Tex-Mex restaurant-goers are familiar with the sound of a sizzling skillet of fajitas delivered from the kitchen by a server. But according to a new viral video, the illusion might just be a case of restaurants blowing smoke.
On Feb 28, a TikTok was posted by user @sallamibrahim24 showing the apparent secret behind the fajita sizzle. In the video, a restaurant worker can be seen squeezing a bottle of what appears to be plain water onto a hot fajita skillet to create that recognizable plume of billowing smoke.
“Amazing carne asada’s here, for you,” a man can be heard saying at the end of the 22-second clip. The rest of the video is devoted to the waiter’s walk from the kitchen to the table, smoke — or steam, if that was actually water — rising from the plate of meat and veggies.
While the original video garnered an impressive 2.8 million views, the concept didn’t truly blow up until a stitch by TikTok user @scottysdaysoff, whose first name is Scott. In his video, which was uploaded on March 10, Scott reacts in shock as an apparent unbelievable truth is foisted upon him.
“It’s an artificial sizzle,” Scott says in the video when asked if he’s “good” by a woman. “They just put water on. They just put water on the hot pan. It’s not the food cooking when it comes your t-.”
Even though it’s cut off in the video, it’s fair to assume he was about to say "table" but was too frustrated to continue recording the clip, which garnered an impressive 9.8 million views.
Reactions under each video ranged from surprise to shock.
“My whole life has been a lie,” said one user on TikTok.
“Nah because this is one deception that crosses the line,” said another commenter.
Others turned their attention to what happens when you see those plates go by after you’ve already ordered.
“Me across the restaurant: ‘dang I should have got the fajitas,’” said one TikTok commenter to which another replied, “Every time.”
“Food is cooked slightly under temp. Once out on the skillet the heat from the pan finishes the food. The water is just for aesthetic,” said one user. But are they right?
We reached out to two restaurants known for their sizzling fajitas to find out for ourselves, as well as the originator of the viral video, @sallamibrahim24, who did not immediately respond to TODAY.com’s request for comment.
Representatives for Denny’s, who serve a range of skillet dishes, did not immediately respond to TODAY.com’s request for comment either.
Still, since Scott called them out on TikTok asking, “et tu, Chili’s?” we reached out to the Tex-Mex chain, and a representative let us in on a little bit of an open secret.
“Back in ’84, Chili’s was the restaurant that taught America how to eat and pronounce ‘fa-ji-tas,’” a representative for Chilis tells TODAY.com. “As the final step before serving, we use a savory, smoky sauce that enhances the flavor and aroma of our fajitas. The sizzle isn’t just for show — it’s for creating delicious, craveable fajitas.”
Skirt steak-lovers have wondered about the iconic fajita sizzle before — in fact a Reddit post all the way back in 2014 asked, “How do restaurants make their fajitas sizzle so much?” and an alleged former worker for Chili’s filled folks in on sizzle sauce.
“The cook puts all the meat and stuff on the skillet, squirts “sizzle sauce” all over it (soy sauce, oil mostly) so that the sauce begins to boil and steam, and the fajitas are then IMMEDIATELY brought out to the table before they calm down,” the user wrote in part.
While we don’t know the exact makeup of the sizzle sauce (it’s apparently a company secret), we do know that it’s not just water, at least at one restaurant.