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11 Rookie Mistakes You Make In The Kitchen (And The Easy Fixes)

Common Cooking Mistakes

Even though I have a LOT of cooking experience at this point, I don’t consider myself an expert by any means. My efforts in the kitchen have always centered on getting food on the table rather than developing my technique or skill.

I used to think that as long as my family and I enjoyed eating what I cooked, it didn’t really matter how I did things in the kitchen. But it wasn’t until I learned that some of my amateurish cooking habits were making my job harder in the kitchen that I realized it’s worth taking the time to learn the right way to do things!

It turns out that even learning a few simple principles about cooking can not only improve the taste of your food, but make the work of cooking easier too! I may not be trying to win any Michelin stars, but I am always interested in tips that can make my daily life easier. :-)

And I already know how much you appreciate those sorts of tips too, so today I’ll be sharing some common cooking mistakes with simple tips for fixing them. After making a few easy tweaks to your cooking habits, you’ll be surprised at just how simple and enjoyable cooking can really be!

Related: 7 Of The Most Common Mistakes People Make With Pasta

11 Common Cooking Mistakes And How To Fix Them

Common Cooking Mistakes

1. You Don’t Read The Recipe

When you’re excited about a new recipe, it can be tempting to dive in and make it right now. But being hasty with a new recipe is an easy way to make mistakes!

Instead, take the time to read the whole recipe from start to finish at least once (or better yet, twice) before getting started. Having an idea of when to add certain ingredients and the pacing of each step will make it much easier to succeed on the first try!

Related: 7 Devastating Mistakes You Must Avoid For Better Bacon

Common Cooking Mistakes

2. You Over-Soften Butter

Recipes for cakes and cookies often call for softened butter, but what does that really mean? Ideally, you should be able to leave a dent in softened butter when you press on it with your finger, but it should still hold its shape.

If you press on it and it doesn’t hold it’s shape, it’s likely over-softened and may produce flat cookies and tough cakes. Instead, let cold butter sit out on your countertop for 30-45 minutes before using it to achieve the right amount of softening.

Related: The One Thing You Should Never Do After Cooking

Common Cooking Mistakes

3. You Don’t Measure Accurately

Haphazard measurements may may get the job done when you’re cooking, but it’s not a good practice when baking! I always used to use my measuring cup to scoop out flour before leveling it off, but I recently learned that this method almost always yields more flour than you really want.

The best way to measure out flour—or the next best way after weighing it on a scale—is to lightly spoon it into your measuring cup, then use a knife or other flat object to level the surface. (The operative word here is “lightly,” meaning you don’t want to pack it in!)

Related:  Overcooked The Meat? How To Salvage It And Save The Day

Common Cooking Mistakes

4. You Overcrowd The Pan

I’m a pretty impatient cook, so I like to get everything in the pan at once whenever possible. But this can overcrowd the pan and make it much harder to achieve a nice crust or caramelization on the exterior of your food!

It’s better to split the amount in half and cook it in two smaller batches (or in two pans at once if you’re feeling ambitious). Either way, the improved air movement and heat distribution will yield more delicious results!

Common Cooking Mistakes

5. You Turn Too Often

Another symptom of my impatience in the kitchen is that I often struggle to leave food alone while it cooks! I feel the need to turn, poke, and flip food more often than necessary, which makes it almost impossible to achieve a nice golden crust on something.

Now I try my best to leave the food alone so it can do its thing, and I only flip it once I can easily slide a spatula underneath. That means the food has released from the pan, which is a good sign that it’s ready to flip!

Common Cooking Mistakes

6. Your Pan Isn’t Hot Enough

If you aren’t giving your pans enough time to heat up on your stovetop, you could be doing a disservice to your food. If your pan isn’t hot enough, the food can start to soak up the oil or butter you put in the pan, making it unpleasantly oily and reducing your chances of achieving a good sear, crust, or caramelization.

Instead, put your fat in the pan and let it heat up for a few minutes. To test the temperature, drop a small piece of whatever you’ll be cooking into the pan. If the food starts to sizzle right away, the pan is hot enough to start cooking!

Common Cooking Mistakes

7. You Don’t Let Meat Rest

Whenever you roast, grill, sear, or sauté meat, you need to give it a few minutes to “rest” before cutting it. If you don’t, all of the moisture inside the meat (which moves toward the center as it cooks) will leak right out onto your cutting board when you cut into it.

