Repeated mistakes become bad habits, especially in the kitchen. Chances are, you picked them from someone else who was teaching you how to cook or from one of the thousands of cooking videos online. Whether it’s cooking foods too long, winging it on recipes, or contributing to cross-contamination, everyone has routines that they shouldn’t ever have started in the first place. The good news is, it’s never too late to stop bad culinary habits and replace them with better ones.
Impatience can ruin your baked masterpiece if you open the door midway through cooking. Each time you pull on that door, the interior cools down and it takes time for it to get back to the proper temperature setting. Not only does this practice extend cooking times, but it can also cause delicate baked goods like meringues and breads to fail.
One of the worst habits all cooks get in the habit of is not following a recipe. It’s tempting, especially if it’s something you’ve prepared before. Missing an important part of the recipe, however, such as overnight chilling or leaving out an ingredient, can lead to disastrous results. Before you start your preparation, read the recipe through once, then read it through again.
While your intention to watch salt intake is a worthwhile endeavor, under-seasoning leads to bland, uninteresting dishes you'll probably just salt on the plate, anyway. Salt and pepper not only balance flavors but also enhance them.
Fresh herbs and spices, added in the right amounts throughout the cooking process, can help you up your culinary skills to new heights. And by all means, taste your dishes as you’re preparing them to ensure they’re seasoned well.
Whether you’re creating the perfect alfredo sauce or preparing the ultimate burger, an important part of the process is prepping the ingredients you’ll need. Wash, slice, or chop veggies, grate your cheese, and measure out seasonings and dry ingredients ahead of time.
Preparation allows you to focus on the nuances of stirring, whisking, and cooking your masterpiece instead of dividing your attention across a variety of tasks. You're less likely to have something over-steam or burn on the stove because you're busy chopping.
Throwing food in an unheated pan means it will take longer to cook it. What’s worse, this practice leads to overcooked food. If you’re envisioning a perfectly seared steak, placing raw meat in a hot pan achieves the browning and caramelizing needed to bring out the flavors and creates that mouth-watering appearance you want to achieve.
No matter what type of food you’re preparing, a cold pan is never your friend.
Many cooks were taught that butter requires refrigeration. The truth is, butter contains a lot of moisture and very little protein. Bacteria require a protein-rich environment to grow, so that’s why you can’t leave meat out on the counter. You can safely leave unsalted butter out at room temperature for up to a week, though, and salted butter for weeks because the salt inhibits bacterial growth.
To guard against rancidity, store it in an opaque butter dish, not a clear one. And don't forget to check your recipes: some call for cold butter!
Studies show that on average, draining, then rinsing off canned beans removes nearly 40% of the sodium. The liquid you drain off is mostly starch and salt and can adversely affect texture and flavor. Before adding beans to your favorite recipe, pour them into a colander, then rinse with cool water until it runs clear. Shake off the excess.
Washing vegetables before cooking to remove any pesticide residue, bacteria, and dirt is rule number one in the kitchen. Rule number two is that you dry them off before roasting or sauteing them. A wet vegetable placed into a hot pan will steam, not fry or sautee. You’ll end up with soggy, unappetizing veggies with no flavor or texture.
Root vegetables, like potatoes, carrots, turnips, or beets should start off in cold water, not thrown into a pot of boiling water. Cold water allows the temperature to gradually change, dissolving the starch and preventing the outsides from overcooking and becoming mushy. For vegetables that grow above ground, like peas, corn, and green beans, start in boiling water. The higher temperature water softens cell walls, making the vegetables easier to digest.
One of the most misunderstood practices in the kitchen is whether or not to marinate meat before cooking to make it more tender. For decades, cooks have surmised that marinating with acids, such as vinegar or citrus juice, breaks down the components in meat that make it tough: the connective tissues. Marinating does add flavor, but the acids in a marinade make the meat tougher.
First of all, don’t crowd your bacon in the pan. Allow one inch of space between each slice to ensure that the bacon cooks evenly. If you cook bacon on your stovetop, never throw it into a super-hot pan. Overheating bacon burns it. Instead, start it off on medium-low heat in a cold pan, and increase the heat as it renders. Be careful not to increase the heat too high, too fast. You’ll end up with rubbery bacon instead of golden brown deliciousness. Experts say the best pan for cooking bacon is cast iron.
Boiled water burns coffee grounds and adds bitterness to its flavor. Yet, if the water is too cool, it can’t extract the flavors. Coffee maestros say the best temperature for brewing coffee is between 195 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit (90 to 96 degrees Celsius). If the correct temperature isn’t bringing the flavor it should, try adjusting the grind size.
Instead of measuring flour with a scoop or measuring cup, use a digital scale for more precise measurement. One cup of flour weighs around 130 grams, unless it is sifted, which means it could weigh as little as 100 grams. When a recipe calls for one cup of flour, shoot for the 130-gram mark to get the most accurate amount.
