Here are 12 tips to cook better and faster:
- Buy Better Ingredients
- Set Up and Organize
- Follow Recipe Directions
- Keep a Clean and Safe Kitchen
- Taste While Cooking
- Learn from Mistakes
- Keep Track of Time
- Keep Fingers Safe
- Preheat the Oven
- Use a Probe Thermometer
- Have Fun
- Hey, Alexa!
We get it . . . sometimes cooking can feel like a chore. It’s all about mindset and process. While we can’t necessarily change your mindset (yet), we can help you develop some new processes to cook better and faster at home. Of course, practice is one way to do it. Yet, there are simple and helpful ways to get motivated and ensure successful, efficient and quality cooking that you can start with right now.
1. Buy Better Ingredients
Buying higher quality ingredients for cooking will yield higher quality results. You do get what you pay for, plain and simple. While there may be a slightly higher cost involved, just using higher quality ingredients will instantly level up your cooking all by itself (even if you don’t follow any of the other steps). The difference in the quality of your meals will rise above, and, more importantly, your loved ones will thank you.
This is true across the board. From peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to filet mignon.
2. Set Up and Organize
Setting up and organizing your cooking area will make you a better and faster cook. Like any workspace, your kitchen should be conducive to the art of cooking, not trying to look like a magazine cover. Organizing your kitchen and drawers will give you easy access to what you need for quality and convenient meal preparation. Setting up your workspace effectively will allow for good flow so that you can move around and accomplish tasks easily. Keep your station close to the sink and the stove.
Some best practices: 1) layout all of your ingredients beforehand 2) do your prep work at the beginning, NOT during cooking 3) use a “garbage” bowl for discarding scraps and don’t strew them all over your cutting board and 4) keep your favorite tools in a container next to the stove
3. Follow Recipe Directions
Some cooks have a natural talent for taking a basic recipe and making it their own. However, for most cooks, it’s advisable to make a recipe as directed – the initial time around – and keep substitutions to a minimum. This will ensure that the dish comes out and tastes exactly how the author originally intended. When you start switching out this for that or even leaving out ingredients all together, you’re not making the dish anymore, you’re creating an entirely whole new recipe! Read the comments on any site and you’ll see a million different creations. I can’t tell you how frustrating this is. Actually, I can, but not right now.
Make the dish as close to the original as possible. Then, take notes. If you liked it, give it a star rating and try some other tweaks/substitutions next time around. If you don’t like it, throw the recipe in the trash and move on. Recipes are designed to provide clear directions for cooking a dish (however, we’ve seen more than a few cookbooks where this is debatable) and as your experience grows, you can experiment with more changes and substitutions.
4. Keep a Clean and Safe Kitchen
Keeping a tidy kitchen is essential for safety when it comes to preparing food and avoiding accidents or injuries. Cleaning as you cook is an excellent way to save time and avoid an overwhelming mess at the end of a meal. In addition, kitchen safety is crucial in order to avoid damage to your home or to yourself due to fire, burns, falls, loss of digits, or other hazards.
A non-slip mat and a small portable fire extinguisher (that isn’t 20 years old, and you know how to operate) are true kitchen essentials. Grease fires are bad, m’kay.
5. Taste While Cooking
One way to improve your cooking is to taste certain dishes as you go. That’s where the term “season to taste” comes from. Tasting while cooking allows you to adjust seasonings appropriately to your own comfort level. This is especially true when it comes to sauces that may require additional salt or spices as they cook.
Add a little at the beginning and taste as it cooks. Then, increase the seasoning in small amounts until the perfect balance is achieved. Practice makes perfect. You can always add more later, but it’s much more difficult to underseason overseasoned food. See what we did there?
6. Learn from Mistakes
Everyone makes mistakes when cooking – from master chefs to novice cooks. The kitchen is a place where things undeniably can and do go wrong. It’s important to not get discouraged and learn from cooking mistakes. Failures lead to perfection, and will make you a better and faster cook in the long term. However, they won’t be much help if you don’t remember them. Be sure to write notes on your recipe, especially what you did wrong so that you can correct it the next time around. Write those notes! There have been countless times where I’ve said, “Oh, I’ll remember that next time” and without fail I never do.
