Kitchen Hacks

We Tested 21 Viral Internet Food Hacks—& Some Really Do Work!

September 27, 2016

It's easier to bust hacks than it is to come up with new ones.

Already, during this Easiest, Fastest, Best Week, we've told you that you can't defrost steak in five minutes (sad), that the internet's best brownie doesn't live up to its name (tears), and that you can't really poach a dozen eggs at once in the oven (does love exist???). Heck, we've wondered what "hack" even means, if anything.​

But all this hacking away at hacks isn't so fun, really. Some exist for a reason, right? Some must be great! ​

So, for the sake of faith in internet tips, we put 21 of the "hacks" we've seen circulating the web to the test—and lo and behold, some of them really do work (...and then there are those that don't). We've separated out the winners from the (no offense) losers.

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Go forth, adopt these hacks, and watch them change your life—or become your favorite party tricks. (Good news: You can use a plastic water bottle to easily separate eggs. Bad news: You can't use an apple corer to slice potatoes. Or you can, but it won't be easy.) ​


The Winners

1. Separate eggs using an empty plastic bottle.

We've all seen this video—or at least 2 million of us have—and seen it included in lists like Buzzfeed's 21 Kitchen Hacks That Will Make Your Life Easier.

The verdict? It works!

Our Office Manager Adam Becker, who tested the trick, says it "works most of the time," resulting "in many perfectly-separate eggs." While "every once in a while, a yolk wouldn't cooperate and it would break apart into the white," Adam didn't mind: "Luckily, I really love scrambled eggs, ​so nothing went to waste."

So what to do now that you are an egg-separating machine?

2. Put a wooden spoon over a boiling pot to prevent it from bubbling over.

Here's a tip we've seen bubbling all over the internet​ (and specifically on Buzzfeed's 35 Clever Food Hacks That Will Change Your Life).

Photo by Lauren Locke

While the wooden spoon balancing act may not change our VP of Sales Lauren Locke's life, it was effective—and "actually quite beautiful, the boil/froth all collected by the spoon. I kept thinking it was about to boil over, and it didn't."

How does this work? The hydrophobic wooden spoon punctures the surface of the bubbles, which causes the water to retreat; and, since the temperature of the wooden spoon is below boiling point, the steam in the bubbles condenses upon contact.​

3. Spray tools with nonstick spray before measuring honey or other sticky ingredients.

According to our Creative Director (and judge of all things genius) Kristen Miglore, this "totally works. I will definitely do it again when I remember, especially when the measured amount matters a lot (i.e. baking). (Also, if you don't have non-stick spray, a swipe of oil works too.)" ​

4. Tap on a butcher's knife with a mallet to cut into a squash.

Our Senior User Experience Designer Andrew Sempere says this "totally works—use this a lot on hard spaghetti squash. The trick is to use a sharp knife and really tap (not hammer). You're not trying to cut the squash here but instead using the knife as​ a wedge to split it in half (like the way you split firewood)."

Treating squash like firewood? Seems about right for this time of year.

5. Toast two slices of bread in the same slot for the perfect sandwich.

We've written about only toasting one side of bread before—"turn the toasted side inward, so you still get a crunchy bite but you don't cut your gums on the bread," Amanda Hesser recommends—but we usually accomplish this in the oven.

A traditional toaster, however, will do the trick: Editor Lindsay-Jean Hard did it with focaccia and thought it worked really well. But Ali Slagle warns that "the measurements of your toast and toaster [must be] in harmony." She had to pry her jammed toast out with a fork and would "sooner just put the toast in the oven and not flip the toast than risk another crumbled up piece of toast."

6. Squeeze out cooked spinach with a potato ricer.

On ChowHound's list of 47 Kitchen and Food Hacks That Will Change Your Life, they told us that potato ricers (and food mills and sushi mats) can effectively extract water from cooked spinach. And they weren't lying! (Though change my life, I'm not so sure.)​

And now, what should we do with all that spinach water?

The biggest advantage is that you won't dirty a dish towel (or waste a hundred paper towels) in the completely hands-off process. My one hesitation is that if your potato ricer is too powerful (rather than the vintage prop we have at the Food52 office), ​it might obliterate the spinach, leaving you with a uniform purée.

