"Dinner is ready when the smoke alarm goes off” is a joke that means the cook aways burns the meal. The joke has been cited in print from at least 1983 and has been printed on several gift items.
A similar joke (cited in print since 1933) is “Where there’s smoke, there’s toast.”
dinner is ready when the smoke alarm goes off
By Ronald V. Norris and Colleen Sullivan
New York, NY: Berkley Books, 1984, ©1983
I would drop things and burn dinners. My husband used to say, ‘You know dinner’s ready when the smoke alarm goes off. ‘ I’d burn toast and eggs all the time.”
9 March 1987, Toronto (Ontario) Star, “Work is not everyone’s favorite way to spend day” by George Gamester, pg. A2:
That’s where you have to beware of cooks who announce: DINNER WILL BE READY WHEN THE SMOKE ALARM GOES OFF (Milt Simbrow, North York).
26 October 1992, Chicago (IL) Sun-Times, “Tasty Boost for March of Dimes” by Bill Zwecker, pg. 18:
What’s cooking? Well, last weekend’s Gourmet Gala for the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation raised $200,000, largely thanks to area corporations, led by Andersen Consulting’s F. Dean Taylor. When asked about his own cooking, former Black Hawk Stan Mikita, one of the celebrity chefs, quipped, “At our house, you know dinner’s ready when the smoke alarm goes off!”
12 March 1997, Doylestown (PA) Intelligencer Record, “St. Patrick’s Day stirs memories” by Marlen Livezey, pg. D1, col. 2:
WARRINGTON—The sign on the wall in Jeanette Self’s kitchen—“Dinner is ready when the smoke alarm goes off”—says more about her sense of humor than about her cooking abilities.
Google Groups: alt.litterbox
From: “K. Rasch”
Subject: Re: smoke alarm
My smoke alarm is my dinner bell… the family knows that dinner is ready when the smoke alarm goes off!!
New York City • Food/Drink • (0) Comments • Monday, December 13, 2010 • Permalink