Some work, some don't, either way, they aren't hacks.

By Noah Kaufman
Updated August 25, 2017
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Credit: Emilija Manevska

Everyone loves a hack—some little secret that makes life easier—especially when it comes to food. But the idea of finding them has become so pervasive that people are willing call just about anything a hack. We’ve looked at a lot of them and there are some good ideas and some bad ideas. But mostly there are a lot of things that aren’t hacks. Let’s dispense with the notion that by doing any of these nine kitchen tasks that you are somehow beating the system.

Make easy garnishes or ribbons from fruit and vegetables

What it is: Vegetable peelers are actually multi-faceted tools. You can use them to slice ribbons of vegetables for salads, slivers of cheese or chocolate or citrus garnishes for cocktails.

Why it is not a hack: Taking thin slices off something is what a peeler is designed to do, and in the case of garnishing a cocktail, you are literally just taking the peel of something. All of these use the peeler as intended.

Make stale bread in a hurry

What it is: If you want to make croutons or stuffing, the main ingredient is stale bread. But if you don’t have any stale bread you can make some yourself by putting bread in the oven at a medium-low temperature to dry out.

Why it is not a hack: This is essentially just toasting. And toasting is great, but toasting is not a hack. Also, as chef and master of food science J. Kenji Lopez-Alt points out, this is actually a method you should have been using all along rather than just waiting for your bread to get stale, because dried bread is more likely to absorb additional flavors.

Waffle everything

What it is: If you’ve just been making waffles on your waffle iron, you’ve been doing it wrong. You could be using your waffle iron to make everything from steaks to eggplant parm. There's even an entire cookbook dedicated to the idea.

Why it is not a hack: Sure, there are some recipes that work out well on a waffle iron—hash browns for example. But you have very little control trying to cook with a waffle iron and at best, your results for meals like steak will be mixed.

Peel corn off the cob so it’s easier to eat

What it is: After you’ve cooked corn, pick off a few kernels to create some space, then pry the rest of the kernels off row by row.

Why it is not a hack: The idea is to make your corn eating experience cleaner and easier. Pulling kernels off with your hand contradicts both of those ideas. And if you really want those kernels off the cob, the fastest way to do it is to just cut them off.

Squeeze lemons with tongs

What it is: If you don’t have a citrus squeezer you can use another tool in the kitchen to juice your lemons: tongs. Just put half a lemon between the tongs and squeeze.

Why it is not hack: The big question here is why anyone would feel the need to do this in the first place. First of all, if you don’t own a citrus squeezer, you should. They’re great and they’re cheap. If you plan to ever make a cocktail or a salad dressing we promise you’ll get your money’s worth. But if you are adamantly opposed, you can squeeze with your hands and get the job done. We understand that you might not want sticky lemon juice all over you, but you are already in the kitchen. Just go rinse off.

Grow an avocado from a seed

What it is: If you’ve ever wished you could eat avocado toast on demand, you might have been composting the solution to that problem all along. If you save the seed from avocado and keep about half of it submerged in water, eventually it will sprout and you can grow your own avocado tree.

Why it is not a hack: Again, the idea of a hack is that it makes your life, in some way, easier. Actual avocado trees, nevermind the wisp growing out of the seed, take five years before they produce any fruit. So unless you are playing a very, very long game, this is not a hack.

Hold your taco with a fork

What it is: Balance your taco shell on a fork while you fill it with toppings.

Why it is not a hack: Because you can hold your taco shell. With your hands.

Peel garlic using a jar

What it is: If you don’t want your fingers to smell garlicky when you’re peeling cloves, just seal up the garlic in a jar and shake the skin off.

Why it is not a hack: Mostly because it doesn’t work very well. It often requires more effort and more time. You’re better off breaking the skin with a chef’s knife and just washing your hands afterwards.

Open a wine bottle with a coat hanger

What it is: So, it’s happy hour but you have no corkscrew. No problem. All you have to do is take a coat hanger, use a pair of pliers to bend a small hook on the end, slide the hook inside the wine bottle, hook the bottom of the cork and pull it out.

Why it is not a hack: Unless you and a bottle of Sancerre are locked inside a dry cleaner that’s under construction, it's hard to think of a scenario in which you would have access to both a coat hanger and a pair of pliers but not a corkscrew. Plus, the coat hanger method requires quite a bit of work. If you really don't have a corkscrew you could use the shoe method to open the wine instead (putting the bottle in your shoe and tapping it against the wall), which is actually not a bad hack.