50 Basic Cooking Tips Everyone Should Know About

50 Basic Cooking Tips Everyone Should Know About

Home cooks all know the frustration of starting dinner and then realizing they’re out of a key ingredient. After doing this one too many times, most eventually remember to read their recipe first and prep all ingredients before turning on the stove. 

24/7 Tempo compiled 50 basic cooking tips you should memorize, including crucial time-saving measures, safety tips, and some tricks you’ll be glad to know next time you prepare a meal.

You can Google how to make the perfect soufflé or steak, but how to prepare them at home – where kitchens are not usually as well equipped as those in restaurants – may take some extra skills. Here are 23 surprising cooking tips you learn at culinary school.

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Heavily salt the pasta water

A tablespoon of salt per four quarts of water is a good ratio. This allows the pasta to absorb some of the salt, making it more flavorful.

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Boil water first for perfect soft- or hard-boiled eggs

Use enough water to reach an inch over the eggs. Once it’s boiling, lay the eggs in with a spoon and cook 6 minutes for soft boiled and 12 for hard boiled. Immediately drain and place in cold water.

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Keep your knives sharp

In general, hone your knives after each use or every other use, and sharpen them once a year. This makes cutting faster and easier on your wrists. (Every time you use a knife, some of its teeth will be bent or misaligned. You hone the knife to fix them – to return the teeth to their optimal position.)

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Read the whole recipe first

That way there are no surprises. You’ll know in advance if you need to pre-melt or cook anything, or if there’s something that needs to rest overnight.

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Prep and measure all ingredients first

Pre-chop vegetables and measure other ingredients into small containers before you begin cooking. This can save you from forgetting ingredients or rushing around in a frenzy while the stove is on.

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Curve your fingers down when slicing vegetables

If your knuckles are resting against the side of the blade, the blade can’t cut you.

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Don’t crowd the pan

Whether you’re searing meat or sauteing vegetables, leaving space between pieces allows them to brown and crisp. Crowding leads to soggy, steamed food.

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Clean as you go

You’ll thank yourself later. It saves space, time, and muscle if you wash dishes as you use them or at least soak them while you cook.

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Use the right tool or pan for the job

If you stir-fry often, get a wok. Peel a lot of vegetables? Invest in a y-shaped peeler. Frost cakes? Get an offset spatula. Tools can be relatively cheap and save you a lot of time and frustration.

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Store ginger root in the freezer

Ginger often dries out before we have used most of it. Keep it in the freezer and grate it directly into your dish.

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Dry meats and vegetables before cooking them

It’s hard to brown chicken if you place it in the pan wet.

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Keep vegetable scraps and meat bones

Put a bag in the freezer for all your onion skins, carrot peels, chicken bones, and celery tops. When it’s full, make soup stock.

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When baking, be sure not to overmix the batter

Whether it’s cake, muffins, or biscuits, most wheat flour-based baked goods that aren’t yeasted need to be mixed just until all the flour is incorporated. Any more and the final result will be more dense and chewy than desired.

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Use unsalted butter for recipes

Unsalted butter gives you full control over the sodium content of your food. In baking, it’s important to remember that various butter brands have different amounts of salt and moisture, so unsalted is the best bet for consistent products.

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When whipping egg whites, clean the bowl well

Any residual oil can prevent egg whites from whipping into stiff peaks, no matter how long you whip them for. For added insurance, wash the bowl in hot water, dry it, then wipe it down with lemon juice.

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Broken emulsions can usually be saved

When making aioli, hollandaise, or other emulsified sauces, separation is common. Rather than tossing the curdled sauce, try re-whipping it with an extra egg yolk or a few tablespoons of hot water.

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Use luke-warm water to activate yeast

Water that is too hot can kill yeast, so use slightly warm water and keep the yeasted dough above 70 degrees while rising.

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Slice beef against the grain

No matter the cut, you can make every bite of beef more tender by slicing perpendicular to the direction of the muscle fibers.

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Don’t open the oven unless absolutely necessary

A lot of heat escapes whenever the oven opens, and this prolongs cooking time. Use the light to check on baked goods, and only open to baste meat, rotate pans, or check done-ness.

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Substitute all-purpose flour for cornstarch

Cornstarch is a common thickening agent used in gravies and puddings. If you don’t have any, white flour is a fine substitute. Use 2 units of flour for every 1 unit of cornstarch that the recipe calls for.

