EDIT: Thanks so much, this has been a ton of fun! I gotta go run and take care of some things, but I will try to get to a few more questions later on today.

Hey folks. If you frequent cooking and food science subreddits (such as /r/seriouseats or /r/cooking or /r/askculinary), we’ve probably met. I’m the author of The Food Lab: Better Home cooking Through Science, which is a recipe-based good science book for home cooks. I’m also the former culinary director of the website Serious Eats and I run a California beer hall in San Mateo CA called Wursthall. I have a children’s book called Every Night is Pizza Night coming out next fall and am working on series of follow-ups to my first book. This September I also joined The New York Times Food team.

Aside from cooking, I’m into playing, writing, and recording music, woodworking, and pretty much anything that involves making stuff with your hands.

I’m here to help answer any holiday cooking questions you may have, or anything else you want to know about recipe-writing, book-writing, helping start and run successful restaurants, cooking with kids, food science, The Beatles, or me. You can follow me on my Youtube channel, Instagram, or Twitter, but nobody's gonna make you do it.

Ask me (almost) anything. Only things I won't answer are personal questions about my family.

Proof: https://i.redd.it/9jx33p5vspz31.jpg

EDIT: /u/kenjilopezalt is not me.

Comments: 1777 • Responses: 75  • Date: 

alcaveens1633 karma

Don’t have any questions. Just wanted to say The Food Lab is dope and those chicken sandwiches are now a staple in my apartment. Thanks!

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt1378 karma

Let me answer your statement with a series of questions.

Who do you think you are? What gives you the right?

(P.S. I'm pretty sure this is the sandwich in question)

galabanza37 karma

What would Kenji's Big Mac idea look like?

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt220 karma

caughtinahustle1082 karma

I am a huge fan of your POV gopro videos and the lack of commentary, how simple it is. Do you have a plan ahead of time of what you'll make? OR is it sort of a see what's in the fridge type of setup?

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt1341 karma

I have no plan. Those videos I literally strap a gopro to my head, walk into the kitchen, and make something because I'm hungry.

These are the videos in question

TheBraveTart780 karma

Hey, Kenji—wanna grab a beer next week?

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt474 karma

Hey yes! I know a place. ;)

You doing anything special in town or just for fun?

kranzmonkey130 karma

Now all we need is a collab with u/TheBraveTart to add German Chocolate Cake to the Wursthall menu.

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt19 karma

We use a modified version of her brownie recipe! We bake it with pretzel chips and pretzel salt, and serve it warm with ice cream and a burnt caramel sauce. The kids menu also has a brownie Sunday which is vanilla ice cream, brownie bits, pretzel chips, whipped cream, and burnt caramel sauce.

That1Crow561 karma

Are you aware just how much Andrew Rea from Binging With Babish loves you?

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt782 karma

I'm not sure if /u/OliverBabish knows how much I love him.

OliverBabish953 karma

I love you more and I can prove it: my brother actually tried to get you to come to my bachelor party back in 2013 (I think you were out in CA at the time and couldn't make it). That's how much I love Kenji - I'd much rather have him at my bachelor party than a stripper.

EDIT: maybe you didn't come because my brother asked you to strip? Unclear.

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt692 karma

Wait really?! I totally would have come! Let’s redo it. I’ve been working on my stripper bod.

OliverBabish714 karma

That's why I got divorced!! We have another chance!

Too dark.

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt531 karma

Too dark. Like the damned biscuits I burned this afternoon.

CrapYeah485 karma

Kenji, thanks for all your work.

How do you decide what to make for meals on a nightly/weekly basis? I love to cook and have been for years, but I always find it annoying that often when I try and decide what to make it is like I have made so many things over the years but can only think of one or two things, lol.

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt588 karma

Depends! Often it's what I have lying around the house or see at the supermarket. Sometimes it's a specific thing I'm craving or my wife or daughter want. We tend to eat a lot of Japanese, Chinese, and Mexican, as well as some more European-style soups and stews (Italian in particular we cook a lot of), and some Colombian (my wife is Colombian).

Real trick is just keep challenging yourself to learn new techniques and flavors and push to expand your repertoire. Once you have techniques under your belt, you can apply to tons of different cooking situations.

technique>recipe any day of the week.

whodat773464 karma

I bought a 5in plastic turkey chocolate mold that I want to use for orange jello. How can I make my jello so that the turkey will stand up? I also need to get the two halves to fold together... any tips on that? Appreciate the help!

Here is a link for the mold I bought if that helps: https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B000EJNSIS?ref=ppx_pt2_mob_b_prod_image

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt1071 karma

hahaha good one. Pretty easy: just use more gelatin. I would use jell-o at the concentration recommended on the packet, but for each packet of jell-o, also add 2-3 packets of unflavored gelatin. It should set up nice and firm.As for getting them to stick together, I'd say make one, let it set, make the second and let it set, then very quickly run a blowtorch over the surface to melt it, and stick the halves together (arranging so that gravity holds them together until they firm up again)

whodat77396 karma

Thank you for the response! ...Do you think I could use a hair dryer instead of a blow torch? I don’t have one of those lying around

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt112 karma


superchaddi432 karma

I'm a big fan of your 'let's scientifically understand why this does/doesn't work' methodology but being from India, a lot of your techniques and recipes cover ingredients and dishes that are rare-to-nonexistent in cooking here. Do you know of people (in the popular sphere or even academics/scientists) using a scientific approach with any kind of Indian cooking, or actually, any other regional cuisine? Most I've found are very US-American which means, at best, partial coverage of cuisines closer to my home. Basically a Food Lab for Indian techniques, ingredients, and dishes?

