtle, departed sweetness remaining, which, in many ways, can elevate your veggies. You can even try something sweeter, like Dr Pepper, or even a root beer. It'll add just a hint of sweetness that will leave your guests guessing as to what you added to your vegetables to make them so tender and delicious. But don't worry, if you don't want to tell them, your secret is safe with us.

Carbonation is your friend

It's more than just bubbles surging up your nose when cracking open a can. What if we told you it's possible to harness the power of carbonation and use it to your advantage in the world of baking? When baking a cake, carbonation in soda can work similarly to baking soda, all with way more flavor. Think of what a nice cream soda or Mellow Yellow could do to elevate your next homemade cake.

There are so many kinds of cake you can experiment with. Now, you don't need to swap out the baking soda in exchange for a carbonated soda. No, you would instead swap out one of the other liquids your cake or baked goods recipe calls for. Of course, as is the case with any recipe you're altering with brand-new ingredients, we do recommend maybe doing a dry run-through before sharing the final product. After all, it might need a bit of tinkering until you have all the right levels in place.

Add sweetness to your chicken with soda

There are a number of "sweet" marinades out there you can use on chicken. Probably one of the most popular options out there is teriyaki. It can work great with grilled or pan-fried chicken (as well as other meats), but, for some, it is far too overpowering in its thick sweetness. On top of that, have you ever tried to clean a grill, skillet, or pan after cooking with teriyaki sauce? It's a downright nightmare. All the sugar caramelized and then clings to the cooking surface, making it next to impossible to easily clean off. It's one of those times where there's very little you can do but actually let the pan soak with some extremely anti-stick dish soap.

But beyond the sticky problem, we'll round back to the sweetness issue. If the sauce is too sweet for you and you'd like to use something else, we highly recommend trying a citrus-flavored soft drink. Sprite or even a Mountain Dew or Squirt can help your chicken maintain its moisture level while adding a fantastic citrus flavor to the meat (as well as a subtle sweetness). There are all kinds of citrus soft drinks available, so whether you want lemon and lime, grapefruit, orange, or some other variety, there is a flavor ready for you to use.

Turn recipes vegan

Have you struggled to find a cake mix that is completely vegan? If so, you are by no means alone. Just about every box of cake batter or pre-assembled mix requires some amount of eggs or butter, which throws a major wrench in your vegan baking lifestyle. Even if you're able to track down a vegan cake mix, it'll end up costing up there with your car payment and monthly rent, just to take home a few boxes to see if you even like it or not. Well, what if we told you it's possible to skip the eggs and butter and jump head-first into the recipe with a can of your favorite soda? This is not a hoax. You very literally can use a cake mix and a can of soda, and that's it.

Maybe you've given up drinking soda for one reason or another. That's okay because you don't need to drink it! You're simply using the soda in replace of the eggs and butter. We already told you earlier it is possible to use soda as you would baking powder. Well, according to Huffington Post, there are a number of recipes where it's fully plausible to take out all the extra required ingredients and instead insert your favorite soda.

Cut out acidity with your favorite pop

Various sauces are going to have higher levels of acidity. This is especially true when working with tomatoes. Adding a hint of sugar to your pasta sauce is a great way to neutralize the acidity levels of the tomatoes. It also might be a trick you've been using for years. A pinch of sugar doesn't do much to the flavor of your pasta sauce, but it sure helps prevent you from breaking out the Zantac post-dinner. And yet, did you know there are other ways to neutralize that acidity level in tomato sauces? Naturally, as we're discussing all the cooking tips for soda, you better believe we're recommending you test out a hint of soda in your sauce.

Now, don't go pumping that 2-liter of Mr. Pib into your marinara, but a dash of soda can help smooth out that stomach-wrenching acidity, all while bringing just a bit of new flavor to the sauce (though we will say adding Coca-Cola to spaghetti isn't everyone's cup of tea). Darker colas will add a caramel hint, while root beers will bring a vanilla touch. The right soda comes down to the flavor you want. We don't know of any oregano sodas just yet, but there are plenty of tastes you can play around with. Ideally, you'll work with a non-diet soda using real sugar, instead of high fructose corn syrup. So, if you have access to Mexican Coke, by all means, take advantage of it.

Combine light colored sodas with light-colored batter

While we're going through these tips, you need to keep in mind that there are some sodas you will want to experiment with, and other sodas you will want to put aside. Or, at the very least, put aside based on what you are currently preparing.

Have plans for making a birthday cake or biscuits to go with chili tonight? Try to match the color of the soda with the color of the batter. Typically, something like Sprite, 7-Up, or a cream soda goes better with lighter batters, not to mention these lighter sodas won't stain the color. Opt for a darker soda, like colas and root beers if working with chocolate. This is designed to help you maintain the color integrity of your baked goods. Having an off-brown look to your lemon-flavored cake might turn people off of what you're offering, even if the cake itself is delicious. While this isn't an absolute rule (especially if you're keeping the baked good at home), it is something to keep in mind.