7. Quick and easy cheese sticks, made with bread and cheese singles.

I'm not sure this constitutes a hack (more on that here) or will "change the way I cook," but I wanted to try it regardless. The easiest, fastest, bestest mozzarella stick ever?

And it was quick, it was easy, and it produced delicious grilled cheese roll-ups with butter-brown​ed outsides and melty cheese insides somewhere inside. Because that last photo in that vertical collage is deceiving: Since you have to roll up the bread, cigar-style, to wrap up the cheese, the inside of the "stick" is a bread-cheese swirl rather than a tunnel of pure melty-ness.

See the little bread-and-cheese snail in the center of the stick at right?

We ate them all anyway!

8. Use a spoon to pry the lid off a stubborn jar.

Our co-founder Merrill tested this one, and with great success: "My trial wasn't totally legit because I couldn't find any jars in my pantry that were really on tightly, so I finally had to just use a jam jar that I hadn't attempted to unscrew yet. The spoon broke the seal easily after I tested a couple of different spots around the lid. To be candid, my mother taught me this trick years ago, and I use it all the time on stubborn jars with nearly 100% success."​

A good trick? Yes. A new "hack"? Probably not.

9. Perfectly dice an avocado for guacamole with a potato masher.

Our Customer Care Associate Natalia Panzer approves of this trick, but not necessarily because it "dices perfectly"; rather, it dices and mashes simultaneously.

"The bits of the avocado that were pushed through the holes of the masher were a nice consistency, somewhere between diced and mashed," she said. And the avocado that "was squashed underneath the masher added a nice pasty layer. Seems like this method is trying to avoid you having to dice and then mash by doing it all at once" but "you still get a good amount of chunkiness."​

The cutting board option produces less squash, more chunk. Photo by Natalia Panzer

​She recommends using the masher on a cutting board rather than directly into a bowl. "I got the best results by cutting the avos into quarters and then mashing them one by one on a flat surface (I used a cutting board) for better consistency. When I tried to mash multiple quarters in a bowl, they just got squashed. I'd do it again if I was making guac for a crowd, but probably not if I was making it just for myself because I don't like cleaning mashers."

10. Use dental floss to cut through soft foods.

Merrill has used this trick to slice soft goat cheese for crostini before and in this situation, "it work[s] better than a knife"—it doesn't compress the cheese as a blade would, which makes for a better final shape.

Cut with floss (top) versus a knife (bottom). Photo by Merrill Stubbs

But Merrill, a thorough tester, also tried the trick with pound cake: The floss did an inferior job of slicing, "tearing off portions of the top and making for a jagged texture in the center of the cake."

Cut with floss (top) versus a knife (bottom). Photo by Merrill Stubbs

11. For perfectly boiled eggs, punch a hole in the base of the egg with a thumbtack before you boil it.

Our co-founder Amanda Hesser tested this tip, which is included on Buzzfeed's list of 21 Kitchen Hacks That Will Make Your Life Easier.

Pressing a thumbtack into the rounded end of an egg wasn't nearly as tricky as I thought it would be—the shell gives easily and you're left with a tiny hole. I cooked the egg for 8 minutes. The egg did come out properly cooked with the egg yolk fairly well centered within the white. I suppose, if you're fussy about how your eggs look and about having your eggs cooked evenly, then this technique is made for you. If you're more of a forgiving egg chef, then the extra thumbtack step will seem as pointless as ironing a t-shirt.

Life easier? No. Eggs prettier? Yes.

But also! Amanda reported that the egg was, indeed, extremely easy to peel: "I think a little water gets in between the egg and the shell while it cooks," causing the shell to slip right off.

Now that's a nice-looking egg! Photo by Amanda Hesser

12. If you blow into a bag of lettuce and seal it tightly, the carbon dioxide will keep the leaves from becoming soggy.

Forget the questionable sanitation here: This actually works! (We think.)

It was easier than tester Kenzi Wilbur thought to blow air into a bag and seal it—"I went into the test thinking that'd be an unscaleable moutain, but I made it"—and, her report, almost a week later:

Bag still full of air! And Jesus Christ, I think this worked. Lettuce is one day shy of a week old (from box to bag a few days in), and it's still crispy and billowy. Because I'm a skeptic, I need to point out: I did not do a control.