Appreciate your work and your Twitter Eddie Izzard references! Thanks, Kenji.

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt464 karma

Ah, I actually don't know anyone doing that specifically with Indian cuisine. I know there are some in Chinese cuisine, such as [Chinese Cooking Demystified](https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC54SLBnD5k5U3Q6N__UjbAw). I'd be very curious to see an approach to Indian cuisine like that.

I'm actually currently finishing up my second book which is all about the science of technique of cooking in a wok. I'm hoping it will be the most complete technique-based guide to wok cooking in English when it comes out. I think it'll be useful!

tossinthisshit1408 karma

why would a best selling author & world renowned foodie start a restaurant, let alone a german style beer hall? i listened to your appearance on the superfreakonomics podcast and at that time, you seemed a bit pessimistic about it and cautioned people that it's not the dream that people want it to be. so my question is, why?

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt593 karma

I don't think I meant to sound pessimistic. It's still an overall rewarding and valuable experience, especially these days as we have found our groove and employees seem genuinely happy to work with us. There's always great camaraderie and teamwork, and it's nice to know that I have contributed in making sure these great people are employed and fulfilled.

That said, yeah, it's not an easy job, and the potential for financial down the line is pretty low on average. I do not expect to ever make a single cent personally on this endeavor, but if I do, it would be a nice surprise. I'd consider simply paying back investors and staying aflor long enough to give people several years of good employment a success by restaurant standards. I think we can probably do a little better than that even.

To be clear, I didn't start the restaurant. My partners did. I joined after the concept was mostly nailed down and pushed and pulled it a little to suit my own style and tastes. As for beer hall, it makes perfect sense in the area. My partner is a craft beer encyclopedia and has all the right networks for supply chains, beer halls are the interesection of family-friendly and corporate/party-frienydly, which were two very underserved markets in the area, and the concept is one that can hopefully be replicated in a few more locations down the line. Multiple locations is really the only path to financial viability in a restaurant.

burritoace59 karma

Multiple locations is really the only path to financial viability in a restaurant.

Any chance you can explain why that is the case?

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt252 karma

Restaurant margins are razor thin. For several months when we first opened, we were in fact LOSING money for each customer who came in until we got our operations under order and made everything more efficient. A lot of restaurants never even get there. Even when you are turning a profit, it's limited by your space. We cannot serve more than around 4-500 people per day no matter what. We simply don't have the capacity, which means that it's impossible to scale past that point. If you want to scale and grow, you need more locations.

tbellthrowaway56 karma

I heard that you're courting investors for a potential Santana Row location. Is that location still likely to happen, and if so, any estimate when it would open?

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt75 karma

Likely to happen. Yes. Hopefully 2020 but we don’t want o make promises we can’t keep so no guarantee!

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt5 karma

Likely to happen. Yes. Hopefully 2020 but we don’t want o make promises we can’t keep so no guarantee!

see-bees91 karma

One major thing that multiple locations allow you to do is attain some economies of scale. If a chain has 5 restaurants in an area using the same menu or overlapping concepts, they'll probably have a prep/distribution kitchen that can do a lot of overlapping base work and ship product out to all 5 kitchens instead of all 5 kitchens doing the same thing less efficiently.

I worked at a casual Italian/pizza place in college that had probably 7 locations and a distribution arm. That distro arm made all of the dough, pasta, and sauces for every single location AND probably every other pizza joint in the city that wasn't part of a national chain.

Restaurants do a lot of pre-work on whatever you order before you actually order it. So when you order a hamburger, they don't just start from scratch and throw together unseasoned beef, spices, whatever before throwing it on a grill. The kitchen makes X burger patties every day, every 3 days, whatever, to make sure they can turn out your food quickly and consistently. Order for your Big Tex BBQ burger comes in, they grab a patty and slap it on the grill, finish off some 99% cooked bacon, etc. and assemble.

The less time an individual branch has to devote to the microsteps, the more efficiently they operate.

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt75 karma

All of this is true. Especially when making sausages is our bread and butter and that can be scaled efficiently.

2O12250 karma

In the spirit of Bravetart's impossible pecan pie , are there any recipes you've had to refrain from publishing for any reason?

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt406 karma

I have some pretty insanely complicated recipes out there, like the Ribby McRibface which is like an idealized McRib that takes days to make (and it's delicious).

Back when I worked at Cook's Illustrated, I do remember I wrote a recipe for a traditional cassoulet that included making your own sausages, curing your own confit duck and pork belly, etc. They have a "we don't publish unless 80% of home testers would make it again" policy. That one failed. We ended up writing some janky "quick cassoulet" recipe instead that was easy and popular but also totally forgettable. I only barely remembered it today.

That's the nice thing about writing online. You can write some crazy shit and you can always find a niche aiudience for it so long as the quality of the content is good. I really like my Serious Eats cassoulet .

QuiltyBefevered221 karma

Hi J. We don't do Thanksgiving in Ireland and we don't have turkey, but my American sister-in-law will be here for a special dinner in her honour. How can I make a ham the best thanksgiving centrepiece that she'll forget all about turkey? I really want her to feel at home with us so the sky is the limit.

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt192 karma

That's so sweet of you!

Luckily we have a very thorough guide to cooking hams. Good luck!

Mr_Slippery204 karma

Do you sharpen your own knives or drop them off to get done? I tried buying a kit to learn to do it myself but the results were crap. Bringing them to Whisk in Brooklyn is a PITA because I'm in Queens.

