The “let him cook” meme has its origins in a 2010 rap video, was signal boosted by a famous NBA player, and while it’s taken a bit of a detour thanks to a famous NFL player, it’s endured as an expression of support all these years.
Here’s how it got started, how it’s morphed—and how Woody from the popular Pixar movie Toy Story also got caught up in this mess.
The ‘let him cook’ meme: How did it start?
The ‘let him cook’ meme starts with Bay Area rapper Lil B and his unfortunately-titled 2010 song “Suck My D*ck Hoe.” It launched a dance mimicking someone cooking and then eating, helped along via this Jordan Collier YouTube video in which he celebrates the song with a dance in, appropriately given that it involves cooking, in a kitchen.
Lil B himself gifted the world shortly after the song began making the rounds that year. In the caption to Lil B’s video, he notes, “This video teaches you how to cook and the many levels of cooking.”
According to Know Your Meme, “Let Him Cook, also known as Let That Boy Cook, is a slang term and catchphrase used as a callout to give someone the space to plot, strategize or hone their craft. A common use of the term is to refer to someone’s rizz or game when it comes to flirting, with ‘Let Him Cook’ being a common response to a questionable hornypost.”
How an NBA star got involved
Once NBA star James Harden began implementing a cooking celebration into his repertoire, Lil B decided to insert himself into the narrative. According to an NBCSports article from May 2015, the rapper accused Harden of stealing his cooking dance. In a series of tweets, Lil B contended that Harden needed to give him credit to avoid the curse.
But alas, as the article went on to report, TMZ tracked down Lil B, who informed the world, “He’s cursed for the rest of the playoffs and further notice until he speaks on what dance celebration he’s doing and where it comes from.”
As evidence, the article noted immediately after the curse announcement, “Harden shot 3-for-16 from the field on Saturday night in Houston’s blowout loss to Golden State, going down 3-0 in the Western Conference Finals.”
And it wasn’t even the first curse the rapper allegedly placed on an NBA star. He’d also targeted Kevin Durant, going as far as to record a dis track in 2014, as Pitchfork reported, simply titled “F*ck KD.”
‘Let Russ cook’: Bringing an NFL star into it
The meme transformed a bit with NFL star quarterback Russell Wilson’s trade from the Seattle Seahawks to the Denver Broncos prior to the 2022 NFL season.
An NFL video, highlighting a 2023 Week 10 performance, unironically declared “Let Russ Cook” to accompany Wilson’s game highlights.
A Redditor explained in a discussion of the “let him cook” meme, “It’s primarily a good thing. Think of when people have unpopular opinions or hot takes—some people agree with a given argument and proceed to let others know not to disrupt their unbridled thoughts/statement. AKA “let him cook”; they’re onto something, so reserve yourself from chastising or rebuking their post at face value”
But another person in the conversation pointed out “let Russ cook” was initially a dis directed at the star, as he had a disappointing 2022 with the Broncos compared to his mostly-stellar seasons with the Seahawks.
“It’s also now used (mostly, as far as I can tell) sarcastically in reference to the Let Russ Cook campaign with the Seattle Seahawks. The Broncos traded for him,” that person explained, noting that the promise inherent in “Let Russ Cook” hasn’t been going well for them.”
The phrase has been used in relation to other sports performers over the years. In 2023, to cite one relatively obscure example, a group of Austin FC fans started saying “Let Rodo cook” in reference to newly-arrived sporting director Rodolfo Borrell, in the hopes that the executive would begin remaking the roster to turn around the franchise’s flagging performances.
How did Woody from Toy Story get involved?
The “let him cook” phrase got affixed to a clip from the 2019 video game Kingdom Hearts III featuring the Woody character, initially of Toy Story fame. That appearance developed—thanks to snarky fans of the game—into what Know Your Meme is calling the Woody Holding Sora Back meme.
A Reddit post from the r/KingdomHearts subreddit from February 2023 explores it a little bit further, with fans debating what might be more appropriate there than “let him cook,” even though this variant of the “let him cook” meme had some staying power.