Jul 05, 2023

Alton Brown's 15 Most Useful Cooking Hacks

Generations of food fans know that Alton Brown is an authority in the kitchen. Love him or hate him, the Food Network chef and host has 25 years of on-camera experience with food. The man's also written a few successful cookbooks over the years. Across this massive body of work, you are guaranteed to find dozens — if not hundreds — of cooking hacks that will save your life.

Even from his start on "Good Eats," Brown would turn his most ingenious culinary hacks into full-on segments. Establishing himself as a disruptor of sorts, Brown has gone on to spend much of his career stressing how often you don't need the fanciest kitchen appliances to make a good meal — just a little creativity. Between his time on Food Network and his published work, Alton Brown is a master of cooking hacks. We've picked out the 15 ones that we've found to be the most useful to the ambitious home cook.

If you've been turned on to Alton Brown, you are probably aware of his cold water pasta method. According to Brown's website, this unique method is a faster and more efficient way to boil pasta. Plus, the pasta water left over after the cooking is done will be a delicious and starchy addition perfect for putting the finishing touches on your pasta sauce.

Brown's cold water pasta method subverts the traditional method of bringing a (typically room temperature) pot of salted water to a boil before adding your pasta. Instead, the "Good Eats" chef advocates for adding cold water, pasta, and salt to a pot before heating it up. You will want to cover the pot and turn the heat to medium-high until the water reaches a steady boil. Decrease the heat to maintain a simmer and remove the lid, cooking until al dente. This method will produce a quicker, and some would argue tastier, bowl of pasta for weeknight dinner.

There are countless scrambled egg hacks that will improve the flavor and texture of your balanced breakfast, but this one is a bit unexpected. Don't let your initial reaction trick you, though — once you start adding mayonnaise to your scrambled eggs, you won't be able to go back. Alton Brown knows what he's talking about when it comes to mayo, as evidenced by his equally genius mayonnaise-on-steak hack.

Southern Living explains that, according to Alton Brown's 2016 book "Everyday Cook," adding just one teaspoon of mayo to your scrambled egg mixture will make a creamier, fluffier end result. When explaining the science of exactly why this works, Brown says in his book that "scrambled eggs are essentially an emulsion." Adding another emulsion, namely mayonnaise, will create a texture that nothing else could — and it won't even taste like mayo. As a result, you'll be able to make the creamiest scrambled eggs you've tasted in your life.

We aren't going to lie — this genius egg carton meatball technique just might be the most useful hack Alton Brown has ever taught us. Even if meatballs aren't your jam for dietary or preferential reasons, there are other ways to put the fundamentals of this hack into practice with other recipes.

This hack requires an egg carton, an oven, and a reliable meatball recipe. Shared on his Instagram in a since-deleted post, according to Buzzfeed, this Alton Brown hack is a fantastic way to make meatballs that are crisp on the outside and juicy in the middle. By shaping your meatballs using an empty egg carton, they will also turn out to be uniform in their circular shape. Brown's real innovation is recommending you also cook the meatballs in the carton, which will lead to the desired texture and no messy cleanup.

Just take into account you should only do this one with cardboard egg cartons. Please, do not put styrofoam cartons in the oven. They will burn or melt, rendering your meatballs inedible and your oven in need of a cleaning.

There are a dozen or more preferences when it comes to chocolate chip cookies. Do you like them gooey, crispy, or with salt on top? If your answer is chewy, then Alton Brown's chocolate chip cookie recipe will make your week. The secret ingredient? Why, bread flour, of course.

The Food Network recipe is called "the Chewy," which lets you know Alton means business from the get-go. While a glance over the recipe might dismiss it as a fairly average cookie recipe, one ingredient makes it stand out from the crowd. Alton Brown uses bread flour instead of the typical all-purpose flour used in most chocolate chip cookies. This addition is what makes "the Chewy" so darn chewy, and so irresistible.

As a giant puppet explains in the original "Good Eats" video, the bread flour's higher protein content creates more gluten. This means more moisture will stay in the cookie, leading to a chewy and decadent inside.

Tongs are an essential kitchen tool. You often need to grab objects with your tongs, making them the first line of protection for your hands when working with hot food and cookware. If you are finding that you can't quite get a good enough grip with your current set of tongs, though, that can be a problem. Nobody wants to feel as if they are going to drop the ramekin they are holding at a moment's notice. Enter Alton Brown and his essential tong hack.

