15 Common Cooking Mistakes & How To Fix Them!

common cooking mistakes

I should probably more accurately have called this post “MY 15 Most Common Cooking Mistakes” because I am guilty of ALL of them! :-)  I have actually made a couple of DOOZIES lately which have shaken my self-confidence in the kitchen a little bit. But since one of my mottos is “Never Give Up!”, I guess I need to get over these kitchen goofs and move on.

I ran across this article by Cooking Light with 50 of the most common cooking mistakes that people make overall and I could relate to almost all of them, but these are the ones that I personally am most guilty of! (Keep in mind…the word “You” in these headings is ME referring to ME.)  :-)


common cooking mistakes

You don’t read the entire recipe before you start cooking.

OR you think you KNOW the recipe so well you don’t actually need to LOOK at it. I did this just yesterday! We were out of my Honey Butter Ambrosia and I started to panic a little bit. :-) (I’m telling you…that stuff is addicting!) So since I had all 3 ingredients on hand…I decided to whip up a quick batch. Then last night when I went to make my evening snack of toast and honey butter ambrosia I realized I’d done something wrong. It wasn’t the sweet nectar I was used to. As I thought about it I realized that the “3 ingredients I had on hand” should have been FOUR ingredients. I had forgotten the 1 cup of sugar. ugh. So tonight I made another batch. Waste of ingredients…but absolutely necessary.  :-)

A wise cook reads the recipe well before it’s time to cook. (I’m afraid the chances of me becoming “a wise cook” are pretty remote, so I’m not sure this advice applies to me.)


common cooking mistakes

You over-soften butter.

I do this all the time! When will I ever learn?? I figure just a few seconds in the microwave will be just fine. But with butter, just a few seconds is all it takes to make even COLD butter into MELTED butter.

Too-soft butter means your cookie dough will be more like batter, and it will spread too much as it bakes and lose shape. Butter that’s too soft also won’t cream properly with sugar, and creaming is essential to creating fluffy, tender cakes.

Better to let it stand at room temperature for 30 to 45 minutes to get the right consistency. You can speed the process by cutting it into tablespoon-sized pieces.


common cooking mistakes

You’re too casual about measuring ingredients.

I am notorious for scooping flour or whatever into a measuring cup and just eye-balling wheather it’s the right amount. You are SUPPOSED to lightly spoon flour into the correct sized dry measuring cup, then level with a knife. “Lightly spoon” means don’t pack it in. OK…lesson learned.


common cooking mistakes

You overcrowd the pan.

Once again, guilty! It seems I’m always in a hurry when I’m cooking and I’m usually cooking for lots of hungry boys/men. :-)  So I will throw too much chicken or ground beef in a pan to cook altogether and it always results it too much liquid…or a soggy mess. You never end up getting that nice caramelization (or crusty, brown bits) you’re looking for.

Leave breathing room in the pan, and you’ll get much better results. If you need to speed things up, use two pans at once.


common cooking mistakes

You turn the food too often.

This is where my impatience is my undoing! But it’s just SO tempting to turn, poke, and flip! Problem is when you DO that, things like breaded chicken or steak won’t develop a nice crust.

One sign that it’s too early to turn: You can’t slide a spatula cleanly under the crust. It’ll release from the pan when it’s ready.

Easier said than done! :-)


common cooking mistakes

You don’t get the pan hot enough before you add the food.

You mean you’re supposed to PREHEAT the pan??? :-)  Once again….terrible at this one! Once again…always in too big of a hurry!

A hot pan is essential for sautéing veggies or creating a great crust on meat, fish, and poultry. It also helps prevent food from sticking. (As long as you don’t turn it too often!)  :-)


common cooking mistakes

Meat gets no chance to rest after cooking.

Hmmmm….I’m beginning to see a pattern emerging in all my kitchen mistakes!  In a hurry…too impatient! I think I need to re-examine my cooking values. :-)

When you roast, grill, sear, or sauté meat…you need to give it time to rest at room temperature after it’s taken off the heat. That cooling-off time helps the juices, which move to the center of the meat when cooking, to be redistributed.

