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 around getting things done and on the table, with relatively little focus on technique or skill. I know I’m not a perfect chef, but as long as my family and I enjoy eating what I cook, that’s good enough for me! At least that’s what I used to think, until I realized that the mistakes I was making in the kitchen were actually making things harder than they need to be.
It turns out that learning a few simple principles about cooking can not only improve the taste of your food, but make your work in the kitchen easier in the process! And while I’m not trying to win any Michelin stars, I am always interested in tips that can help make my life easier. And I already know you guys appreciate good tips too, so today I’ll talking about some common cooking mistakes we all make, and giving simple tips on how to fix them! After making a few tweaks to your cooking habits, I think you’ll be surprised at just how simple and enjoyable cooking can really be!
11 Common Cooking Mistakes And How To Fix Them
1. You Don’t Read The Recipe
When you’re excited about a new recipe, it can be tempting to dive right in. But being hasty with a new recipe is an easy way to make mistakes! It’s better to read the whole recipe once or twice before getting started. You’ll be more familiar with which ingredients go where, and the pacing of the process. And you’ll be much more likely to get it right the first time!
2. You Over-Soften Butter
Recipes for cakes and cookies often call for softened butter, but what does that really mean? You should be able to leave a dent when you press on it with your finger, but it should still hold its shape. If it doesn’t hold it’s shape, it is likely over-softened, and using it could to lead to overly spread cookies or tough cakes. Instead, let cold butter sit out on your countertop for 30-45 minutes before baking to get the right amount of softening.
3. You Don’t Measure Accurately
Eyeballing ingredient amounts may work in some instances, but it’s not a good practice for baking! For instance, I typically just scoop flour into my measuring cup and level it off, but this can actually give you more flour than you want. You’re actually supposed to lightly spoon flour into the measuring cup, then use a knife to level the surface. The operative word is “lightly,” meaning you shouldn’t pack it in!
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 lead to overcrowding in the pan, which makes it much harder to achieve a nice crust or caramelization on the exterior of your food. It’s better to cook two smaller batches, because it will allow for more air flow and better heat distribution. (Or if you’re in a hurry, you could also use two pans at once!)
5. You Turn Too Often
Another symptom of my impatience in the kitchen is my inability to leave food alone while it cooks! I have this need to turn, poke, and flip food more often than necessary. But like overcrowding the pan, turning food too often can prevent a nice golden crust from forming! So just let your food do its thing, and wait until you can easily slide a spatula underneath. That means it has released from the pan, signaling that it’s ready to flip!
6. Your Pan Isn’t Hot Enough
Are you giving your pans enough time to heat up on your stovetop? If not, you could be doing a disservice to your food. If your pan isn’t hot enough, the food you’re cooking will just soak up the oil or butter you put in the pan, making it oily and preventing a good sear, crust, or caramelization. Instead, put your fat in the pan and let it heat up for a few minutes. Test for temperature by dropping a tiny piece of whatever you’ll be cooking into the pan. You’ll know it’s hot enough for cooking if the food starts to sizzle right away!
7. You Don’t Let Meat Rest
Whenever you roast, grill, sear, or saute meat, you need to give it a few minutes to rest before cutting it. “Resting” your meat allows the juices (which move to the center during cooking) to be redistributed throughout the meat. If you don’t allow meat to rest, it’s almost certain that you’ll end up with a juicy, wet mess when you cut into it. Allow small cuts of meat like chicken breasts and steaks to rest for at least 5 minutes. Larger items like whole birds or roasts may need 20-30 minutes of rest before cutting. (For longer rests, you can put a foil “tent” over the meat to help keep it warm.)
8. You Forget About Carryover Cooking
“Carryover cooking” refers to how food continues to cook after you’ve removed it from heat, because of the heat that is still retained inside the food. Carryover cooking usually only lasts for a few minutes, but those minutes can be disastrous for veggies! If you’re taking boiled and steamed veggies out of the pot when they taste perfectly done, you can avoid a carryover cooking disaster by putting them directly into a bowl of ice water. The “shock” of the cold water will stop the cooking process in its track, and you won’t be left with a mushy, overcooked mess.
9. You Cook Meat Straight From The Fridge
Food safety practices have taught us that it’s important to keep meat cold, so we often don’t take meat out of the fridge until we’re ready to cook. But throwing a refrigerated steak on the grill is likely to result in an overcooked exterior and an undercooked interior. Disappointing! Instead, take your meat out of the fridge and set it on your countertop for about 15-30 minutes before cooking.
10. You Don’t Rinse Grains
Most dry grains (including rice, quinoa, faro, and more) create a starchy powder when they rub up against each other during packaging and shipping. Once that starchy powder meets liquid, it can make a sticky, goopy mess of your meal! To eliminate this issue, put your uncooked grains into a fine mesh sieve and rinse well with cold water. This will remove the starchy powder, and after cooking, you’ll have perfectly delicious and fluffy grains!
11. You Only Season Your Marinade/Breading
When it comes to adding flavor to meat, salt and pepper should be treated separately from things like marinades and breaded coatings. If you only add salt and pepper to a marinade or breading, most of the effect of the seasonings will be lost in the cooking process. Instead, add salt and pepper after marinating, and before breading!