Like with any skill, whipping up magic in the kitchen comes with a learning curve. So, recently, u/MarielaGorman asked Reddit to share their cooking "cheat codes" for beginners, and people came through with some really helpful tips. Here's what they had to say:
1."One of the best things my mom taught me is that we could always just order pizza if we messed up a meal. It instilled a lot of confidence in me from a young age to try new things in the kitchen, because if something didn't work, I could just order pizza. And even for the times when there hasn't been pizza money, it's the spirit of the sentiment — it's not the end of the world, and I can figure something else out to eat."
2."Almost always put protein in an already hot pan rather than a cold one."
4."If you can't put your finger on what's missing from a dish no matter how many seasonings you add, it's probably acid. Add the tiniest splash of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice. You will not regret it! Also, salt is the most important thing for seasoning food. Salt alone is better than 100 spices and no salt."
5."Vanilla and garlic are measured with your heart, not a spoon."
6."I just recently discovered the huge benefit of mise en place, which is the French term for having all of your ingredients and supplies ready to go before you start: veggies cut, spices measured, pans and utensils laid out and ready to go, etc. Look for simple recipes to start, embrace that recipes are just guidelines, and go for it!"
7."If you are really new to cooking, here are some red meat tips to remember: Meat continues to cook when you remove it from the oven. Since most people like their beef a little pink, remember to take it out before it hits the temp you want. Also, let it stand, don't cut it up right away — you will lose juices. Invest in decent quality, sharp knives; you are far more likely to cut yourself using dull ones."
8."If a meat recipe calls for water, don't use water; use the same amount of unsalted stock of the meat you're cooking. Chicken curry, use chicken stock. Beef stew, beef stock. Adds a lot more flavor to these dishes."
9."Spend a little time once a week doing prep work such as chopping onions, carrots, celery, whatever, then store these ingredients in separate containers in the fridge. Cook and chop up a couple of chicken breasts while you're at it. Mustering up the energy to cook is so much easier when the ingredients just need to be thrown together."
10."Butter. A lot of butter. It's the difference between the food you have at home, and the same dish you have at the restaurant that magically tastes way better. I've seen whole sticks of butter disappear into sauces at restaurants."
11."If you're cooking chicken and you want it really juicy and not dry, brine it first. I hated chicken until I was taught this later in life, lol. You can then overcook it a little (like if it hits 170°F or 180°F, it’s still juicy) if you don’t have a thermostat or got distracted for a bit. Brining is basically just putting a bunch of salt on meat. Usually, people put chicken in cold water with a bunch of salt. There’s also dry brining (I think it’s called) where you put salt on it and rub it in and let it sit in the fridge for a bit. Makes it more tender. Good for steak! I feel like everyone should be taught this since in my opinion, there’s nothing worse than dry or tough meat."
12."Let your pans heat up before you put food into them. Pans have tiny microscopic pores in them that are open when the pan is cold and begin to close up as the pan heats up. If you put food in before the pores are closed, it'll grab on to fractions of the food, and it will burn or cook unevenly. Set your stove to whatever temperature you want to be at, let the pan heat up for two minutes or so until the oil rolls very smoothly so it doesn't look like it's dragging across the pan, then put your food in. Counterintuitively, your hotter pan will cook more evenly and burn less often."
13."You can get better cookware and utensils through estate auctions or estate sales than you can afford if buying brand new. Older folks usually take good care of their kitchen items, and little old ladies know how to get down in the kitchen, so they know what cookware is the best. Also, this is a life hack for people getting their first place. Don't buy brand new; find local estate sales/auctions and get EVERYTHING you need but better quality than you can afford!"
20."If you are making something with a thick sauce like mac and cheese, combine the flour and butter first, and cook for a minute before adding milk. It will make the sauce thicken much better. If you need to add more thickener later, don't just dump it in. Take out a quarter cup of liquid and mix the flour with that separately, then stir it back into the rest. This will prevent lumps."
21."A lot of beginners have big issues with overcomplicating: Beginners think that secret ingredients are a real thing and try too hard to throw in whatever they can grab. Leave the spice rack alone. Don’t add random things from the fridge. Keep it simple. Follow a simple recipe, and don’t be afraid to go store-bought with parts of your meal until you start to feel comfortable with the pieces you are learning to cook."
22."A thing that helped me become a better cook was doing a few weeks of those Blue Apron-style meal boxes. It takes some of the pressure off since you don't have to shop, and things are well-portioned. I learned a few useful tips and tricks from those recipes."
23."I never shredded my own cheese growing up, so I'll share this: Make sure cheese is cold when you grate it. Don't let it sit out too long, or else it will fall apart in your hands."
24."Put a damp towel under your cutting board so it stays put. Cut veggies and fruits first, THEN meat; otherwise, you risk getting salmonella."
25."If you have stainless steel pans, add a drop of water into the pan when heating. If it sizzles, it's not ready to receive food, and it will stick, but if the water drop dances around in a little orb (linden-frost effect), it's ready for food. If anything sticks to your pan, any liquid like water or balsamic vinegar will deglaze and unstick the stuff, and you can use it as a saucy topping or throw it out if you’d like."
26."Knife skills!!! There are a ton of YouTube videos that teach knife skills. Get yourself a good, sharp knife and practice on some cheap produce until you feel like Gordon Ramsay wouldn't call you an idiot sandwich."
Is there anything you would add? Share your favorite cooking tips in the comments!