Easy-to-Fix Cooking Mistakes Everybody Is Making in the Kitchen

Man with recipe book at white marble table in kitchen, closeup

Easy-to-Fix Cooking Mistakes Everybody Is Making in the Kitchen

Let’s face it: Cooking is hard. Starting with a bunch of raw ingredients and ending up with a complete plated dish is a skill that can take years to master; or, perhaps more accurately, is a collection of many skills that can take a lifetime to get pretty good at. Even the world’s greatest chefs will tell you that they’re still learning, after all. However, there are some mistakes that lots of people make when cooking and baking, and they’re actually quite easy to fix once you know you’re making them. 

In recent years, it’s seemed as if every other influencer or click-baity article has discovered some newfangled “hack” to improve your cooking skills. The vast majority of them are either completely useless – like using tongs to squeeze lemons instead of, you know, your hands – or a way to circumvent developing actual skills, like how to crack or cook eggs or properly handle a chef’s knife. (Any time a “hack” tries to convince you that using another kitchen device – like an egg slicer – is superior to simply using a knife, it’s wrong. Just learn how to chop.)

But there’s a big difference between kitchen hacks and actually useful, Cooking 101-style tips. If you want to be a good cook, there’s a base foundation of knowledge that you need to have. These are the kind of tips that grandmothers teach their grandchildren and immediately make you a better cook. The tips that you remember every time you strap on your apron.

If you don’t know that you’re making these mistakes, then you don’t know how to fix them. Read on for 20 mistakes that you’re making in the kitchen, and the easy fixes that will immediately make you a better cook. And if you’re looking for some kitchen hacks that are actually useful, you can find them here

Mistake: Overcrowding the Pan

Professional chef cooking beef steak in frying pan on stove in restaurant kitchen
Source: siamionau pavel / Shutterstock.com

Fix: Food needs space in the pan; if everything is crowded together, there’s nowhere for the steam to go, so proper browning and even cooking won’t be achieved. Take the time to cook in batches and you’ll be rewarded. 

Mistake: Using Dull Knives

A woman holds a large sharp knife in her hand and cuts the onion into small pieces.
Source: SM-BG / Shutterstock.com

Fix: Using dull knives doesn’t just make it harder to cut through foods, it also increases the risk of the knife slipping and injuring you. It may seem paradoxical, but sharp knives are actually safer than dull ones. You should give them a few swipes against a honing steel before every time you use them, and every so often they should be professionally sharpened—most hardware stores will sharpen knives for just a few bucks. 

Mistake: Not Pre-Heating the Oven

Cooking bacon in oven
Source: mynewturtle / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Fix: There’s a reason why so many recipes start by telling you to pre-heat the oven. If you put your food in the oven before it’s properly heated, not only will it bake unevenly, but the timing will be off as well. Like with everything else in the kitchen, your patience will be rewarded. 

Mistake: Under Seasoning Food

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Fix: Salt is your best friend when cooking, so be sure to season as you go. If you wait until the end to salt your food it’s always going to taste underseasoned, no matter how much you sprinkle on top. Make sure that every component of everything you cook is seasoned, and your food will taste so much better. The end result won’t be overly salty; it’ll just taste correct. Also, if you’re cooking a steak or burger, always put a little more salt on it before cooking than you think you’ll need. 

Mistake: Overcooking Pasta

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Fix: Pasta shouldn’t be mushy. Always remove pasta from the water when it’s “al dente,” or still just slightly firm when you bite into it. And while we’re on the subject, finish cooking your pasta in the pan of sauce instead of just dumping the sauce on top of the naked pasta; the pasta will absorb some of the sauce in the pan and the sauce will be more evenly distributed. 

Mistake: Using the Wrong Cooking Oil

cropped shot of man in apron pouring oil while cooking steak on frying pan
Source: LightField Studios / Shutterstock.com

Fix: If you’re going to be cooking something in a pan over high heat, make sure you use an oil that has a high smoke point, like canola, corn, or avocado oil. Never cook with extra virgin olive oil unless you’re doing a light saute or finishing a dish with it; not only will it burn, but it’ll also lose all of its delicate flavor compounds. 

Mistake: Not Measuring Ingredients Properly

Source: Picofluidicist at English Wikipedia, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Fix: Think of baking as a form of chemistry: all the components need to be perfectly measured, or the final result will be off. Those glass Pyrex measuring cups are for measuring liquids; dry ingredients should be measured in individually calibrated measuring cups that have a straight top that allows you to level them off. Or, even better, measure dry ingredients with a kitchen scale, especially if you’re baking something that required complete accuracy, like bread. A cup of flour weighs 120 grams. 

Mistake: Not Letting the Pan Get Hot Enough

Breaded schnitzels are frying in a sizzling pan making the traditional vienese food.
Source: Marian Weyo / Shutterstock.com

Fix: Once again, patience in the kitchen will be rewarded. Give the pan time to get hot before adding food to it, and it’ll cook properly with good browning. Put it in a pan that’s not hot enough, and it won’t cook properly; a burger, for example, won’t develop any of that deep brown sear before being cooked through if it’s not cooked in a ripping hot pan. A good way to test the heat level of a pan is to put a couple drops of water into it and see how quickly they sizzle off. Also, if you’re planning on cooking something at a high heat, use a pan that can handle it, like cast iron or carbon steel; nonstick pans should only be used with medium heat. 

Mistake: Not Using the Correct Cutting Board

Roasted veal chops with fresh herbs on rustic wooden cutting board, pan seared steak dinner
Source: istetiana / Shutterstock.com

Fix: Cutting boards should be sturdy and non-slip, and should be replaced when they get too many bacteria-harboring knife grooves in them. Wood cutting boards are harder to sanitize than plastic cutting boards, so use easy-to-clean plastic cutting boards for raw meat. And never, ever, use a glass cutting board, unless you want to destroy your knife. If you find that your cutting board is sliding around too much, place a damp paper towel underneath it to keep it in place. 

