Lead graphic for tik tok foods
Credit: Photos from Left to Right: AM Spurlock (@spurweezy); Eitan Bernath (@eitan); Jessie SayHey (@jessiesayhey)

When It Comes to Great Cooking Hacks and Recipes, TikTok Is Too Big to Ignore

published Jun 27, 2020
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Two words: pancake cereal. It’s precisely what it sounds like: Make penny-sized pancakes, pour in a bowl, add toppings (butter, syrup, and fruit), and enjoy with a spoon. If this novelty recipe sounds strange, but also kind of brilliant, then you already understand most of TikTok. The rising social media app strikes against the curated beauty of Instagram and the long tutorials of YouTube — it’s a place to get creative and weird. And while the app is probably best known for its one-minute videos of upbeat dances and lip-syncs, it’s also a space for design and travel ideas — and yes, lots of food.

Pancake cereal is just the beginning. The hashtag “food” has 47 billion views with other hashtags like “foodie” and “recipe” netting multiple billion views. Dalgona coffee, a whipped drink made from instant coffee; carrots cooked in an air fryer to taste like bacon; and other creative recipes have garnered millions of views. It doesn’t just stop at mug cakes or implausibly healthy milkshakes, though — TikTok makes it easy to find a range of food content from cooking near rural streams, to how to make Chipotle’s signature rice.

There are so many cooking hacks to be found on TikTok. In fact, at the time of this article, the hashtag “cooking hacks” was trending on the discover page with over 3 billion views. It includes things like a new way to juice a lemon, how to get rid of hot grease, and why you should (or shouldn’t) rinse your strawberries with salt water before eating them. (Please finish your lunch before watching the strawberry video — you’ve been warned.)

TikTok is becoming too big to ignore. Even if you aren’t on the app, you’ve probably seen TikTok content. Viral recipes like whipped White Claw slushies quickly find their way onto other social media sites, YouTube compilations, news sites, and even places like the Food Network. That’s thanks to two big factors: The app makes it easy for videos to blow up if the video is entertaining, and there’s a low barrier to entry for making content. This has made TikTok the place for the most innovative recipe ideas and cooking hacks. These entertaining videos and a massive (and growing) user base mean there is no cap on creativity. In short: If you’re not already on the social platform, you should be.

A lot of that innovation has to do with Tiktok’s massive audience. The social media app is the seventh most downloaded app of the last decade, and it recently passed an incredible 2 billion downloads. Teens especially love TikTok; 60% of users are between the ages of 16 to 24. But adults are also using the app; 26% of TikTok users are between the ages of 25 to 44 (and that number is certainly growing).

Ultimately TikTok food content always has fun at the heart of its videos. It forces creativity. In fact, the one rule on TikTok seems to be whatever you do, make it entertaining. It’s something Eitan Bernath (@eitan), a teenage food influencer and TikTok user, knows firsthand. “The point of the video is entertainment. It’s short and it gets people’s attention,” Bernath says. “If I want to learn a recipe, I will go on YouTube to watch a 10-minute video; on TikTok, I’m going there for food entertainment.”

Bernath’s videos often show how to make comfort foods like mac and cheese in a mug or M&M sugar cookies, but he doesn’t seem to let himself get boxed in. In under a minute he shows his followers how to make homemade lemon pepper ravioli, a variety of Indian dishes like mango chutney and roti, and cheese from scratch.

What Can You Show in 15 Seconds? Plenty.

AM Spurlock (@spurweezy) posts recipe videos to upbeat songs on the app to his 62k+ followers. While Bernath speaks fast to rattle off recipe steps in his videos, Spurlock lets his choice of music set the vibe while showing each step often with sped-up video. Spurlock’s channel has a little bit of everything: sushi, chicken and waffles, steamed clams, crepes, schnitzel, Moon Pies. Each video’s energy is intrinsically tied to his song choice. Avocado toast is set to the soundtrack from Howl’s Moving Castle, while the making of homemade Girl Scout cookies is paired with pounding techno beats of “Lose Control” by Meduza.

