How To Win On Cutthroat Kitchen

How To Win On Cutthroat Kitchen

Watching Food Network’s Cutthroat Kitchen can be frustrating for gamers — the contestants may be great chefs, but they don’t know crap about using the rules of a game to maximize their chances of victory. If you’re appearing on the show, you’ll want to read this guide to winning Alton’s Brown’s devious cooking game.

Let’s get one thing out of the way — I can’t cook. I can barely make a sandwich. I’m going to focus on the game aspects of the show and leave the cooking to literally anyone else.


A lot chefs sabotage themselves out of the gate by forgetting key ingredients during the 60-second shopping period. This should be plenty of time, so they key here is, slow down. Take five of those seconds to review the vital ingredients to making the most basic form of the challenge dish. Do you need eggs to bind your breading, or a protein, or tortillas to make chips? Don’t worry about how you’re going to make it fancy or your own little twist — you’re going to get twisted plenty, don’t worry. Focus on the basics. Grab extras only after you’re sure you have the key things you must have.

Keep It Simple, Dummy

Time and again the judges count weird variations on a basic dish against the chef. You’re going to have to use weird elements in a dish at some point, don’t put them there on purpose. Your goal should be to get as close to the dish’s most basic, perfect form as possible. Only be fancy when the game forces you to be fancy. In every case, a decently-executed basic form of the dish will move on to the next round.

Learn How Auctions Work

Holy crap, have some of you never been in or even watched an auction before? If we assume that at times the show is edited to skip some portions of the auction, making it seem like people are jumping really high in their bids, there are clearly times when people really do idiotic things during the auction. Starting the bidding at $2,000. Don’t. Jumping the bid from $1,000 to $5,000. Are you new around here? Bidding starts at $500 and increases in $100 increments, maybe $200 or $500 increments if you’re feeling impatient. If you jump the bid to $5,000 and win, your opponents might have let you have it for $3,500. Nice job wasting $1,500.

The exception here is the “message bid,” a bid that tries to scare everyone off by saying, “Look, there’s no freaking way you’re winning this one so back off.” That might be a worth a $2K jump, but probably not. Are you an expert auction person? No. You’re an expert chef. Simmer down when it’s auction time.

Don’t Let Anything Go Cheap

We’re going to get into which sabotages are worse than others in a second, but one thing is for certain — none of them should be won for $2,000 or less. You have to think of the money not as actual money but as a resource to be used toward your goal of winning the game. We’ll worry about maximizing the amount you win later, but your primary goal is just to win. Your strategy to “save your money” just increases the amount you’ll be handing back to Alton when you get eliminated. This is why you should never let any opponent win an auction for cheap. No matter how innocuous the sabotage seems, they’re all a pain in the ass at least, so bid it up to at least $2,000. If you don’t win it, at least you made your opponents burn their resources.

Target Wisely

The most common mistake of Cutthroat Kitchen is poor auction targeting. Each round, the worst dish is eliminated. There is no best dish. You don’t need to level the playing field or make your dish better than all the others. You just need to dump all the misery and aggravation on one poor jerk who will have no chance of cooking a competent dish because they’re dealing with every sabotage. It doesn’t matter if someone else gave you a sabotage earlier and you want revenge. Screw revenge. Your revenge will be winning. Focus your hatred onto one person, the one who already has a sabotage or two.

There is a possible exception here, in the case where you and the optimal sabotage target have already been forced to do one of the awkward “work together” sabotages, like sharing utensils or pushing each other around in wheelbarrows or something. I still think you focus the sabotages on your “partner,” because if they mess with you by refusing to trade utensils or whatever, they’re also messing up themselves. But in some cases, you may end up wanting to send the sabotage elsewhere.

The Hierarchy of Sabotages

Inconvenience/Time-wasters — Not that bad. Examples include the basic 5-minute freeze, having to wear a funny costume, etc. Chefs are rarely eliminated solely because of these sabotages. If you have chosen a form of dish that takes a long time to prepare, these will be much worse, but that only means you chose poorly.

Tool Sabotage — Often easy to deal with in creative ways. Examples include using aluminum foil instead of tools, using scissors instead of a knife, etc. Some meals may be impossible here, but dishes that included steak that was literally pulled apart by hand have done fine with the judges, so these are not that important.

Ingredient Sabotage — It’s tough to make a blanket judgment here, because these can range from mildly annoying to utterly crippling. When a chef is forced to harvest ingredients from another food product or use an inferior form of food product, it’s usually not too bad — good seasoning and creative cooking can cope with it. If the ingredient is a key structural component of the dish, that’s bad. Tortilla crumbs will not replace tortillas. Losing your eggs will not let you make a decent breading. Win those types of auctions at all costs unless you have a very specific, certain plan to deal with it.

Heat Source Sabotage — These are generally hard to deal with — raw meat will get you eliminated for sure. A very few dishes are fine with whatever heat source. You can warm soup anywhere, but you need real heat to bake or cook a cut of meat. Bid hard here.

Pan Sabotage — This is where Alton gives the chef a cut up frying pan or upside down wok or something terrible to cook on. Do not lose this auction. These are terrible, usually fatal.

Combotages — Sometimes, two sabotages combine to become utterly impossible to deal with, practically guaranteeing any chef stuck with both will get eliminated. Maybe you can deal with silly giant utensils, maybe you can deal with a pan with a hole cut in the middle. Both at the same time. No way. Bid hard to avoid getting hit with these, and watch for opportunities to apply them to other chefs and ensure you move on to the next round.

Also, note whether or not the sabotage will definitely affect you if you lose it, or if there’s a chance someone else gets it. Especially in the first round, a single target sabotage may well go to another chef. You can play the odds a little and not bid as hard here. If it’s a sabotage that hits all the losers, try not to lose.

Maximizing Your Winnings

There is no specific advice for maximizing the amount you win. If you follow the other steps here, especially not overbidding on sabotages that are low on the hierarchy, you’ll win plenty. But even if you only win $500, it’s $500 more than you showed up with (and than your opponents brought home). Unless you’re a character in some kind of 80s comedy movie where you really need $15,000 to save the orphanage, just worry about winning, not saving your money. Repeat to yourself: “Saving my money is only saving it for Alton when I get eliminated.”

Bid hard, but bid wisely.