Since 2009, Chopped has been blessing Food Network viewers with the kind of fast-pasted kitchen competition content we so crave. The show teaches viewers how to sprint for an impeccably stocked pantry, shout "behind" at fellow chefs, and listen to Ted Allen’s soothing lull as he gently tells contestants they have, in fact, been Chopped. But the show, as it turns out, isn’t exactly the best guide for how to operate in the kitchen.
It turns out that for the average home cook, there’s actually more to be learned from some of the other Food Network shows than there is from Chopped‘s dramatic music, cutthroat contestants, and intimidating cleaver stuck in that one wall in the kitchen. So, what lies exactly has Chopped been trying to pass off as hard kitchen facts? And what secrets do the Chopped judges keep tucked away under that tasting table? Let’s dig into it.
Chopped made you believe the lie that you shouldn’t add too many pantry items to a core ingredient
We’re absolutely not saying that you should always add dozens of complex ingredients to a kitchen mainstay, but the Chopped judges’ insistence that a meal’s four basket ingredients make up the core of every dish is not good cooking advice. Yes, some simple recipes are fantastic, but so are complex ones. And just because a recipe has a grocery store aisle’s worth of ingredients doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a try. Have a little fun in the kitchen, and try ingredient-dense and complicated recipes like gamjatang (spicy pork neck and potato stew) or enmoladas with Oaxacan black mole sauce. We believe in you.
Just because the Chopped chefs are tasked with making four unique ingredients the absolute stars of a dish does not mean that you, as a home cook, should feel the need to do the same.
Chopped made you believe the lie that you need to reach for the ice cream machine to impress your guests
In Chopped lore, it is common to believe that if you make it to the fateful dessert round, the one thing you need to push your final dish over the finish line is fresh-churned ice cream, sometimes combined with very bizarre basket ingredients. And as good as a weirdly savory ice cream may sound, it turns out real live kitchen chefs don’t actually need to reach for that ice cream machine. There are literally hundreds of desserts that are not ice cream that are just as good. Please trust us on this — we’ve tried a lot of them. But if you can’t be talked out of making ice cream at home, there are plenty of no-churn methods to try.
Even for Chopped contestants, the ice cream machine may not be the best way to go, since as any Chopped fan knows, there’s only one machine. Ever wonder why they can’t just buy a second one? As Chopped admits, the single machine adds drama to the show. Luckily, that drama can stay on the show because you don’t need to make your own ice cream as home.
Chopped made you believe the lie that cooking fast means cooking well
On Chopped, contestants have just 20 minutes to make a dish. In real life, you’re probably spending more than 20 minutes just making dinner. And that’s a good thing because fast cooking does not necessarily yield good food. A slower heat can make tougher cuts of meat more tender and can increase the flavor in just about any dish. Not only that, but slow cooking can be easier than faster methods of cooking. Many slow cooking recipes simply involve popping prepped ingredients in a slow cooker in the morning and plating the finished meal for dinner in the evening. On Chopped, a slow braise probably isn’t contestants’ best bet, but it may be for the average home cook.
Taking your time to cook at home may be able to improve your mental health too. Slowing down and taking the time to cook while paying close attention to the taste of ingredients can help people manage anxiety, whereas cooking the way contestants do on Chopped probably isn’t the best way to wind down after a long day.
Chopped made you believe the lie that you need to make your own aioli
On Chopped, using a pre-made aioli can be deadly for contestants in the appetizer and entree rounds, but in real life, store-bought aioli and mayonnaise can be your best friend. We mean no disrespect to homemade aioli, but if you’re spending valuable time whisking your own oil and eggs for health or taste reasons when making something as simple as a sandwich or an aioli-based salad dressing, consider skipping it. Because tuna salad with store-bought aioli is just as good if not better than tuna salad with a gourmet aioli.
If you do want to exercise your Chopped chef skills and make that aioli yourself, be our guest. Consider starting with Salt Fat Acid Heat chef Samin Nosrat’s basic mayonnaise, which can be elevated into a more complex garlic or herb aioli. It’s perfect for sandwiches, french fries, and salads. But you may want to stretch beforehand, as this recipe is a workout on the forearms.
