Now You’re Cooking With Gas

Cooking with gas

“Now you’re cooking with gas.”

On the surface, it was an odd thing for my friend to exclaim during a recent Memorial Day BBQ as I pulled some filets and corn off of my decidedly wood-fueled Big Green Egg. But I instantly understood the phrase – he was being appreciative of my cooking. The modern version would be “that’s what I’m talking about!”

But where does the phrase come from?

The general consensus attributes the phrase to Carroll Everard “Deke” Houlgate, American Gas Association executive and pioneering football statistician. Apparently, Houlgate knew one of Bob Hope’s writers and in the late 1930’s planted the phrase in the hopes of popularizing relatively unknown gas ovens and grills. While this story seems impossible to verify, multiple newspaper accounts give credit to Bob Hope:

As Mr. Hope puts it in one of his pungent phrases, they’re cooking with gas.

New York Times, April 1941

That famed Bob Hope wisecrack, “Now you’re cooking with gas,” has a new twist…

The Pittsburgh Press, October 1942

The gas industry certainly appreciated the free publicity:

“Now you’re cooking with gas” literally took the gas industry by the ears around December 1939 when it flashed forth in brilliant repartee from the radio programs of the Maxwell Coffee Hour, Jack Benny, Chase and Sanborn, Johnson Wax, Bob Hope and sundry others. Gas men began to listen as they had never listened before, kinda hoping to hear more, yet not knowing whether to be glad or mad, dazed or dazzled by such widespread FREE publicity […] involving hundreds of thousands of dollars all told.

By the early 1940’s the phrase was in common use. It showed up in the 1942 film ‘The Big Street’, it’s used in the 1943 comic ‘Freckles and Friends,’ and it’s the last line of a 1943 Daffy Duck cartoon ‘The Wise Quacking Duck.’

If “now you’re cooking with gas” really started from a PR campaign, it was one of the most successful of all time – at the level of KFC’s “finger lickin’ good” and the Milk Board’s “Got Milk?” It helped sell millions of gas appliances.

Kudos to Houlgate. He was cooking with gas.

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