With small cuts like a steak or boneless, skinless chicken breasts, five minutes is adequate. A whole bird or standing rib roast requires 20 to 30 minutes. Tent the meat with foil to keep it warm.


common cooking mistakes

You don’t shock vegetables when they’ve reached the desired texture.

That’s sounds a bit violent doesn’t it? I actually NEVER do this. No wonder my veggies are always on the mushy side.

After cooking vegetables in boiling water for three to seven minutes, if you don’t “shock” them by plunging them into ice water (or at least rinsing under cold running water) to stop the cooking process, the carryover heat will continue to cook them to the point that they turn mushy.


common cooking mistakes

You pop meat straight from the fridge into the oven or onto the grill.

Yep…another “in a hurry, impatient” blunder I’m guilty of. Combine that with the fact that I can never REMEMBER to take the meat out early enough to let it come up to room temperature and I almost ALWAYS get his one wrong!

A roast that goes into the oven refrigerator-cold will likely yield a piece of meat that is overcooked on the outside and undercooked at the center.

Meats will cook much more evenly if you allow them to stand at room temperature for 15 to 30 minutes (depending on the size of the cut) to take the chill off.  I guess I need to start setting an alarm on my phone for this. :-)


common cooking mistakes

You Incinerate Chicken on the Grill

I never have figured out how NOT to do this….so I usually avoid cooking chicken on the grill. Period.

But apparently to achieve grilled chicken with crispy, brown skin and juicy meat, it’s all about learning to manipulate the heat.

First, establish two temperature zones: Set one side of a gas grill to medium-high and the other to low, or build a fire on one side of a charcoal grill. Start the chicken skin-side up on the low- or no-heat side, and cover the grill. After a few minutes, when the chicken fat starts to render, flip the meat, skin-side down. Point the breasts’ thicker ends toward the hot side to help them cook evenly. Cover and grill for about 25 minutes. When the meat is done (165° at the thickest part of the breast), crisp the skin on the hot side for a minute or two, moving it as needed to avoid flare-ups. Wait until the last few minutes to brush on barbecue sauce: The sugars in the sauce will char quickly.


common cooking mistakes

Your Rice Gets Gummy

Unfortunately my rice is either one of two extremes….under-cooked or over-cooked!  Who knew that the solution was SO SIMPLE!

The solution is USE MORE WATER. Basically cook the rice like pasta until it reaches the proper consistency, then drain. The pasta method keeps rice from rubbing together too much as it cooks; draining ensures it won’t suck up more water than it needs. GENIUS!


common cooking mistakes

Pancakes Overdone On The Outside, Underdone On The Inside

Inevitably when I am cooking pancakes, I end up throwing out at least the first two or three because of this! Little did I know…this is not a heat problem or a batter problem: It’s a pan-prepping problem.

Don’t pour oil directly into the pan. Hot oil will spread, pooling in some areas, leaving other parts dry.

Heat a skillet (any variety) over medium heat, then grasp a wadded paper towel with tongs and douse it with 1 tablespoon canola oil. Brush the pan with the soaked towel.

Add batter, flipping only when bubbles form on the surface of each pancake, about two to three minutes. Resist the urge to peek, (once again, EASIER SAID THAN DONE!) which breaks the seal between the pan and the batter; that seal is what ensures even cooking. Swab the pan with the oiled paper towel between batches to keep it properly greased.  Definitely trying this next time I make flapjacks!


common cooking mistakes

Your Fish Sticks to the Grill

Another thing (along with chicken) that I usually just avoid even TRYING to cook on the grill because of sticking issues! There is nothing more frustrating than losing an entire piece of expensive fish because it breaks into little pieces when you try to flip it and falls through the rack!

First of all make sure you’re buying a FIRMER fish when attempting to grill it. Skip delicate, flaky fish like tilapia, cod, or flounder, and go with salmon, tuna, or swordfish.

Second, you need to prep the grill. Set the rack over a hot fire for five minutes to burn away debris, then scrub thoroughly with a grill brush. Carefully lift the rack and coat with cooking spray. Don’t spray into the fire. Let the fillets cook undisturbed for a few minutes. When they’re ready to flip, they’ll release cleanly.


common cooking mistakes

You put all the salt in the marinade or breading.

