The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Nervous...first time using LYE

CJRoman's picture

Nervous...first time using LYE

I finally put on my big kid pants and bought some lye for pretzels. I've been wanting to do this for YEARS...but now that I have it, I'm terrified to use it.

I called the company who sold it to ask for advice....they couldn't answer a single one of my questions! Can you help:

1. What type of container should I make the solution in? Plastic? Glass?

2. I understand I need to make a 3% solution (yes?)...what is the best way of doing this?

3. How long do you soak them?

4. Can I reuse the solution? If so, how many times and how should I store it?

5. When do I safely dispose of it?

trailrunner's picture

My husband is a chemist and he says you can use either glass or plastic to mix up the solution. Yes you can store and keep using the will not change. He says to store in glass or plastic it is very dangerous to use aluminum around lye so that is your big caution. . To mix it up just measure out the lye and add to the is only a tiny amount 1 gallon of water at 128 oz and 3% solution 3.6 oz lye.This is really weak would have to really work to hurt yourself. It is neutralized by vinegar . Don't dispose of the and reuse. Otherwise just pour it down the know like Drano :) ! Here is a good link with a lot of the same info plus more and a great recipe ! Good Luck. c

kygin's picture

It's okay to use stainless steel, too, when cooking with lye.

isand66's picture

Here is the link to my post making pretzel rolls with Lye....

I used a stainless steel pot to prepare the lye bath.

I only leave them in the solution for less than a minute each.

Do not put the wet dough on parchment paper or any type of paper or when you bake it they will get stuck to the bottom of your pretzels.

CJRoman's picture

Great information!!!

Do I still use my standard baking sheet??? Do I still grease it???

alconnell's picture

I use a glass jar with a plastic lid and a glass bowl to dip the pretzels, using only plastic utensils.  I soak them about 30 seconds and put them on a baking sheet lined with a silpat,  Don't put them on bare metal!  Lye is corrosive and will react with metal. 

Using lye makes all the difference in making pretzels and you will love how they taste!  I have tried all other methods and this is the only one that tastes authentic.

isand66's picture

You are right the lye does tend to react with aluminum but stainless steel it seems to be okay.  I have been afraid to try the silpat but on your suggestion i will do that this week when i bake a bunch for 4th of July.


PeterS's picture

Just remember to always add the lye to the water, preferably cold--and not the other way around. 

dabrownman's picture

boil for bagels too!  Anything else isn't authentic - but still delicious.

Where do you buy lye at a retail store?

kygin's picture

You can get lye at most hardware stores, but you'll have to ask for it.  They no longer put it out on the shelves because of the meth problem.  You'll also have to show some identification and sign a form, at least I always do.  I never have used lye in the kitchen, but I go through quite a bit of it making paper.

CJRoman's picture

Thank you everyone for your advice! I took all of it and drove in...

...but I have to say, it was a big disappointment.

Working with lye is INCREDIBLY stressful. I was so afraid of hurting MYSELF....ruining my kitchen counter...or doing it incorrectly.

I bought all the necessary safety tools and followed all the rules.

Challenge One: the pretzels REALLY like to float in lye and its hard to keep them trying to do pretzels got a little beat up.

Challenge Two: TIME. Since you have to push them can really only do one at a time....which takes FOREVER when you are trying to get them in the oven FAST.

Challenge Three: they weren't THAT much better than baking soda. True...the crust is classic pretzel...but I didn't think the taste was that much better.

Challenge Four: Now I have a glass container of corrosive which I have no idea how to dispose of because the city isn't sure either!

Challenge Five: no one wants to eat them. Once my friends heard they were made with lye....they pushed them away.

I am so glad that I TRIED this because I was always curious...but for the stress and results?? No...I'm going back to soda.

mini_maggie's picture

Send them to me, lol!  Had a friend that made pretzels with lye and they stuck to the wax paper - yup, ate those too ;-)

Your lye solution is weaker than commercial drain cleaner - you can safely dispose of it down the sink, just be careful to clean up any splashes promptly.  If you're not terrified to use Drano, no reason to be terrified of your lye.


Wild-Yeast's picture

Sorry to hear the pretzels weren't up to your expectations. 

Just pour the lye solution down the drain.  It will breakdown fat and hair proteins in the drain - it's diluted Drano. Rinse with cold water and run the disposal if you have one.


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

tends to be the most awkward.  

Try it again now that you've played with it already, relax and do some experimenting.  Try dipping sooner after shaping when the pretzels are heavier and less apt to float.  Use a shallow tray for the solution.  And experiment with dunking regular rolls.  Or brushing it onto them.  Try cold dipping.  When you are done, spray everything in the sink with a 5% vinegar to neutralize the slipperiness and wash normally.  

adam_dolcebakery's picture

Your solution (3%) is so weak the only real danger is when you are adding the actual lye to the water (always add to cold first then heat, if you choose to heat it).

I got a small bit of the 3% solution on my hands and my skin didn't bubble off. I just rinsed them off with cold water, no problems. Just wear dish gloves or regular kitchen gloves and you will be fine.

2 Tablespoons per quart is what I use, add it to cold water in a plastic pitcher with a lid and a small opening, proof the bread then pour the lye over the buns (just coat them completely with water, no dunking in boiling water) while they are on a cooling rack so the lye can drain off, then bake them. Easy. The only problem is that my buns are sticking to the rack... it's driving me crazy haha..

But if you want real pretzels you have to use lye. All pretzels are made this way. Baking soda just won't cut it. I was scared to at first but now I handle it pretty easily. Good luck! :)