One of the most stubborn of old cooking myths is that raw chicken should be washed under cold water before cooking or freezing. A study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture a few years ago disproved the myth. When you wash raw poultry, bacteria can spread to other surfaces and foods, which can lead to illness.
Always clean and sanitize all surfaces that the raw poultry or its juices have touched.
If you’ve ever watched one of those cooking competitions on television, you’ll notice that they taste their food using a spoon they’ve pulled out of a drawer, not the one they’re using to stir the food. The practice of licking the stirring spoon or sticking a finger into the food to sample it can be a hard habit to break, but worth the effort.
Every type of cooking oil has a smoke point, the temperature at which the oil begins to smoke and oxidize. As a rule, the lighter the oil’s color, the higher its smoking point. Once the oil reaches its smoke point, it breaks down, which not only affects its flavor but causes it to release free radicals that can lead to a bitter or burnt taste in the food. Extra virgin olive oil is great for sauteing, but not for frying foods.
When you cook a piece of meat, its juices rise to the surface. Once you cut it open, the juices seep out. By resting the meat for five minutes after you remove it from the heat, the juices fall back into the meat, leaving it moister and juicier when you serve it. Some pros recommend tenting the meat with a piece of aluminum foil during the resting period.
Sure, it saves time to buy cheese that someone has already shredded or grated, but you’re getting more than just cheesy flavor when you use those packages of pre-shredded cheese. These cheeses are coated in cellulose, an anti-caking agent that prevents the cheese shreds from sticking together inside the bag. For the best quality and flavor, buy blocks and shred them yourself.
Convenience doesn’t always translate into the best flavor for your food creations. Jarred spices have a shelf life, meaning their quality fades over time. Seasonings like garlic and onion powder tend to collect moisture and humidity inside the bottle, which reduces their strength and flavor. Try to use fresh versions instead when possible. To make them last, chop them up and place in an ice cube tray with a little water and freeze them to use during a later cooking session.
While you may allow a bit of mayonnaise on a sandwich, this multi-functional product is also an excellent all-around ingredient for any kitchen. Add mayonnaise to baked goods recipes or even a boxed cake mix to take the moistness level up a few notches. Brush mayo on the bread when you’re making grilled cheeses for a crispy tangy crust. When roasting a turkey, slather it with mayonnaise before putting it in the oven for a super crispy, golden-brown skin and a tender, juicy bird.
Contrary to a popular cooking myth, you won’t get fluffier scrambled eggs if you add milk while cooking them. Although many cooks swear by this method, the truth is, milk dilutes the flavor of the eggs and makes them rubbery. For the best-scrambled eggs, melt a tablespoon of butter in the pan over medium-low heat. Crack the eggs in a separate bowl and whisk them before adding them to the pan. Once they’re cooking, don’t stir them until they start to set on the bottom.
Rice is an independent ingredient that doesn’t like too much fuss. The secret for cooking rice to perfection is to set a timer and avoid the temptation of lifting the lid to check its progress. Frequent checking lets steam and heat escape, which interferes with the water to rice ratio and perfectly fluffy, delicious rice.
The popular advice to add olive oil to the water while cooking pasta is another generational falsehood. The belief was that adding oil prevented the pasta from sticking together, but in actuality, it only prevents the sauce from sticking to the pasta, so don’t do it. The most important thing to add to the pasta water — just as it’s coming to a boil — is salt, which the pasta absorbs while it’s cooking. Chefs recommend adding one tablespoon of salt per quart of water.
Garlic is one of nature’s wonders, a delicious ingredient that also contains bioactive components that are good for the body. The biggest mistake cooks make is adding it too soon after smashing, chopping, or pressing it. The healthy component of garlic, allicin, protects against high blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Once you’ve prepped the garlic, let it sit for at least 10 minutes to allow the allicin to form before you add the garlic to the pan.
Adjust your meal to the amount of time you have to cook it. Stews, for example, require a longer, slower cooking process so that the meat becomes moist and tender. Try to rush the cooking time, and the collagen in the meat doesn’t dissolve — you’ll be serving tough meat that you can’t chew and a sauce that’s thin and flavorless.
Opt for quick pasta dishes, stir-fries, soups, or tacos when you’re short on time.
When it comes to fish, marinades can take them from tasty to delectable in a short amount of time. Highly acidic marinades, such as vinegar or citrus juices, however, will cook fish or seafood. If they’re your marinade of choice, reduce the time to 10 or 15 minutes.
Firm fish, like tuna, halibut, or sturgeon, can handle stronger marinades for 30 minutes to an hour. Flaky fish like salmon and trout prefer a low-acid marinade for up to 30 minutes.
Any baker will tell you that it’s not just oven temperature that matters when you’re creating cakes, pastries, or cookie dough. Avoid immediately adding cold ingredients, like milk and eggs, to the batter or dough mixture. Warm them to room temperature before adding them in.