I am guilty of this by default because I had never even heard of this one!

Chicken marinating in citrus juice and salt will only absorb a tiny amount of the marinade. When you toss out the marinade, you also toss out most of the salt and its seasoning effect.

It’s better to use a little salt in the marinade, then directly sprinkle the majority of the salt on the chicken after it comes out of the marinade. The same goes for breaded items. Sprinkle salt directly on the food and then coat it with the breading.


common cooking mistakes

Your Thawed Berries are a Mushy Mess

This one has got to be one of my biggest kitchen pet peeves! I have never thawed berries without ending up with a mushy mess on my hands.

I like to buy blueberries when they are on sale and put them in a plastic bag in the freezer until I have a craving for blueberry pancakes, or something else blueberry-y. But apparently I’m doing it all wrong!

When you throw all the berries in there together, it takes them longer to freeze, which results in larger ice crystals. These big ice crystals destroy the cell walls inside the food, so when it thaws, it loses structural integrity and turns mushy. Big frozen-food companies use special equipment to flash-freeze berries individually

To do this method at home, spread berries in a single layer (not touching) on a baking sheet, and place the sheet in the back of your freezer. The extra space allows more exposure to the cold, freezing the fruit faster and preventing it from clumping. THEN transfer frozen berries to plastic bags.

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Hopefully we have all learned something here today…..if nothing else…..that we’re not alone when it comes to kitchen bloopers, boo-boos and blunders!

What’s your “best” kitchen calamity?

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  1. judi says

    Guilty, Guilty, guilty as charged….not those 15, but I could come up atleast another 20….

  2. Lily says

    Grate butter when you don’t have time to let it come to room temp. Just remember you’re not making laundry soap…. =)

  3. Robin Mahon says

    HAHAHA….I am guilty of every one of those mistakes! I don’t cook often because I always mess something up. Love your blog, Jill! I read it first thing every morning.

  4. Debbie says

    some of these I am guilty of also……….never heard of the veggie plunge one. thanks think we should form a club……..hee hee

  5. Alex says

    I was recently given a copy of ‘The Science of Good Cooking’ by Cooks Illustrated. They explain the hows and whys of most of these concepts and more. They also provide excellent recipes to demonstrate each of their concepts. I highly recommend it for novices and more advanced cooks.

  6. silverdust says

    The “putting salt directly on meat” one gets me. I used to do that until a cooking magazine advised that salt drew the juices OUT of the meat while it cooked! I’m so confused…

    • says

      Salt DOES in fact draw liquids out of meat. I think it’s a catch 22, but most chefs mention that salt will draw the liquid out of meat and dry it out.

    • says

      I’m no expert, but what I understand is that yes, salt does in fact draw juices out, BUT – that’s what creates the lovely crust when you brown meat, etc. The juices are drawn out and carmelized. Like I said, not an expert, but that seems to be what happens. If you put tons of salt on the meat, i’m sure it would dry it out (that’s how salt-curing happens), but a normal amount just before cooking would most likely be fine, in my experience.

      • Carol says

        All this drawing out is dragging out. If you watching your salt intake (as we all should ne) the salt should be added as soon as coming is complete, you get all the flavor without using as much thus lowering your sodium intake ;) always a good thing

    • Julee Tishma says

      I have tried it both ways – salting before broiling and salting after. I like the salting before much, much better.
      Sometimes when you read these tips, you have to try them for yourself.

  7. Lisa says

    It’s like you were writing this for me! Too funny! Thanks so much for your blog really enjoy it.

  8. Rebekah says

    I have on at least ten different occasions forgotten to put the noodles in the pot when making spaghetti! I get so focused on the sauce! But I’m guilty of flipping my flapjacks and everything else too early.
    Cheers to practicing patience!

  9. Christine says

    First, I LOVE your blog. Thank you for inspiring me. And, secondly, have you been in my kitchen watching all of my cooking mistakes? This post could have been titled, “Christine’s Cooking Mistakes.” I plan to use your tips to become a better cook, and my family will thank you.