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt332 karma

I sharpen them myself, usually a couple times a year (though I have a zillion knives so I just switch to a new one when the current one starts to get a little too dull for my taste, then I'll batch-sharpen them in a marathon while watching tv or something).

But dropping them off is a perfectly fine way to do it, so long as whoever is sharpening them isn't just grinding them on an electric stone and shaving it down to nothing.

Thatguyjmc129 karma

Kenji - I love everything you do.

I have a pressure cooking question. This year I was gifted an instant pot. It's fine, I use it for normal pressure cooking things.

THE QUESTION: Does a "quick release" really dry out meats? My understanding of meats is that their internal moisture content is governed by the heat they are cooked at, and the subsequent contraction of proteins.

People in instant pot communities continually say "natural release only" as this is supposed to "keep meats soft". But they are still being cooked at the same temperature!

Can you solve this for me? Nobody can provide me with legitimate information one way or the other.

Thank you!

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt197 karma

That's a good question. Quick release definitely is more violent and maybe that rapid expansion is enough to kinda tear up muscle fibrils and harm the texture/moisture-retention ability of meats. Sometimes if you quick-release certain types of meat, they EXPLODE. I once had a pork tongue explode on me as I was opening the pressure cooker after a quick-release.

Short answer: It seems reasonable to me that a more gently release will keep the meat more intact and thus allow it to retain more moisture, but I that is simply a hypothesis, I have not tested it.

Maharichie127 karma

I'm still trying to convince my mom not to baste. Is there any benefit at all to basting? She also wraps cheese cloth on the bird "to keep the juices in". Please help

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt778 karma

Basting can speed up cooking, which can be good or bad depending on what you're going for. It can also enhance browning so long as the basting liquid is fat-based (and not water-based). The main benefit to allowing your mom to baste is that she's the one making the turkey so let her do it how she wants and just sit back and enjoy the rest of the holiday!

TheTrueLordHumungous119 karma

To brine your turkey: yes or no?

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt363 karma

Wet brine: no

Dry brine: yes

A wet brine dilutes the turkey with water (even if you use a flavorful liquid like broth, only the water an salt really penetrate). A dry brine helps the turkey simply retain its natural juices.

Here's my guide to brining. It has a lot more detail and testing notes.

CaptainChucho102 karma

What are your current favorite cooking/food shows that you are watching?

jkamin94 karma

Why do you think it's so difficult to find a good bagel in the bay area?

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt228 karma

Same reason it's hard to find great bbq in New York. Mostly it comes down to a dining and baking population that were not raised knowing what a "good" bagel is. Without a frame of reference, you can't really tell what is good or bad. So bad bagels do just fine because they still taste good for many people, even if they don't taste the way a bagel "should" taste.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. People should eat what they like, even if it's some jalapeño and cheese-covered monstrosity with blueberry cream cheese. Who am I do judge? ;)

thesehalcyondays86 karma

So let's say, for presentation reasons, you don't want to spatchcock (I know it's the best, just stick with me).

In that instance, would you recommend cooking upside down (so dark meat has higher heat and breast is protected)?

I could even see doing a reverse-sear: low and slow, a rest, and a final blast under the broiler right-side-up.

Does this make sense as a way to maximize the tastiness of the "Traditional" turkey, or is there a better way if you don't want to break down?

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt149 karma

If you want to roast a whole bird, I recommend using a baking stone or steel and preheating it in the oven. Place the turkey on a rimmed baking sheet with a rack, and place that directly on the preheated stone. The heat from the stone helps the legs and thighs cook faster so that they come up to temp around the same time that the breast does.

Here is the complete recipe and techniquie

PoopsieDoodles82 karma

Is there really much benefit to putting butter/herbs under the turkey skin?

Makes a big mess and I am unconvinced it makes a difference, but this is purely anecdotal from last year.

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt130 karma

It depends if you want butter and herb flavor under the skin or not. There is definitely advantage to rubbing a little salt under there at least, as far as moisture retention goes. Butter I never do, I find it mostly just runs out and makes it difficult to brown the turkey evenly. Herbs under the skin can be good, but again, I don't see a huge advantage over putting them on the surface or adding them to the gravy, etc. There are lots of ways to get flavor into turkey. If you really dislike one method, just stop doing it!

Moritsuna81 karma

What is a good staple food that you can make on sunday that will last for the rest of the week? I try to make some larger recipes on sunday but get bored but monday or tuesday, after eating it a couple of times

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt143 karma

Soups and stews! Many of them get better with age. Some dishes, like ribollita actually completely transform from a soup to a stew to a pancake as the days progress. Each is delicious.

At home we don't eat too much meat, but what I'll sometimes do is roast a chicken on sunday, or maybe cook one steak. Then through the rest of the week I'll use the meat in other dishes. Shjred the chicken meat for stews, spice it up for tacos, add it to salads, etc. I love making cold steak salads as well. Lots of veg and flavor, just a little meat.

thetitularrole81 karma

First, thank you endlessly for the Halal Chicken recipe — that's become a Traveling Pants-type gem for me, where I've been told of long chains of recommendation that have spawned from me sharing it (and making it for) a few friends. Always a home run.

My question is — is there some kind of standardized way to approximate medium, medium-high, high heat on a gas burner? I know many induction stovetops have control by degree, but is that any kind of test I could perform to understand where on my knobs is equivalent to a standard medium, etc.? Or do I just have to watch the size of the flames and make a guess.

Thank you!