Lettuce balloon on counter. Lettuce balloon in the fridge (and some burrata, too! Yum!). Photo by Kenzi Wilbur

13. Dab your fingers with water to easily remove egg shell.

This trick—which comes from lifehack.org's collection of 40 Delightful and Mind-Blowing Baking Hacks You Can't Miss—works, but might not be the best option.

Amanda Hesser—who usually uses "the egg shell method of retrieval by which you use a larger half egg shell to scoop up the stray fleck of shell"—was curious to try the trick. "I tried it and it works. But it also means having a bowl of water or sink nearby. Why not just use a larger section of shell, which is on hand?"

Caught ya! Photo by Amanda Hesser

The Losers (No Offense)

1. Use a pair of tongs to squeeze a lemon.

Sam Weiss-Hills "did not find it more effective than using a fork as reamer. I tried two pairs of tongs and found it didn't really remove as much juice as you'd think." ​

2. "Grill" a panini with your clothes iron.

Managing Editor Kenzi Wilbur was intrepid enough to try this at home. Yet she was not rewarded with something that looked "delightful," as they say in the video. While it worked and lightly toasted one side of the sandwich, "after seven minutes of pretending my grilled cheese was an ironing board," she stuck it in a skillet anyway.

This video (unless I missed it), didn't provide heat setting information (I thought my sandwich would appreciate "linen, medium steam" the most) or timing info. Overall, this a) takes a long time, b) wastes aluminum foil a normal hot sandwich wouldn't, c) is kind of weird. Unless you're in a dorm room—and even then, please just get a hot plate or something instead—I don't see any reason to ever do this. ​

If you squint, you can see that the bread is just slightly browned. Photo by Kenzi Wilbur

3. Make golden eggs by shaking raw eggs intensely for 2 to 3 minutes before boiling.

It seems like it takes a lot more than just a short shake to scramble eggs internally—but not according to Huffington Post's 50 Time-Saving Kitchen Hacks The World Needs To Know. We need to know this stuff!

Lindsay-Jean Hard "shook for the full 3 minutes. One egg (violently) cracked in the pan before the water even came to a boil, and neither was golden. Both ended up with weird bubbles in spots."

Not a golden egg. Photo by Lindsay-Jean Hard
Nope, definitely not golden. Photo by Lindsay-Jean Hard

Lindsay-Jean was bummed it didn't work, even though she has no idea "why I would ever need (or want) a golden egg beyond the novelty of it." If you do want a golden egg, seems like you'll need to ​be more fancy than just shaking it by hand...

Or, if you refuse to eat anything but golden eggs, you may want to invest in a fancy contraption:

4. Quickly peel a boiled egg in a glass of water.

Design & Home Editor Amanda Sims tried this "hack" with a pint glass (rather than the low-ball shown in the GIF) and "two light shakes flung the egg aggressively about, causing it to tear open rather than just shed its shell." She doubts a smaller glass, like the low-ball shown in the GIF, would have worked better: "My impression was that the force required to break through the shell would also be so great as to break your egg.) Plus, it got eggshell everywhere."

The egg "peeled" in a cup versus the egg de-shelled with the spoon. Photo by Amanda Sims

The bright side? She discovered a trick that really does work: "I used Bon Appétit's trick of slipping a spoon around the egg to ease it from the shell in a piece or two—and that was so effective I'll be using it in the future, too."

5. Microplane off the burnt parts of cookies.

While the Microplane not remove the entire burnt layer, it did, admittedly, remove a tiny amount of burnt crumbs. I was nervous, however, about taking it too far and entirely destroying the cookie's integrity—I had already squished my delicate sugar cookies in the process. Maybe this would work for thick, rock-hard cookies? (I have my doubts.)

Instead, I'd take those burnt cookies and use them as an ice cream base, or in a milkshake, or in an icebox cake...

I had to break up my cookies to try to get a good grip on them—still didn't make the Microplane effective.

6. Use an apple corer to make potato wedges.

This was an extremely frustrating exercise. I desperately wanted the apple slicer to be a good tool for wedging potatoes—it makes so much sense!—but potatoes are hard: They don't yield like apples or pears! It required extreme force—à la watermelon slicer—to push the corer all the way through the potato (and it also seemed dangerous and left me with comically uneven slices—see below—that would never roast or fry at the same rate).​

And what are you supposed to do with the totally skinless cylinder in the middle? .

