Everything you know about cooking is wrong.
Well, okay, not quite everything. If you think you need to preheat the oven before popping in the turkey, and that exact measurements are crucial when it comes to baking, you’re absolutely right. But there are plenty of persistent kitchen myths out there, and chances are you’re falling for at least one of them.
We’re here to debunk these food prep mistakes and take your culinary skills to the next level. If you’ve heard any of these common misconceptions, it’s time to rethink your next big meal.
1. Milk makes scrambled eggs softer.
Scrambled eggs truly aren’t that hard to make, and they only require a few simple ingredients. But if you’ve been adding milk or cream to yours, you’re doing it wrong. Extra dairy can make your eggs thinner before cooking, which can then make it easier for them to get overcooked, since you’ll have to keep them over heat longer to let the mixture set.
If anything, just add some butter to your eggs or mix in a little sour cream when they’re almost done cooking. Kitchen Conservatory’s Chef Anne Cori suggests adding heavy cream when the eggs are almost cooked for a richer, fuller flavor.
2. Flip steaks frequently for even cooking.
Steak aficionados have been debating this one for ages. In one camp, you have the single-flippers. They believe you should put a steak on the grill and leave it alone until you’re ready to flip, because this method will help the meat develop a good sear.
However, in recent years, the multiple-flippers are gaining traction. They say you can still achieve the perfect steak even if you flip it more than once—that the multiple flips will help cook the meat more evenly, too.
Annette Zito, cookbook author and creator of the recipe site KitchAnnette, comes down squarely on the side of the single flip. Cori agrees. You don’t need to fret over your meal on the grill, they say, both firmly of the opinion that the best steaks are only flipped once.
“Let the steaks cook on one side for the desired/necessary time, flip them, and let them cook until they are at your preferred doneness,” Zito counsels.
3. Oil makes boiling pasta less sticky.
It makes sense to add oil to boiling water while you’re making pasta—the pasta tends to stick together right when you put it in the water, so the oil can help prevent that.
But what it also does is coat your cooked pasta, which, yes, prevents it from sticking together, but this makes saucing it more difficult. Cori is strongly against adding oil to your cooking pasta.
“Never add it,” she says. “The sauce will not stick to slick pasta.”
The simple solution is to stir the pasta until it’s cooked enough that it won’t stick together. Cori also suggests “tossing the pasta with the sauce thoroughly” to make sure every bite is full of saucy goodness. You can also choose pasta with ridges and lines; the more contour on the noodle, the more places for sauce to stick.
4. Peppers’ heat lies in the seeds.
Many recipes that call for hot peppers suggest you can lower the dish’s heat level by removing the pepper seeds. However, the seeds actually contain very small amounts of capsaicin, the substance that gives peppers their heat.
The highest concentrations are found in the membranes of the peppers.
“The pith—or white inner fibers—that have all the heat,” says Zito.
The seeds themselves aren’t hot, but they’re often coated in capsaicin because they sit within the membrane. If you really want to dial back the heat, remove the seeds and the pith before adding peppers to your dish.
5. Steel-cut oats reign supreme.
At some point around 2010, steel-cut oats emerged as something of a fad food, at least in the neighborhood surrounding the offices of Mother Jones magazine in San Francisco. Rolled oats just seemed so basic. But are the slow-cooked variety of oats really all that different from their rolled cousins?
While steel-cut oats have a slightly lower glycemic index number, the only difference between the two products is how they’re processed. That’s right; steel-cut oats are just rolled oats in a different shape.
The name rolled oats is pretty accurate, as they’re just oats rolled flat, whereas steel-cut oats are chopped oat kernels. It’s ultimately up to your taste buds which you like better, but, for our money, rolled oats win in every category—they take less time to cook, they’re creamier and softer, and they’re usually cheaper.
6. You can soften butter in the microwave.
What do you do when you forget to take the butter out of the fridge so it can soften before you add it to your baking dish? The quick and obvious solution is the microwave, but softening butter in the microwave could actually be messing up your recipes.
When butter gets to a certain temperature, it doesn’t cream as well as it should.
“Never [microwave butter] as you might break the emulsion,” explains Cori. A microwave won’t heat the butter evenly, and this will affect the way it holds up in a recipe.
It’s always best to simply remember to set your butter out for a recipe before hand. But if you’re in a pinch, follow this video’s easy tip for usable butter.
Alternatively, you can pound the butter into a thin sheet or use a warm water bath to soften the butter needed.
7. You can skip searing meat for stew.
Most stew recipes call for you to brown the meat before adding any other ingredients, but not all at-home chefs understand why this step is so important.
If you’ve ever been told to skip this step, forget that advice—it actually adds a ton of flavor to the dish that you can’t try to fake by adding other ingredients.
“Not only does it add flavor to sear before, if you don’t, then you’ll have steamed chunks that will not be appetizing,” says Zito.
8. Sandwich bread makes good French toast.
Ultimately, you can make French toast however you’d like, and if all you have is white sandwich bread, it might end up satisfying your craving. This is pretty much the worst bread to use for French toast, however, because it’s too “fresh” and soft.
The point of French toast is to use up old stale bread that you have around because it soaks up the egg mixture, making it soft again. Using bread that’s already soft will just result in a mushy mess, even if it has a good flavor.
Zito says that “stale or dried bread (you can do a low-and-slow 10 minutes in the oven to keep the bread’s flavor which gets lost with stale) will be better to absorb the egg mixture and not fall apart.”
9. You can make guac ahead of time.
Guacamole doesn’t take a ton of time to make, but it can be tempting to prepare anything ahead of time when you’re trying to get ready for an event. Guacamole should never be one of those things, though, because all the lime juice in the world won’t stop the avocado from slowly oxidizing.
If you must make it ahead of time, invest in a good, air-tight container, and pack the guacamole in as tight as possible (so as little air as possible remains between the dip and the lid.) You can also cover the top with a little bit of lemon juice and press cling-wrap to it, again keeping any air from reacting with the avocados.
10. Marinades tenderize meat.
Cooks use marinades to infuse flavor into their meat before cooking, but some also believe it can make the meat more tender. This really isn’t true, though, as most marinades will not sink into a piece of meat deep enough to have that much of an effect on the texture.
“Marinades are for flavor,” Cori explains. “The only marinades that tenderize are marinades that use yogurt or papaya.”
Your best chance at getting the tenderest piece of meat is to cut it correctly before you serve it, or to slow cook it so all of the connective tissues break down.
11. Cooked pasta should be rinsed.
Those who rinse their pasta after cooking typically do so because they either don’t want it to get any softer or because they’re using it for a cold pasta dish. Regardless of the reason, it’s not a good idea no matter how you’re using it.
It may not actually cool down the pasta as quickly as you’d think it would, and it also removes much of the starch on the outside of the pasta. Whether you’re using it hot or cold, this means that your sauce isn’t going to stick to the pasta and the dish might not taste as good.
12. Cooking produce removes nutrition.
Common wisdom holds that eating raw fruits and vegetables is the best way to consume produce, because cooking removes all of the nutrients.
However, the reality is a whole lot more complex than that. While various cooking methods may change a vegetable’s nutrient profile in various ways, not all of the changes are losses. Some nutrients, such as lycopene, become more available in cooked produce. Others, such as C and B vitamins, tend to degrade with the cooking process.
Ultimately, though, the only healthy vegetable is one that you’re willing to eat. Maybe it’s time to worry less about how we prepare our fruits and vegetables and more about how to get them into our diets.