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt86 karma

There's unfortunately no good answer to that question, but it's definitely NOT a matter of translating to degrees. Degrees measure temperature, which is a material-dependend measure. I.E. a thick cast pan at 400°F holds a shitton more energy than a thin aluminum pan at 400°F. High/med/low are measures of energy flux, not of temperature. They tell you how much energy is going into the pan (which roughly correlates to how much is going into the food). This is not an easy thing to measure with home equipment, so the real answer is you just gotta pay attention to the visual, auditory, and olfactory cues you get as you cook. Like most things it comes down to practice to get really good at it.

mesonoxian_77 karma

Hi Kenji! Stoked to see you here. When is the new book coming out?

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt342 karma

I have a children's book called Every Night is Pizza Night coming out fall of 2020. It's a storybook aimed at 4-7 year olds about a girl who believes that pizza is the best food, and thus refuses to eat anything else. She and her puppy Muttzarella go on a neighborhood-spanning adventure discovering what it means for something to be "best."

My second big cook book is about the science and technique of wok-cooking, and it's going to be out in 2021. Around 500 pages, 100+ recipes, and a ton of science and technique.

jms122375 karma

Whenever I cook steak sous vide (NY strip, ribeye, picahna, etc), the result looks beautiful but the fat isn't rendered and is tough and chewy. My most recent attempt was picahna at 134F for 3.5hrs, followed by a sear in cast iron with ghee + blowtorch. It was the same result.

Are we so focused on the wall-to-wall red interior appearance of a medium rare sous vide steak that people are ignoring how tough the fat is? Or am I doing something wrong? It just seems like sous vide is great at consistency, but consistently producing steaks that are not as good as, say, a reverse sear.

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt165 karma

Sous vide typically does not render large swaths of intramuscular fat very well, that is true. For cuts where the fat is on the exterior, you can spend some extra time searing it to render it and crisp it. You can't really do much for the internal fat in, say, a ribeye. Given the option I would take revere-searing over sous vide any day of the week. Sous vide is foolproof and easy and repeatable, but it's not optimal for everything.

EggMcFuckin67 karma

I'm going to pose to you the same question I asked Alton Brown on his AMA recently because I'd love to hear your answer too.

Assume you have the power to remove one of the following things from the face of the Earth forever:

  • Pumpkin-spiced things
  • Truffle oil

Which one are you choosing and why?

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt160 karma

Truffle oil, for sure. Pupmkin-spiced things taste generally godawful, but I think they are innocuous and fun at heart. Bad truffle oil (I.E. almost all of it) also tastes godawful, but it's often used by people to be snooty and pretentious and look down on others or jack up prices. It's a bad product designed to make people feel bad if they don't say they love it because it's truffles, right?

(P.S. probably not news to anyone here, but most truffle oil is not, in fact, made from truffles. It's crappy olive oil with synthetic aromas added to it.)

milestgs65 karma

Do you find the brand of bread flour you use for your new york Pizza dough recipe radically changes how much water it can accept? When i use the amount of water you suggest with the bread flour available to me it's unusably wet.

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt115 karma

It does, but not radically. Maybe a few percentages. What bread flour are you using?

Also, dough in general should be way wetter than what most people are comfortable with. A well-relaxed dough for, say, a sourdough boule or some types of pizza should kinda plop like a puddle when you put it on your bench. Working with wet doughs is a skill that comes with practice. General rule of thumb is that the wetter a dough, the bigger the internal hole structure is gonna be. So if you want really poofy crust, wet dough and high heat are what you need.

Punsareforretards53 karma

I absolutely love your book and use your methods to great success. I have a question that has bothered me. Why do you not use weight measures for your food lab cook book? You explain why using weights in cooking is superior but fail to do so in the book. Was this a decision you made?

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt111 karma

I regret not adding weight in addition to the volume measures. There was definitely a decision about this and I kinda went with the general advice that an American audience prefers volume.

In future books there will be volume and weight for everything, and I plan on adding weight to the original book (pun intended) when we do an updated and revised edition in the future, probably for its 10-year anniversary in 2025.

deaconcle53 karma

Say you were planning to make your Herb Butter-Rubbed Spatchcocked Roast Turkey, and you were planning to dry brine. What is the order of operations? Would you spatchcotch first, then dry brine? Add the herb butter at the same time as the dry brine, or later on right before cooking?

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt62 karma

I would personally spatchcock, then rub with salt all over just because it's easier to do that after the bird is flattened. I'd add the butter and herbs before cooking.

FloggingDog49 karma

Is the guinea pig from Colombia the weirdest thing you ever ate? If not, what is?

Huge fan, thanks so much for writing The Food Lab!

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt235 karma

I don't know what you'd define as "weird." Guinea pig is a staple food in a lot of the Andes, and just as with domestic cattle, pig, chicken, lamb, etc, these are animals that are specifically bred to be eaten, and have been for a long, long time. It's a common food, so no I would not call it weird!

I was easily one of the most delicious things I've ever eaten in my life. Like the world's crispiest, juiciest suckling pig.

Weirdest thing I've ever eaten was probably in 3rd grade when Jimmy Wang made me drink a cupful of ketchup mixed with milk, black pepper, grape jelly, orange juice, and pickles. I did it so that I could borrow Contra from him. I'm pretty sure he never lent it to me.

Trappist130 karma

Are you still friends with Jimmy Wang?

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt38 karma

I am! Though we don’t speak too often. We live very far apart.

Taggart45148 karma

Hello! I really appreciate you answering all my questions on Twitter! Concise but very thorough, and I don't think I've had a ruined meal yet. A couple things I've always had on my mind.

  1. I saw somewhere that the J. in your name stands for James. Is there any reason you go by Kenji other than "I like it?"