Chopped made you believe the lie that celebrities can’t cook
The contestants on celebrity Chopped episodes tend to be, let’s face it, horrible. Plenty of superstars have competed in the reality kitchen showdown, like basketball player Charles Oakley, rapper and musician Coolio, Comedy Central star Sinbad, and High School Musical drama geek Lucas Grabeel, and some have been more successful than others. On the celebrity Chopped episodes, there tends to be an attitude that celebrities, be it due to fame or wealth or maybe laziness, cannot cook. But this isn’t true for lots of celebrities out there. Plenty of celebrities are great cooks, and many have even written cookbooks.
Of these, supermodel and Twitter personality extraordinaire Chrissy Teigen may be the most notable, especially considering her successful cookbook, Cravings. But did you know rapper 2Chainz can also throw down in the kitchen? Or that musician Questlove has written his own cookbook? Former Sister, Sister star Tia Mowry even has her own cooking show.
Celebrities: They’re just like us. Except some are much, much better cooks.
Chopped made you believe the lie that forgetting an ingredient in a recipe will ruin your cooking career
It’s every Chopped chef’s worst nightmare: They rush to finish cooking and plate their culinary creation as Ted Allen counts down from ten. The chef wipes stray sauce from the rim of the plate, inhales the aroma, and steps back with their hands up, only to realize they’ve forgotten an entire ingredient. Fortunately for home chefs, this cooking nightmare is completely limited to the universe of Chopped, and you’re unlikely to face it in the comfort of your own kitchen.
Even if you do start baking and realize you’ve forgotten that one key ingredient, there’s a world of other options as substitutions. For instance, did you know you can use applesauce instead of eggs in your chocolate chip cookies? Vegans have been doing it for years. Just make sure you’re not the unfortunate chef who mistakes salt for sugar. There’s really no coming back from that one — even in your own kitchen.
Chopped made you believe the lie that you should melt candy down into an edible sauce
While this is technically doable even for home chefs, maybe consider not melting gummy worms or candy corn down into an edible sauce. It seems like Ted Allen’s favorite Chopped trick to play is to give contestants a sweet, sticky food in an early round that they have to scramble to find a place for. Savory chocolate sauces are actually quite common and easy, and Chopped chefs are well aware of that. They’ve been adding chiles to chocolate and calling it a mole for years now. But as far as those fruity, sweet confections go, the recipes aren’t as simple.
It turns out, if you’re not actually competing on Chopped, there really isn’t any reason to melt down your candy into some sort of salad dressing or marinating liquid. Instead, consider this tried-and-true recipe for candy that we swear by: Open the candy bag, and then eat the candy. Much better, right?
Chopped made you believe the lie that you can make a risotto in under 20 minutes
Actually, the Chopped chefs might be onto something here. According to an article by Kitchn, the perfect risotto will take only 18 and a half minutes. But that leaves less than 90 seconds for preparation and plating, which, even for a home cook seems next to impossible. Sure, risotto may only take 15 to 40 minutes, but it seems like Chopped chefs are consistently working overtime with their risottos, then serving the judges unfinished, dry, or even crunchy risotto. What’s the fastest way to get yourself kicked off Chopped? Well, other than accidentally serving the judges blood or raw chicken, it’s serving something severely, almost inedibly undercooked.
Avoid the risk and fuss entirely as a home chef by giving yourself plenty of time to cook a risotto. Best case scenario, you’re done in 18 and a half minutes. Worst case? Your dinner guests can wait for you to finish the dish.
Chopped made you believe the lie that meat doesn’t need to be salted in advance
One of the first things most people learn as home cooks is that you have to salt your meat as far as 24 hours in advance. Meat can be dense, tough, and low in moisture. It needs time for the salt to move through fatty membranes and provide flavor from the inside out. But Chopped contestants don’t have hours — they have minutes. So, if they are working with a large slab of sirloin or a whole chicken, they need to butcher the meat or poultry into smaller pieces in order for the salt to absorb faster. This isn’t a skill restaurant or home cooks necessarily need to learn. Instead, they tend to prepare meats the night before, allowing the salt to really soak into a cut of meat.
