Not pre-heating your pan
Pre-heating a pan is usually the first step in any written recipe, and it’s not just there to waste paper! You can save yourself about five minutes of waiting by pre-heating a pan, during which time you can get chopping. If you’re worried about how long it takes you to prep, we’ll be covering some handy tips later on.
Over-kneading your dough
Anybody not making their own dough needs to start right now. It’s the oldest recipe, wet stuff, and flour, and it’s incredibly rewarding considering how basic it is. Experienced bakers will be familiar with overworked bread, it’s tough and chewy in an unpleasant way and loses it’s raising power.
Adding dairy to a slow cooker too early
Slow cookers have revolutionized the soup-making game, but there are still some tricky ins and outs you have to remember. Dairy is an excellent thickener for a lot of dishes, but you should be adding it at the very end. High heat will split the milk fats and solids, causing a greasy and grainy texture.
Cooking meat from frozen
You’re always going to get the best results by waiting for fresh/frozen meat to defrost before cooking. Often frozen protein like chicken breast can take a while to heat through, leaving the outside tough and overcooked. The rapid melting is also going to steam and sog everything up! Defrost in the fridge to keep food preserved while it thaws.
Trying to roast wet vegetables
This is a similar issue to cooking frozen ingredients, which is water. Water gets in the way of browning and crisping, which is the entire reason you’re roasting stuff in the first place. Wet vegetables are fine in sauces where a bit of extra moisture is no big deal, but it only gets in the way when you’re dealing with dry heat.
Not measuring while baking
When people say baking is more like a science than an art, they mean it. There are mountains of research that go into things like boxed cake flour mixes alone about the ideal ratios of flour and fats and sugars. You’ll never be able to get that specific at home but trust that when a recipe says two cups of flour, it isn’t just lying to you.
Not understanding how to cook with wine
Anything that has an air of high-class pretension to it usually leads to people making up arbitrary rules about how to “properly” enjoy it. You may have heard “If you wouldn’t drink it, don’t cook with it” and unfortunately, it’s pure nonsense. Food doesn’t have to taste drinkable, and there are other flavors in there besides wine. Just trust your tongue!
Cooking a steak straight out of the packet
Moisture is also an issue here since you want your steak to have a nice crust no matter how it’s cooked. A great way to make that happen is patting the steak down with a paper towel, and then seasoning with salt and pepper before it hits the heat. A thicker steak may lower heat to avoid burning, and gradual flipping to build the browning.
Not resting your steak
This is an equally important step in the steak process. Even thinner strip steaks need a little rest, both to continue cooking through residual heat and so you can harvest all the delicious drippings for your pan sauce. The fact it makes the dish better in a bunch of ways makes it worth taking the extra bit of time.
Never use fresh herbs
We all get plenty of use out of the spice rack we got for Christmas four years ago, but the dry stuff can’t always compete. Fresh herbs pack a lot more punch, color, and texture, and if you’re crafty they’re pretty easy to grow yourself! Some recipes benefit from a burst of freshness in a way the dry leaves just can’t deliver.
Not seasoning and tasting as you go
Seasoning at the end of the cooking process means that they won’t have a chance to develop into more complex flavors by mingling with everything else! It also gives you a chance to correct if there’s anything wrong, so remember your seasoning triangle (salt, acid, sweetness) and keep your palette active while you cook.
Letting your pasta sit too long before stirring
Clumpy noodles aren’t going to ruin your dish or anything, but believe it or not, the Italians are serious about this stuff. The shapes are paired with sauces quite intentionally, and you want spaghetti all long, separate, and soaked in sauce. Experts say you should stir your pasta within the first two minutes of cooking, instead of waiting until you see clumps forming.
Adding oil to pasta water
There are all kinds of rumors surrounding how you boil pasta properly, which is to be expected when it’s such a staple ingredient and often taught about by family. Oil will stop the pasta from sticking together, but it also adheres to pasta’s surprisingly rough surface, so instead of a mouthful of ragu you’re eating oily pasta with a light tomato coating.