  2. I ordered a fresh turkey for Thanksgiving but I just found out that my father-in-law won't be staying anymore. Since I won't be making it this Thursday, are there any problems with cutting it up and freezing it in parts?

  3. Everyone talks about quality of ingredients, which is totally understandable. Where do you find it acceptable to skimp out on something, such as get the "cheap" version or to take a "shortcut?"

Thanks for reading some of these. I hope you have a good experience with this AmA.

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt85 karma

  1. I have gone by Kenji ever since I was a little kid. It's my middle name. I don't know why I asked people to call me Kenji, but it's stuck.

  2. No problems unless it's been previously frozen and thawed a couple times, in which case it could be a food safety issue. Freezing once from fresh is totally fine.

  3. Cheap vanilla is better than fancy vanilla in many cases (especially in recipes that get baked or browned).

sirbrianwilson42 karma

What books have you been reading lately?

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt49 karma

Recently The Food of Northern Thailand and the re-issue of Fuschia Dunlop's classic Land of Plenty (which has been renamed The Food of Sichuan).

diiejso39 karma

Chef John likes a little bit of cayenne in basically every dish. Do you have a seasoning, other than salt, that you find yourself adding to everything you cook?

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt58 karma

No, but I do think most cooks need to think about acid more. Just as important as salt in many cases!


Why is canned cranberry sauce better than homemade no matter which recipes I try?

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt196 karma

Probably the Heinz Effect, which is a term I'm coining right now. Basically it states that for anyone who grew up eating Heinz ketchup, Heinz IS ketchup and anything different will therefore not taste quite like ketchup. No matter how many fancy ingredients and flavors restaurants put into their homemade ketchup, when I want ketchup, all I want is Heinz. Anything else is simply not ketchup.

If you grew up eating canned sauce, that's just what cranberry sauce is supposed to taste like to you. Embrace it!

thenickdyer36 karma

I've got a background in food photography and have been considering making a cookbook. What tips do you have for someone looking to make their own?

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt133 karma

It really depends why you want to do it. If you just want to do it for yourself or your friends and family, self-publish and just jump in. If your goal is a career, then you need to think of the book as a business. Book proposals are written like business plans. You need to identify your market, see what the competition is in the space, calculate how many books you think you can sell, work on building a platform to sell them and promote them, etc. Without good prospects on all of those things, a publisher is not going to go for your book.

The actual content of the book is also important, of course, but the platform and business side of it are equally so.

The final and most important thing: find your voice. Find what makes your writing uniquely you, and make sure you figure out how to use that voice to your advantage. This is very very difficult to do, but you do it by just writing all the time. Every day, every chance, whether it's for public consumption or just for practice. You need to practice to get good at anything. No different with writing.

Make sure to also think about who your favorite writers are and what about them you like. You can practice incorporating some of those writer’s techniques into your own writing and see how it suits you. For me one of the most difficult parts of writing is making it funny. People tell me my writing is funny. I think it is too, but that doesn’t come naturally. I typically write a piece then spend about double that time going back and figuring out how I can make it more entertaining. I also frequently reread some of my favorite comedic writers. Douglas Adams, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., and Calvin and Hobbes I read several times a year to remind myself how to craft good jokes.

co-lee36 karma

I'm about ready to get some carbon steel pans. Anything I should be thinking about?

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt67 karma

Don't spend more than $40-60 or so unless you're going for a super-giant one. These modern hipster cast iron and carbon steel pans are almost universally absurdly overpriced, especially carbon steel. Cast iron you sort of get it because most cheap modern cast iron has a rough surface, so you're paying for the smooth, polished surface.

But carbon steel pans are pretty much all smooth and polished.

I use my short-sided Lodge carbon steel skillet for fried eggs or searing burgers or meat or vegetables, also for baking pizzas from time to time. It cost $40 and is completely non-stick. If you plan to saute or pan-roast or make things like frittatas and omelets and Spanish tortilas, a Matfer Bourgeat or De Buyer are excellent an inexpensive. If you see carbon steel pans in a restaurant, it's most likely one of these.

Stay away from carbon steel pans with their own kickstarter page. There are established brands that make superb products with an established track record and reasonable prices.

SimonJester7434 karma

Hi Kenji! I love everything about your approach to recipe testing and food science.

Are there any foods that you just can't stand? How about any that you used to dislike and then came around to liking?

To make it holiday themed: you have supreme power over the universe and get to delete exactly one traditional Thanksgiving food from the minds and hearts of the entire world. What is it?

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt81 karma

I really hate the smell of bananas. They make me gag. I try to get over it though as I feel like I *shouldn't* hate bananas. I force myself to eat them occasionally.

The only other thing I really hate is Pacific and Belon oysters. They taste like raw sewage to me. I can't eat them. But I will eat Atlantic oysters forever.

I love pretty much all thanksgiving food, so I would not eliminate anything! If I had to eliminate something it would probably whatever bread people like to serve on the side. I'm not a big roll guy.

burz32 karma

What's your favorite weeknight recipe?

My partner and I work full time and we've run out of short recipes. My 2-year-old is super hungry (like angry/hungry) upon return from daycare and I'm beginning to hate cooking (not a fun experience rn). I share your love of BLT but sadly, I feel like we can't eat that everynight.

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt76 karma

Not a recipe, but a technique: stir-frying. It's fast, it's delicious, it's easy, and it can be used with a huge range of ingredients.

brettbri569431 karma

You’ve been teasing a more everyday cookbook for a time. Any update for that? Are you finding you have to change some ideas/recipes for it since you’ve been losing weight? You look great btw and thanks for the cheesy roasted potato recipe!!!