In addition, it’s helpful to embrace any small wins that you achieve when cooking to stay motivated and inspired. Take the bad with the good.
7. Keep Track of Time
When it comes to cooking, timelines are provided only as guidelines, and all cooking times need monitoring. Never blindly follow times and error on the lower side of the range. Though recipes may stipulate the time period for cooking or baking a dish, each oven and stovetop is different. Adding elevation into the mix complicates matters further.
Key takeaway: use stated times as a rough guide and manually check the progress of your food frequently.
8. Keep Fingers Safe
Cutting and chopping is a big part of food preparation and can be dangerous if not done properly. In order to be a better cook and practice safety, it’s important to keep your fingers out of the way of knives and other sharp kitchen tools. Sounds simple right? Well it’s not. Every cook I know has cut themselves at least once. Odds are you have too. A smart way to do this is to tuck the tips of your fingers towards the palm of your stable hand when cutting or chopping. Like a claw. Use your knuckles to guide the blade. Oh, and SLOW DOWN. You’re not in a commercial kitchen so take it easy.
Also of note, make sure that you’re not wielding dull blades or junky knives. Use a good sharpener or invest in a new set. Dull blades require you to use more pressure and increase the chance of your knife slipping off the food and into your finger (that should have been tucked back anyway). You know what I’m talking about green pepper choppers. Sharpen your knives! Or use your serrated bread knife on slippery foods like tomatoes.
9. Preheat the Oven
Many cooks forget the important step of preheating the oven. This simple task is essential when it comes to cooking better and faster. Food cooks unevenly in a cold oven. This can result in part of your dish becoming overcooked and another part not cooked at all. Trying to make up time by throwing your food into a halfway heated oven just doesn’t work and is bad form.
Needless to say, forgetting this step will add time and frustration to your meal. So don’t get lazy, and take a minute to read through the recipe at the beginning before you start laying things out.
10. Use a Probe Thermometer
It’s important to always lean on a probe thermometer instead of guessing. A probe thermometer is essential for checking the internal temperature of food, and will help ensure quality and safety while cooking. No one wants to bite into a piece of undercooked chicken and equally as bad is overcooking the perfect steak because you let your ego get in the way.
A significant number of people are affected by foodborne illnesses, particularly due to undercooked meat. It’s nearly impossible to have an accurate reading of the internal temperature of food by just looking at it, or cooking it for a certain amount of time, or trying to judge the temp by comparing the feeling to different parts of your palm. By carefully monitoring the temperature of your food at each stage of cooking, the risk of illness (and embarrassment) is greatly reduced.
11. Have Fun
Cooking can lead to a happier, healthier, more fulfilled life with your friends and family. It can be energizing, inspiring and even relaxing. But, for some, they have lost their way and ultimately lost their love of the game. We want to remind everybody to have fun and keep things interesting. Here are a few of our favorite ways to liven things up:
- Listen to good music and create a relaxed atmosphere while you cook
- Reward yourself with a glass of wine—or a sweet treat
- Invite others to join in and help out
- Keep it simple and healthy to avoid becoming overwhelmed
- Try a meal delivery service that you prepare at home to relieve some of the stress of meal planning
12. Hey, Alexa!
Having an Amazon Alexa or similar device is like having a magic sous chef in your kitchen. Many people overlook all the benefits of Alexa. She is extremely helpful and can be a wealth of information when it comes to converting measurements, recommending recipes, and explaining directions.
You can also ask her to set multiple timers and reminders, play music or tell a joke. We find ourselves using her for timers and conversions daily. She’s always standing by, happily ready to take orders at any time.
There you have it. 12 tips to help you cook better and faster today. Our goal is to provide you with an interactive cooking experience designed specifically to maximize your time, increase your confidence and step up your game.
– Have Fun In The Kitchen