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When measuring flour, don’t scoop it with the measuring cup

Scooping straight out of the flour bag can compact flour into the cup, causing you to use way more than you intended. Always stir flour to fluff it up, spoon it gently into the measuring cup, and then level it off with a knife.

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If you bake often, invest in a scale

Weights are much more accurate than volume measurements when baking. Most good recipes will come with ingredient weights.

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If a recipe calls for chilling an ingredient, or letting it rest overnight, do not ignore this

There is a good reason, whether it’s to ensure your cookies don’t spread into each other, or to develop flavors or texture.

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Skip the toothpick test

To test doneness in cakes and cupcakes: gently press the middle of the cake. If it bounces completely back, it’s done.

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Use ice cream scoops to portion cookies and cupcakes

For uniform treats, invest in a few sizes of spring-action ice-cream scoops. This also saves time and is less messy than using two spoons.

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Fresh, quality ingredients affect outcome

A great way to ensure more flavor is to use in-season produce and high quality, local dairy and eggs when available.

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Let cooked meat rest before slicing

This allows the juices to reincorporate, leading to a moist final product.

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Crack eggs on the counter, not the edge of the bowl

Flat surfaces create less shattered shells that can end up in your food.

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Preheat the oven

Seriously. Putting food into a heating oven can cause it to burn on one side or cook unevenly.

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Refresh old spices yearly

Spices have a shelf life. They won’t make you sick, but they will taste like nothing. If it no longer has a distinct smell, get rid of it.

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Store fresh herbs in water

Like a bouquet, your herbs will last longer if you place freshly cut stems in a cup of water, then cover in plastic and refrigerate.

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Parchment paper saves on clean up time

Baking a cake? Roasting vegetables? Line pans with parchment paper and you’ll thank yourself later — plus, it is considered compostable waste in many parts of the country.

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If you’re boiling water, put the lid on the pot

Should we have to tell you that this saves time?

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Toast grains before boiling

This deepens their flavor. Try it with spices and nuts as well.

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Season often

Taste food and season it repeatedly throughout the cooking process. This way it will be perfect by the time it’s done and you won’t be scrambling to doctor a bland dish.

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Crack eggs into a separate bowl

This way if one has gone bad you won’t have ruined the whole batch. Also, if you get some shell in, it’ll be easier to pick out.

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Blanch tomatoes for easy peeling

Place fresh tomatoes in boiling water for about 20 seconds, then cool them. The peels will slide off.

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Don’t have buttermilk? No problem

Use 1 scant cup of milk with a tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar, or alternately, use plain yogurt.

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For crispier potatoes, soak them in water

An hour before cooking, place sliced potatoes in water to remove some of the starch. Dry and roast or fry, according to your recipe.

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Don’t wash your mushrooms

Mushrooms soak up and store water. To prevent them from getting soggy, brush off any visible dirt rather than washing them.

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Homemade vinaigrette is simple

Using a base of three parts oil to one part vinegar, you can play around with flavors, including fruit puree, mustard, and garlic.

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Sauteé vegetables in stages

Carrots need more time to soften than bell peppers or snow peas. Cook harder vegetables first, and save tender ones for last.

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Use fresh herbs by the handful, not by the pinch

Basil, cilantro, and parsley can be more than just a garnish for soups, sandwiches, tacos, fried rice, and pasta dishes.

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Don’t be afraid to use salt

It brings out flavor. Salt your food scantly at first, then taste as you cook. Add a little more salt if necessary. Remember, processed and prepared foods are a much larger source of sodium than home-cooked food.

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Sear your meat for flavor, not to seal in moisture

Searing meat causes browning, which adds flavor to stews and creates a great base for sauces.

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Don’t bother peeling every fruit and vegetable

Peels are great sources of fiber and nutrients. As long as they’re washed well, root vegetables, apples, and even peaches will cook fine into soups and pies, peelings included.

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For more flavor, use fire

Fire-roasting peppers, eggplants, and tomatoes adds a smoky depth of flavor. In a pinch, use the broiler in your oven to char the skin, then peel.

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For extra crispiness, fry chicken or french fries twice

After deep-frying a batch, let it rest for 10 minutes then fry again for a few minutes before serving.

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Dry rub or brine poultry and pork before cooking

To ensure juicy, flavorful meat, use a dry rub or salt brine on chickens, turkeys, ribs, and pork roasts.

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Add baking soda to tomato sauce

If adding sugar is not your preferred option, neutralize acidity by adding 1/8 tsp of baking soda.

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