30+ Chef Secrets to Cooking With Vinegar

Get inspired by the experts who know how to use vinegar to develop a dish's big flavors with little effort.

By Perri O. Blumberg

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Vinegar (which comes from the French “vin aigre,” or “sour wine”), is created from fermented alcohol, which is most commonly wine but is sometimes beer or cider, or is based on grains (like rice) or fruit (like apples). Store your vinegar in glass bottles in cool, dark places. If it turns cloudy, you can pour it through a coffee filter.

“Much like salt and citrus, a dash (or four) of vinegar will perk up your taste buds and bring brightness to the other ingredients in a dish,” says Jessica Goldman Foung, author of Sodium Girl’s Limitless Low Sodium Cookbook and founder of SodiumGirl.com. “Vinegar is also a great replacement for those on low-sodium diets—it always adds an element of surprise to classic recipes, so you and your palate won’t miss the salt.” Here’s how the experts cook with various vinegars.

Distilled White Vinegar

“It’s a great addition to marinades to help tenderize meats. Also, using a bit of distilled white vinegar to wash your hands will eliminate odors, which is a life-saver when you’ve been cutting onions or working with other strong-scented ingredients.” —Kevin Sugarman, Director of Training at Mellow Mushroom

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Balsamic Vinegar

“Reducing balsamic into a syrup is a great trick for a home cook. Put it on ice cream (vanilla, chocolate, sour cherry are my favorites) and you’ll never use chocolate sauce on ice cream again.” —Sarah Simmons of City Grit

“I love to use a balsamic from Modena, Italy which has this caramel flavor that is great in fruit tarts. Sometimes, I also like to to add it to my avocado toast with fleur de sel in the morning.” —Fernanda Capobianco, founder of Vegan Divas

“Sure, balsamic vinegar is a staple in vinaigrettes, but it’s also great for roasting veggies! They soak up the flavor nicely and offer a fresh, acidic but delicious flavor.” —Chef Danny Lachs of Brazilia Cafe

“Use balsamic and sherry vinegars on bitter, bolder lettuces like frisée or even watercress. Balsamic is the best to make a pan sauce with honey or sugar before adding chicken cutlets or pork.” —Chef Eric Miller of Bay Kitchen Bar

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Red Wine Vinegar

“Red wine vinegar is best for French-style mustard-based dressings over romaine or bibb lettuces. When pairing with meat, red wine vinegar with honey or caramelized onions is perfect for a gastrique that’s sweet & sour and perfect to cut the gaminess of duck.” —Chef Eric Miller of Bay Kitchen Bar

“Red wine vinegar has a distinct taste, which makes it a great ingredient for vinaigrettes and other salad dressings, along with meat marinades. It’s perfect for a summer or spring salad with sweet fruits.” —Amie Valpone, The Healthy Apple

“Add a dash of red wine vinegar to cilantro-studded guacamole.” —Jessica Goldman Foung

“When working with red wine and sherry vinegars, I usually use them for finishing a dish or a sauce for that raw flavor at the end. Traditionally when braising short ribs that have been stewed in red wine and aromatics, I will always finish the braised ribs with a few splashes of red wine vinegar to round out the flavors and reinforce the red wine flavor. It really gives a full flavor of red wine to the dish” —Chef Ed Cotton of Sotto 13

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Apple Cider Vinegar

“Apple cider vinegar is perfect for slaws, as the apple flavor adds a touch of sweetness that nicely compliments veggies and holds up well with cabbages. It’s also essential for barbecue sauce, to complement and balance the sweetness of black-strap molasses.” —Chef Eric Miller

“As vegan, I like to use apple cider vinegar as a replacement for egg whites. The vinegar creates a reaction that makes vegan pastries very fluffy and airy, much like egg whites would.” —Fernanda Capobianco

“Adding a couple tablespoons of to cold water when washing vegetables helps them stay fresher longer and helps keep lettuce and other greens crisp.” —Kevin Sugarman

“Add to baked beans, bean salads, cooked whole grains, braised cabbage, roasted winter squash, slaws, or lentil soups. Make a healthy tuna salad with apple cider vinegar, olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper rather than mayo.” The Nutrition Twins, Tammy and Lyssie Lakatos, authors of The Nutrition Twins’ Veggie Cure