Resting meat allows time for the moisture to be reabsorbed and redistributed so that the meat stays nice and juicy when you cut it. Rest small cuts of meat like chicken breasts and steaks for about 5-10 minutes before cutting, and rest larger items like whole birds and roasts for 20-30 minutes (with a foil “tent” over them to help keep them warm).

8. You Forget About Carryover Cooking

“Carryover cooking” refers to the way the residual heat inside your food continues to cook it, even after you’ve removed it from the cooking surface. Carryover cooking usually only lasts for a few minutes, but it can make or break certain foods—especially when they’re as delicate as fresh veggies!

If you take boiled or steamed veggies out of the pot when they taste perfectly done, you can stop carryover cooking from ruining them by dunking them into a bowl of ice water. The “shock” from the ice water will stop the cooking process in its tracks, and your perfectly crisp-tender veggies will stay that way instead of becoming a mushy mess.

Common Cooking Mistakes

9. You Cook Meat Straight From The Fridge

One of the most basic food safety practices is to keep raw meat cold, which many of us have taken to mean we shouldn’t take meat out of the fridge until the moment we’re ready to cook it. But in reality, throwing a fresh-from-the-fridge steak on your grill is likely to result in a steak that’s overcooked on the outside and an undercooked on the inside. Bummer!

Instead, you should take your meat out of the fridge about 15-30 minutes before cooking to let it warm up a bit. It’s enough time to get the chill off, but not so long that you have to worry about the food temperature “danger zone.”

Common Cooking Mistakes

10. You Don’t Rinse Grains

Most dry grains (like rice, quinoa, farro, etc.) are coated in a starchy powder that formed as the grains rubbed against each other during the packaging and shipping process. And once that starchy powder meets liquid, it can turn your grains into a sticky, goopy mess!

To avoid this issue, put your uncooked grains into a fine mesh sieve and rinse them well with cold water. The rinse will remove the starchy powder, so you end up with fluffy, perfectly cooked grains.

Related: This One Added Ingredient Makes The Best Rice Ever

Common Cooking Mistakes

11. You Only Season Your Marinade/Breading

When it comes to adding flavor to meat, you should consider salt and pepper as a separate element from marinades and other flavorful coatings. If you only use salt and pepper in your marinade or breading mixture, most of the impact of the seasoning will be lost during cooking. Instead, add salt and pepper to meat after marinating it (but before breading it.)

Have you ever learned a kitchen skill or technique that made cooking easier for you?

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Jill Nystul (aka Jillee)

Jill Nystul is an accomplished writer and author who founded the blog One Good Thing by Jillee in 2011. With over 30 years of experience in homemaking, she has become a trusted resource for contemporary homemakers by offering practical solutions to everyday household challenges.I share creative homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make your life easier and more enjoyable!

About Jillee

Jill Nystul

Jill’s 30 years of homemaking experience, make her the trusted source for practical household solutions.

About Jillee

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Food & Recipes

  • Really great post, Jillee…and so fun to pick up all this knowledge! I am SO guilty of the meat stuff! There are a few things that I was taught differently, though. I make some phenomenal cheesecakes (if I do say so myself!!), and generally, the butter has to sit some out of the fridge the night before or all day. At least that is what a professional told me. Also, with the flour…I was told to spoon your flour gently into your appropriate dry-measuring cup and then level it off with a straight edge. Maybe this is only the rule of thumb for cheesecakes, I don’t know. The only ingredient that you do not level is brown sugar. I have considered buying a kitchen scale for a long time. Maybe I should and see if there is a huge difference? Anyway, thanks and happy cooking to all!!

  • How about no salt or pepper. I can’t have salt and I have never liked black pepper. Now if I need pepper in a recipe I use a mixture of pepper corns that I grind when needed.

  • For your fry pan heat it befor you add Any oil etc and stainless steel will be basically non stick when you add the oil , if you notice on cooking shows they always heat their pans before adding oil/ butter .

    • When you can, yes! Otherwise, just be sure to remember that the veggies will continue to cook as they sit around being warm. So cook them a little less than you would have :-)

    • If you can (for a salad), then yes! If it’s a relatively small item (like peas), then it can be mixed into other warm food (added to a casserole or soup) and will be just fine! Otherwise, just keep carryover cooking in mind, and cook veggies a little less than you would have :-)

  • Regarding #3, measuring flour – when measuring flour for cookies, for example, do you stir up your flour before you spoon it into your measuring cup? Wouldn’t that be similar to sifting, which would loosen the flour? That must throw off the portion somehow. Maybe that’s why my cookies flatten?