Overcrowding your pan
Some people have a great eye for quantity and scale, but a lot of us are just really hungry. It’s natural to want to cook too much so you have some leftovers, but it’s better to have some delicious food than lots of mediocre food. The heat isn’t going to get much direct contact with ingredients in an overcrowded pan, causing uneven cooking.
Throwing bacon in a hot pan
One of the best things about bacon is its fat content and not just the taste of it. You don’t need to preheat a pan for bacon, throw it in cold and dry, then sob tears of joy when you notice that the fat melts at a low temperature, and the bacon fries in its own perfect amount rendered golden glory.
Not making stock
There is no way to live an ethical and respectful life that doesn’t involve making a stock out of your leftovers once and a while. Food waste is a massive issue and we’re all heathens, and all we need to do is use a pot of water instead of a bin to find salvation. Animal bones, vegetable ends, aging herbs – stock accepts all.
Pouring oil down the drain
Disposing of spent oil is one of the worst jobs involved in a personal or professional kitchen, but it has to be done properly or everybody is going to suffer. It’s going to clog something, somewhere. It could be your drain or the pipes across the street, but there is a fatberg out there just waiting for your tribute to grow stronger.
Not checking your chicken breast
Store-bought chicken breasts can be a mixed bag, sometimes they’re plumped up by water that pours out while cooking, and other times they’re not so fresh. Companies have been caught selling low-sodium breasts that had four times the sodium because they were pumped with saline. Give brands a Google, and look for the pinkest breasts you can.
Not tenderizing your meat
Plenty of people have a spikey hammer lying around but aren’t entirely sure when to whip it out. You can tenderize chicken breasts, which is useful to flatten them out in general for chicken-fried steak or schnitzel. For beef, tougher and cheaper cuts of steak like the flank and cheek could generally do with softening up if you want to eat them as a steak.
Rinsing your meat
This is quite an old-school practice, but a lot of people have held onto the idea that washing meat is just a part of the process. Rinsing raw chicken for example doesn’t get rid of anything that cooking wouldn’t also kill, and you’re just splashing raw chicken juice everywhere. Even using a bowl is shown to be less safe than just cooking it.
Flipping meat before it’s ready
This applies to both the grill and the stove, but it’s extra important to nail it on the former. The initial crust that forms on that first side is going to hold everything together while you’re flipping, otherwise, there will to much moisture moving around and you risk losing your hard-formed (by Costco) patties.
Only frying your bacon
It is generally quicker and easier to fry a few slices of bacon in a pan, but if you’ve got a couple of hungry guests waiting it’s a great time to try the oven method. You get super-even cooking and avoid a lot of greasy splatters, and it’s much easier to cook in bulk. It’s also excellent for caramelizing a glaze.
Buying pre-shredded cheese
Big Cheddar has once again taken advantage of our love for dairy, and increasingly short attention spans. Nobody likes grating cheese, it sucks, but the bagged stuff is laughably more expensive considering how much you get. They’re also coated in starches to stop clumping, but that means it doesn’t melt properly, and that’s the whole point.
Using metal tools on non-stick pans
Non-stick Teflon pans are their own bag of worms to unpack, but you shouldn’t complicate the issue by scrapping a steel spatula across them. The non-stick coating is applied in layers to the base of the pan, so repeated friction from a metal utensil is going to eat away at it, and you don’t need more micro-plastics in your diet.
Cracking your eggs on the pan
While it makes sense at the moment and feels very cool to do, you run a bigger risk of the egg spilling or bits of shell shooting inside. Not only can this split your beautiful sunny yolk, but they’ll also be tiny and hard to fish out. Flat surfaces in general are better for cracking eggs and contain any mess away from heat.
Tossing your wilting herbs
There’s a reason so many companies add herby varieties of their flavors because herbs preserve really well! Any fresh parsley or sage you have lying around can easily be combined with something like an oil, for an instant fresh burst to eggs or salads. Or try a compound butter! They’ll all freeze excellently too.
Not preparing in advance
Meal prep doesn’t mean chicken, rice and broccoli five nights a week. It’s just about planning your shopping around the week’s dishes to save you a ton of time and money. Find veg that can be used in different ways, portion out protein between two different days then pack them out with beans and spices.