When I cut the potato in half first, to create a flat surface and eliminate some of the danger of cutting myself... the "hack" still didn't work.

This was as far as I made it through the sweet potato before giving up.

7. Make hard taco shells by microwaving soft tacos nestled into mugs.

"This was a FAIL," says Olivia Bloom, our Operations Manager and Copywriter. "The tortilla did get remotely crunchy, but not in a good, fried crunchy kind of way—in a tough, chewy kind of way. Also, when I microwaved it, the shell collapsed in on itself, so I think you'd need something else in the middle to hold the shape. Seriously, just buy hard taco shells. Or better yet, put all the fixing on top of tortilla chips and call it nachos."

Does this look like a taco to you? Photo by Olivia Bloom

8. Remove the stem of an avocado to assess ripeness.

"I tested this on an avocado that was perfectly ripe (first photo), and on one that was rock-hard," said Merrill. "The colors once I removed the stem were two slightly different shades of green (no brown), so I wouldn't give this one a rave review."

Perfectly ripe (left) versus rock-hard (right). Photo by Merrill Stubbs

It seems like there are probably better ways to assess an avocado's ripeness—by squeezing it gently, perhaps? Besides, by the time the gap under the stem is brown, what's there to do? (And if you're at the store picking the fruit out, you'll probably be able to feel which ones are already at the state of mushiness.) ​

So there you have it! More of these worked than failed! And now it's your turn: Have you found any viral "hacks" that have changed your life? Tell us in the comments!

24 Comments

SandyToes May 12, 2017
The scientific way to open a stuck jar lid is to run it under hot water for about 15-30 seconds. The heat causes the small amount of air in the gap between lid and jar to expand, and the lid opens easily. This works for both threaded and non-threaded lids.
 
Ilse B. May 13, 2017
Yes, indeed. Works every time.
 
AliceInWanderland May 12, 2017
Just used 120 avocados to make guacamole for a crowd! Have always used a potato masher - the trick is to make sure you use a flat bottom bowl or pan. You get the perfect mix of creamy avocado and chunks. (Not a bit left at the end of the evening.)<br /><br />The reason NOT TO use a shell to extract a bit of shell is that the outside of the egg could be contaminated with salmonella.<br /><br />Used the heat in the microwave lime trick when making the above mentioned guacamole. My lime squeezer extracts a lot more juice. I cut oranges in half (cut side up) and use the trick before juicing them.
 
Irene P. May 12, 2017
I can't disagree that the trial potato wedges were not very pretty, however, the tester seems to have missed that the original slicer has 10 slots and the tester corer only has 8. Perhaps this smaller wedge makes for a prettier slice? I would have liked to see it tested with exactly the same too. <br />IMP
 
Cookie May 12, 2017
Yikes. Microwave. Oof.
 
riv May 12, 2017
You can dice avocados by pushing them through a gridded baking rack. I think I saw this trick from Justin Chapple, who certainly taught me to use a baking rack to dice lots of hard boiled eggs for egg salad.
 
jackieb January 6, 2017
For #9 - Mashing Avocado's, I have always used a wire whisk. It has a rounded bottom so I can squish them easily in any bowl and get my guac as smooth or as chunky as I want. Plus, the whisk is easy to clean afterwards.
 
gardeningal October 3, 2016
Eh... thank you for testing out the "good" hacks from the "bad". Although, I wish the apple corer would work on potatoes! I am now hungry for an omelet...
 
Kami K. October 2, 2016
Glad you mentioned the potato masher for eggs. I always do that instintively for egg salad and could not believe it when I found my mother diligently chopping eggs into tiny pieces. How many years has she done this?! I also microwave my lemons and limes for 30-45 seconds for easier juicing and then throw the rinds in the garbage disposal for cleaning and deodorizing. One last, not food, but clean up trick: sprinkle kosher salt in your cast iron pan directly after cooking anything greasy or stuck on, heat it over the stove while stirring, until the gunk absorbs, let it cool and wipe it out with a paper towel for very easy cleaning.
 
marsiamarsia October 2, 2016
I don't ever buy an avocado that has lost its little stem, because it's the key to test the avocado for ripeness. All you have to do is push on the little stem--into the avocado. If it gives fairly easily, the avocado's ripe. If it gives too easily, the avocado is likely ruined, or at least ruined in places. If the stem won't budge easily when you push on it, the avocado is not yet ready to eat.
 
