The Habitat
Share to PinterestCommon Cooking Mistakes That Are Ruining Your Food

Common Cooking Mistakes That Are Ruining Your Food

By Jo Marshall
Share to PinterestCommon Cooking Mistakes That Are Ruining Your Food

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.


Opening your oven to check your food

Share to Pinterestyoung woman looking into oven

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.


Not following recipes

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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.


Under seasoning

Share to Pinterestwoman at stove seasoning food in frying pan

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.


Not prepping ingredients

Share to Pinterestknife beside chopped sweet potato and carrots

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.


Forgetting to preheat the pan

Share to Pinteresthand pouring vegetable oil into frying pan

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.


Refrigerating butter

Share to Pinterestsquare of butter on a pottery dish with spreading knife

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!


Not rinsing canned beans

Share to Pinterestrinsing black beans in a sieve under the kitchen tap

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.


Sauteing or roasting wet vegetables

Share to Pinterestsauteeing vegetables on a frying pan

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.


Using the right water temperature for cooking veggies

Share to Pinterestpeeled potatoes in water on the stove

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.


Tenderizing meat before cooking

Share to Pinterestmeat tenderizer tool on top of raw meat

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.


Cooking bacon wrong

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.

Share to Pinterestraw bacon in a frying pan


Using boiling water for coffee

Share to Pinterestwater being poured from a kettle into pour-over

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.


Scooping flour

Share to Pinterestleveling off measured flour with a knife

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.


Washing raw chicken

Share to Pinteresthands washing raw chicken thighs in the sink

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.


Licking the spoon while cooking

Share to Pinterestlittle girl licking the mixing spoon for cookies

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.


Frying food with extra virgin olive oil

Share to Pinterestpouring olive oil into a frying pan

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.


Not letting meat rest after cooking

Share to Pinterestgrilled meat on a cutting board

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.


Buying pre-shredded cheese

Share to Pinterestboxes of packaged and shredded mozzarella cheese at Costco

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.


Choosing dried herbs over fresh ones

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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.


Snubbing mayonnaise

Share to Pinterestmayonnaise in a wooden bowl beside its ingredients

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.


Adding milk to scrambled eggs

Share to Pinterestclose up of a whisk mixing eggs

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.


Tending to the rice too much

Share to Pinterestlooking into rice pot while it's cooking

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.


Adding oil to pasta water

Share to Pinterestpouring oil into boiling water in pot

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.


Adding garlic too soon

Share to Pinterestsauteeing garlic in a frying pan

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.


Trying to cook a dish faster

Share to Pinterestred hot burner beside a bamboo spatula

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.


Marinating fish for too long

Share to Pinterestmarinated fish steaks in a container

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.


Adding cold ingredients to batter

Share to Pinterestbeaters in a mix of eggs and baking ingredients

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.


Choosing lean ground beef when you shouldn’t

Share to Pinterestraw hamburger ground beef in a bowl

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.


Buying waxy tubers for mashed potatoes

Share to Pinterestmashed potatoes with tool in pot

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.


Adding too many vegetables to the pan

Share to Pinterestroasted vegetables in a baking pan

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.


Rinsing pasta noodles after cooking

Share to Pintereststrained pasta in a bowl

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.


Ignoring the brown bits left in the pan

Share to Pinterestclose up deglazing a pan with liquid

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.


Forgetting to rinse rice

Share to Pinterestrinsing rice in a bamboo bowl

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.


Over-softening butter

Share to Pinteresta square of butter melting in a pan

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.


Haphazard measurements when baking

Share to Pinteresta scoop of flour spilled on a wood surface

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.


Cutting with a dull knife

Share to Pinterestclose up of a knife on top of a honing/sharpening tool

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.


Not using a cooking thermometer to cook meat

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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.


Overworked doughs and overmixed batters

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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.


Nonstick pans are your go-to

Share to Pinterestwood spatula on cooking potatoes and onions in frying pan

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.


Overcooking chicken breasts

Share to Pinterestdry-looking turkey or chicken on a plate

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.


Making poor substitutions

Share to Pinterestchopped butter on top of flour, pastry ingredients

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.



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