“Add apple cider vinegar to your next black bean salad or chilled gazpacho.” —Jessica Goldman Foung

“Apple cider vinegar possesses a much more round and balanced flavor than red and white wine vinegars. It’s great for salad dressings and it’s also one of my favorite vinegars to pickle with.” —Chef Lucas Billheimer of The Writing Room

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Sherry Vinegar

“Add a touch of fortified wine vinegars such as sherry vinegar to hearty beef stews, to balance flavor. It will also help to tenderize the beef.” —Chef JJ Lui, Chef Instructor in Culinary Science, Culinary Institute of America

“Marinating raw red onions in sherry vinegar for about an hour makes them easier to digest. Toss them into salads for a satisfying topping.” —Fernanda Capobianco

“I love using sherry vinegar with marinated tomatoes. I enjoy making a ginger oil and drizzling it over the cut tomatoes, then tossing them in a bowl with chopped shallots, chives, and finishing it with a good splash of sherry. I like to let them stand for 10 minutes before serving.” —Chef Ed Cotton

“I make a sherry dressing by combining shallots, walnut oil and extra virgin olive oil—very simple to do at home too. Sherry works well when combined with strong flavors because it has been aged in wood, so it’s great for a hearty salad with robust flavors.” —Chef Katy Sparks of Tavern on the Green

“I like to use vinegars as reductions, so I slowly reduce to a thick glaze and use in small quantities to add slight acidity and also sweetness. Sherry vinegar I love the most, as it’s perfect as a splash in cream sauces to balance the richness of the flavor. Sherry vinegar is also great in desserts.” —Michelin-starred Chef Shaun Hergatt of Juni

“The classic way to use sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar is in a simple vinaigrette, which tastes great on simply grilled fish and meat. Take sherry wine vinegar, mince up a salad, add some olive oil and, if you’d like, fresh herbs like thyme. Let sit for a bit. Then spoon it over whatever meat you’re grilling in the backyard. Delicious! This loose style of vinaigrette is called a ‘broken vinaigrette,’ but if you’d rather a thicker, emulsified one, add Dijon mustard or honey to the mix.” —Chef Todd Mitgang of Bo’s Kitchen & Bar Room and Crave Fishbar

“I love sherry and since it’s such a great wine to serve with food, sherry vinegar is an extremely great fit for brightening up a dish whether it’s a pan sauce, a vinaigrette, or braised greens.” —Sarah Simmons

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Champagne Vinegar

“I mix champagne vinegar with berries to create a tangy dessert (I do it with hemp seeds).” —Ashley Koff, RD

“Champagne vinegar with a lighter flavor is great for mesclun mixes and Asian greens.” —Chef Eric Miller

“Saucemaking benefits from using the best vinegars you can afford. Nothing beats using champagne vinegar as your base for a classical beurre blanc sauce.” —Chef JJ Lui

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White Wine Vinegar

“I often blend avocado and white wine vinegar (apple cider cider vinegar works well, too) to make a quick salad dressing.” Ashley Koff, RD, Celebrity Dietitian and Author

“Add white wine vinegar, as a salt replacement, to compliment those oven-baked french fries!” —Jessica Goldman Foung

“It’s a snap to make your own fermented white wine vinegar: Fill a crock or stoneware jar with white wine and add mother of vinegar. Leave it at room temperature to allow it to ferment, cover with a cloth to prevent dust or insects getting into it and anytime between three weeks and six months for the most delicious high-quality vinegar.” —Chef JJ Lui

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Rice Vinegar

“While you may be tempted to substitute for western vinegars, when cooking Asian foods, the flavor profiles that original rice vinegar gives you cannot be beaten.” —Chef JJ Lui

“Add rice wine vinegar and curry spice to your famous chicken salad.” —Jessica Goldman Foung

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Malt Vinegar

“For an extra light and extremely crispy frying batter for fish or onion rings, use one cup of flour, one cup of water, 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda and one tablespoon of malt vinegar, mix and season to taste.” —Chef JJ Lui