“When I started out my recipes were fairly simple, so fitting them into 15 seconds wasn’t too difficult. But as they grew more complex and required more steps, I had to figure out what could be left out and what needed to be shown so the audience could follow along,” Spurlock says. To make sure his videos were correctly timed, he invested in a stopwatch.

Worn Out by the TikTok Dances? Try Food.

Bernath started making food content at 12 years old (he’s 18 now). After appearing on the first “all kid” episode of Food Network’s Chopped, he started a food blog and an Instagram account, but he exploded on TikTok much faster. “TikTok has changed the game for me with all my social media platforms,” he explains. “They have all grown because of that growth on TikTok.” His reach on TikTok is a whopping 1.1 million, with over 27 million likes on his videos.

Bernath attributes his success to the TikTok audience being hungry for food content: “TikTok is oversaturated with dancers and comedy. I think when done right, food content can appeal to the majority of people. Everyone likes food.” TikTok’s huge user base isn’t the only thing working for Bernath; he has also found success given how the algorithm itself works.

It’s Impossible Not to Discover New Stuff

TikTok works differently than many other social media platforms. While you can follow creators you like, much of what you see won’t be specific to people you follow. TikTok tracks your reaction to videos and then shows similar content. If a user likes a video that uses a certain song, the app might show the user more videos that use that song on the “For You” page. If someone comments on a video of someone cooking from a recipe, the app will show that person more videos of recipes. Content is much easier to consume and discover than on other social media apps, and creators can see this in real time. When creators also start interacting with commenters and fans, their numbers see considerable gains.

Jessie SayHey (@jessiesayhey) is a longtime TikTok user known for her dorm-room meal hacks, which usually feature her making a full meal like lasagna or sweet potato dessert nachos in the microwave.

When she isn’t using her microwave she cooks with her 3-year-old, creating meals for the whole family. Her videos often feature food likely to please any eaters with step-by-step voice-over instructions that makes the recipes seem simple and doable.

“The doors are bigger and are open wider on TikTok [than on other social platforms]; you can see it in the numbers,” SayHey explains. “I have a smidge over 424,000 followers on TikTok and on Instagram 42,000.”

Yes, You Too Can Be a TikTok Star

The community of food creators on the app is growing in part because of the low barrier to entry. Bernath uses a full studio and camera crew to produce his YouTube videos, but his TikTok videos are easier to make. “[Creators] can make these videos that are seen by millions of people that have no production quality. I shoot mine with a ring light that I bought for $20 on Amazon,” he explains. 

SayHey echoes this: “I’m a mom and full-time student, so I wasn’t making a ton of content on the app, but after I posted [my first food video and got a lot of views] I thought, ‘I guess I’ll just film my family’s meals, I’m am already cooking for them anyway.’” She continues, “On TikTok, anything goes. You don’t need to be a professional; you don’t need a fancy camera or editing equipment. You just need to have fun. I shoot everything on my iPhone, and it’s an old one.” 

It’s easy for young creators to start making content, and that content can go in all different directions. “I love the food community on TikTok; on one end you have amazing pastry artists sculpting Baby Yoda out of modeling chocolate, and on the other end you have people making fast food pizzas,” says SayHey. 

And despite the mass audience and seemingly unlimited content, there’s also still a lot of room for new content creators to make their mark. “TikTok opens the doors to every creator out there,” Sayhey explains. Spurlock says, “The TikTok community in general right now seems organic; whether people are looking for meal inspiration, quick-cooking how-tos and tips, or detailed instructions for a meal, creators are starting to fulfill that need.” Which means in between doing the #fliptheswitch challenge and learning the choreography for Renegade, we can check out all the tips, tricks, and recipes under #LetsCook, which is currently trending with over 1.9 billion views.