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Things You Really, Truly Shouldn't Make at Home

Rachel Tepper Paley
April 16, 2014

Photo credit: StockFood/Herbert Lehmann

In the kitchen, there are times to elbow your way out of your comfort zone, experiment with novel and exciting ingredients, and yes, whip out a spiffy new gadget that cost you a pretty penny.

But other times, you really, really shouldn’t.

Becoming a better cook also means knowing when one should outsource a task. We’re talking about dishes that require highly specialized or pricey equipment, hard-learned techniques, or rare ingredients. Sure, some of these dishes aren’t impossible to replicate at home, but they’re darn near close to it.

Save yourself the trouble and leave the following favorites to seasoned restaurant cooks.

Anything made in a wok. “[A wok] can make foods in ways that other pans cannot,” explained Xi’an Famous Foods co-owner Jason Wang, citing the fact that a wok is great for high-temperature cooking, which helps makes searing and caramelizing easier. This comes in handy when making stir-fries, Wang said. But you can’t just own a wok, he continued—you must also own a wok stove, on which the wok’s rounded bottom sits. “And most [home] stoves are not powerful enough … it’s such a hassle.” Most Chinese Americans don’t even own a wok, he said. “It’s only for restaurants.”

French fries. Sure, you can heat up a few hearty glugs of oil in a Dutch oven, but it’s not quite the same thing as a deep fryer, and your house is going to stink. We hate to say it, but many fast food joints make tastier fries than we ever could.

Cheese. Simple cheeses aside, like ricotta, mozzarella, and Indian paneer,cheese-making is a difficult undertaking. Don’t believe us? Have you procured rennet? A climate-controlled cheese cave? A nuanced understanding of the difference between soft and semi-soft cheeses? If you answered “no” to any of the previous questions, you should maybe leave cheese-making to the pros.

Whole roasted pig. Yes, the sight of a whole roasted pig in your backyard—complete with lacquered, ruby skin and juicy, fatty flesh—would be a glorious sight. But slow your roll. In most instances, you’ll need an enormous pig roaster or a commercial smoker. You’ll want to roast your pig for up to nine hours. And prices can skyrocket, up to $800 for a 200-pound pig. Consider these things carefully before proceeding; you might be better off finding a pig roast hosted at a local restaurant.

Espresso. "You’re wasting your time making espresso at home," Counter Culture education representative Erin Meister told us. “If you’re just pursuing it as a hobby because it’s fun to tinker, that’s one thing. But if you ever hope to recreate a product comparable to what a professional can make, it’s not going to happen.” That’s because home-grade equipment tends to be lower in quality than professional gear, Meister said. Also, improving one’s espresso-making technique is all about repetition, and it’s ”virtually impossible to achieve if you’re just doing it once a day.”

But most importantly, Meister feels that espresso is intrinsically entwined with cafe culture, and drinking a shot at home kind of misses the point. “Italians tend not to make espresso at home for a reason,” she said. “When we take espresso out of its natural environment, we lose some of the magic.”

Molecular gastronomy. There’s nothing worse than a foam gone terribly, terribly wrong. There are some folks up to the challenge, like food writer Carol Blymire, who cooked her way through the Alinea cookbook. But molecular gastronomy isn’t for the faint of heart. It can involve a laboratory’s worth of strange ingredients—this starter kit includes sodium alginate, xanthan gum, calcium lactate, and soy lecithin agar—which can turn food into a gloppy mess if used improperly.

Of course, we don’t mean to discourage the adventurous home cook. But it’s good to know what you’re getting yourself into—and whether it’s worth the trouble. Sometimes, it’s definitely not.