Sharon September 29, 2016
If you pop the stem out of an avocado while it is still hard it starts to rot or ripen unevenly so I don't recommend that method.<br />I use a salad spinner to remove extra moisture from washed morel mushrooms.<br />I learned a lot from this article, many thanks.
 
Jp9 September 28, 2016
I use my salad spinner to remove the water from my spinach for my spinach dip. Works great.<br />My mom taught me to bang the lip of the jar's lid on the side of the counter, not too hard. Usually works to lighten the suction of the seal. Great article!
 
Ilse B. September 28, 2016
The CO2 trick sounds great. I just placed my greens in a resealable plastic bag, left a little corner open and blew in using a straw and sealed it up quickly. it blew up as a balloon would. Hope it works. You obviously can do the reverse, same method, except sucking the air out, to compress things.
 
HelloThereNicole September 28, 2016
I use the thumbtack technique for my eggs, which I love because it keeps the shell from breaking when put in boiling water because it lets the steam escape. It also totally makes them easier to peel hands down.<br />I also will use a bottle opener to release the pressure on hard to open jars instead of a spoon and it works really well.
 
Louise September 28, 2016
Instead of using dental floss to cut a cake, try it with fine sewing thread. Take your time placing the thread evenly around the perimeter of the cake (or whatever else you're cutting) and in one scissor like pulling motion, VOILA. Make sure you are pulling as evenly and leveled as possible. I've learned this in Home-Ec way back when I was a way younger ;-) <br />My mom also used the spoon trick for jars and it always worked BUT a note of caution, always put your spoon under those little tabs under the rim of the lid and do not bend the lid. It could cause the seal to not be tight enough once you re-seal the jar and the content could spoil.<br />(y) Nice article.
 
EL September 28, 2016
I think the avocado one was supposed to test for ripe and overripe, not ripe vs unripe (which anyone should be able to assess -- I mean the unripe one would be hard, right?). With regard to mashing the avocado with a potato masher, why not just use a fork? That's what I always use. It cleans up more easily than a potato masher. But I see the point if you went to the bother of buying a potato masher and having it sitting around, you might want to find more than one function for it.<br /><br />With regard to toasting bread on one side: I always toast my bread for sandwiches on one side using my toaster oven (you can do two sided toast as well). You don't have to use a full sized oven if you have a toaster oven or don't people use those anymore? Just use the insert "pan" (I generally line with foil) and toast your bread with one side down. Then you don't have to heat up your large oven for 2 slices of bread. There are toaster ovens out there for almost any sized household (although large households might want to still use the oven). <br /><br />I've been doing the lettuce one for a while. But you do need to make certain that the lettuce is fairly dry and the bag, truly airtight (difficult around here).<br /><br />I'm definitely trying the wooden spoon hack and thank you for telling us how it worked.<br /><br />
 
Laura D. September 28, 2016
I am so glad you called out the avocado stem trick. It does not work. Avocados are a total crap shoot. Some are good, some are bad. That's just the way the avocado crumbles.
 
Sydney September 28, 2016
I learned this "hack" from my mother. When making meatballs, place the meat in a lightly floured 1 cup glass measuring cup, spin cup in a a circular motion and a perfectly round meatball will form. She hated getting her hands messy with the meat! It works!
 
davidpdx September 28, 2016
A cleaner hack for keeping lettuce fresh: use your water carbonator if you have one. Put lettuce in bag; squeeze out as much air as you can; hold the bag tight around the carbonator nozzle; and give it a few jets of gas.
 
Panfusine September 28, 2016
I usually use up the spinach water as a stock for curries, or use it to knead dough for roti.
 
KOJohnson September 28, 2016
Two additional bits of information. First, to open difficult jars, invert the jar on a flat, hard surface--a table or counter--and whack it twice, hard, as if you're calling a courtroom to order. Be sure that it's perfectly flat on the surface when it hits, and have sense enough to moderate the force so that you don't break the jar, of course. But whack it harder than you think you should, twice, and then it will open easily. <br /> <br />Second, a slightly stale egg will boil better than a fresh one. Leave eggs at room temperature for a day or so; then pierce the big end of the shell as above, and boil. The shell will slip right off. The shell of a fresh egg will stick no matter what you do.