How To Safely Incorporate Dry Ice Into Your Cocktails

Dry ice is an exciting ingredient that can add a fun and dramatic element to your drinks, whether they're classic cocktails or creative craft concoctions. However, if you watched the first episode of Netflix's mixology show "Drink Masters," where the judges refused to drink a contestant's margarita due to the risk of fatally ingesting a piece of dry ice, then you know safety is essential when using this unique ingredient, as it can be dangerous if mishandled. It's important to understand how to properly incorporate dry ice into your cocktails, so you can impress your guests while keeping everyone safe.

But what exactly is dry ice? Dry ice is the solid form of carbon dioxide (CO2). It's colder than regular ice (-109.3°Fahrenheit, to be exact) and sublimates directly from a solid to a gas without melting. It can also create a dramatic smoke effect when added to cocktails — which is exactly why bartenders love to use it. But due to the complex safety issues and risks that come with handling dry ice, this is one ingredient that should only be used by those with proper training and a high mixology skill level.

Precautions to take when using dry ice

When handling dry ice, it's essential to take certain safety precautions to avoid injury (via Cornell University). Firstly, always wear insulated gloves when handling dry ice. Direct contact with this material can cause frostbite or burns, so handling it with care is important. Your skin should never come into contact with dry ice, so use tongs or a scoop instead of hands — even if you're wearing gloves. When not being used, dry ice should be stored in a well-insulated cooler to keep it from sublimating too quickly. The container shouldn't be airtight, however, as pressure from the gas may cause it to explode.

Lastly, you must never consume dry ice. If swallowed, it can cause severe internal damage.

If you're uncomfortable using dry ice, there are alternative methods for creating a smoke effect in your cocktails. A smoking gun is a handheld device that can be used to infuse smoke into cocktails. Simply place wood chips in the smoking chamber and light them, then place the hose into the cocktail and let the smoke infuse the drink. Another option is to use herbs that are on the hardier side such as rosemary or thyme (as opposed to more delicate herbs like parsley), to create a smoke effect. Light the herbs on fire and place them on a plate, then place the empty cocktail glass over the herbs and let the smoke infuse the drink.

Incorporating dry ice into cocktails

Now that we've covered the safety precautions let's explore how to incorporate dry ice into your cocktails. First, you have to pick the right kind of cocktail. Variations on the old-fashioned and the martini are frequently used with dry ice, as are Halloween-themed drinks like the green-hued Witches Brew. You should also choose glassware that leaves plenty of room at the top of the glass for the fog to pool, or you won't get the full visual effect.

Be sure to work in a well-ventilated area, and only use small pieces of dry ice (no larger than a golf ball) in your cocktails. Smaller pieces melt faster and will help control the sublimation rate while preventing gas buildup. Add the dry ice to the glass last, after all the other ingredients have been added. This will help prevent any splashing or spilling. Never seal the glass with a lid or cap when using dry ice. This can cause a dangerous buildup of gas that can shatter the glassware, sending shards flying.

Lastly, wait for the dry ice to sublimate completely before drinking the cocktail. This can take several minutes, so be patient: It's better to wait than to accidentally burn a hole in your esophagus.