Ah cooking, so necessary for life and yet so easily messed up. Who among us hasn’t tried to save money and up our health game at home only to discover that cooking isn’t as easy as it looks on YouTube. (Reality check: Is anything ever as easy as it looks on TV? No, no it is not.) That doesn’t mean you should give up on your culinary dreams or settle for repeat dinners of plain chicken and rice, though. The internet to the rescue! The web is rife with cooking tips—you’ve probably read tons of basic articles explaining how to use frozen bananas in smoothies or cook bacon in the oven—so we talked to professional chefs to get the tips you probably don’t know. Prepare to have your mind blown.
Make speedy guacamole
Guac is a staple at barbecues, on tacos, and eating off a spoon for a late-night snack. (Hey, we don’t judge!) But there is one serious downside to the healthy dish: prepping it is a slimy, green pain. Speed up your avocado prep by smashing the ripe fruit through gridded cooling racks—think the kind you put cookies on. “It gets the job done in a fraction of the time it takes to scoop and mash avocado the traditional way,” says Olivia Colt, chef, and owner of Salt & Honey Catering + Events in Berkeley, California.
Take the mess out of eating seafood
Lobster, shrimp, crab, mussels, and clams are all a great source of healthy protein. They’re also all a great source of smashed fingers and lemon-juice covered cuts if you’re not careful. But there’s an easier way to have your lobster and eat it too says, Richard Vellante, Executive Chef at Legal Sea Foods in Boston, Massachusetts. Take a wine bottle (you know you’ve got one on the table anyhow!) and roll it over the lobster parts. It will break up the shell, allowing you to get every last bite of the sweet meat out. If you’re having clams, he recommends going full cavewoman and using rocks to break open shells. They work better and are less expensive than special tools. Lastly, he says to use an empty mussels shell like tweezers to pick out the meat from other mussels if you are eating a steamed mussel dish.
Mix without the mess
Anyone who’s ever got a little too enthusiastic with their stirring knows how quickly it can go from “Oh, look, my egg yolks are getting creamy!” to “Oh, look, my kitchen is tie-dyed!” Fix this chronic dilemma with a common kitchen item: A towel. “Roll a moist kitchen towel and shape into a circle for the base of a bowl on the counter, and it will prevent it from sliding when you are whisking something in it,” Valente says. Genius!
Stop chopping garlic
Eating garlic is delicious! Peeling, chopping and dicing garlic is… not fun! Not to mention it makes your fingers smell like old Italian food for the next week. Simply your garlic-infused recipes with this one simple swap, courtesy of Vellante. “Just buy a zester,” he says. “Instead of chopping fresh garlic, just zest it into a dish.” If you’re worried about flavor transfer between your scampi and your lemon creme pie, by a separate zester just for garlic and label it with a Sharpie. Tired of peeling garlic by hand too? Try this hack to make separating garlic cloves a breeze– plus learn how to cut onions and peel eggs the easy way!
Prep like a chef
Forget the fancy knives or elaborate recipes, when it comes to cooking efficiently seasoned chefs have one rule they swear by. Called “mise en place”—a French term that you don’t have to be able to say to use—simply means having all your ingredients prepped, measured and within arms-length before you start cooking. “Making sure you have everything you need prior to starting a big project in the kitchen takes out the guess work and allows you to focus on what you’re creating,” says Shane Graybeal, the Executive Chef at Sable Kitchen & Bar in Chicago. “Ultimately it makes cooking less stressful and more fun. And you know you won’t forget that one crucial ingredient.”
Grow your own spices
Fresh herbs and spices are one of the things that make restaurant food taste so much better yet many home cooks feel like they’re too costly or time consuming to use every day. The simple solution? Grow your own! The quality is so much better and it will give a fresh, professional flavor to your dishes for mere pennies, Graybeal says. Plus, little pots of fresh herbs—think basil, oregano, thyme, and mint—make beautiful kitchen decorations and are harder to kill than you think. (No green thumb required!)
Hack your butter
Warm chocolate chip cookies are one of life’s greatest pleasures but they’re not all created equal. But instead of searching endlessly for the “perfect” recipe or signing up for emails to get the “$1,000 secret Neiman Marcus recipe” (hint: that’s not a real thing, it’s basically Betty Crocker), there’s an easy way to make any cookie recipe taste professional: Amp up your butter. People think butter is butter but it’s not, explains Jill Galera, the Director of Catering at The Grand Hotel Minneapolis. “I use European butter, like Kerry Gold or Plugra. The fat content is higher and makes cookies (and everything else) taste more decadent.”
