The cooking advice you actually need
We all want to be better cooks in our own kitchens if for no other reason than to cook ourselves insanely delicious food every night. But, there are definitely a few things we novice home cooks are probably doing that could be done better—read on to hear from the pros on what you definitely should stop doing in your kitchen for homecooked meals that are better than ever.
Dropping food into hot oil
“A common mistake that people make in the kitchen is when they are about to sear a meat or fish. They tend to drop the meat or fish right into the hot oil and the oil can splatter and burn them. The best method to fix that is to tilt the pan to keep oil on one side and put the meat where there is less oil and then just tilt it back slowly. Also, do not move the pan too much to avoid flames. Have patience!” —Executive Chef Saul Montiel
Following the recipe word for word
“The biggest mistake a home cook can make that a professional chef wouldn’t is following the recipe to the letter! Home cooks treat recipes as non-negotiable contracts. To most chefs, they exist as guidelines. At home, you likely do not have a pantry of 100 items to choose from, which means you have to be able to think on your feet. For example, home cooks can switch out zucchini for butternut squash, or champagne vinegar for white wine vinegar… that’s where the fun and creativity of cooking comes in to make a recipe more suitable to your family” —Chef Greg Biggers
Buying or making too much food
“Most people make or buy too much food. You should serve 280-340 grams of protein per person, 225 grams of vegetables, and 225 grams of starch, and a cup of salad per person.” —Celebrity caterer Andrea Correale
Not preheating your pan
“Not only is this a timesaver while you prep, a chef always has everything hot before ingredients go in. It is especially important when cooking meat.” — Head chef Yankel Polak
Getting cheap ingredients to save money
“One mistake that home cooks can make is settling on poor ingredients for the sake of convenience. Purchasing sauces that are canned or substituting fresh vegetables with frozen may seem easier but they compromise quality from their meal. Researching basic ingredients and cooking techniques for your meals may be intimidating but with proper practice, anyone can make an ordinary meal extraordinary.” —Chef de Cuisine Allen Schumann
On the other hand, if you can’t afford expensive cuts of meat, here are 12 tricks to get cheap meat to taste expensive.
Using ingredients that aren’t in season
“Another common mistake people make is using ingredients that are not in season. Not only is it more expensive but they won’t taste the same. Use ingredients that are in season – they are less expensive and taste way better.” —Saul Montiel
Cooking meat and seafood straight from the fridge
“Don’t cook meat or seafood straight from the fridge without tempering it. It’s always best to remove from the fridge for at least 15-20 minutes to make sure it’s tempered. This will promote more even cooking. When fish is too cold, the outside will cook and the inside will not.” —Executive Chef Robert Sisca
Not tasting the dish while cooking
“Chefs know to taste at every stage of a recipe, but home cooks often do not taste until a dish is finished, when it is too late to add any depth of flavour.” —Ariane Resnick private chef, best-selling author, and certified nutritionist.
“People have a tendency to overlook their veggies. Veggies should be firm al dente. If serving broccoli or cauliflower, for example, cook them so that they still have a crunch.” —Celebrity caterer, Andrea Correale
Using non-stick pans
“Don’t use non-stick pans! Basically the only thing [chefs] use a non-stick pan for in our professional kitchen is egg cookery. I know people that cook almost everything in non-stick, which is a flavour killer. Nothing beats a high-quality stainless steel or cast iron pan. If you’re worried about protein sticking, get your pan VERY hot before adding oil, and you won’t have problems with sticking, plus you’ll get a much better sear leading to greatly improved flavour.” —Chef Jim Heflin
Leaving a mess as you cook
“A professional chef would also clean as they go! They will have everything prepped out which will allow them time to do this.” —Tracy Wilk, Lead Chef and Recipe Editor (Recreational Program) at the Institute of Culinary Education.
Using a microwave
“I got rid of my microwave a few years back and haven’t looked back. If I want to re-heat food, melt butter, or boil water I use my stovetop. Most chefs I know are in alignment with doing this as well.” —Melissa Eboli, owner of a personal chef and catering company
Using the same cutting board for everything
Use a different cutting board for each ingredient in your recipe, especially if you’re cutting raw chicken because chicken can carry a bacteria called salmonella. Always use different cutting boards for meat, vegetables, and fruit. —Saul Montiel, Executive Chef at Cantina Rooftop.
Not considering cooking times
“A chef always begins with the item that takes the longest first and progresses to the fastest things last. It seems like common sense, but you’d be surprised how many people will chop vegetables before starting the pasta water.” —Yankel Polak
Not reading the entire recipe
“The first thing many cooks at home don’t do is read the complete recipe. I always start out in the kitchen doing this. Not only the list of ingredients, but the step by step instructions on how to prep, cook and plate a recipe. They should make sure they have the proper equipment and utensils to complete the recipe. If they’re unsure of any product or cooking technique, do some online research to complete the recipe before continuing!” —Executive Chef Jim August
Making fish ahead of time
“If you are serving fish as an entree don’t make it ahead of time and then reheat. It’s best to prepare and season the fish and cook it right before you serve it. The quality will be much better.” —Andrea Correale
Spicing food after it has been made
“I have seen friends cook a whole meal, and not add spices until the very end to flavour it. This is a big mistake as the food needs to cook with the spices. Especially if making a dish that has oil and fat with a sauté in the beginning of preparation, it is best to sauté let’s say onions and garlic with the spices, then add meat and anything else that may be going into the dish for optimal flavour. When the spices mix with the oil it helps to get all aromas out, and then it also binds to the food and flavours the dish.” —Melissa Eboli
“Tip: do not oversalt food! If you are preparing a dish with multiple components that are seasoned separately then served together, beware of the overall salt content of the dish as a whole” —Avi Burn, Owner of Pinks Cantina
Not prepping the ingredients first
“One thing I notice home cooks do while following a recipe is that they prepare things while they are cooking. This creates a DISASTER in the kitchen and doubles up on clean up time as well as resulting in forgotten and burnt food. I admit it gives me anxiety to watch. If you prepare each ingredient the recipe calls for and have them ready beforehand it helps keep you stay organised and clean, plus your family will love you!” —Chef Matthew Olley
Putting knives in the dishwasher
“A professional chef would never put their knives in a dishwasher. This leads to dulling and the blade would never be the same. A professional chef also has their knives sharpened constantly.” —Tracy Wilk, Lead Chef and Recipe Editor (Recreational Program) at the Institute of Culinary Education
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