Because most people learn to cook from their parents, everyone grows up with a different set of skills in the kitchen. There’s no right way to cook. However, there are certain mistakes that people make that not only heighten the risk of injury, they make for some awful tasting meals.
Before your next foray into cooking, take a look at this list and see if you’re guilty of any of these very common cooking mistakes. Many of these were accepted practice until very recently, so there’s no need to feel bad!
Using dull knives
Using a dull knife is a very common cooking mistake, and many people do it simply because they’re afraid that if they use sharp knives, they’ll hurt themselves. However, this logic also means that they’re content to hack at their ingredients with a dull blade, so on the off chance they slip and cut themselves, the injury won’t be as severe.
Using a dull knife means that you have to lean harder into your cuts, actually making you more likely to slip and injure yourself. A sharp knife requires less effort to glide through the ingredients, and if you use the proper knife safety, you are unlikely to cut yourself.
Using the wrong oil
Not many people have researched the smoke point of their favorite cooking oil. The smoke point is the temperature at which the oil begins to burn, which means that not only will it begin to taste acrid, you lose whatever nutrients were in the oil to start with.
Olive oil, a very common cooking oil, actually has quite a low smoke point. The next time you’re working on a deep-fried dish or something that requires a high-temperature oil, reach for safflower oil, peanut oil, or even clarified butter (often known as ghee).
Often, many people overcook meat because either they don’t have a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature of the meat or they’re simply afraid of food borne illness and choose tough, overcooked meat over the remote possibility of mad cow disease. Investing in a probe-style meat thermometer is a great thing if you’re worried about cooking meat safely.
Checking the internal temperature will tell you exactly how done the meat is. Also, because it reaches such a high internal temperature, meat continues to cook after it leaves the pan, which many people don’t take into account. This often leaves people frustrated when they pull a perfectly cooked steak out of the oven, only to find it overdone when they get it to the table.
Measuring by volume instead of weight
Many people start baking and wind up frustrated because their magnificent creations turn out flat or the wrong consistency. This is because many baking recipes are based on proportions, and it’s hard to measure proportionally if you’re measuring by volume instead of weight. An easy fix is to invest in a small kitchen scale, which won’t cost more than $20. Then, simply put your bowl on the scale and add in your ingredients following the weight measurements. This guarantees that you’re following the recipe exactly how it was meant to be read.
Learning good knife skills is key to both food safety and cooking excellence. Good knife skills will ensure that you never get sliced by a rogue blade, because you’ll always know where the knife edge is at all times. As well, learning to use a knife correctly will allow you to make consistent cuts, which helps in your cooking process.
Inconsistent chopping stops your pieces of food cooking evenly, which means that as some pieces take longer to cook, the smaller pieces will crisp and burn. Chopping uniform pieces takes skill, but it will pay off in the long run.
There’s both a blessing and a curse to cooking while you’re hungry — the blessing is that the anticipation and excitement to eat makes the food taste amazing. The curse is that often times you are so hungry that you try and hurry the dish along by cranking up the heat so that it cooks faster. There are some dishes that require a low and slow cooking period, otherwise they’ll wind up burned on the outside and completely uncooked on the inside. Think of a grilled cheese going into a pan. If it’s too hot, all you’ll do is burn the bread before the cheese has time to melt.
Not warming up meat before putting it in the pan
The temperature of meat is important, even before cooking begins. Putting cold meat in a hot pan means that the internal temperature of the meat is much colder than the external temperature. This leads to the outside being nicely browned before the inside has a chance to cook properly. The next time you’re cooking meat, take it out of the fridge and give it enough time to come to room temperature before putting it in the pan.
Over-agitating your food
This is especially true of meat, but can apply to many other ingredients. Often times people are so excited to see how their dish is doing that they flip things over well before they’re ready, which completely ruins any beautiful crust that may be forming between the food and the pan. The next time you’re cooking, you can set yourself up for success by making sure you add room temperature ingredients to a properly heated pan, and waiting the prescribed length of time before flipping your food over.
Not utilizing all of your tools
There are many home cooks who rely on specific tools for each dish they create. If you’re just starting out, it’s hard to know the multi uses of each tool in your kitchen. If you set aside some time to learn, though, it’ll save you some time, space, and money in the end. For example, do you really need a separate device to make hard-boiled eggs? Sure, it might seem the most efficient, but there are both stovetop and microwave methods that can accomplish the same job using tools you probably already own.
Storing everything in the fridge
It’s tempting to stick everything in the fridge because we have the idea that it keeps things fresh. Commercials and advertisements for years have told us this. However, there are some things that definitely do not benefit from an extended stay in the refrigerator.
Many people put coffee in the fridge because they think it stays fresher longer, but actually, it only absorbs the smells around it, making it taste funky. Storing tomatoes in the fridge makes them mealy and soft. But the absolute worst thing you can do is to put root veggies, like potatoes and onions, in the fridge. Both will quickly start to lose their crispness and become moldy.
Eggs, like meat, keep cooking incrementally after they are removed from the hot pan. If you’re not a fan of overcooked eggs, make sure that you take the pan off the heat just slightly before they look finished. You can’t stop them from continuing to cook after they’re taken off the stove, but you can make sure that you account for that continued cook time.
Hard-boiled eggs are another type of food that is easy to overcook. The ideal way to prepare them is to place the eggs in a pot of cold water, then bring the water to a boil. As soon as the water’s boiled, take it off the heat and let it stand covered for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on if you like firmer eggs or not. Voila! Perfect eggs every time.
You don’t account for your own tastes
Many chefs believe that if they follow the recipe to the letter, they should wind up with the perfect dish. This is misguided because the perfect dish doesn’t actually exist — all we can do is create food that pleases our palate. Maybe you like less salt than the average person, or know that you can stand more than just one chili. Every chef should feel free to personalize recipes to their taste. Keep tasting the recipe throughout to make sure you’re on the right track.
Don’t cook with wine you wouldn’t drink
Many people believe that cooking is the place to use up terrible bottles of wine. Just don’t do it. Life is too short to ruin a beautiful recipe with a bottle of almost rancid two buck chuck.