Brown details this hack in a Facebook post where he explains how to give your tongs a better grip. And it's pretty simple. All you have to do is wrap a rubber band tightly around each tong in order to immediately turn it into a grippier tool. Preferably, you are going to want to use food-grade rubber bands leftover from produce. These types of rubber bands are often thicker than what you can find at the office supply store, plus you will probably have some lying around your kitchen already.

Stovetop popcorn is the perfect way for home chefs to upgrade this classic snack, and avoid the overly salted and buttered options at the grocery store — but according to Alton Brown, you may have been doing it wrong this whole time. What you actually need to pop a perfect batch of popcorn is a stainless steel bowl and a sheet of aluminum foil.

Brown's metal bowl popcorn first appeared in "Good Eats," where the chef explained the method to his madness. Both the shape of the bowl and the technique outlined in the recipe make for an evenly cooked batch of popcorn.

After combining your ingredients in a bowl, cover it with heavy-duty aluminum foil and poke slits in the top to let air out during the popping. Now for the nuts part. You are going to pop the popcorn in the bowl directly over medium-high heat, using kitchen towels or oven mitts to hold and shake the bowl without burning your hands. Brown's recipe says to shake until eight seconds pass between two kernels popping and then remove it from the heat.

This might be one of the Food Network icon's more outrageous ideas, but it will work wonders in a pinch. And while the hook for this video where he first introduced the idea might be laughably outdated these days, the point still stands. This is an excellent way to make a hot breakfast, even without access to your regular kitchen tools and appliances. That's right, folks, we are going to be cooking in a coffee pot.

All you need for Alton Brown's "emergency oatmeal kit," as the chef calls it, are two packets of instant oatmeal and then optionally an individual packet of honey or jam for sweetness. Throw this all in a coffee pot and then place it in the coffee maker and run that bad boy. Brown likes to put an herbal tea bag in the coffee maker basket to give his oatmeal an extra kick of flavor.

The best part is that this is a great way to keep your breakfast hot for hours. We don't think Brown was accounting for clean-up time when it comes to convenience, but regardless, this oatmeal trick works.

Do you want to know what the most frustrating part of baking is? It is not the precise bake times, nor the near-endless kneading process for certain recipes. No, this distinction belongs to the time-honored horror that is trying to get parchment paper to stick to a dish. No matter what you do, the paper will always slip around when you are spooning a batter or dough on top of it. This can make getting an even cook on your baked good a bit trickier than you'd expect. Luckily, Alton Brown has one super simple hack that is also among his most useful.

According to Food52, Brown included this hot tip in his 2016 book "EveryDayCook." All you have to do to solve this problem is spray a little water on the baking sheet or dish you are using before putting down a sheet of parchment paper. This way it will stick. The best method of doing this is using a spray bottle (if you have one around for plants, for example) to give the dish a few spritzes before laying down the parchment.

Another baking tip from the kitchen whiz will be supremely helpful if you are a fan of your pan — your Bundt pan, that is. An irreplaceable form in the kitchen, the Bundt pan allows you to craft all types of gorgeous treats, from chocolate Bundt cakes to ooey-gooey monkey bread. As Alton Brown points out, though, nothing is worse than when a Bundt pan sticks and takes a chunk out of your perfectly circular delicacy. That's why he came up with a foolproof solution to make sure your Bundt pan is always thoroughly prepped for baking.

This method of flouring a pan, which Brown laid out in a Facebook post from 2015, requires coating the interior with butter, tossing in a couple tablespoons of flour (or sugar), and then sealing the open side of the pan tightly with plastic wrap. Shake it all up to make sure every little crack of the pan gets covered.

He hasn't made it all this way for nothing. Alton Brown knows his way around the kitchen and it shows in the unconventional, but delicious, choices he makes. Thankfully, he's done a great service to the world in sharing many of those tips with the public, including this special trick to enhance your next fruit pie.

While spices aren't completely foreign to sweet dishes, one you don't see show up a whole lot is smoked paprika. With any smoky component, you run the risk of overwhelming the dessert. However, Alton Brown recommends adding half a teaspoon of smoked paprika to your fruit pie recipe, just like he does in his recipe for frozen peach pie.