  • I would like to suggest an alternative method to # 10. I start my rice with no water at all, just a little bit of warmed oil or butter (depends on what I’m making) on the bottom of the pan. I pour the measured rice in the pot and stir until every grain is coated and glistening. The grains will stay separate after this, and now it is time to pour in the measured liquid, whether water or bouillon (I also love Better-than-bouillon brand). You will have delicious rice without losing the “enriched” part.

    “White rice that has been coated with nutrients, such as iron, niacin, thiamine, and folic acid, which were lost when the rice was initially processed. Despite replacing some of the vitamins and protein, enriched rice is not as nutritious as whole grain brown rice. When preparing enriched rice, the added nutrients can be preserved by not rinsing the rice either before or after cooking. It is also beneficial to not cook the rice in large quantities of water, but to use only enough water that will be readily absorbed.”
    https://www.recipetips.com/glossary-term/t–35564/enriched-rice.asp

    When I cook white rice for a side dish, I start by sautéing onions in oil or butter. When the onion is translucent (the secret is not too much heat, I set my burner to medium low)I add the rice, I use two cups of rice to 3 3/4 cups boiling water, cover and set the timer to 17 minutes. When the bell rings, I have perfectly cooked rice and no liquid left in the pot. All that’s left is fluff it and serve it.

  • Great post, Jillee. I am guilty of over-flipping my meat but I won’t anymore, thanks to your tip. As for baking, I highly recommend investing in a kitchen scale, which I did several years ago when I started baking gluten-free. There are charts online showing conversion amounts. Weighing vs scooping will assure you are using the correct amount of dry ingredients, which can make or break a recipe.

  • According to King Arthur Flour the only way to accurately measure ingredients is to weigh them. They have a master list of what everything weighs on their website. I’ve been weighing my ingredients for years. Not only has failed recipes been eliminated it saves on dishes.

  • Hi Jillie these are awesome hints, What are you to do when you have a demanding husband that believes everything should come off the heat at the same time ? He wants his food HOT he will even turn off the ceiling fan in the living room so it doesn’t cool his food !!!! To help me i have mastered the art of getting it all together at the same time and have even heated his empty plate in the microwave so hot food is going on a hot plate ..Tenting is hard but I do try …Thanks for listening

    • What are you to do when you have a demanding husband that believes everything should come off the heat at the same time ? Well, you have HIM do the cooking for a few weeks, and see how easy it is (or not…)!!!

    • You could keep an ice chest in the kitchen to keep things warm! For example, make the mashed potatoes first, put them in a bowl with a tight lid, and put them inside an ice chest until dinner is ready – they’ll stay nice and warm! Good luck Penny :-)

    • Penny, you know what you do? You get a new husband! Unless your husband lives under a rock he should know that women aren’t slaves, but a partner in love and life. In fact, he COULD/should be right in there helping you out! I would love to know how many children you have, what your husband does for a living, if you work outside the home, etc, and then I would LOVE to sit down and have a long talk with your husband. Not meaning to sound rude or mean but my heart really goes out to you, my dear…and now I am ready for all the hate mail! God bless you, Penny…:-)

  • Hi Jillee,
    I love reading your tips.
    Just a couple of extra points
    In Europe a Chef is someone who has either trained under a Chef to gain their experience, studied at college or (more usually these days) both; where as the term Cook is used for the person who makes meals at home.
    When pan frying/searing fish/chicken/steaks etc the side that goes in the pan first is the side that is uppermost when serving. Say for example you have a fillet of fish, skin on but sliced into for presentation, this side would go into the pan first as it will look better and sear better because the oil or butter and the pan will be the perfect temperature when it goes in the pan (same when using grill bars for steaks etc
    Be careful when heating up non-stick pans, read manufacturer’s instructions as some coatings do not withstand being heated up too much before cooking begins.
    If you are baking bread or other yeast goods, it helps the yeast develop if the four and bowl are warm too (no more than 36°C) this means the yeast is not using it’s energy to heat the flour and bowl before it can expand.
    Regards,
    Michelle x

    • I grew up in Finland and I was taught by my grandmother and mother and home ec teacher to warm the liquid for a yeast dough to 38 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit). That way you don’t have to worry about the temperatures of anything else.

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