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Chefs Share The Best Cooking Tips All Amateur Cooks Should Know

If you’re anything like us, this pandemic means you’ve had a sharp spike in your cooking show viewership.

We’ve spent the last year and change being baking champions, totally nailing things, chopping our way through challenges, and scoffing at everyone who tries to make a risotto in round one (that rice is totally going to be undercooked!).

For most of us, our culinary training consists of sitting on our couches munching on grown-up lunchables while we “learn” from TV chefs. There are, however, some brave souls among us who have actual kitchen experience and real room to talk… and they’d probably tell you not to try a risotto in round one.

Reddit user BigBadWolf44 asked: 

“Chefs of Reddit, what’s one rule of cooking amateurs need to know?”

Risky risotto aside, chefs have tons of cooking tips and tricks to share with we mere mortals. So let’s put down the remote, pick up a pan, and get this party started.

First put on pants, though.

Safety over everything—nobody likes burned bits.

Hold The Salt 

“A lot of the time when people add salt to a dish because they think it tastes flat, what it really needs is an acid like lemon juice or vinegar” 

– Vexvertigo

“Agreed. These are what I sometimes use to add acid depending on the recipe:”

“white/red/rice/malt vinegar, some chilli sauces, lemon or lime, wine, sherry, dry vermouth, preserved lemon.” 

– MayaSummerX

“Ah the discovery of citrus and vinegar was a great turning point in my cooking. I always call it the ‘tang,’ so I’ll hit it with a splash of vinegar/citrus and it just brightens up the flavors.”

“This was very important when trying to achieve proper Asian and Latin flavors.”

– Sheruk

We Like To Call It “Smaste” 

“Smell is very similar to taste, and if you’re not sure about combining various spices, open the bottles and smell them all together.”

– SuddenSenseOfSonder

“Smell literally is taste because of retronasal olfaction. The receptors on your tongue can only do the 5 basic flavors: sweet, salty, umami, bitter, sour”

– ChonglerV

“Oh, that makes a lot of sense!”

“I cook for myself with no training, but whenever I’m seasoning anything I always judge what to add based on how it smells. People often think I’m weird for it, but it always turns out pretty good.”

– AerialSnack

“WHAT? ITS THAT EASY?! IMA TRY THAT WHEN MY ROOMMATES ARE UP NORTH!”

“Its cookin time. I’m gonna make hella snacks.”

– Zenketski

“I’ve cooked professionally for years and I still do this.”

“If I’m not sure what a soup or dish needs, I take a bit of said soup to the spice rack and take a small taste, then smell a spice, seasoning or what have you.”

“Go down the line tasting and smelling til you find a combination that makes you go ‘mmmmmmm.’ “

– disgruntledcabdriver

Subtraction Isn’t A Thing, Unless You’re Adding

“You can always add, but you cannot take away.”

– El_Duende666

“I decided to put a couple globs of Mad Dog 357 in a pasta sauce. It’s like 300k something scoville but figured in a crock pot worth of sauce it won’t be too bad and add a little spice.”

“Made about 15 mason jars of sauce.”

“I regretted that decision. You cannot make something not spicy if you make it too spicy.”

“I made another pasta sauce but kept the mason jars from the other one too since I don’t like to waste. Now it’s Russian roulette every time I decide to eat pasta.”

– RedSquirrelFtw

“To build on that – when cooking, you must add to take away.”

“Say for example you add too much salt. Not to worry, just double everything else in the recipe and you’ve now halved the salt content.”

– MayaSummerX

And While We’re Talking About Too Much v. Too Little…

“Chill out with the flames.”

“If you’re not ready for high-heat, cooking many things at once, or if you simply can’t imagine staying by the stove for a long time to give the food your FULL attention then please, for the love of salt, turn the burner down!”

“You can always cook it more, you can’t un-burn it.”

– Lett3rsandnum8er5

“You can also always add more heat, but it is impossible to uncook something that is overcooked.”