Room temperature eggs, fats, like butter, or liquids, create a velvety batter with an even texture and more volume.
Ground beef mostly comes from brisket or shank. A 70/30 blend has more fat, which renders out and it shrinks more, but it’s also less expensive and carries more flavor. Many cooks prefer it for hamburgers. However, an 80/20 blend is a tad healthier, with less fat, yet still contains enough to create a moist and juicy burger.
Lean ground beef, like a 90/10 blend, has 10 grams of fat and produces a tougher, less-tasty hamburger. Instead, use it in casseroles and sauce-covered pasta dishes.
If your bowl of mashed potatoes is thick and gluey, chances are, you’ve chosen the wrong type of potato. While many people choose a high-starch potato like russets, chefs say this type of spud leads to great texture, but a less-flavorful mash.
Waxy, low-starch tubers like red or white potatoes don’t absorb much water and tend to make a denser, stickier texture. Hands down, chefs prefer a medium-starch potato like the Yukon Gold to create golden-colored mashed potatoes with a rich, buttery taste.
Overcrowding a roasting pan with veggies may seem like a good idea, but it won’t achieve the results you’re expecting. The more vegetables you add to the pan, the more moisture they create during the cooking process. Too many, and you’ll end up with a steamed, mushy pan of unappetizing vegetables instead of deliciously roasted ones. Instead, go for a single layer that allows for a bit of space between them. Do your roasting in two batches, if necessary.
If you want your sauce to cling to the pasta you’ve so carefully created, don’t rinse it afterward. It’s the pasta's starch that allows the sauce to adhere, and getting rid of that starch defeats the purpose of a sauce. Pasta dishes that you serve cold or at room temperature, like pasta salads, cold soba, rice noodles, are exceptions to the “no-rinse” rule.
Those little food particles left behind in a saute or roasting pan after cooking or searing food have tons of flavor. Deglazing the pan allows you to loosen the tasty tidbits and create a delicious sauce for your creation.
Wine, juice, vinegar, beer, stock, or leftover cooking liquid from other ingredients are excellent additions to combine with the bits to make a sauce.
Rice has surface starch and when you wash it before cooking, you won't end up with mounds of cooked rice that stick together. Rinse rice until the water runs clear, or put the strainer in a bowl of water and agitate it with your hands, changing the cloudy water a few times.
You’ll get fluffier rice, with separate kernels that not only taste better but add to the visual appeal as well.
If a recipe calls for softened butter, don’t make the mistake of over-softening. The butter should be soft enough to relax when you apply pressure with your finger, yet still solid enough to hold its shape. Over-softened butter leads to flat cookies that are overly chewy. To revive butter that’s become too soft, place it in a bowl with some ice cubes and stir it. Within a few moments, the butter will cool and solidify.
Some dishes perform well with slight variations or mismeasurements of their ingredients. Not so for baked goods. Baking is based on chemistry. Success relies on specific reactions of the ingredients once you’ve mixed them, and that requires precise measurements. Many bakers measure ingredients by weight rather than measuring cups and other utensils due to wide variations among them.
Keeping your blade of choice sharp will not only save you time and effort but will also improve the appearance of your culinary creations. Plus, a sharp knife is safer to use because it will behave more predictably, say the experts: you need to apply less pressure to achieve each cut, lessening the risk of the blade slipping and cutting your finger.
When cooking meat, whether it's poultry, a beef roast, or pork ribs, getting it to a specific internal temperature is key. Inserting the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat ensures that you’re cooking it to the proper temperature and avoiding harmful bacteria growth. The color of the meat is not a reliable indicator of doneness — buy a thermometer.
Gentle mixing is the key to beautifully textured muffins and quickbreads, but it pertains to other bread doughs and batters, too. Overworked bread dough feels dense and tough and yields flat, chewy bread. It’s much less likely to occur if you’re kneading it by hand.
Overmixed batter results in elastic gluten strands and a gummy, chewy, dense texture, so mix them until they’re just combined for best results.
Many cooks blame their parents for this one. In the not-so-distant past, nonstick cookware was presented as the ultimate choice for home cooks. While they’re great for egg dishes like omelets, they’re not great for cooking most of your culinary achievements. Keep your nonstick pan for eggs, but invest in some cast iron or a heavy-duty, multi-clad stainless steel pan for everything else.
Naturally, lean chicken breasts need to be cooked through, but it’s easy to overcook them, which leaves them dry and flavorless. The sweet spot for chicken breasts is a 165-degree internal temperature. Pull them from the fridge and allow them to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before placing them into the pan. This allows for a shorter cooking time and juicier meat.
The ingredients in a recipe provide its structure, flavor, and texture. Although some ingredient substitutions work, others will probably not produce the dish you hoped for. Some of the products that can create problems and unwanted results in your recipes are fat-free or dairy-free milks and butter substitutes, especially when you use them in baked goods.