People say cooking is a form of art, but it’s also a science. It takes creativity, yes, but it’s also about knowing which food works with which ingredient, like herbs and spices. Stuffing and trussing a chicken is easy for experienced home cooks, but for newbies, whipping up even simple dishes like that is daunting. Furthermore, you’ve got to get all menu items on the table simultaneously piping hot, and that isn’t always easy! The chicken is cold but the gravy is hot, or the potatoes are lumpy and the chicken is dry! One experience like that is what makes new cooks want to flee from the kitchen and grab a take out menu!
But ask yourself: did you take the time to properly prepare the food? Maybe the answer is “no.”
If you’ve had this experience, fear not! We’ve done the research and talked to the right people, and have some helpful, useful cooking tips, designed for people who aren’t yet skilled in the kitchen — but would like to be.
You don’t need to go to a French cooking school or buy fancy equipment. All you need is a little basic knowledge and a lot of enthusiasm, and be fearless about food! If you want to become a better cook, follow these 11 cooking tips from professional chefs for improving dishes, elevating your expertise, and boosting your confidence in the kitchen.
Before Cooking —
1) Get The Right Tools Ready — Sharpen Those Knives!
Michelin star chef Gary Danko once said, “The right tool can save a lot of time.” That’s one of the invaluable (and true!) cooking tips, especially when it comes to handling basic tasks like frying, flipping, and slicing. The right knife will have you carving up that chicken in no time!
Each and every cooking utensil serves a particular purpose; pots and pans are for frying, whipping up soups and stews, but obviously knives are for prepping your food. Peeling, dicing and chopping are each handled by different knives, and they must be sharp! Carving a roast with a dull blade will get you shredded beef, not glorious slices!
Once your knives are sharp, you’re ready to begin preparing the ingredients, and you’ll use them a lot. Ninety percent of all recipes call for using knives at some point. And the one you’ll use the most is called a chef’s knife, which is ideal for chopping, mincing garlic (for example) and a lot of other tasks. A smaller paring knife is right for peeling items like oranges, and working with delicate foods that require detailed tasks. And of course a carving knife with a finely honed edge is right for carving roasts and slicing bread — are you hungry yet?
Whichever knife your recipe demands, just remember: Keep them sharp!
2) Good Ingredients Matter
Have you ever tried an entre or soup at a restaurant that tastes fantastic, one you’ve tried making at home, but yours tastes inferior? And what’s really annoying is that you know how simple the recipe is! It’s because good dining establishments are fussy about ingredients; they use only the very best. Professional chefs simply won’t buy inferior products and ingredients like fruits and herbs, and neither should you. It simply won’t work!
World-famous chef Janez Bratovz recently told the Cook & Chef Institute Foundation that, “great and fresh ingredients inspire me the most. With those (at my disposal) and my knowledge of food, I try to make the best dishes I can.”
Scour the stores anywhere in your region for the best fresh goods and produce you can find; they will make your dishes sing and yell with flavor! Furthermore, knowing something about the properties and traits of individual ingredients also helps, like how fresh garlic reacts to different heats on the stovetop, for example. This one of the cooking tips lets you learn just how ingredients react to one another, and tips you off on how your meal is going to turn out. That takes planning!
3) Read Before Cooking
This is a cliche because it’s true! How often have you started a recipe only to discover you’re missing a key ingredient? Or you’ve added something too early, or too late, and the whole recipe ends up down the drain? Not to worry, we’ve all done it! But this mistake is easily avoided simply by reading the recipe, start to finish, before you begin.
If you take this one of the cooking tips as advice, rest assured your meal will turn out better. Dive in off the deep end without even measuring ingredients first, you will likely regret it and waste a lot of time. Get all your tools out — bowls, pans, knives, etc. — and then the ingredients. Figure out how long it’s all going to take, and when you’ll be ready to serve it. Don’t start cooking a roast at seven if you want to serve it tonight, or it will be 11 before supper is on the table. If this is your first time wearing your apron, so to speak, practice! Try something simple, first, like frying eggs or onions, or making a sauce from scratch. That gives you a solid base on which to build.
During Cooking —
4) Cook With Your Eyes, Nose, Ears, Taste Buds and Hands
Did you follow the recipe but not taste your creation before serving it? That’s foolish! Your senses tell you everything: how good something smells, if it’s sizzling in the pan, or if it looks cooked. Use them all! If you had tasted the onions while frying them up, you’d have realized they were crunchy, not tender. Employing your senses lets you taste, smell, hear and feel whether your dish is working, just like they do when you’re eating something “for real.” One ingredient may taste sweet, another sour, and you should understand how they combine to make your dish work. Sample tiny bites and sips along the way, and you’ll know whether your dish is working. Bitter, sweet, salty, dry…all these factors combine to make recipes great, and you should know them as you cook.
And any good chef uses his hands — think of bakers, or pizza makers slinging dough in the air! They know when it’s just the right consistency and ready for toppings, like bakers know by touch when a pie is ready. A good cook knows that looking at his dish offers big clues about its progress, so you should, too! Is it thick enough, blended enough, sharp enough, sour enough? You get the idea, right?
