BY CHRISTINA WONG of Baking With Chickens | Photos by Dustin Hughes
So you want to learn how to cook and bake with weed. Incorporating cannabis into your cooking is a fantastic way to experience culinary cannabis at home—forget gummies and chocolate edibles. As a medicated herb, every strain of cannabis has its own unique flavor profile to pair with your favorite ingredients and dishes in the kitchen.
The sweet, earthy scent of basil brings out the sweet tartness of ripe summer tomatoes; fresh summer mint is perfect with sour lemons to make a zingy, refreshing mint lemonade; and similarly, cannabis flower has a bouquet of flavors and aromas that work well with everything from a savory grilled bbq to sublime desserts. A Sour Diesel Lemon infused olive oil brightens up the basil, garlic, and pistachios in my Cannabis Leaf Pesto. Similar to rosemary, a pine-scented strain like Larry OG would be excellent in a sauce or marinade with grilled or smoked meats.
Your dinner parties just got a whole lot more interesting. Here’s everything you need to know to get started.
Eating cannabis is a very different experience than inhaling cannabis. When smoking/inhaling, the THC is absorbed into your bloodstream, so you feel the effects almost immediately and it wears off sooner. When eating/ingesting cannabis, the THC is processed through the digestive system and metabolized in the liver as 11-Hydroxy metabolite. In short, the psychoactive effects of THC will feel more potent and last longer. “Start low, go slow, less is more” is the mantra for edibles.
New to edibles? Remember these 3 things:
Edibles take up to 90 minutes to 2 hours after eating to kick in. Eat a small dose portion and wait at least 2 hours before eating more. Start with 5 mg or less. If you don’t know the exact dose, less is better because you can always have more.
Edibles will feel much stronger than smoked THC because of how it's metabolized; a little goes a long way.
The effect of edibles will last much longer. You may feel the effects for hours after you’ve eaten it. Here's 7 things to do if you get too stoned.
Use infused oil or fat, like butter or heavy cream, in any dish you’d normally cook. Calculate the potency, measure the exact dose and substitute in any recipe. Infused peppery olive oil or a buttery avocado oil is great for everyday cooking, drizzled in vinaigrette for crunchy salads, to make popcorn, etc.
Coconut oil is versatile for any cooking and baking recipes because it’s solid when cold and liquid when heated. You can substitute cannabutter or infused vegetable oil in baking recipes to make desserts. Infuse milk and heavy cream to churn the creamiest of ice creams, whipped cream toppings for berry cobblers and trifles, or add into a cup of coffee.
Try infusing evaporated milk or heavy cream with a Wedding Cake strain to make an infused Tres Leches Cake topped with fresh sliced berries. As the light and spongy cake soaks up the infused milks, the infused cannabis will give the dessert an extra flavor dimension that helps offset the sugary sweetness.
Read on here for more dos and don'ts of making canna-oil.
Most important things to remember when cooking and baking with cannabis:
Temperature when cooking. THC evaporates above 355°F and CBD above 392°F. Cooking with cannabis on extremely hot surfaces like stovetop, grilling, frying or broiling can degrade the THC. The best results are when cooked at lower temps or used as a finishing oil to preserve the best flavor and potency.
Optimal baking temp is 340°F. Adjust the temp and increase baking time. THC and terpenes start to burn off and degrade above 340°F. If you forget and bake at 350°F it will be okay, but the potency and flavor may be affected.
Even distribution and potency. Fats and oils not evenly distributed in a dish or dessert may affect potency and change the mg per serving if it is concentrated in one spot more than another. Mix evenly.
Expertly pairing cannabis strains with food
Just like essential oils from plants and herbs, each cannabis strain has a unique terpene profile that gives the plant its unique aroma and flavor. The name of the Cannabis strain will often give clues. Garlic Cookies has a distinct garlic aroma, Mimosa is a fruity citrus strain with an uplifting feeling, and Purple Punch tastes like grape candy with sleepy sedating effects. Choose a strain that matches with and complements the dish’s ingredients and how you want to feel.
Cannabis chef and author Jessica Catalano previously shared some strain-selection tips with Ember: “The best way to pair for flavor is to approach it as a herb, like basil or oregano. Pick out a strain first by smelling it. Then, squeeze the bud between your fingers to release the terpenes. Smell your hands to see which essential oils have been released.”
The most precise dose: packed and tested products for precision dosing
The easiest and most precise way to start cooking with cannabis is to use packaged and tested THC/CBD oils and products with the exact potency and dosing information on the batch label. Products for cooking include olive oil, oil-based tinctures, powdered isolates, cannasugar, honey, apple cider vinegar, chili sauce, vinaigrette, bbq sauce, and chocolate. These products are often not strain-specific and made using flavorless/odorless isolates and distillates. Simply measure out the exact dose according to the product label and add or substitute into any dish.
Using flower to make your own delicious infusions
To enjoy the cannabis plant’s full flavors and terpene profile, make your own infused oils using cannabis flower. Select a flower strain that complements the dish based on aromas and its effects. Just like any herb when cooking, cannabis has unique flavors and aromas that pair with and enhance other ingredients.
Lemon or citrus-scented cannabis strains that are high in the Limonene terpene, like Lemon Haze or Mimosa, are great in dishes where you’d normally use lemon such as grilled fish, pesto pasta, salad dressing, or citrus olive oil cake. Strains like Chemdog and Sour Diesel that are high in the peppery scented terpene Caryophyllene, work well in savory dishes such as a Pepper Steak Stir Fry or infused with strawberry desserts, because black pepper and strawberry work well together! "Something funky and herbaceous might work better in a savory, main course. It's all about the pairing!" says Catalano.