Peel tomatoes in a flash
Peeled tomatoes are the base of many a delicious sauce but they’re also—what’s the technical term?—a massive pain in the butt. If you think peeling an apple is time-consuming, try peeling a tomato. But don’t give up on your favorite fresh marinara yet, Chef Dennis Friedman of the award-winning restaurant Shouk has a pro tip. Start by making a small “x” on the top of the tomatoes with a paring knife, cutting just through the skin. Drop the tomatoes into a pot of boiling water for ten seconds and then put them directly into ice water for five minutes. “The boiling water will loosen the skin, making them super easy to peel,” he assures.
Grate your butter instead of spreading it
Make buttered biscuits, garlic bread, rolls or other baked goods characterized by their buttery glaze even faster with this super simple kitchen hack from Natalia Levey, a certified nutritional chef, and founder of Healthy Intent. Use a cheese grater to grate cold butter to evenly distribute it over your baked goods. It’s faster and easier to control than a butter knife.
Don’t thaw your frozen veggies
Frozen vegetables get a bad rap for being mushy and bland but they (and you) don’t have to suffer this fate. The trick is to not thaw them before you use them in a recipe. Simply add them—still frozen!—to hot pasta, grains, or soups. “This helps to both flash-cook the veggies and quickly cool off the rest of the dish,” says Melissa Eboli, personal chef and certified nutritional chef. “The vegetables are essentially blanched so they are still crisp, and hold most of their nutrient density. It’s a healthy trick and a time saver too.”
No more sticky situations
Got a mad craving for peanut butter cookies? (Same, girl, same.) Avoid a sticky situation with this trick from Ruthy Kirwan, founder of Percolate Kitchen. “When measuring peanut butter, honey, or other sticky things, lightly spray your measuring spoon or cup with cooking oil,” she explains. “It helps the ingredient slide right out and you’ll get a more accurate measure.”
Peel garlic with a plate
For something so little, garlic can sure cause a lot of drama in the kitchen—especially when it comes to prepping fresh garlic. The first step is always peeling off the sticky, papery coating… which is often enough to send people running for the expensive jars of pre-chopped. Before you do that, however, Kirwan is here to save your wallet and your fingers: “When peeling large amounts of garlic, place the whole cloves in a small bowl and cover with a plate. Shake the heck out of the bowl; when you remove the plate, the paper will have come off the cloves! No more peeling with your nails and fingers,” she says.
Use your slow cookers to do some fast cooking
Slow cookers are great for more than just cooking stuff slowly. Most models have a “high” or “sautee” setting, allowing you to skip a step or three in your recipe and cook everything in one pot, says Scott Leysath, the Sporting Chef and host of the TV show of the same name. “Set it to ‘high’ first and then use it to brown your meats to seal in flavor and make them more tender,” he explains. To take your humble Crock-Pot meal truly next level, he adds you can then use wine to deglaze the bottom (that just means pouring it into the bottom of the pot and scraping the browned bits stuck to the bottom into it) to add another level of flavor to your dish.
Chop cherry tomatoes in a flash
Halved cherry tomatoes are the perfect garnish for salads, pasta, and sandwiches but cutting the tiny, slippery balls can have you chasing them all over the kitchen—and cleaning squirted seeds off your cute top. Avoid the mess and the hassle by using two plastic lids, says Mike Ledesema, Executive Chef of Kabana Rooftop in Richmond, Virginia. Simply sandwich the tomatoes (yes all of them!) between the lids and run a sharp, large chef’s knife through them horizontally, cutting between the lids. Poof, halved tomatoes in ten seconds! Check out how to do it, plus a few other veggie chopping hacks, in the video below!
Make vegetable dishes sing with this sneaky trick
Let’s face it: We could all stand to have a few more veggies on our plates. Yet when it comes to flavor, many feel vegetables just aren’t as satisfying. Thankfully there are ways to trick to your taste buds, infusing veggie dishes with a savory umami flavor that will have even the pickiest eaters asking for more. “Whenever I make a vegetable soup or dressing or even grill vegetables, I always use two tricks to bring out ‘meaty’ flavors,” says Justin Cucci, executive chef and owner of Root Down, Vital Root, Linger, Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox and El Five in Denver, Colorado. “First is replacing some or all of the salt with soy sauce as it has a richer flavor. Second, I like adding a small amount of chipotle spice—it evokes the smoky-sweet goodness of bacon.”