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    42 Cooking Basics You Should Probably Know By Now

    Just a bunch of helpful tips and tricks you'll be sure to use next time you make dinner.

    1. Read your recipe all the way through (twice!) before starting your prep work — the last thing you want to do is get halfway through and realize you're missing a key ingredient or you accidentally added all of the lemon juice to the pan when you were supposed to reserve some for the sauce.

    An index card with family meal spaghetti recipe

    2. Make sure your kitchen is properly stocked with the right knife for the task at hand. For example, you don't want to squish tomatoes with a chef's knife — you should be using a serrated one!

    A guide to a knife block, with examples of steak knives, chef's knife, slicing knife, serrated knife, paring knife, vegetable knife, utility knife, tomato knife, and cheese knife

    3. When prepping your ingredients for a recipe, make sure you're actually following the chopping guidelines. If it calls for a 1-inch dice, a julienne, or a mince, make sure you know what those words mean.

    Header image for the post The Complete Guide To Knife Cuts

    Until you get the hang of it, you can always use a cutting board with measurements etched right on it so you always chop evenly, whether you're mincing or julienning!

    The cutting board with a grid of measurements to guide chopping, with someone julienning and small dicing a carrot on it

    *Or* go for a ~TikTok-famous~ chopper that comes with four different blade sizes (two different dice sizes, and two different spiralizer sizes). Just press the lever and voila!

    4. Season your food as you go, and when you do, sprinkle your salt from high up — that'll ensure a more even distribution and no salt stuck in a certain area (and therefore no weirdly salty mouthfuls when you finally dig in).

    A hand sprinkling salt into a dutch oven from about two feet up

    5. And use the right salt for the right thing: cook with kosher salt (not table salt) for a more even flavor, and finish foods (everything from chicken cutlets to chocolate chip cookies) with TikTok-loved Maldon flaked salt for texture *and* flavor.

    The box of salt with a halved avocado and a little bowl of the large salt crystals

    6. Before you start cooking, prep your ingredients and put them in little containers or glass bowls (this is called mise en place) — that way you won't ever forget an ingredient or accidentally add the wrong amount.

    The different size bowls with different ingredients (from peppers to sliced lemons) inside

    7. Master the one-pan dinner and you're basically already a master chef. All you need is a sheet pan + protein + veggies + salt + oil. That is IT.

    A header image showing a variety of one-stray oven dinners

    8. Don't shy away from herbs and spices — they make all the difference between meals that are bland and meals that are bangin'.

    A chart showing what is in and how to use popular spice blends

    9. And pro tip: keeping your spices *actually* organized is the best way to make sure you don't add cumin when you meant to add coriander.

    10. When zesting a lemon, use a microplane to remove only the top layer of skin, and try not to get too much of the white stuff (it's called the pith). You get all the delicate citrus-y flavor, with none of the bitterness!

    A model zesing a lemon on the large microplane

    11. Perfect the art of the poached egg so you can top every meal with an Instagrammable runny yolk! The key is to add a tablespoon of vinegar and keep the boiling water swirling around the egg.

    A perfect poached egg, with a compact oval shape, just set whites, and a bright yellow, very runny yolk

    If you need help while you get the hang of it, you can try silicone poaching cups with perforations to mimic the traditional swirling method.

    12. The easiest way to peel garlic is to crush each clove with the flat of a knife first. This trick is tried and true!

    If knives frighten you (honestly, I get that) you can also use a silicone tube designed to easily peel garlic. Just pop the clove in the tube and roll it back and forth against the table or counter.

    A hand rolling garlic in a silicone tube

    13. When making stir-fries or cooking in a frying pan, don't add garlic too early — it might burn or brown too much. Toss it in towards the end to let the flavor bloom quickly!

    A pan of the stir fry with chicken, mushrooms, and broccoli

    14. Onions are amazing, but not all created equal. Don't buy sweet onions when you want to use shallots!

    The chart of onions

    15. When you're chopping an onion, make two horizontal slices before chopping down to keep it all together. Even if you're not keeping it all together yourself — I see those onion tears!

    16. And use the ~claw hand~ technique to protect your fingers from your not-quite-Top Chef knife skills.

    A hand holding an onion with the fingertips curled under to protect them

    17. Put those chopping skills to the test and whip up some caramelized onions to improve ANY meal. Yes, it takes time, but yes, it is totally worth it.

    A pan of caramelized onions

    18. Know what kind of pan to use for what meals — cast iron for things you want to get a nice crust on (more on that in a bit) and nonstick for things like eggs or pancakes (foods you don't need to crisp up or sauces you don't want to get burnt on).

    The pan in sage green with steamer basket and spatula

    19. Don't let the idea of seasoning and cleaning cast-iron pans intimidate you; they're one of the most versatile tools in your kitchen. Use them on the stove, pop 'em in the oven. They're basically indestructible — we're talking magic pans, folks.

    A diagram with tips on cast iron, listed below

    20. Stop overcrowding your pans. I mean it! The heat won't distribute evenly, and you won't get those lovely caramelized bits — no one wants bland chicken thighs.

    A cast iron pan with three caramelized chicken thighs

    21. Learn how to perfectly cook a steak, including searing it (in a HOT, HOT, HOT pan) and then basting it with butter and herbs.

