Summertime Cooking with Coca-Cola

Creative ways to use this all-American soda in recipes

Book Cover Coca-Cola

What could symbolize summer more than the sound of cracking open an ice cold Coke? Sweet, sugary, and ridiculously satisfying when the weather is hot and humid, Coca-Cola is America's go-to soft drink. Served in tiny glass bottles, a can, or sipped out of a to-go cup from your local pizzeria, Coke has been there through the years. Yes, it has seen its trials: being laced with actual drugs, damaging health accusations, cane sugar vs. corn syrup debacle, and some sad attempts at low-calorie soft drinks. But, through it all, Coke has remained an American stand-by and is found in almost every vending machine, gas station, and restaurant today. 

What you may not know about Coke is that it actually works really well in recipes. If you’ve ever had a beer-braised dish, then you know how much goodness an ordinary drink can add to a dish. Same goes with Coke.

Though Coca-Cola tightly guards their recipe, many of the flavors can be picked up and manipulated to work for different dishes like these braised short rib sliders and glazed lamb skewers. Patrick Phelan, the Executive Chef for Assouline, created these recipes for the launch of the new Coca-Cola book (filled with gorgeous photographs of the soft drink through the years). He shared his delicious concoctions and some interesting knowledge about cooking with Coke — there's more to it than you would have thought.

What does Coke add to a recipe? “Probably the most significant thing is the vanilla-caramel flavor with hints of orange,” says Phelan. But he adds that because of the glucose and citric acid, the soda is also a great natural thickener, so it’s really great for dishes that need to reduce.

For more tips and insights into cooking with Coca-Cola, check out what chef Phelan has to say and try your hand at his delicious recipes. 


What would other flavors did you find in Coca-Cola?

I would start by saying that when I get requests like this to put a specific ingredient in food, rather than putting the ingredient straight in, I try to figure out best what’s in it. Coca-Cola is very secretive, but I found lime juice, vanilla, caramel, orange, nutmeg flavors in it. All of these flavors are added to the dish, and I try to exploit those them, so I don’t just pour Coke in and make it the center point.


What do you add to a sauce to balance out the sweetness of Coke?

It’s interesting because we did some savory dishes, for dessert it’s not an issue, but for savory, if you season the meats before with salt and pepper, that savoriness tends to take care of that sweetness. 

For the lamb skewers, we basically seasoned the lamb with salt and pepper and nutmeg, which we pulled from the Coca-Cola flavors, and that made a really salty rub on the meat. Then the tartness of the tomato came up to balance that. For using the sauce reduction, it’s your preference for when you are grilling to either baste it or put it alongside as a dipping sauce.