You might ask just what this element would add to a peach pie (or strawberry or blueberry, as Brown also suggests). Well, according to the author's write-up on the recipe's webpage, "adding spices to fruity desserts adds considerable dimension to flavors that all too often just taste plain sweet."

Deep frying at home is no fun. Thankfully, you don't need to use a fryer to make excellent restaurant-quality chicken wings at home. Alton Brown says as much on his website's recipe for "super crispy no-fry Buffalo wings." And by using Brown's baking and steaming method, they might be even better than what you can get at a local chicken chain. So why don't you grab your favorite bottle of Buffalo sauce and give this a try?

To get your wings extra crisp, Brown's recipe instructs that you first steam them in a 6-quart saucepan with 1 inch of water in the bottom. After partially cooking the wings in the steamer, then move them to the refrigerator for an hour while you heat up a 425-degree oven. Steaming the wings before you bake them will render out much of the fat, which will prevent your high-heat oven from smoking or burning the wings. The cooling is also a crucial part of the process that ensures the skin turns out crispy, while the wings themselves are not overdone. Doesn't that sound just heavenly?

Do you still find yourself reaching for lemonade as a classic refreshment, only to get sugar-bombed? If you have nostalgic memories of drinking lemonade on a hot summer day but find all your local grocery store options too cloyingly sweet, try Alton Brown's unique and tart recipe. His secret ingredient? Preserved lemons, which according to the Food Network host, make all the difference in the world.

In his Preserved Lemons-ade recipe, Alton Brown claims to add depth to a traditionally two-dimensional beverage. Making lemonade with preserved lemons brings a salty flavor to the drink. Brown elevates it one step further by using soda water instead of flat water when mixing his lemonade in order to give it an extra fizz. This carbonation complements both the preserved lemon flavor and, as you would expect from Alton Brown, the vodka — should you choose to add it.

The culinary hack that is perhaps the most quintessentially Alton Brown is the one that involves sticking a whole chicken in a panini press. That's right, you can use that dusty old thing for more than sandwiches. In the 2010 Food Network video, Brown outlines the many atypical uses for this device, which include a full breakfast and this ingenious dinner hack.

In fairness, most presses won't fit a whole chicken, even when spatchcocked the way Brown prepares his bird in the video. Instead, Brown places a Cornish game hen into the press for about 12 minutes for a perfectly grilled chicken, without the need to bust out the grill. For a larger bird, you may have to put your butcher skills to the test. But even if you just have a single breast or thigh, know that the panini press is the secret weapon to getting impressive grill marks on your chicken — even on a rainy day.

Oh, how simple the baked potato seems. The humble spud, as Alton Brown likes to call it. Far from humble himself, the chef casts aspersions on the method most Americans use to bake potatoes. When it comes to this classic preparation, Brown says no to foil-wrapped potatoes. Specifically, when making the recipe on Food Network, the chef said: "Unless you like limp, soggy, gummy baked potatoes, please, stay away from the foil."

Instead, what you want to do is quite simple. Just douse the outside of a russet potato with a cooking oil of your choosing and then salt it to your desired level, based on whether or not you plan on eating the skin. Make sure you've poked some holes in the spud with a fork before popping it into a preheated oven for about an hour. This method is the epitome of simple, good cooking, something that Alton Brown has spent his entire career advocating for.

If you've ever cooked hard-boiled eggs, you know that it can be a bit of a gamble. You don't know if your work has paid off until you peel the eggs, and when the shells don't come off just right, all that work is for naught. But of course, culinary whiz kid Alton Brown has already figured out an easy way to avoid the issue entirely — while still making delicious hard-boiled eggs in the process.

Instead of cooking his eggs in boiling water, Alton Brown steams them instead. For this method, you are going to need a steamer basket and a pot of boiling water. Place your eggs in the basket and into your pot before covering it. Steam for 11-13 minutes depending on your desired yolk texture.

The second part of Brown's easy-peel method subverts conventions. Instead of placing your eggs into ice water, have a bowl of room-temperature water ready after they've been steaming. This won't shock the egg membrane as much as cold water and, in addition to the steaming method, will make boiled eggs that peel easily.