Wondering what your flower to oil ratio should be when cooking with cannabis? Try using a ratio of 1g flower to 1 cup of oil. That's a good place to start for beginners. To increase potency, increase the flower to oil ratio.
STEP 1: Decarboxylate / Activate THC from Cannabis Flower
OK you’ve got flower, now what? Before infusing, you must do something called “decarb,” which is short for “decarboxylate,” the flower to activate the THC. Mixing dried cannabis flower without decarbing means there’s no THC. Decarb before infusing.
Do NOT skip this step. I can't express that enough.
Decarb / Decarboxylate / Activate means heating the flower to a specific temperature between 240°F and 295°F to convert the THCa molecule to THC.
There are several different methods to decarb (choose one!):
Oven: Spread coarsely crumbled flower in a foil envelope/boat to prevent burning. Preheat the ovento 240°F, place the foil on a baking sheet and onto the center rack of the oven. Bake for 30-40 minutes.
Mason jar: To reduce the strong cannabis smell during decarb, place coarsely crumbled flower in a mason jar and seal with a metal lid. Place the mason jar on a baking sheet in the oven and bake at 240°F for 60 minutes. Using oven mitts, shake the mason jar every 20 minutes to evenly heat all the flower.
Slow cooker: Place coarsely crumbled flower in a mason jar and seal with a metal lid. Fill the slow cooker pot with water, at least halfway. Place the jar in the water, and cover with a lid. Set on high (no higher than 300°F) and let it simmer for 4 hours. Keep the water levels topped at halfway throughout.
Sous vide: Prepare a water bath with a sous vide machine or immersion circulator set at 240°F. Place ground flower in a water displaced zip-top sealed bag. Place the bag into the water bath for 90 minutes.
Infusion machine: Specialty infusion machines such as Magical Butter, Ardent, and LEVO have a decarb function, where you place the ground flower inside and set the temp/time according to instructions.
STEP 2: How to Infuse Using Cannabis Flower
Choose a fat-based substance to infuse. THC binds with fat, so higher fat level means increased infusion efficiency and potency. Types of fats for infusing cannabis:
Butter / Ghee
Heavy Cream / Milk / Condensed Milk
Honey (not a fat, but it works)
Methods for Infusing Cannabis
Place decarbed flower from Step 1 and fat-based substance into a container, like a glass mason jar. Heat it at even, consistent heat between 160°F to 200°F for 2-3 hours. Strain the flower out through a fine sieve or cheesecloth into a clean container and store until ready to use.
Methods to infuse (choose one):
Stovetop: Mix flower and oil in a mason jar sealed with a metal lid. Place into a saucepan filled with water and simmer at a low rolling boil for 2-3 hours.
Oven: Mix flower and oil in an oven-safe container. Place into the oven and bake at 170°F for 2-3 hours.
Slow cooker: Mix flower and oil in a crock pot and cover with a lid. Heat on low for 4 hours or longer, do not exceed 200°F.
Sous vide: Prepare water bath and set sous vide machine or immersion circulator to 170°F. Mix flower and oil in a mason jar sealed with a metal lid and place into the water bath. Heat for 4 hours.
Infusion machine: Pour oil into the infusion machine, and set time/temp for infusion according to manufacturer’s instructions.
For a beginner’s dose, start at 5mg per serving or less. Start low, go slow. You can always eat more or increase potency as you learn your personal tolerance level.
Canna Math: How to Calculate Dosing
After infusing, you’ll want to know the potency of the oil so you use only what’s needed and not too much. To calculate potency, you’ll need to know the percent THC of your flower. Tested flower from a dispensary will have the exact % listed on the batch label, typically in the 20-30% range.
Conversion Rate: Different infusion methods and temperatures will affect the % of THC converted and infused into the final oil. A good rule-of-thumb conversion rate is 70%. Not all of the THC will be converted during decarboxylation and the infusion process, assuming a 30% efficiency loss.
Instructions and formulas to calculate are explained below. For easy calculations, use this dosing calculator.
How do I calculate the right amount of THC in my infusion?
[total flower g] x 1000 = [total flower mg]
[total flower mg] x [% THC] = [total potential THC mg]
[total potential THC mg] x [0.7 percent efficiency] = [total THC mg in infusion]
Once you know the total THC in your infusion, divide by the number of servings to figure out dosing. For example, 1 cup of oil has 16 tablespoons. If the infusion has 160mg total THC, each tablespoon of oil has 10 mg of THC.
How much THC should I use in a dish?
To cook infused dishes, simply measure out the exact amount of infused oil needed for the entire recipe and substitute. If you’re cooking for yourself, use 5mg worth of infused oil to your dish. For two people, add 10mg worth of infused oil. Increase mg and potency as you feel comfortable and adjust for serving size.
Baking a dessert? Depending on how many servings the recipe makes, use 5 mg per serving as a starting point and substitute with the equivalent amount of butter/oil in the recipe.
How to calculate potency afterwards. If the oil was added first and need to calculate potency per serving after the fact, divide the total mg THC used by the number of servings.
[total THC mg in infusion] / [# of servings] = total THC mg per serving
Christina spent over a decade in the food & restaurant industry working with well-known chefs and restaurants in Los Angeles. A creator, baker, and creative consultant, her work won a Clio Cannabis Award in 2020. She bakes infused culinary cannabis creations at Baking With Chickens, and hosts a culinary cannabis cooking show "BAKED With Chickens" on YouTube.