Why The Secret Ingredient On Iron Chef Isn't So Secret After All

A big part of the appeal of watching an "Iron Chef America" episode on the Food Network is finding out which secret ingredient that participating chefs must incorporate into their meals. Whether the mystery item is a protein like fish or steak, or a less prominent food such as a root vegetable, watching the chefs scramble to create a dish that includes the secret ingredient is entertainment at its prime. As it turns out, that secret ingredient may not actually be so secret.

According to Today citing an interview with The Journal News' Rockland Magazine, Chef Peter Kelly, who defeated Bobby Flay on an episode of the show, disclosed that the participating chefs often have a strong clue as to what the secret ingredient will be before the show gets taped. Chefs receive shopping lists producers put together in order to gather items and the contestants can usually spot what item looks out of place ahead of time. While these lists theoretically don't spoil the surprise, astute contestants know what to look for.

The not-so-secret ingredient of "Iron Chef"

According to Today, Kelly says producers of the show would give him, three possibilities: swordfish, pork, or cowboy steak. "So I come up with three separate ingredients lists — only one of which they'll actually purchase for the battle," Kelly stated. He went on to say that contestants then almost certainly know the secret ingredient beforehand as they are able to see what items from which shopping list were purchased for them.

Andrew Knowlton of Bon Appétit, a regular judge on the show, confirms Kelly's statement that the chefs often know the secret ingredient before the show is taped (via ABC). "I think to just say you have no idea what the ingredient is when you come in is impossible because you have to stock the kitchen," Knowlton said. "You have to have certain stuff that the chefs want. It's logistics." Fortunately, viewers still tune in to the action and are always left craving more drama from "Iron Chef."