Not adding salt to your coffee
This trick was given to the world by Alton Brown and is well worth a try even if you’re not huge on coffee. Salt goes with basically anything, and we perceive taste differently depending on the temperature, so this is closer to science than witchcraft. It can round out the bitter notes in a hot coffee, and always, always enhances caramel.
Not taking advantage of mayonnaise
As crazy as it sounds, mayonnaise is underutilized by a lot of people. When you think about its basic ingredients, eggs and fat, suddenly you realize how many things it can be used for. You can make doughs with mayonnaise, add it to a glaze, or spread it over a grilled cheese, you could even make a cake with it in a pinch.
Keeping ground coffee beans open
If you’ve ditched the pre-ground stuff and either bought one yourself or used the one at the store, don’t waste all that effort by letting them go stale. Like a lot of fragrant produce, coffee oxidizes over time and loses a lot of its punch. If you’re big into coffee, you’re in it for the subtle notes, and they all get dulled by exposure.
Not pre-heating your oven
This is even more important than pre-heating the pan, as domestic ovens are temperamental creatures. The settings are more like rough guesses at how hot 25% of the oven will be, and when you open it up it loses heat fast. Giving your oven a good 15 minutes to come up to an even temperature helps put the odds in your favor.
Not using pot lids
Until they make an easy way to store pots and lids together, this is going to keep happening. A lot of foods, like rice and stews, need a lid to trap in steam for cooking and moisture. It also makes the water boil faster, and with the price of energy, those aren’t pennies you want to throw away because you forgot which cabinet it’s in.
Storing all your fruit and veg together
Even though your bananas are just sitting there like a Bonnard still-life painting, a lot is going on there down in the molecular word. As they continue to process starches into sugars they release gasses that can affect each other, speeding up decomposition of surrounding produce. Anything you keep for a while, like onions and potatoes, store separately.
Not reading your recipe through to the end
It’s generally a good idea to have the rough steps blocked out in your head, but you should certainly know how the story is supposed to end so you don’t derail the entire thing. There isn’t a standard format for them anyway, and halfway through it shows you a sub-recipe you were supposed to be doing while the pot simmered 20 minutes ago.
Working with a dull knife
Dull knives are far more dangerous for you than blunt ones, which can cause all kinds of slipping around instead of biting into your food. Most recipes require a knife for something and it can get you surprisingly far just on its own! So it’s worth investing in a decent one and some form of sharpener, and taking things slow and safe.
Burning garlic and spices
Anything you burn at the start of a dish is worth throwing away, you’re only building on scorched foundations. That acrid taste will run through the entire dish, so it’s best to start fresh and keep an eye on them. Garlic burns quickly because of its high sugar content, so you want it to be the last thing that gets direct heat.
Not washing vegetables
Unlike chicken, these do need a good rinse. Some vegetables like leeks grow in almost sand-like soil, which gets between all the folds and leaves. It’s not dangerous to eat soil, but it doesn’t bring a nice texture so it’s best to avoid it. Mushrooms are also notoriously sandy, but it’s the same deal, just give them a little shower.
Adding everything into the pot at once
Even a one-pot slow-cooked meal needs layers and it’s simple if you have a little bit of time. You make a much nicer dish by giving everything its own time to get going, and if you can sear off the meat first even better. Building up from the onions and carrots, then the garlic, any alcohols, and finally the stock.
Not washing your hands enough
When it comes to common foodborne illness illnesses, the most common culprits aren’t invading tropical diseases or undercooked food. Instead, it’s the classic fecal-oral route, which is disgusting and just one good reason for people to keep washing their hands like it’s 2021. Be sensible, you know where your hands have been.
You can’t get the lumps out of your gravy
Any sauce that starts with a roux is pretty simple to make lump-free, it just takes patience. A pan-appropriate whisk is pretty handy for constant stirring since you don’t want anything to catch. The milk goes in little by little at first, and make sure it’s fully incorporated into the paste. Once it becomes more sauce-like, you can add more at a time.