Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Episode 185: If You Can't Stand the Heat, Get Out of the Kitchen Show Notes

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Bunny Trails: A Word History Podcast

Episode 185: If You Can't Stand the Heat, Get Out of the Kitchen

Record Date: March 13, 2023

Air Date: March 15, 2023



Welcome to Bunny Trails, a whimsical adventure of idioms and other turns of phrase. 

I’m Dan Pugh


And I’m Shauna Harrison

Each week we take an idiom or other turn of phrase and try to tell the story from its entry into the English language, to how it’s used today.

Opening Hook

I love spicy foods. It’s gotta have good flavor, too. But give me the spice! Some people try to eat hot foods… they take a bite and start panting and sweating, sometimes they fan their hands trying to cool off their tongue. Or they try desperately to ask for a drink in between coughs and gasps. It’s not for everyone… so if you can’t take the heat… stay out of the kitchen. 


If You Can't Take the Heat, Get Out of the Kitchen 

Oxford English Dictionary gives us the definition,


Proverb. if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen and variants: if you cannot cope with the pressures and difficulties of a situation, you should leave others to deal with it rather than complaining.

End quote 

Oxford English Dictionary goes on to provide some background.  


Used originally with reference to politics and often associated with Harry S. Truman, U.S. President 1945–53, who popularized the phrase. Quot. 1931   is cited by some sources, in an incorrect form, as the first use of this phrase, but the original newspaper text does not in fact include the words can't stand the heat; however the phrase actually used is clearly similar in intent.

End quote 

We’ll get to that 1931 reference in a moment. First, the phrase can’t stand the heat was used a lot. Mostly to say that people literally could not handle the extreme temperatures they were exposed to. 

I searched for multiple variations of this phrase prior to this reference and was unable to turn anything up. The variations I searched include using can’t take, don’t like and can’t stand, as well as using both stay out and get out of the kitchen.

In the June 20, 1874 edition of the weekly echo from Lake Charles, Parish of Calcasieu, Louisiana, we find this little tidbit,  


End quote 

I feel like the reliability of the labor might not be the problem but I wasn’t there. So it’s hard to say for sure. 

The 1931 usage that the Oxford English Dictionary referred to comes from the Independence Examiner January 1 edition out of Independence, Missouri. 


But if a fellow doesn't want to get hot once in a while he had better stay out of the kitchen.

End quote 

It is reasonable to guess that Truman did use this phrase in speech quite a bit even though it is only seen in two of his writings. Author Wolfgang Mieder shared some of his research on this topic in his book The Politics of Proverbs: From Traditional Wisdom to Proverbial Stereotypes, published in 1997


End quote 

Regardless of how often it is found in print by Truman, it certainly seems that either Truman’s use of the phrase… or people quoting him as having used it… is how the phrase gained popularity. 

In the 28 April 1952 edition of Time Magazine, we find another reference to Truman. 


The President [sc. Truman] gave a..down-to-earth reason for his retirement, quoting a favorite expression of his military jester, Major General Harry Vaughan: ‘If you don't like the heat, get out of the kitchen’.

End quote 

Most of this phrase exists in modern uses, and we’ll move to those, right after we say thank you to our sponsors. 

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Modern Uses

The song If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen by the group STARFIRE was released in 1976 on the album, Get Off With Us. The lyrics mostly just repeat the phrase “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” But it has a good funk sort of vibe to it. 

Another song with the phrase in the title was released in 1982. Bucks Fizz released the song If You Can't Stand The Heat along with the song Steppin’ Out as the B/Side. According to their website, the group Bucks Fizz was created to represent the UK in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1981. Here are some of the lyrics, 


Don't tell me lies

When you talk about friends you've been doing

It's no surprise

To discover the tricks you've been brewing

When you turn and run away

Take a look at how you've given up your fantasy

And if you can't stand the heat

Keep out of the kitchen

If you can't stand the cold

Don't sleep on the floor

If you can't, if you can't bear to look

Wonder what you're missing

If you can't stand the heat

If you can't stand the heat

You're no competition

End Quote  

The book, If You Can't Stand the Heat - A New Orleans Firefighter's Cookbook by Robert Medina was published in 2011. From the publisher, 


Robert Medina was raised in New Orleans around family and friends where cooking is a way of life. They still get together to watch their beloved New Orleans Saints and have tailgate cook-a-thons that would rival anything, anywhere. Every sporting event, family event, or even a non-event is turned into an excuse for a party. It's the New Orleans way! Robert spent nearly twenty-four years as a firefighter in New Orleans, where he took over duties as the firehouse cook after honing skills he learned from his predecessors. To this day, he sticks with the credo that if you can satisfy a firefighter's palate, you can satisfy anyone's. If You Can't Stand the Heat...a New Orleans Firefighter's Cookbook brings you into the firehouse kitchen.