– ForgettableUsername

“For grilling, I’ve always said you can undercook, then cook more, but can never uncook.”

– facelesspirit

On Fumbling A Knife

“Not really a cooking tip, but a law of the kitchen: A falling knife has no handle. Meaning don’t try to catch it, there is no safe way.” 

– wooddog

“I’m always so proud of my reflexes for NOT kicking in when I fumble a knife.”

“If I drop anything else, my stupid hands are all over themselves trying to catch it (and often failing).”

“But with a knife the hardwired automatic reaction is jump back immediately. Fingers out of the way, feet out of the way, everything out of the way.”

“Good lookin out, cerebellum!”

– sonyka

“Speaking of KICKING in…”

“On my first full time cooking job I had a knife spin and fall off the counter. My (stupid) reflex was to put my foot under it like a damn hacky sack to keep it from hitting the ground.”

“I’m insanely lucky; the blade went through the shoe, somehow between my toes, and into the sole somehow without cutting me.”

“Lessons learned: (1) let it fall; (2) never set a knife down close to the edge or with the handle sticking out; (3) hacky sack is not nearly as cool as it could be.”

– AdjNounNumbers

The Critical Click

“When you grab a pair of tongs, click them a few times to make sure they are tongs.”

– Kolshdaddy

“People really overlook this one. You’ve gotta tong the tongs a minimum of 3 times to make sure they tong, or else it can ruin the whole dish.”

– BigTimeBobbyB

“It’s also critical that you giggle and call yourself a crab when you do it.”

– CommodoreCliche

“It’s also good practice to sing ‘tong t-tong tong tongs’ a la Sisqo’s ‘Thong Song.’ It helps cement the idea that you are holding tongs.”

– larj_Brest

You’re Probably Making Veggies Wrong

“Really think about what size you’re cutting your vegetables in relation to cook time.”

“It’s better to have a perfectly cooked larger vegetable that you have to use fork and knife a bit to eat at the table than a bunch of overcooked, mushy bite sized pieces.”

“Generally speaking, the best simple preparation of cooking a vegetable is usually roasted on a sheet pan with olive oil, S&P.”

“And for god’s sakes, make your own salad dressings fresh!”

“It takes no time, you likely have what you already need in your pantry, and it tastes 10x as good as the crap in the bottle. You’ll be surprised even how much better Ranch dressing tastes if you get the dry seasoning packets and mix it with some fresh milk and mayo and let it set for 30 minutes in the refrigerator.”

– JasonK87919
“Roasted vegetables are great. I used to hate them, and my problem was I wasn’t roasting them long enough.”

“They’d either be hard and undercooked, or mushy. The key for me was to cook them past the mushiness stage to get them to where a lot of moisture is out of them and they have browned a bit (or more!).”

– putsch80

“One of the main reasons people saying they don’t like roasted veggies is not fully preheating their oven before putting the sheet pan in.”

“Yeah you put your timer on for the right time, but the first 5 maybe 10 minutes don’t really count. Now everything is just weird.”

– wickedzeus

… um, okay yeah that last comment might have hit a little too close to home. I promise from now on to actually wait for the pre-heat to be over before I put things in the oven.

Or at least to TRY and wait.

And to sigh and go “Reddit was right” every time I forget and my veggies come out gummy.

It’s the least I can do.

Written by Erica Diaz

Erica is the consummate cool-kid. She’s so cool that she’s been talked about in magazines, on blogs and on the radio after losing her left eye because of a piece of glitter. She is still actively mourning the passing of Prince and hopes to one day do an all-iguana remake of Graffiti Bridge since iguanas are plentiful near her home in South Florida. She has yet to find one that can really nail the “ahhhyayayeaheaheah” that Tevin Campbell does in Round and Round, and everyone knows the music is the important part of any Prince film. She’s a mother, singer, writer and (if the internet is to be believed - which we all know it is) a Nigerian socialite mid-ranking member of the Illuminati. She prides herself on being the most popular one-eyed rock star under 5 ft tall in pretty much any room she walks into.