23 Small Tips For Home Cooks

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They’re all low-effort — but they make a world of difference.

Maybe you cook at home all the time, or perhaps you’re trying to cook more in the new year. Whatever the case, these simple small-but-mighty tips will make cooking more enjoyable, add flavor to all of your dishes, and make you more comfortable in the kitchen.


Take the time to mise en place.

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Mise en place is French for putting in place, and it refers to getting all of your ingredients ready, prepped, and organized before you begin cooking. If you take the time to do things like measure out spices, dice onions, or mince garlic before you actually start cooking, you’ll rush less, leave less room for error, and improve the quality of your cooking.


Avoid cranking up your burner to high heat.

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Slow and steady wins the race. When your ingredients should be cooked at medium or medium-low, cranking up the heat to high in the interest of cooking faster is not going to produce good results. Your food can turn out charred or burnt on the outside but undercooked on the inside. Give your food the time it needs to properly cook over the appropriate heat. There are some exceptions (like when you’re giving a steak a great sear or boiling water), but 9 times out of 10, avoid cranking up the burner. 


Taste and season your food as you cook, not just at the end.

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If you only taste your food when it’s done, you’ll have no idea what ingredients to add in order to enhance the flavor. Instead, taste as you go, every step of the way. This will help you season appropriately — adding salt, citrus, and spices as necessary. There’s nothing worse than plating your food only to find that it’s way too bland or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, too salty to enjoy. 


Always wait until the pan is hot.

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One of the most common home cooking mistakes is adding food to a cold pan.  Turn on the burner and let your pans get hot before you start adding ingredients. Cooking on a hot pan gives steaks, chops, and proteins that gorgeous, brown crust, and it makes vegetables charred and bright rather than mushy. A hot pan also prevents food like chicken and fried eggs from sticking. 


Save your leftover pasta water.

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The leftover water that remains after you’ve boiled pasta is like liquid gold in the kitchen. It’s starchy and salty and does wonders when added back into your pasta sauce. When you strain your noodles, make sure to save about a cup of the water. Then, add some back little by little to add a silky richness to your pasta sauce. 


Cook any grains or starchy foods in chicken broth instead of water.

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This goes for pretty much any grains and starches like rice, quinoa, couscous, potatoes, farro, and even pasta. Boiling them in chicken, beef, or even vegetable broth instead of water is a no-brainer way to add lots of deep flavor. 


Hands off! Don’t mess with your food while it cooks.

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Resist the temptation to continuously flip, stir, and peek at your food while its cooking — a hands-off approach is the best approach. Flip your meat once, let your vegetables brown in the pan, leave the lid on the pot while your rice is simmering, and stop opening the oven constantly to check on broccoli roasting. Intervene as little as necessary for the tastiest results.


When cooking meat, use a thermometer.

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A solid digital thermometer is literally a game changer when it comes to cooking meat. You don’t need to spend a fortune, either. $20 should do the trick. This handy little gadget will help you make perfectly cooked meat every single time. 


Think about the balance between salt, heat, fat, and acid.

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Samin Nosrat’s beloved cookbook says it best: pretty much anything you’re making will taste best when it contains the right balance of these four elements. Salt your food properly, use fresh citrus, add some spice, and don’t be afraid of cooking with a little fat — like olive oil, whole yogurt, or butter. 


In the same vein, don’t be afraid of using salt.

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Some people say they don’t salt their food because they want to taste the actual ingredients, but rather than mask flavors, salt actually does the opposite: It brings out flavors. Season your ingredients with salt while you’re cooking, add salt to your boiling water, and if you’re cooking meat, salt it hours in advance. Buy a big box of Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt, and don’t be afraid to use it.


Clean as you go! (Seriously, I can’t emphasize this enough.)

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It’s easy for your kitchen to turn into a pig sty when you’re cooking — those dirty plates, bowls, utensils, pots, and pans can quickly pile up in the sink. Rather than let the mess become overwhelming, clean as you go. When you’re done with a mixing bowl or a skillet, give it a rinse before continuing with your cooking. Cooking feels like way less of a chore if the cleaning is done before you sit down to enjoy your food. It becomes so much more enjoyable. 


Add garlic toward the end of cooking.

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If you’re sautéing garlic with onions, add the onion first and the garlic last. If you sauté onions and garlic at the same time, either the onions will taste undercooked or the garlic will burn to a crisp (and taste gross in your food). Wait until the onion is tender and almost done, then add the garlic and cook until just fragrant.


Fresh herbs can make a world of difference.

