Skip to main content

How to Work with Lye Safely

Published Aug. 8, 2022

Dipping the dough in a lye solution gives traditional German pretzels their characteristic salinity; chew; and smooth mahogany exterior, but the strong alkali (sodium hydroxide) is corrosive and can burn your skin, so it must be handled with caution. (Don’t worry about eating baked pretzels; baking neutralizes the lye and makes it perfectly safe to consume.) Follow this guide to make your experience safe and comfortable.

Lye-Dipping Station Setup

Work in a well-ventilated room, on a stable and roomy counter near an empty sink, if possible. Do not use lye around small children or pets. 

Key Supplies

  • Food-grade lye (also known as sodium hydroxide), available at baking shops or online 
  • Long sleeves with long rubber gloves (such as for dishwashing; before wearing, blow up each glove like a balloon to ensure that there are no holes) 
  • Safety goggles
  • Digital scale that measures in grams
  • Rags in case of spills or drips
  • Counter protection (plastic wrap or large plastic bag) 

Method

  1. Cover counter with plastic wrap or large plastic bag. Put on rubber gloves, making sure no skin on your arms is showing. Put on safety goggles.
  2. Measure out exactly 40 grams of lye crystals into small bowl on scale. Set aside small bowl with lye crystals. Cover container of lye crystals and store in locked/secure location per package instructions. 
  3. Place large bowl on scale. Add 1,000 grams cold water to large bowl. Add reserved 40 grams lye crystals to water and whisk gently to dissolve. Order of operations is important: Always add lye to water instead of adding water to lye. (Lye solution in bowl will heat up slightly and will give off some vapors, which are barely noticeable, but it’s not advisable to put your face directly over solution.) Rinse whisk well with cool water. Remove scale. 
  4. Set wire rack in rimmed baking sheet and place to right of lye solution. Unwrap sheet of chilled pretzels, place to left of lye solution, and proceed with recipe. (Clear counter while pretzels bake; see below.)

If Your Skin or Eyes Come in Contact with Lye

Avoid touching anything but the pretzels while working with the lye solution. Before touching something else, rinse your gloved hands with cool water and dry them with rags. 

If any unintentional exposure occurs, call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222, and follow these steps:

  • If you get lye solution on your skin or in your eyes: Rinse your skin or flush your eyes immediately with cool running water for at least 15 minutes.
  • If you touch lye crystals: Brush them off with a dry cloth, and then rinse your skin with cool running water for at least 10 minutes.

Cleanup

  1. Still wearing gloves and goggles, transfer bowl of lye solution to sink. 
  2. Run cold water into bowl in gentle stream to dilute solution. Pour solution down drain. Flush drain and rinse bowl and sink thoroughly with plenty of cold water. 
  3. Rinse rimmed baking sheets and wire rack with plenty of cold water. Dispose of plastic wrap or plastic bag on counter. Rinse gloves before removing. Once gloves are off, remove goggles.

0 Comments

Try All-Access Membership to Unlock the Comments
Don't miss the conversation. Our test cooks and editors jump in to answer your questions, and our members are curious, opinionated, and respectful.
Membership includes instant access to everything on our sites:
  • 10,000+ foolproof recipes and why they work
  • Taste Tests of supermarket ingredients
  • Equipment Reviews save you money and time
  • Videos including full episodes and clips
  • Live Q&A with Test Kitchen experts
Start Free Trial
JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.