For this reason, Chopped contestants have a bad habit of under- or over-salting their food. It’s not because they don’t know how to season correctly — it’s because in the limited timeframe Chopped allows, the seasoning game is a whole different story.
Chopped made you believe the lie that every chef needs a tragic backstory
One of the reasons Chopped is as popular and beloved as it is may be that some of the contestants seem to have such intense, moving, and even tragic backstories. For instance, Chopped contestant Hiep Le was placed on a raft and sent out to sea by her mother as a refugee of the Vietnam War and went on to start a successful restaurant. Or Nong Poonsukwattana, a Thai food truck owner who specialized in the simple dish of chicken and rice and managed to pull off a Chopped victory using her cooking skills.
These stories are inspirational and make for great television, but you don’t need a long and difficult backstory to make great food. You just need access to the proper ingredients and a kitchen. So while cooking can be a great way to work through past trauma or make a living without a traditional school education, it’s also a great hobby for the rest of us who never end up competing on Chopped.
Chopped made you believe the lie that cooking must be a competitive sport
Sure, on Chopped, cooking is a competition, and it’s a cutthroat one at that. But cooking, as it turns out, is fun even when it’s not a competitive sport. Cooking is also a great date idea, be it a first date, a night in with your spouse, or a hang with a new friend.
Food delivery service Hello Fresh agrees: Cooking is the perfect pair activity. This is because cooking gives you something to do and something to talk about so there are no awkward silences. It can also be a low-cost, low-maintenance date idea, way more economical than expensive concert tickets or a five-star restaurant. Plus, at the end of the activity, you get to share a meal together, and what’s better than that?
In the worst case scenario of a cooking date, the food turns out bad, and then you’ve got yourself a great story to tell your future children someday.
Chopped made you believe the lie that Ted Allen is intimidating
Celebrities are just like the rest of us. And yes, even Food Network celebrities are just like us!
While he may be known on Chopped for his quick wit, ruthless hosting, and excellent chopping block-unveiling skills, Ted Allen is actually a pretty nice guy. And he’s a relatable guy too. For instance, Ted Allen reportedly loves cheese, sushi, and Indian food. He’s a fan of simple ingredients, like vanilla and mustard, and he loves silly things, like the sound whole-chicken-in-a-can (a now-famous Chopped ingredient) makes when it plops out of the can, according to a Food Network interview.
Allen can keep up his stern and intimidating persona on Chopped all he wants, but at the end of the day, he seems like a generally down-to-earth guy with a love for food, gardening, and music. Chopped hosts: They’re just like us.
Chopped made you believe the lie that you can cook a dish in 20 minutes without any help whatsoever
As it turns out, even the Chopped chefs have a little help when it comes to getting those meals churned out before Ted Allen announces that time is up. Apparently, simple kitchen prep tasks are already completed for the Chopped contestants, helping them get through their cooking projects more quickly. For example, Chopped contestants do not need to wait for their pot of water to boil. Production assistants behind the Food Network show help them out by starting each contestant off with a pot of boiling water, especially because the judges are not exactly assisting contestants on their ability to boil water — it does make sense.
Additionally, Chopped contestants’ ovens are already preheated to 350 degrees when the round starts, for pretty much the same reason. Waiting for an oven to preheat does not really test how well contestants can cook. Plus, a bunch of Chopped contestants sitting around playing on their phones and waiting for their ovens to preheat would not exactly make for great television.
When the time comes for you to make something in your kitchen, you shouldn’t assume that you can manage to get dinner on the table in 20 minutes if you’re doing much else other than making pasta.
Chopped made you believe the lie that cooking a full Chopped meal does not take very long
A Chopped episode is only 40 minutes long, so you may think that the filming process is a relatively quick process. But filming these episodes actually takes way longer — like up to 14 hours!
Even though Chopped is a lightning-fast cooking competition show, production aspects including preparation, cooking, judging, cleaning, and resetting stations make shooting an episode a full-day affair, and an exhausting one at that. Even though the actual cooking is timed on a really tight schedule, judging can take way longer than television episodes depict, especially if two judges have a particularly heated disagreement over a dish.
It just goes to show that even the greatest chefs in America cooking on one of the tightest time constraints on television can still, through no fault of their own, take a long time to get the whole meal done.