    22. Keep under- or overcooking your meat? Keep a cooking temperatures guide for reference, and invest in a good meat thermometer to check *without* cutting into your meat (that's how you lose all those good juices!).

    the chart with different kinds of meat, plus steak doneness guides in fahrenheit and celsius

    23. Don't cut into your meat to check how done it is; you'll lose the juices! Try the ~meat done-ness hand test~ for perfectly pink results every time — or use a cooking thermometer.

    Diagram showing how to use your hands to determine how meat is done

    24. And on that note, you need to let your meat rest after cooking! It helps the juices settle and get reabsorbed, so they don't all come running out when you cut in. Mmm, tender.

    A steak being sliced

    25. As fellow fans of 90 Day Fiancé know well, cut your meat against the grain (or as Darcy likes to say, on the bias). It makes the meat easier to chew.

    Darcey telling Jesse "If you cut it on a slant, it stays juicy"

    It should look like this:

    A sliced steak showing the muscle fibers going one way, and the knife cuts going the other

    26. As one culinary school grad suggests, treat heat like an ingredient — don't use high heat when you want to go low 'n' slow, or keep your pan on a simmer when you're trying to develop a nice crust.

    Images saying to use low heat for scrambled eggs and high heat for searing steak

    27. Unless you're making risotto, NEVER stir rice while you're cooking it! That's how it goes from fluffy to sticky and starchy.

    The header image for how to make perfect rice

    28. When you're making pasta, once it's just about al dente, finish cooking it in the sauce, adding in some of the leftover pasta water. Your sauce will get silkier and will cling to the pasta *so* much better, making for a real Italian restaurant-quality dish.

    Pasta water being poured into a pan of pasta and tomato sauce

    29. And pair the right pasta with the right sauce for the best ~texture combos~.

    Chart of pastas and sauces

    30. Try your hand at roasting a whole chicken. It's easier than you think (we promise!), delicious, good for you, and cheaper than buying individual cuts, AND it makes THE BEST LEFTOVERS.

    The roast chicken

    Side note: When I'm talking about leftover possibilities for a roasted or rotisserie chicken, they're basically endless. And it's already cooked, so you can assemble a fun new meal on a weeknight.

    The header image for the recipe roundup, with sandwiches, bowls, and wraps

    You can whip up your own salad dressing in this handy salad dressing shaker with measurements printed on the side, an airtight seal, and a one-handed lever for easy pouring of your very own homemade vinaigrettes and dressings.

    The shaker, filled with vinaigrette in a fridge

    31. If you're getting the hang of using your slow cooker, keeping in mind that the order you add your ingredients is important!

    32. Don't sleep on the beauty of the Dutch oven. It's one of the most useful tools you have have in the kitchen for making one-pot dinners (aka tasty meal, basically no dishes).

    The teal dutch oven with handles and a chicken and rice dish inside

    33. Got brown bits stuck on the bottom of your pan? DO! NOT! Waste them. Deglaze your pan with a bit of wine or stock to keep building your flavor.

    a pan with carmelized onion bits being deglazed with stock

    34. If you're cooking only with EVOO, you're doing it wrong. Extra virgin olive oil has a lower smoke point, so try other varieties (like avocado oil, which has a much higher smoke point) when stir frying or roasting.


    35. You should really be baking your bacon, not frying it in a pan. Why?? 1. It's easier to cook a bunch at once (the more bacon, the better) 2. It's wayyyyyyy less messy. 3. It stays flat rather than curling up (way better for using in sandwiches). 4. It cooks up perfectly every time! Without having to do any extra work!

    Five strips of raw bacon in a sheet pan

    36. Learn how to bake something in ❤️parchment paper❤️ for a no-fuss (and like, no dishes!) dinner. Yes it's basically the easiest way to cook fish, but you can totally make chicken, shrimp, veggies, and eggs in it too!

    The instructions for cooking en papillote

    37. Amp up the moistness and flavor of standard chicken breasts by using a marinade. You can whip one up with as few as three ingredients!!

    A chart of three-ingredient marinades, with directions to combine with 1 pound of chicken, refrigerating 1-3 hours and baking at 400 degrees until cooked

    38. And don't over- or under-marinate. Match your protein to the chart below for just the right amount of flavor (and no sogginess) every time.

    The chart of marinating times

    39. Combine butter and flour to make a roux, the base of tons of sauces (including bechamel, aka what you need to make a homemade and delicious mac 'n' cheese when you want to skip the boxed stuff).

    A whisk in a pan with roux inside

    40. Master the art of making the perfect grilled cheese so you can always feed a crowd (or just yourself) without having to whip up anything fancy. No matter what kind of bread or cheese you want, create your own *uLtImAte* blend.

    41. Clean up as you go using a Rachael Ray-style countertop garbage bowl or a handy dandy hanging compost bin that'll attach to the outside of your cabinets for easy disposal as you chop and cook. You'll save time prepping, chopping, *and* most importantly, cleaning when you're done eating.

    42. Still need some pointers? The bestselling book, How To Cook Everything: The Basics has all the ~truly basic~ techniques and recipes you need to impress a date... or your mom, who you can totally invite over for dinner now. It has over 1,000 photos, so you cannot screw this up.

    The cover of the book by Mark Bittman

    Listen to Chef Auguste Gusteau: Anyone CAN cook!