Is TikTok the future of cooking?
The short-form video app serves up an endless supply of recipes, all roughly 60 seconds long: deep-fried ice cream bars, vegan carrot bacon, kaleidoscopic cakes shaped like beaches and brains. “FoodTok” has elevated previously obscure chefs, professional and amateur. It’s democratized food, for better and worse.
On television, there once was a sense that food should be treated with reverence and dignity. (Could you imagine Julia Child whipping up Minion-themed foie gras?) Even modern-day middlebrow TV chefs maintain teams of assistants, pristine equipment, and a professional recipe testing apparatus.
Shopping Time: 1 humiliating hour
Cook Time: Impossibly short
Cost: Your dignity
FoodTok is the joyful opposite. A successful concoction has a few simple principles: brevity (short videos that promise minimal prep), simplicity (no complex techniques or obscure ingredients), weirdness (pedestrian foods used in surprising ways), and watchability (many recipes emphasize the seductive noises of cooking or are set to cheeky soundtracks).
“It’s the disrupter factor,” says Darin Detwiler, a professor of food science at Northeastern University. “That’s what catches people’s eyes.”
But Detwiler warns that TikTok recipes, unvetted and designed to shock, can introduce hidden health concerns for the sake of shock value. Chicken cooked in NyQuil is one questionable recent FoodTok trend, as is inserting raw garlic directly into one’s nose to clear out sinuses.
There’s a certain freedom in dumping an entire sack of chocolate chips into a bowl because a recipe told you to.
“You don’t see someone using a thermometer. You don’t see someone preventing cross-contamination,” Detwiler says. “A person may be harmed and live with complications for much longer than the lifespan of a video.”
So is any of this viral stuff actually worth consuming? I decided to find out. I chose three TikTok test recipes based on a few factors: whether my picky kids would eat it, and the number of likes, shares, and online recipe adaptations. I wanted not to die, so I avoided NyQuil.
What did I learn? FoodTok makes cooking seem easy — which is wonderful. But it’s not the same as quality-tested TV food. Actual chefs have to make food for real people who can sink or launch a business. FoodTok influencers don’t have restaurants or reputations to maintain. It’s a lower-stakes game built on watchability, not quality.
I asked Detwiler if TikTok would erode the integrity of cooking, food culture, and even food safety.
“I don’t think it’s a menace to society,” he told me. “But I think, like anything in life, sometimes things are too good to be true.” Here’s what it looked like in my kitchen.
Big Booty Dip
Likes: 1.4 million
Ingredients: 1 tub of whipped cream cheese, 1 jar of Marshmallow Fluff, ½ tub of Cool Whip, 1 tbsp brown sugar, tons of chocolate chips, graham crackers for dunking
Brevity: Truly impossible to screw up.
Egalitarianism: Cheap and easy. You could probably just shop at CVS.
Watchability: The equivalent of a Nora Ephron movie, both on TikTok and in real life.
This is the course that earned me “sorry about your breakup” looks in the grocery store. Loading up my cart, I felt like I was going home to my cat and a Hallmark marathon. “Take a bite and watch your booty grow,” promises the recipe creator, who goes by Feather Lea Prinzhor — a friendly woman who seems to live in a tropical location and whose videos prominently feature a pet parrot.
The recipe, and I use the term loosely, is simple enough for my six-year-old to make: Dump everything into a bowl and blend using a standing mixer.
And sure, there is a satisfying, sticky thwack as Marshmallow Fluff plops from tub to bowl without losing its shape. Same with the cream cheese and Cool Whip. There’s also a certain freedom in dumping an entire sack of chocolate chips into a bowl because a recipe told you to.
That said, this concoction is disgusting. It tastes like a combination of cake frosting and toothpaste, and it looks like wet dandruff. We ditched it after two bites, not nearly enough to get the promised big-booty result. I risked humiliation in the checkout line for nothing.
Likes: 1.6 million
Ingredients: Your preferred pancake mix, an egg, a non-stick pan, cooking spray, a condiment bottle or Ziploc bag for piping, and your favorite pancake toppings, preferably death-defyingly sweet
Brevity: Turning the batter into strips took way longer than 60 seconds.
Egalitarianism: No fancy ingredients. But why complicate pancakes this way? Who has time for this?
Weirdness: The name is stranger than the dish.
Watchability: Our kitchen was filled with the sounds of cursing and splattering oil; the original TikTok recording is far more soothing.
This dish was the most likely to appeal to my feral tots and also to me, because the creator, Briana Archuleta, isn’t a real chef — she’s a wedding photographer in New Mexico. How hard could it be to make pancakes in spaghetti form? Lady and the Tramp does brunch! In the video, the strips seem to drip effortlessly into the pan. The soundtrack is “Sensual Seduction” by Snoop Dogg. So unintimidating!
And at first, I was seduced, too: Mixing pancake batter in a bowl is easy enough. However, squeezing the batter into skinny strips on a sizzling skillet requires flawless execution. This execution is not shown on TikTok, so I hunted around online for a similar recipe, which recommended dribbling the batter onto the pan using a condiment bottle or a Ziploc bag.
The bag was a disaster. Batter poured forth like lava. Oil splattered high into the air, charring my arm hair. Our first pancakes looked like fat raviolis.
“Why does TikTok want to make basic things weird and hard?” my husband asked.
The condiment bottle was more effective. My husband squirted thin batter strips across the pan like a lattice, and they cooked immediately thanks to their size. My six-year-old topped his with chocolate chips, maple syrup, and powdered sugar, and twirled it all with his fork. Amore!
Buffalo Chicken Taquitos
Likes: 2.6 million
Ingredients: Shredded rotisserie chicken, Buffalo sauce, a packet of shredded mozzarella cheese, corn tortillas, toothpicks, your choice of seasoning (we used garlic powder and paprika), ranch dressing
Brevity: So easy.
Egalitarianism: Tons of shame-free shortcuts: Jarred dipping sauce! Pre-cooked chicken!
Watchability: This recipe is full of pleasing ASMR: the sizzle of frying tortillas, the crackle of a taquito splitting in half and exploding with cheese.
This recipe, from self-proclaimed “digital creator” Alyssa Alonso, encapsulates the best of TikTok: In under a minute, I had watched a video that will forever simplify my weeknight dinner game. Ingredients were easy to find and didn’t provoke pitying looks at the grocery store. A helpful tip (microwave tortillas before frying so they don’t split) actually worked; the tortillas stayed sturdy as promised. The pre-cooked rotisserie chicken saved time. The ranch dressing was an indulgent (but optional!) touch.
I also appreciated that I could prepare each taquito to every family member’s discerning palate: My husband and I swirled plenty of Texas Pete hot sauce and a dribble of piquant Frank’s RedHot Buffalo sauce, the color of blood, into the chicken filling. After ours were done, we glugged out a tablespoon of mild Old El Paso taco sauce for the kids.
The recipe is forgiving and designed purely for pleasure (or, depending on your capacity for spice, pain).
Nobody was injured in the cooking process. Everyone enjoyed their meal, and it took less than 15 minutes to prepare.
Best of all, the video is a sensorial delight. Every wrap, snap, crunch, stir, slice, and oily sizzle is amplified and shot in close-up — I felt so relaxed that if I hadn’t been making dinner, I would’ve fallen asleep.