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Dried herbs are one thing, but a sprinkle of fresh herbs can take a dish from average to extraordinary. Try adding a bit of fresh torn basil on pasta, a mixture of cilantro and mint on dishes with Thai or Vietnamese flavors, fresh chives or dill on seafood, and cilantro whenever you’re cooking Mexican food. A small amount of fresh herbs go a long, long way. 


Let meat come to room temperature before cooking.

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You might be tempted to take meat, chicken, or fish out of the fridge and immediately cook it, but the final flavor will taste so much better if you let it come to room temperature first. Try removing these proteins from the fridge and letting them sit on the countertop for about 20 to 30 minutes before putting them in the oven or in a pan. 


Pay attention to the type of oil you’re cooking with.

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Compared to other cooking oils, extra virgin olive oil has a low smoke point (aka the temperature at which it starts to burn). That means when you’re cooking food at a high heat (searing steak, making stir-fry, or trying to get a nice crispy coating on chicken), olive oil will burn quickly. Instead, use an oil with a higher smoke point like canola, grapeseed, or avocado oil. Then season the finished product with a good quality EVOO to add flavor. 


Don’t overuse your non-stick pans.

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A non-stick skillet is amazing for cooking certain foods like scrambled eggs, pancakes, delicate fish, and grilled cheese, but it’s not the right vessel for everything. Non-stick pans give off a certain type of heat, which isn’t hot enough to properly char or sear. They’re also not great for making pan sauces because you won’t get those crispy brown bits that add flavor. So if you’re charring chicken, searing steak, making a marsala sauce, or browning butter, it’s best to stick to your regular set of pans. 


Roast vegetables for longer than you might expect to for a good char.

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Mushy vegetables are not very enjoyable, but roasted vegetables with a crispy, charred exterior…totally delicious. The key is roasting your veggies for long enough that they get past the mushy stage and crisp up. Say, for example, you’re roasting something like cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, or sweet potatoes. Heat the oven to 425°F, toss the vegetables in olive oil, salt, pepper, or any other spices, and let them roast for about 40 minutes, flipping once in between. 


Read the recipe thoroughly before beginning to cook.

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This might seem obvious, but so many home cooks make this silly mistake. Read the recipe from start to finish before you even begin cooking. That way, you won’t be surprised later on. Perhaps a late step in the recipe says to chill a sauce in the fridge for an hour, have an ingredient pre-cooked and ready to go, or make sure the oven is pre-heated. If you read the recipe from start to finish, you’ll eliminate any surprises and be prepared. 


Let meat rest before cutting into it.

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Meat continues to cook once it’s removed from a heat source, which is why it’s so important to let meat rest for around 10 minutes. When you cut into a hot piece of meat, all of those delectable juices are going to come pouring right out. If you let a piece of meat rest, however, it’ll retain, absorb, and redistribute the juices throughout, resulting in a more tender and flavorful dish. Apply this rule to anything from steaks and lamb to pork and poultry.


Cook different cuts of meat accordingly.

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Different cuts of meat should be treated differently. Some tougher cuts (like pork shoulder, short ribs, and brisket) are great for slow-cooking, stewing, or braising while more tender cuts like sirloin, prime rib, and hangar steak are better off cooked quickly over high heat. Braising short ribs over an extended period of time develops the flavor and makes them so tender they basically fall off the bone. Pay attention to the cut of meat you’re buying and cook it accordingly, and when it doubt, ask your butcher for suggestions. 


Don’t forget to deglaze the pan.

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You know those little brown bits that get stuck at the bottom of a pan when you’re cooking anything from ground beef or chicken thighs to seared scallops? Well, they’re called fond, and you should be using them to enhance the flavor of your food. Deglaze the pan by adding pretty much any cold liquid like chicken broth, wine, tomato sauce, or lemon juice. It will release all of those delicious little bits of food and result in a super flavorful pan sauce that you can pour over your dish. 


To achieve the best sear, pat down meat and fish with a paper towel.

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The key to developing a crispy, golden-brown crust on anything from salmon to pork chops is getting rid of any excess liquid. Meat and fish often carry a layer of moisture, which can easily be removed by patting down your protein with a paper towel. This will give your food the best possible sear once it hits a hot pan. 


And brine basically any type of meat to bring out the best possible flavor.

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Brining is one of those cooking terms that seems way more intimidating than it actually is. It just means giving meat a quick soak in salt and water, a process that helps tenderize the meat and retain moisture, making it super flavorful once cooked. You can brine pretty much any meat or fish (poultry, shrimp, salmon, pork chops, and steak), and even brining for 30 minutes can make a huge difference.

What cooking tip has made a big difference for you in the kitchen? Tell us in the comments below.

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