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt51 karma

Losing weight has not affected the way I eat in any way other than simply eating less. I still eat whatever I want, when I want to!

RatherBBakin30 karma

How early before Thanksgiving do you recommend buying the bird?

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt70 karma

Early enough that you can thaw if necessary and dry-brine at least overnight. Which reminds me, I need to go get that bird today.

fireballs61930 karma

First, I want to say thanks for all the great content you put out. Buying the Food Lab cookbook made completely changed the way I cook and I now consider it a hobby of mine (beyond just weeknight dinners).

A few questions:

  1. What do you think is the most overlooked spice in kitchens? Anything big people are missing out on beyond the basics?

  2. What’s the most surprising piece of conventional kitchen wisdom you’ve found to not hold up under scrutiny?

  3. Favorite cocktail?

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt67 karma

  1. Hmm. I like white pepper a lot. I don't know if it's overlooked.
  2. Large volume of water for dried pasta. You don't need it, and in fact most pasta comes out better cooked in less water.
  3. Usually a boulevardier. Sometimes a negroni. Sometimes a dirty gin martini if I'm in the rare mood to eat a steak.

Adancingcat29 karma

A quick food safety question, I’m confused about your storage time for Simple Vinaigrette Recipe. In your book, "Mild Lemon-or Red Wine Olive Oil Vinaigrette", you said “up to 6 months if made with vinegar.” But on the website you said “Vinaigrette will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.” 

The ingredients in 2 sources are almost identical. So 2 weeks or 6 months? My vinaigrette (made based on your recipes) definitely were kept more than 2 weeks before, should I not to keep that long?

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt48 karma

It'll last 6 months or longer if made with vinegar instead of lemon juice. I don't know why they say different things. There are different editors on the website than the book and different standards for a few things, so probably just a change that got made for continuity within the site or the book. If the book and site disagree, I'd go with the more lenient interpretation.

UsernameTruncated26 karma

So many other celebrity chefs reference your way of things, have you ever been star struck or surprised by a celebrity acknowledgement?

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt84 karma

Holy shit all the time! I've had the chance to meet so many of my heroes and it's been shocking how nice and down to earth almost all of them are. Finding out Alton Brown knew my stuff was mind-blowing.

On the other hand I've met Jacques Pepin a half dozen times or so and he NEVER remembers me. He's always wonderful though. He once came back into the kitchen I was working in to show me how to improve the pommes soufflé I served him. It was incredible.

jesspwnsnoobs24 karma

howdy! i love your twitter account!

have you experimented with vegan cooking? what would be some plant-based holiday dishes you would prepare that are friendly to all?

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt51 karma

yeah! I have a huge number of vegan recipes on Serious Eats, including plant-based ones.

There are some great recipes in the Serious Eats guide to a vegetarian thanksgiving here.

klaykid12323 karma

Hey Kenji,

Enjoyed reading through The Food Lab when I received it as a Christmas gift. Been following you on insta and serious eats for a while.

My cousin has a severe dairy allergy. When it comes to turkey, we typically spread vegan butter or margarine instead. It works fine, but definitely isn't the same as butter. Do you have any suggestions when it comes to dairy alternatives for Thanksgiving, or dairy free holiday dishes?


J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt52 karma

You don't need butter to make a delicious turkey!! In fact using oil instead of butter will get you more even browning. That's what I'd recommend.

_orange_pegasus_21 karma

Do you have any tips or tricks when it comes to introducing your baby to solid foods?

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt68 karma

yes! Baby-led weaning was awesome. Basically as soon as my daughter was old enough to sit upright on her own (around 6 months) we started feeding her the exact same food we eat ourselves (supplementing w/ a bottle of course). The only exceptions are some dangerous things like large pieces of meat that require chewing, round things like blueberries and grapes, or things that baby's bodies can't quite deal with yet like raw meat and fish.

I wrote a long guide to getting my toddler to eat, which I think is worth a read. The real keys are to make sure they're involved in meal planning and preparation. nobody likes being told what to do, even toddlers and babies, so you need to make sure they feel empowered and like they have control over their own bodies and what goes into them.

samwisemurphy20 karma

I have to ask- it seems like most professional chefs are all about their high priced steels- but looked at your blades recommendations and see many are in the 100$. Are the performance of these high end/ hand crafted blades overblown? Is it simply aesthetics?

Looking to build out my collection so lmk your thoughts.

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt52 karma

I have some more expensive blades, but a lot of it is just aesthetics/collecting/measuring numbers. Like in any collectible hobby, people who are really into it start caring about minute measurable differences that will make a barely noticeable difference in actual performance. There's a base level of quality I think a knife needs to hit to be really useful for a serious cook (it needs a full tang, heavy handle, forged blade, etc), but once you hit that threshold, As long as your knife fits your hand and you are comfortable with it, it's the right knife for you no matter the price.

cptn_geech19 karma

Hey Kenji, thanks for doing this.

Who shot first? Han or Greedo?

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt50 karma

How is that even a question?!!?

notthegumdropbutton18 karma

What's your favorite creation you've made from woodworking?

Also, how do you eat pizza and stay thin? I follow you on IG and see all the creations. I.e. what's your workout plan?

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt47 karma

I mostly just build small toys and stuff for my daughter when woodworking. I did, however, build a bed for my wife. The headboard is made from a solid 3-inch-thick live-edge slab of black acacia. That took over a week of sanding and finishing with a friend of mine, working almost every day, to get smoothed and finished the way I wanted it. It feels so nice to touch! The rest of the bed frame is black walnut, and I'm very happy with the design (I'm not gonna share picture of my bed publicly, so sorry about that!)