Your hands are extremely important cooking utensils, just like knives and spoons. You can increase and fine-tune your sense of touch by monitoring how various foods feel at different degrees, even if you’re checking “doneness” with a thermometer or toothpick. For example, the meat gets very firm when it’s well done or overcooked, but stays soft if it’s rare. And don’t forget — meat keeps cooking when it’s taken out of the oven to “rest” before serving. Follow these cooking tips, employ your fingers, eyes, and all your senses when cooking!
5) Try Cooking Seasonally
Spices and herbs are great ingredients for healthy, flavourful foods. Adding them is vital for creating tasty, aromatic food, and they help you avoid piling on the sugar, cream, butter and/or salt.
Season early in the recipe when you’re making most main course dishes, like chicken, meat and vegetables. That gives them the most robust flavor, but you should also keep adding spices and herbs while cooking. Adding a brine to chicken makes it crisp and tasty, and adding a pinch of salt to Brussels sprouts makes them get crispy in the oven.
Are there some “must-have” spices all good cooks should keep on hand? Absolutely! Check our other article, “10 Essential Herbs & Spices For Your Pantry” for a guide on what to make sure you’ve stocked in your kitchen.
6) Salt is Your Friend
Aki Kamozawa, a chef/proprietor of Ideas In Food, LLC, said, “salt is the most essential seasoning — without it, everything you cook will taste flat. Even if we eliminate all other seasonings, it’s possible to make a delicious meal seasoning with salt alone.”.
America’s Iron Chef Michael Symon published, “Michael Symon’s Live to Cook: Recipes and Techniques to Rock Your Kitchen: A Cookbook.” In it, he states that salting in stages throughout the cooking process builds more flavor. He also suggests seasoning from start to finish because it brings out the most flavor of all your ingredients.
Another one of the useful cooking tips is to consider using sea salt, or kosher salt, both of which are more flavorful than ordinary table salt. Using a salt mill keeps it fresh and zingy and potent, so using less is an option. Grinding spices is the best way to keep them all fresh because it’s not processed before use. And an attractive salt grinder looks good on your supper table!
7) Learn When to Add Acid
Have you ever sensed something was missing from a dish you made? In all likelihood, it was acid, a mysterious and elusive ingredient that adds depth and taste to almost all dishes. Some type of acid is usually needed to season food, just like salt and pepper are usually needed. Alas, acid is an often-overlooked addition, but it really makes a difference. Acidity is a joyous taste sensation, so it’s only natural that you use it when cooking — it makes everything better!
Acid literally makes your food mouthwatering; it boosts flavor and ignites a chemical chain reaction that alters the taste, color, and texture of food. Acidity is your best friend in the kitchen, and you’ll find your guests reaching for salt less often if the acidity of the food is right — and that’s healthy, too.
Ever found your soup or other food a little bland and dull? Try squeezing in some fresh lemon juice or a small splash of red wine or plain white vinegar, and your recipe will brighten, sharpen and sparkle with flavor! It’s amazing how well a little acidity works in just about any dish.
8) Don’t Overcrowd Pans
This is a common mistake, particularly with newbies, but it’s one of the important cooking tips to keep in mind, whether you’re a novice or an experienced cook. If too many things are crowding the pan, heat gets trapped underneath it and creates steam. The food cooks, but it doesn’t get that lovely caramelized top that traps in juices and makes meat succulent and potatoes and veggies crisp.
To avoid this, be sure they’ve all got plenty of room in the pan. Be sure pieces aren’t touching each other, so heat and air circulate and your food gains color and richness. Moisture gets locked in, and that means flavor.
Overcrowding can ruin a dish, so try to avoid it happening in the first place. If it does, the food may still be tender, but it won’t be as crisp and attractive, though it will taste the same.
After Cooking —
9) Clean Your Kitchen
Ever watch a cooking show in which the judges blast the contestants for their messy stations? Chefs hate messy kitchens! A messy kitchen may lead to messy dishes, but of course, some mess is unavoidable during the cooking process. But cleaning up is just as much a part of cooking as preparation is, so tidy up as you go. This avoids food contamination and chaos. Make it your habit to clean up any mess you created while cooking — you’ll be glad you did!
You should also tidy up the pantry and fridge each day, or every other day. What’s tucked away in the crisper? Track when you bought certain items and their expiration date; you’ll use up food and avoid waste. Tidiness and organization are key to becoming a better cook.
10) Dining Out
Do some research by going to restaurants and broadening your culinary taste buds. Experience places that cook different recipes than you do, and take mental note of what you enjoy and want to try making. Ask yourself how the chef created a certain dish, and what you enjoyed about it? Would you try making it differently — spicier, perhaps — at home?
Something else you can learn from restaurants is how to plate your food. Looks aren’t everything, of course, but offering attractive food counts for a lot. Learning this skill teaches you how to present food at its most appealing, and will wow your guests at your next dinner party!
11) Practise Makes Perfect
Like any other acquired skill, cooking takes practice. It takes time to become a confident, knowledgeable cook, but with time and experience, you’ll get better. No one is a great cook on day one!
The more frequently you cook, the better you’ll get. Learning new techniques and practicing frequently makes you a better cook. Let’s say you cook brown rice a few times a week; next time, try making Basmati rice instead! Varying your menus and experimenting with recipes will help broaden your culinary horizons.
We hope these cooking tips from professional chefs help you release your inner chef so you can thrill and amaze your dinner guests next time you throw a party!