End quote 

You know this has to have some amazing dishes in it, right? 

The article Cooks, Chefs, and Bakers: If You Can’t Stand the Heat, Get Out of the Kitchen?, posed as a question, considers the exposure to extreme temperatures experienced by individuals working in the cooking industry. This article was published in 2018 under the Commissioner’s Corner for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The article begins,


President Harry Truman popularized the phrase, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” He meant one should leave a task to others if the pressures become too difficult. In a more literal sense, we decided to look at jobs people perform in kitchens to see how likely they are to be exposed to heat. It turns out that people who work in kitchens often are exposed to both extreme heat and extreme cold. Yes, we have a stat for that!

End quote 

The article also includes a chart comparing the percent of jobs where workers were exposed to extreme temperatures in 2017. I’m going to admit that these statistics were surprising to me. All workers in 2017 were exposed to extreme cold at a rate of 8.5% and extreme heat at a rate of 9.3%. Now compare that to Chefs and head cooks who were exposed to extreme cold at a rate of 74.8% and extreme at a rate of 71.3%. That’s kind of insane! 

It turns out 2018 was a really popular year for this phrase. For the next item, we have the blog post, “If You Can’t Stand the Heat, Get Out of the Fucking Kitchen!” published in November 2018. This is by Glenn Anderson on the blog Salt and Love. The post was tagged: Advice from a chef and Professional musings

Anderson shares a story from his 5th year in cooking about a night when it was 103*F outside and the power went out. There was no AC running and the temps in his workspace reached at least 135*F. He explains how the phrase makes sense to him,


This might sound stupid for me to say here, but heat comes from many sources in a professional kitchen. Usually if heat beyond what should reasonably be expected is an actual problem, rarely is it the fault of cooking equipment. This is why the cliche is so fitting for public use:  If everything is working just fine, and you can’t take the heat of a regular service hot-line (a grill. a broiler.  a deep fryer, etc.) you should very much get out of the kitchen.

End quote

He goes on later to say,


All dramatics aside, kitchens really are hot as the devil’s butt crack. The heat alone is a big reason I tell those who ask me about going to culinary school or not, to work in a kitchen for six months before making a decision.

End quote 

Also in 2018 is the post What is the Kitchen in Pickleball? The article, posted on the Dick’s Sporting Goods website, states,  


“If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”

It’s an old saying a lot of us have heard, and it’s especially true in pickleball.

“The kitchen” is an area of the pickleball court with a specific set of rules defining what players can and cannot do inside it. It can be challenging for newcomers to understand these pickleball rules, but Pro Tips is here to break down the kitchen and what you need to know before stepping onto the pickleball court.

End quote 

On the show Hell’s Kitchen, the episode If You Can't Stand the Heat… aired Jul 12, 2021. In this episode, 


The chefs cook up a different international cuisine against a chef from the opposing team. The ingredients are selected over a game of soccer.

End quote 

If you’ve seen this show or any of the many memes from it, you know that Chef Gordon Ramsey is very intense, yells quite a bit, and seems mostly angry. In a 2006 article by Matt Webb Mitovich on TV Guide titled, Can't Stand the Heat? Get Out of Hell's Kitchen!, has a pretty good description,


Super-mean superchef Gordon Ramsay turns up the heat again as host of Fox's Hell's Kitchen (premiering tonight at 8 pm/ET), in which cafeteria cooks, prison chefs, pizza makers and deli workers toss their pots and pans into the ring, this time with their eyes on a bigger and better prize —an executive-chef gig at the Red Rock Casino Resort and Spa in Las Vegas.

End Quote

There are quite a few books published related to the show as well - a few with our phrase used in them. 

If you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen

Original BIG Wall Modern Abstract Art Painting is a listing on Artmajeur Online Art Gallery

Here is a little about the artist. 


