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Culinary School Grads Are Sharing The Cooking Tips They Wish They'd Learned Sooner

Class is in session.

Culinary school can be a rewarding experience filled with useful cooking tips, tricks, and techniques. But still, it doesn't teach you *everything.*


A recent Reddit thread in /r/Cooking asked culinary school grads for their best cooking tips that they didn't learn in school. Here's what they said! 🔪

1. Substitute soy sauce, fish sauce, or tamari for salt — and you'll get deeper umami flavor.

Tamari, soy sauce, and fish sauce bottles

"Also, because you'll need less due to the concentrated flavor, there will often be less sodium in your dish overall."


2. The more you diversify your cuisine knowledge, the better a cook you will become.

"There's usually more than one way to do something well, and no one cuisine or continent has all the answers. My culinary school was very Eurocentric in its approach. But in the real world, people cook differently — with different techniques from one place to the next — and all create amazing food. I've learned from many YouTube cooking channels that a lot of the old cooking or baking wisdom from school doesn't apply. Or that it may be OK, but there are newer and better ways of doing things."


3. Place cherry or grape tomatoes in between two plastic lids to quickly cut them all in half.

Erin Phraner / Via

"As long as your knife is sharp, you can cut 15 to 20 at a time this way instead of one at a time."


4. Avoid buying pre-marinated meats in grocery stores and butcher shops.

"They’re usually older, less fresh cuts of meat that are closer to their expiration date. They're being ‘rescued’ with a marinade to cover that."


5. You'll become a better (and faster) cook if you stay clean and organized along the way.

A cooking setup with a designated prep bowl and scrap bowl.

"You'll move faster if you maintain the saying of 'Everything has a home, and if it's not in my hand, it's in its home.' This way, you can rely on everything being exactly in its place.

"Also, stay clean. Not just by wiping up crumbs after you use a cutting board (keep a sanitized towel nearby for a quick wipe and it'll become second nature), but by always keeping 'landing spaces' clear. You go faster when your space is flexible, and that only happens if you stay clean."


6. Never throw away bacon fat.

"Filter cooled (but still liquid) bacon fat through a paper towel into a coffee mug or heat-resistant container. It stays fresh uncovered in the fridge for months. Use it anywhere you'd use butter, lard, or oil. It makes great gravy and is also perfect for sautéing veggies, especially leafy stuff like kale and spinach. Just remember that bacon fat is salty, so you'll want to adjust your recipe for that."


7. Know that electric stoves can get much hotter than gas.

An electric stovetop

"A high setting on gas will get you a nice sear, but the same on electric will burn. It's not something to worry about in a restaurant kitchen, but definitely at home."


8. Always finish gravy with a splash of cider vinegar.

"Chicken gravy, turkey gravy. The acid rounds everything out, and it's a game changer."


9. Salt in the hand, not in the pan.

A chef putting salt into their hand
Alvin Zhou / Via

"When adding salt to a dish, don't pour directly from the box or salt container into the pan. You'll have more control if you transfer to your hand first."


"Pouring directly is also why spice shakers can get clogged as you run out, if you're shaking them over a hot pan. Steam + salt or spices = stale clumps."


10. When prepping or cooking a recipe, plan your next two tasks as you're performing your current task.

"That way, you always know what you're moving toward."


11. Dry any ingredients that trap moisture — like meat, fish, and vegetables — with a paper towel before cooking them.

Lauren Zaser / Via

"The thing that's made a huge difference in my cooking is thoroughly drying meat, fish, and vegetables with a paper towel before cooking. My mom’s cooking was always too watery — and not properly crispy, browned, or caramelized — because she missed this step. (But to be fair, it isn’t mentioned in most recipes.)"


12. Pay attention to all your senses.

"Sautéing things like onions sounds different at different stages. It's more of a hiss at the start as steam escapes, then it settles down to a crackle. Similarly, everything you cook will have subtle changes in the way they smell as they cook. There have been many times when I have been multitasking and my nose has alerted me to check on whatever I have in the oven."


13. A few drops of hot sauce can take vinaigrettes to the next level.


"A little bit of hot sauce (like Crystal) or fish sauce can be unrecognizable in a vinaigrette, dip, or sauce — but it's an absolute game changer. A touch of heat, umami, sugar, or acid can turn a flat dish into something people crave. Little drops, add more. Stop when you taste it and start salivating."


14. Don't be afraid to use premade seasoning powders.

"Culinary school never teaches you to use premade seasoning powders (like Knorr stock powder, Old Bay, Tony Chachere's, etc.) or MSG. They're essential for certain food businesses. In my culinary school, MSG was never talked about, and I had to learn how to use it myself when I opened my business."


15. Always "cook one off" — and taste your product or prep mixture before you dive into making the rest of it.

Tasty / Via

"Too many people just go along making recipes and don’t taste up front or along the way."


This is especially important when you're making batches of things from the same prepped mixture — like meatballs. Pan-fry one, taste it, and if it's off (needs more salt?), edit the mixture before cooking the rest.

16. Memorize the three-step method for perfectly crispy fish skin.

"1) Scrape the skin with the back of a knife to dry it out. 2) Put it in a hot pan with fat skin down and press it until it stops trying to curl. 3) Put the whole pan in the oven and roast until done. Cook it the whole way skin down. Perfectly crispy skin every time."


17. Know when to use kitchen shears instead of a knife.

"Use scissors to cut things! Dough, pizza, some cuts of meat, veggies, herbs, etc. So much faster, less to clean up, and better cuts."


18. Caramelize onions in butter (rather than olive oil) and a bit of sugar.

"Butter is especially great for browning. If you’re going a bit beyond just browning, like with fried or caramelized onions, use butter and sugar. It makes a world of difference."


19. If you do it enough times, you can make a great sourdough loaf by feel.

Making sourdough bread
Tasty / Via

"Add your flour to make a loaf the size you choose, your starter into a levain, your water and salt. You can tell by the feel of the dough if it's hydrated where you like it. You don't have to measure anything. I make my best loaves this way!"


"I've been making sourdough for a few years, and I tell this to people who are just starting. If you do it enough, you'll know when it's time for the next step."


20. If you're cooking a meal with lots of components, use appliances to keep things at temperature — *without* taking up real estate on stove burners.

Mashed potatoes in Instant Pot
Joe Lingeman / Via

"A slow cooker, Instant Pot, or grill with some kind of temp control can all have things going low and slow, holding food at temp waiting for you."


Thanksgiving dinner is a great time to put this into play. Here's a recipe for Instant Pot mashed potatoes.

21. Recipes are a road map. You don't have to follow them exactly.

"Remember that it's OK to deviate. (Unless you are baking! In which case, follow the recipe exactly. 😂)"


What's a useful cooking tip or trick you wish you'd learned sooner? Share in the comments!

Note: Responses have been edited for length and/or clarity.