It’s not easy to prepare gourmet, world-class meals.
If it were, everyone would do it, and we wouldn’t need so many celebrity chefs.
The fact is that a lot of people make the same mistakes over and over. These common errors might just make your time in the kitchen a little less enjoyable. They might even ruin your entire cooking project.
If you love to cook, pay attention. Here are some things that most people get wrong.
1. Cooking Cold Meat
Meat that goes straight from the refrigerator to the frying pan has a hard time cooking evenly. Some parts stay colder and take longer to get up to the right temperature.
The solution is to leave meat out at room temperature for a half-hour or so before cooking it. When the meat is a consistent temperature all the way through, it will cook more evenly, which means it’ll taste better, too.
2. Using the Wrong Knife
We all know people who chop their vegetables with a bread knife. The serrated edge might be attractive when you have to get through a dense, woody sweet potato.
A better solution is to invest in quality knives, though. Keep your blades sharp. And when it’s time to dice the onions, don’t reach for the bread knife. That task is better handled by a nice sharp chef’s knife.
3. Sautéing Wet Vegetables
The secret to a great stir fry is to let your veggies dry before throwing them in the pan. If they’re covered in excess water, they’ll steam rather than actually sautéing. That means they’ll be limp and mushy, and they’ll lack that tasty brown coating that you get from a proper stir fry.
It’s especially important to let greens dry out thoroughly before cooking them. There’s nothing worse than soggy, limp greens. After you rinse them, let them dry in a colander or spread them out on a kitchen towel and roll it up to remove excess moisture.
4. Cutting Meat Too Soon After It Finishes Cooking
That steak may look appetizing right out of the pan, but don’t start carving it immediately.
Chefs recommend letting meat sit out for a few minutes after the cooking process is complete. It all has to do with moisture. When a slab of meat cooks, all of its juices migrate toward the center of the cut.
As the temperature of the meat slowly returns to normal, the juices distribute themselves evenly across the entire piece of meat. That means every bite will be moist, tender, and delicious.
How long you should wait depends on how much meat you’re dealing with. A single serving, like a steak or a chicken breast, probably only needs about 5 minutes to get its juices flowing. For larger cuts, such as a whole chicken, duck, turkey, or turducken, you’ll probably want to let the meal rest for half an hour before you start carving. Hey, that’s what appetizers are for!
5. Using Extra Virgin Olive Oil for Everything
Extra virgin olive oil (or EVOO if you’re Rachael Ray) has become something of a celebrity in its own right. Doctors tout its health benefits. Chefs love the flavor.
But the fact is that although olive oil might be great in salad dressing, it actually makes a pretty poor cooking oil. That’s because olive oil has a relatively low smoke point, which means that it starts to burn and smoke at temperatures commonly used to pan fry a meal.
If you want an oil to cook with, choose something with a higher smoke point, such as grapeseed or sunflower oil. For deep frying, go with a less expensive option such as vegetable, corn, or peanut oil.
We’re not saying you shouldn’t keep a bottle of high-quality extra virgin olive oil in your kitchen. You should. It’s the go-to oil for salad dressings, marinades, and sautéing. Just don’t expect it to do everything itself.
6. Cutting Meat With the Grain
You might have noticed that meat has its own “grain.” The proteins and tissues simply grow that way naturally.
Some folks are tempted to cut along with this grain, figuring that it must be there for a reason. That’s a mistake.
When you cut against the grain of a slice of meat, those proteins don’t bind together so much, resulting in a nice, tender cut. Grain-cut meat tends to get tough and chewy.
7. Flipping Meat Too Much
Generally, the less you flip a frying piece of food over in the pan, the better it will turn out. The next time you make a steak or a burger, resist the impulse to flip it over every other minute.
Instead, let one side cook until it gets the sear you’re looking for. Then flip it. If you only flip your burgers once throughout the whole cooking process, all the better. That just means you’re getting it right.
We’re definitely guilty of this one. You want your meals to be flavorful, and the simplest way to add more flavor to a piece of food is to up the salt content.
Unfortunately, while this does add a lot of flavor, it’s not that good of a flavor. With salt, less is more. Just remember: You can always add more seasoning if you find that you were a little light on your first try. It’s a much harder thing to get flavoring out of a piece of food that’s already been salted to kingdom come.
9. Boiling Pasta Without Enough Water
Here’s the spaghetti hack you’ve been waiting for. The more water you put in the pot, the less sticky your noodles will be.
Experts recommend that you boil a pound of pasta in at least 5 quarts of water. That’s a little over a gallon! We hope you have a big stock pot in your pantry.
10. Putting the Garlic in Too Soon
A few cloves of diced garlic can improve pretty much any savory dish. Don’t make the mistake of adding it too early, though. Garlic burns easily. When it burns, it develops an unpleasant bitter taste.
If you want to avoid burning the garlic, you can’t cook it very long. If you sauté both onions and garlic in the same pan, put in the onions first. Only after everything else is close to done should you add the garlic.
11. Substituting Dry Herbs for Fresh Herbs in a 1:1 Ratio
We understand; you don’t always have a fresh sprig of thyme lying around. That’s what dried herbs are for. But if you’re following a recipe that calls for a teaspoon of fresh herbs, don’t substitute a whole teaspoon of dried herbs. The dried stuff is much more potent.
To safely substitute dried herbs for fresh ones, only use about one-third of the amount specified by the recipe.
12. Forgetting to Taste Your Own Dishes
This one may seem obvious, but when you’re following a complex recipe and you’ve got four pots on the burners, it can be easy to forget.
Taste your meals frequently. Taste them before you add seasoning. Taste them after the salt goes in. Most importantly, taste them just before you go to serve them to friends and family. If something needs a little tweak, you want to find that out before people dig in.
13. Not Leaving Enough Empty Space in the Pan
Pans aren’t designed to be completely filled with food. The problem is that when the entire surface of the pan is filled, the food itself traps moisture. That leads to steam. Steam leads to soft, limp food without a satisfying seared surface.
Leave a little extra space in the pan next time you fry something. You’ll be amazed at the difference it will make!