Dmitri Matkovsky is Ukrainian Canadian lives and works in Toronto, Ontario. After retiring early from a 25 years career in rock music… he began as an acrylicist and was strongly influenced by Gerhard Richter, who was his first Teacher for the short period of time in 1991.

Style: Abstract Expressionism. Why?

Because of emotions. It’s all at this particular moment. All your life. It’s like a music improvisation. You need to - say - explain all life in one moment, in one phrase, in one white square…

I love paint and I love colors, and I love white canvas. I even like to prepare canvas for painting, I just love to being an artist.

When I’m painting I feel like a marathon runner dying to reach the finish line. I feel like the mountain climber whose single driving goal is to reach the peak. I want to succeed. To win.

I feel liberated when I create art. First, because I can escape this reality, and second, because I can produce something that influences somebody’s mood or state of mind. And I like that.

End quote 

I like this piece. I think the colors and the feel portray a hot kitchen. Though it is definitely abstract. Unfortunately, this piece is sold but you can still see an image of it online. 

And on Etsy, there is (at the time of this recording) a different style of artwork available for purchase from a shop called PopMat. The item title and description read, 


Spicy Kitchen Print! • Vintage Hot Sauce Wall Art • 3 Sizes • Antique Kitchen Poster • Spice Pepper • Anthropomorphised Condiments!

End quote 

From what I can understand, this is a printing of a vintage poster. Or it might be in the style of a vintage poster. Either way, it’s fun and a little funny. It depicts an anthropomorphised jar of pepper sauce and a pepper shaker and has our phrase, If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen!”

And finally on the site Idioms By Kids, we find a wonderful entry. 


Meaning: if you can't take the pressure then leave (see cool under pressure)

Example: When the man got a job in the factory, but he found it too hard to keep up with the work. His boss said to him If you can't stand the heat get out of the kitchen. which meant that the man should quit.

See this Idiom in a story: Sports: Adam Learns About Sportsmanship

End Quote 

There was also a wonderful piece submitted by a kid. It is a drawing of someone standing in what appears to be an industrial kitchen and the person is sweating profusely and their face is red hot. It’s fantastic! I will be checking this site in the future. 

Wrap Up

So I made a bit of a joke about this phrase at the beginning of this episode but I do have a more serious take on it. Sometimes things can get scary or intense. Sometimes life - or a situation - can feel overwhelming and perhaps beyond our capabilities. While I do think it’s good to know when something’s not quite right for us… it is also important not to give up on ourselves or our dreams. If you enjoy spicy food but it still burns your mouth like crazy… go for it. You do you. If you want to be a doctor or a chef or an astrophysicist or whatever… keep going after it. People fail at times, but failure doesn’t have to be the end of the road. If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen. But then maybe… regroup, get a new plan together, get some support, or just get yourself ready… and go back in. 

Now, if the kitchen is on fire, maybe go ahead and get out. And call emergency services to take care of it. 


That’s about all we have for today. If you have any thoughts on the show, or pop culture references we should have included, reach out to us on social media where we are @bunnytrailspod, or comment on our website


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Recently we posed this question to our Patrons:

You have been given a full-ride scholarship to learn to be the primary operator for a transportation mode of your choice. What do you learn?

You'll learn all the ins and outs for your transportation choice, including how to do it, all the laws around it, and everything you need to know to make it happen!

Our patrons were pretty split on this one. The answers included almost all of the options, including Fly a plane, conduct a train, pilot a boat, and ride a unicycle. 


Jan said, 


I've wanted to be a pilot and own my own plane so I could go anywhere, but if something is going to go wrong I'd rather be close to the ground, so I picked train. I love train travel, too, and have been about 15k miles on Amtrak. Probably would do steam locomotive for the coolness factor.

End Quote


I'd like to learn about boating. It's not hard to drive a fishing boat on a Kansas lake, but I don't know all the ins and outs of piloting a real ship. And since my retirement goals involve a warm, sea-side location I figure this is the way I'd go!

Patron Emily shared, 


I picked Pilot for the aspect of Freedom of Travel. This was a tough question as it was a topic I’d never considered.

End Quote


That’s pretty genius… It would be great to have this skill for those wild situations that people find themselves in when they visit the rainforest and they need someone to fly the plane to escape. 

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Thanks for joining us. We’ll talk to you again next week. Until then remember, 


Words belong to their users. 

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