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What can I use if I don’t have vodka for vodka sauce?

If you don’t have vodka on hand, there are a few good substitutes you can use to make vodka sauce without compromising too much on flavor.

Use Another Clear Spirit

The easiest substitute is to use another clear, flavorless spirit in place of the vodka. Good options include:

  • Gin
  • Rum
  • Tequila
  • Brandy

Gin and rum tend to have the least pronounced flavors, so they are the closest to vodka. Replace the vodka with an equal amount of your chosen clear spirit.

Try Non-Alcoholic Substitutes

If you don’t have any clear spirits on hand, you can also use non-alcoholic substitutes in your vodka sauce:

  • Broth: Substitute an equal amount of chicken or vegetable broth. The broth adds savory flavor.
  • Water: For the most basic substitution, use water. It won’t add flavor but will thin out the sauce.
  • Juice: Lemon, lime, or white grape juice add some acidity and flavor like vodka.
  • Vinegar: A splash of white wine vinegar or champagne vinegar perks up the sauce.

Adjust the Flavor

When using a substitute, you may need to adjust seasoning:

  • Add a pinch more salt and pepper to balance out the flavors.
  • Stir in a little extra cream or butter to enrich the sauce.
  • If the sauce tastes flat, add a dash of hot sauce or a squeeze of lemon for acidity.
  • For broth substitutions, reduce the broth slightly to concentrate flavors.

Sample Substitution Ratios

Here are some sample vodka to substitute ratios you can try:

Substitute Ratio
Gin or rum 1:1 (use the same amount as vodka called for)
Broth 1:1
Water 1:1
Juice 1:1 to 1:2 (use a little less juice than vodka)
Vinegar 1:3 to 1:5 (use much less vinegar than vodka)

How to Make Vodka Sauce

Here is a basic recipe for vodka sauce to give you a sense of how much vodka is typically used:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup vodka
  • 1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Cooked pasta
  • Grated parmesan cheese

To make:

  1. Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes until softened.
  2. Pour in the vodka and simmer for 1 minute to cook off the alcohol.
  3. Stir in the crushed tomatoes, heavy cream, tomato paste, basil, salt, and pepper. Simmer for 10-15 minutes to meld the flavors.
  4. Add the cooked pasta to the sauce and toss to coat. Top with grated parmesan cheese.

As you can see, vodka sauce typically uses around 1/4 cup of vodka. So substitute that amount with your vodka replacement of choice.

How Does Vodka Affect Vodka Sauce?

Vodka adds several important qualities to vodka sauce:

  • Flavor – The alcohol extracts flavors from the other ingredients like tomatoes and garlic.
  • Acidity – Vodka adds a touch of acidity to balance the richness of the cream.
  • Bite – It contributes a slight spicy bite.
  • Mouthfeel – Vodka helps thin out the sauce slightly.

Keep these qualities in mind when substituting so your sauce doesn’t end up lacking the complexity and brightness that vodka provides.


With a range of substitutes from gin to broth to lemon juice, you can mimic the flavor of vodka in vodka sauce pretty closely. Just remember to adjust seasoning to balance out the flavors. Vodka sauce is very forgiving, so don’t stress about following an exact substitution ratio. Taste as you go, and you’ll end up with a delicious sauce.