I also really like the helper-stool I built for alicia. It's a painted maple frame with mahogany steps and black walnut handles. It's gorgeous and super-functional. Alicia uses it literally every single day to help cook breakfast and dinner.

I detailed my diet/exercise routine in this Instagram post!

I'll just copy/paste here:

Exactly one year of exercise and portion control. 40 pounds, and I’m managing to maintain it so far. It’s not easy but you get used to it when it becomes part of your routine. Overeating is physically uncomfortable for me these days, and despite my initial trepidation, it has in no way impacted my ability to do my job as a chef, recipe developer, and food writer. Nothing like having a kid to make you want to be healthier and better. Life is never perfect but you can always work on yourself to improve it.

Edit: to expand, my diet consists of eating whatever I want, whenever i want, just not too much of it. The most difficult part was getting over feeling bad about not finishing restaurant portions. It’s ok. They’re huge. I typically leave at least 50% behind or take it to go. At home my basic rule of thumb is I fill up about 50% of the surface area of my plate, and don’t take seconds (except for non-starchy vegetables. I eat all the non-starchy vegetables I want). For exercise the trick is just finding something that you can actually stick with, no matter what that is. If you do it regularly, it will help better than any program that you can’t stick with. For me that’s 30-45m of cardio on an orbital machine 5-6 days a week, with 15-30m of weight training tacked onto about half of those days.

Some people “get in the zone.” I don’t. I get bored out of my mind, so I check email, catch up on shows I like, etc. Whatever distracts me. Sometimes I exercise longer because I’m in the middle of an interesting article or writing an email. I can go a long time if I’m distracted while doing it.

Also for some REAL inspiration, follow @matthewJennings. An old friend, fellow chef, and amazing story of bad health turned completely around.

One more edit: if you like that shirt, go to @cottonbureau! Go there and search for my name. There’s a few designs that I worked on with @mikeyburton. Place an order and when they hit a certain threshold they’ll print a new run. 100% of my profits go to charity on those shirts.

sabresword0013 karma

Is there a way to combine an overnight brine of dry beans with the method of pressure cooking dry beans without soaking?

Most recipes I see for pressure cooking dry beans say not to add salt inside the cooker, but I want to get the flavor that comes from the overnight brine.

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt34 karma

I cannot imagine why you wouldn't add salt to pressure-cooked beans. Probably a holdover from when people believed that salt prevents beans from softening (it doesn't, in fact it does the opposite). I always salt the water when I pressure cook beans.

GerleyStinson8 karma

I have tried to reverse sear meat but it always seems too moist to get a good sear afterwards- even though I dab it with kitchen towels. Any tips? Oh and I really like your work!

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt12 karma

Try letting it rest uncovered on a rack in the fridge overnight. Reverse-searing should actually leave you with a steak that has less surface moisture than just raw out of the fridge. Really firmly blotting with paper towels as opposed to simply dabbing is a good idea too.

KidsDrDave7 karma

Can you please explain the physics of meat's temperature continuing to rise after removing it from the heat source? Is it just a redistribution from the exterior to the interior? From the bones?

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt27 karma

Just a redistribution from exterior to interior. Easiest to think of it in a very simplified way. Imgine your meat is like a Combo, where the delicious cheese center is at one temperature, while the crunchy pretzel outer layer is at a higher temperature. Let it sit out and some of the heat energy from the pretzel layer will dissipate out into the room (most of it, in fact), but some of it will be transferred to the cheesy center, raising its temperature. Same thing happens with a roasted piece of meat, it's just that the temperature gradient inside is smooth rather than stepped.

throwawayyyyyyyyyyxy7 karma

best mac cheems?

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt20 karma


GeT_SILvEr6 karma

Hey Kenji! I’m a huge fan of yours! My one question for any cook will always be “what is your favorite thing to make for yourself?”

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt10 karma

shannonmiller6 karma

Have you ever tried a meal delivery service (like blue apron)? Why or why not? What is your best advice for tackling the metal load / indecision of what to cook every day?

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt16 karma

I have tried just to see what they are like. I do not like them. I like having control over my food. I do not like excessive waste. I also think the recipes generally just aren't very good in the ones I've tried. I understand it works for some people. Not my thing though.

marseglia5 karma

Kenji, I need to cook for someone with a dairy allergy. No cheese, butter, milk, etc.

Many recipes, esp. sauces, sautes, use butter or cream.

Are there a general rule(s) of thumb to use when trying to replace the dairy?

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt18 karma

Venture outside of Western Europe and you should be able to find plenty of sauces and dishes with no dairy. Replacing dairy is difficult and I can't really think of an across-the board rule of thumb. really depends on the sepecific conditions unfortunately.

Lwinva4 karma

Any updates to your Serious Eats recommendations for turkey breast sous vide? Thank you for all the great techniques and inspiration over the years!!

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt7 karma

No updates to this recipe!. If you're going to sous-vide your turkey breast, I think a roulade with the skin cooked separately (or if you can manage it, the skin tied back around it) is the way to go.

dirtymandanny4 karma

What cooking and baking challenges would you suggest? Some weeks I find myself in a rut making the same things. Are there any benchmarks I should try to reach as a home cook?