Soda lets you inject moisture into grilled meats

Do your burgers end up dry, no matter what you do? There is no shortage of issues drying out your burger, but as this isn't an all-things burger post, we will dive into only one specific way to fix the moisture issue. To safeguard your burger and ensure it is always moist and juicy, you can turn to your good friend, soda, to help you out. Combining your ground beef with eggs and other ingredients will already give it a bit more intrigue and flavor, but combining a small amount of soda into this mixture will help infuse it with more moisture and a subtle sweetness. Give adding soda to your burger a try at your next grill out.

You will probably want to use a cola, as that hint of caramel sweetness will blend with the meat. However, there are a handful of other sodas you can use. Just make sure they are on the mild side in terms of taste. A lighter ginger ale could work nicely, and even a Dr Pepper might give you a nice fruity, cherry taste, if you're into that. But usually, a super fruity, artificial-tasting soda is one to avoid.

Jazz up your shrimp cocktail

We can't justify calling this ceviche, out of respect for our Peruvian friends, but soda can add a little pizzazz to a shrimp cocktail. Several shrimp cocktail recipes call for the inclusion of an ingredient, such as Clamato. The combination of clam and tomato juice might be a bit too much for some, especially for those who are not accustomed to the taste (or who are not fans of a quality Michelada beer cocktail).

To help cut that clam and tomato juice, a citrus-based soda can help not only cut the acidity and bring a citrus infusion to the shrimp cocktail, but it can help break up some of the clam and tomato juices. Because shrimp cocktails rely on fresh ingredients, it is usually best to grab a naturally sweetened soft drink that uses fruits like citrus or pineapple. This helps you avoid artificial sweetness while enjoying your shrimp and tomato-based snack.

Root beer can work wonders

Stop into any bar or tavern and you are bound to find menu items labeled "beer battered." The menu might even let you know they used a Guinness or a Bud Light. All of that is great and all, but can you taste the beer? Most of the time, we're left searching for that beer taste. It's just not there. And when you look at the recipe, there might be a good half a cup of beer, making it difficult to instill any of that beer flavor into what is made. Truthfully, it feels more like a publicity stunt to say that beer was on the menu than trying to extract flavor.

Root beer, on the other hand, is different. It brings a bold, vanilla taste to the table. Depending on the root beer in question, you might even be able to taste the oak barrels the beverage was aged in. We love that about root beer, which is why it is an excellent soft drink for cooking. One particular menu item we suggest you test out? Boston baked beans with root beer and pulled pork.

Soda is great for infusing into fruit

Maybe you don't want to jump headfirst into the world of cooking with soda. Perhaps instead you would rather just test it out and build your confidence from there. If that is the case, we have the perfect starting point for you. Soda and fruit very much go hand in hand. Chances are, you've been to a few potlucks where there is a big bowl of punch that's filled with various sodas and maybe some frozen fruit. This is along a similar line, but instead of the frozen fruit acting as ice, in this suggestion, the soda will act as a way to help keep the fruit succulent.

Sometimes you just want to nibble on a bowl of fruit. Maybe you have a bowl of mandarins or some melon cubes. This is great, but if it is in the sun it's going to start drying out. Why not add flavor instead of losing it? By adding a naturally flavored sparkling fruit soda to your bowl of fruit, you'll get some exciting carbonation to the fruit while keeping them juicy. We say use a naturally fruit-flavored soda for this, but, hey, make it your own.

Skip the heavy lifting and make a caramel sauce with cola

Trying to make a caramel sauce at home from scratch can be more work than you bargained for. It requires you to sit over the stove, gently stirring sugar to ensure it doesn't burn on you. This non-stop babying of sugar is enough to make you pull your hair out. Especially if you have to step outside of the room for half a moment, only to return to smoke and the aroma of charred sugar. Nothing like giving off smoke signals that you have to start the caramel sauce-making process from the beginning.

So instead of dealing with that kind of a mess, why don't you just go the soda route? It is so much easier than starting from scratch. Instead, pour a can of cola into a pot and place it on the stove (it is very important for you to use a cola, such as Coke, as it needs to have that caramel sweetness. This trick will not work with other kinds of soda). Once you're up and running, you will want to turn up the heat until the cola begins to boil. Allow the soda to boil down until it's at about ¼ cup. Once you hit this level add in some heavy cream and you'll have a thick, decadent caramel sauce that'll knock your socks off.

Static Media owns and operates Tasting Table and Mashed.