Mistake: Not Tasting as You Go

Asian young female chef housewife wears white tall cook hat and apron standing holding wooden spatula spoon tasting food meal from frying pan while cooking at counter with vegetables in home kitchen.
Source: Bangkok Click Studio / Shutterstock.com

Fix: Even the best cooks don’t trust themselves to perfectly season every dish they make; that’s why they taste as they go. If you can, taste your food as often as you can as you’re cooking it to adjust seasoning as necessary. This way, you can make any necessary adjustments before it’s too late. The best example of this is with sauces: Taste them frequently as they’re simmering away on the stove and the finished product will be so much better than if you just left it up to chance. 

Mistake: Over-mixing Batter

Top view of Creaming butter and sugar with a whisk, the process of making a cake, overhead view of mixing butter and sugar to make a pound cake
Source: this_baker / Shutterstock.com

Fix: If your baked goods are coming out of the oven (or your pancakes are coming out of the pan) tough and deflated, then you’re most likely overmixing your batter. You should only mix batter until all the ingredients are combined; it’s okay if it’s a little lumpy because it’ll all even out while cooking. 

Mistake: Using Spices That are Old

Spices in wooden bowls and spoons, pepper mixture in glass bowl isolated on white background.
Source: AnVdErGiA / Shutterstock.com

Fix: If you haven’t replaced that cumin since 2008, you should probably consider restocking your spice rack. Ground spices quickly lose their delicate flavor compounds, leaving you with spices that are dull and bland instead of fresh and vibrant. Replace them every six to 12 months to keep them fresh-tasting, and if you really want your spices to be optimal, buy them whole and grind them up right before using them. 

Mistake: Not Cleaning As You Go

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Fix: if you’ve ever finished making dinner only to be faced with an unmanageably messy countertop, then you already know that it’s best to clean as you go. Clean up any spills as soon as they happen, throw away paper towels and empty packaging as soon as you’re done with them, put dirty dishes into the dishwasher as soon as you don’t need them any more, and rinse and put away knives as soon as you’re done with them, and you’ll save yourself a lot of grief when all you want to do is finally sit down and eat. 

Mistake: Boiling Instead of Simmering

Hot pasta water boiling on a stove with a wooden spoon to prevent boil over.
Source: Alexanderstock23 / Shutterstock.com

Fix: If you’re making a soup, stew, sauce, or other long-cooking food on the stovetop, you should be maintaining a gentle simmer instead of a big rolling boil. Simmering food allows it to gently cook, developing flavor and texture, as opposed to boiling, which can also cook off too much liquid.

Mistake: Not Deglazing the Pan

A chunk of meat glaze stirred into a deglazed pan
Source: James Nicholas Peterson / Shutterstock.com

Fix: “Deglazing” is a fancy word for adding a little bit of water, stock, wine, or another liquid to the pan after cooking meat or any other food that leaves those brown bits stuck to the bottom. Whisking in a little liquid will allow you to incorporate those bits, called fond, into your food, giving the final product’s flavor a major boost. 

Mistake: Cooking Everything at the Same Time

Woman cooking tasty rice with vegetables on stove in kitchen, closeup
Source: Pixel-Shot / Shutterstock.com

Fix: If you’ve ever watched a Chinese chef cooking with a wok, then you’ve seen the importance of knowing when to add food to the pan. Certain foods need a longer amount of time to cook than others, so if you dump everything into the pan at the same time, you’ll end up with undeveloped flavors and some ingredients that are burnt while others are undercooked. For example, you should never add onions and garlic to a pan at the same time, because by the time the onions are nicely caramelized the garlic will be burnt and acrid, ruining the dish. 

Mistake: Using Metal Utensils on Nonstick Pans

Fix: Repeat after me: Metal should NEVER touch a nonstick pan. If you’re cooking with nonstick, use plastic spatulas, wooden spoons, silicone-coated whisks, and other non-metal utensils. Metal scratches up the nonstick coating. 

Mistake: Not Reading the Recipe Thoroughly Before Starting

Man with recipe book at white marble table in kitchen, closeup
Source: New Africa / Shutterstock.com

Fix: Every time you cook with a recipe, even if you’ve made the recipe before, read the recipe thoroughly from start to finish and visualize the cooking process in your head. This will allow you to plan out everything you’ll need to do in advance, prep all your ingredients, have them handy when you need them, and avoid any surprises. Studying the recipe in advance will also guarantee that you have all the necessary ingredients and equipment, because there’s nothing worse than realizing you don’t have any eggs when you’re halfway through making brownies. 

Mistake: Not Letting Dough Rise Properly

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Fix: Making bread is a process that can’t be rushed. Once the yeast is added, a process begins that needs time to play out. Dough needs time to rise, sometimes more than once, in a warm, draft-free environment. Rushing through this process will result in dense, poorly-textured bread, and you’ll regret not taking your time. 

Mistake: Not Resting Meat

Isolated close up of a delicious beef Picanha meat loaf roasting on a hot grill with a temperature gauge- Israel
Source: Oren Ravid / Shutterstock.com

Fix: Any time you cook meat, whether it’s a roast chicken, a steak, a burger, or pork chops, you need to let it rest for a few minutes; large roasts, like turkeys or prime ribs, need even more time, at least a half hour. When you slice into meat immediately after it comes out of the oven or off the pan, all the juices will run out of it, leaving you with dry meat and a messy counter. Allowing the meat to rest gives the juices time to redistribute and settle, leading to more evenly-cooked and juicier meat. Not resting meat is just one of the many mistakes you might be making when cooking steak.

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