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt13 karma

That's an impossible question for me to answer! What do you like to eat? Why not think of a dish you've had at a restaurant or elsewhere, then research it and learn how to make it? As long as you're always trying new things and expanding your skills, it's hard to go wrong.

freakoutvoice3 karma

Kenji - I am a HUGE fan. You truly changed my life. I’ve been making my way through Food Lab and it’s helped me discover a passion for cooking that I didn’t know I had. It has brought so much happiness to my life. I’ve now become the weird girl at any party or social event that can’t stop talking about Eggs. I visited San Fran a couple weeks ago and stopped by Wursthall - it was wonderful! This Thanksgiving, my friends and I are doing a chili cook off instead of a usual turkey spread and I’m bringing your Best Chili Ever, which I’ve made about 10 times now.

I can’t wait for what you do next! (I just signed up for NYT Cooking subscription, btw)

I’m in a place in my life where I’m thinking, “what do I do now with this passion?? Do I quit my day job and go to culinary school? Should I wash dishes somewhere and just observe/learn? The butchery in my neighborhood is hiring - I don’t have any experience, but it’d be my dream job at the moment.” Food Lab sparked all of that, but now I’m having a bit of an identity crisis, ha.

P.S: congrats on your fitness journey! I just saw your post on Instagram.

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt4 karma

If you can take some time to stage at a restaurant, butcher, or baker, even if it's a day or two, I'd do that before making any decisions. Restaurant and professional cooking is VERY different from what a lot of home cooks imagine it to be. You may love it, or you may find that it's not at all what makes you love cooking in the first place.

_godinez3 karma

Love the green chicken pozole video. Any chance we get a red pork pozole in the future?

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt4 karma

Yes! I have a recipe in my back pocket I'm saving for something...

foug3 karma

Hey Kenji thanks for the AMA.

I bought some shrimp paste for some fried rice that turned out great but now I have shrimp paste that I don't know what to do with other than the same recipe. Any suggestions? Thank you.

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt3 karma

Pad Thai!

Use [leela's recipe, it's great](http://shesimmers.com/2011/11/pad-thai-recipe-part-five-making-pad.html).

Also [shrimp paste-coasted chicken wings](https://rasamalaysia.com/belacan-fried-chicken/) are wonderful.

Richard_Berg3 karma

When the party is starting to drag and guests look tired, what is your go-to karaoke song?

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt5 karma

You gotta read the room but Elton John is always crowd-pleasing, and unlike most popular karaoke songs, his songs are actually great songs that fall into a range that most people can sing along with comfortably.

If you start to play Don't Stop Believing, I unplug the machine.

TomHanksandMegRyan3 karma

With the caveat that plans change, can we get some additional information on the direction of your new book(s)? I’m having a hard time figuring out a potential theme based on your IG account (e.g., pad see ew in one pic, cast iron eggplant parm). Will this be another eclectic collection of recipes rather than “Kenji Does ___”? Looking forward to your next projects, whatever the plan is.

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt10 karma

The next cookbook project is on the science and technique of cooking in a wok. It will feature recipes from many Asian cultures, as well as a few other non-Asian wok-based dishes. I'm also concurrently working on a couple other projects (which is why you see things like eggplant parm or pozole or whatever else you may see on my IG account). Those will be announced later one. The wok book will be out 2021. In the meantime, I have an illustrated children's story book called "Every Night is Pizza Night" out in 2020.

irishrelief3 karma

Can you explain why bay leaves have such an impact on flavors?

Unlike some spices, which can take a hearty amount before affecting the profile, the bay leaf usually is only used in singles, duos, or trios.

Most of my fun with cooking is exploring regional flavors and their common components. The bay leaf has really escaped me for the why.

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt6 karma

They are high in eugenol and other eucalyptus-smelling things. Those are powerful! Too much bay leaf and your soup tastes like Vap-o-rub, especially if you use use fresh California bay leaves as opposed to dry turkish bay.

Some [more details here](https://www.seriouseats.com/2014/03/ask-the-food-lab-whats-the-point-of-bay-leaves.html)

wrathking3 karma

I just started making my own mayonnaise using the 2-minute mayo method from your videos. You recommend including garlic and mention that there are other additives you would recommend trying. Any more favorites you'd like to share?

I tried my own combination of lemon/dill and loved the result, so I'm eager to hear more ideas.

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt5 karma

Anything! Some flavors I like:

blend in some kalamata olives

Miso and honey

Gochujang and lime or yuzu juice

Canned chilpotle chiles and lime juice



Mitchblahman2 karma

What's the best way to help/convince someone to get into cooking? I know many people who are interested but say they don't have the time or skills. It seems like suggesting super basic, low skill requirement, short cooking time recipes doesn't seem to work. Even when I offer to help walk them through it.

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt4 karma

If they can't make the time for it, it means they probably aren't actually all that interested. That's ok. Not everyone has to be interested in everything!

HIP20132 karma

Würsthall - I've been there a few times now. Why is it referred to as a "fat stack" of tomatoes when it's literally just one thin slice? And you charge $3 for it? I half had an argument with the waiter about it - and my friends know me as someone who avoids confrontation at every opportunity. It's just sickeningly wrong.

J_Kenji_Lopez-Alt5 karma

I'm sorry that happened. It could not have happened recently as we have not had that on the menu in nearly a year and a half. It should have been a fat stack of tomatoes, if it wasn't, I apologize!

$3 for what should be a couple thick slices of tomatoes is just what it costs. Good tomatoes run around $5/pound, and a couple thick slices is at least 1/4- to 1/3 of a pound. Factor in storage, loss, and labor, and you barely turn a profit at $3. We set that price because I love tomatoes and wanted to make them an option for people without having to serve crappy tomatoes.