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No Matter the Hack, Some Kitchen Tasks Will Always Be a Pain in the Ass

The latest viral video represents our hope that, one day, we won’t have to put in the work

A pile of garlic.
A pile of garlic.
Photo by Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images
Jaya Saxena is a Correspondent at, and the series editor of Best American Food Writing. She explores wide ranging topics like labor, identity, and food culture.

It looks too easy, the way she slides the knife in and pops the cloves out. For anyone who has attempted to peel 40 cloves of garlic for a chicken stew, who needs to mince tablespoon upon tablespoon for a recipe, it was almost infuriating how effortlessly these hands pulled the garlic from its papery shell.

Of course, it was too good to be true. Almost immediately after the video went viral, skeptics popped up, posting videos of themselves trying the same method with mediocre or outright lousy results.

This is not the first time this has happened. A few years ago, it was the “bowl trick,” in which you shake garlic cloves between two bowls until the skins fall off. Then, it was microwaving your garlic. Or, you soak the cloves in water. Or there’s the classic smash-n-peel technique, which doesn’t work if you need the cloves whole. And don’t forget the many appliances — from silicone wraps to grinders to presses — that promise you freedom from the drudgery of peeling and chopping dozens of teeny cloves.

Garlic isn’t the only food to be subjected to “hackery,” but garlic hacks spread like wildfire in a way that, say, yogurt hacks don’t. Part of it is the ingredient’s ubiquity in multiple cuisines -- if you cook at all, you will probably need to slice up some garlic at some point, whether you’re making ragu or chicken curry. And part of it is that chopping garlic is one of the most tedious kitchen tasks. Unless you have impeccable knife skills, getting garlic into a fine mince, like so many recipes call for, takes for-fucking-ever, and that’s only after you’ve released them from their papery prisons, some of which cling to the cloves like laminate. Chopping garlic always seems like it’s going to take two minutes, and twenty later you’re still there, digging your nail into the bulb, trying to get some last stubborn skin off.

So of course, when someone particularly dexterous demonstrates how easy it really is, everyone up to and including Chrissy Teigen rushes to believe it’s not only easy, but within reach. And the thing is, it can be...WITH PRACTICE. The woman who posted the original video mentions she cooks a lot of Korean food and has perhaps developed the muscle memory and expertise to pluck those suckers right out of their bulbs. But what “hack” trends sell is the idea that anyone can be an expert immediately, and the inevitable backlash comes when we all go home and realize that our skills leave something to be desired.

When did the moderately tedious reality of peeling and mincing garlic become so unbearable? If the last decade or so of food writing and blogging has taught us anything, it’s that cooking for oneself or one’s family is supposed to be a pleasurable experience, even more so when you’re able to take your time and find a rhythm to your method. Cooking doesn’t only have to be a means to an end (stuffing one’s pie hole), it can also be a wholesome, enjoyable process.

Then again, we don’t all have the luxury of time. Sure, there are people out there who either push through the peeling and chopping of garlic to get to the more meditative parts of cooking, or who find the task satisfying in and of itself. But it’s clear from these videos’ popularity that there’s also a slew of us looking to prepare a meal while exerting very little effort. Sadly for us, though, sometimes the only true hack is literally hacking away with a knife. Garlic is garlic. It’s covered in paper and can be really sticky or dry or overgrown, and sometimes it smashes easily and sometimes it’s harder than you’d expect. Most likely, no knife or bowl or trick is going to get you around that. Which is why some grocery stores — in the ultimate life hack — sell it pre-peeled.