June 15, 2024


Simply The Best Food

33 Cooking Tips That’ll Give Amateurs A Head Start In The Kitchen

16 min read


Table of Contents

We asked members of the BuzzFeed Community to tell us their game-changing cooking tips. We also consulted this viral Reddit thread started by u/Tw1sted_inc to see what advice chefs had to offer amateur cooks. Here’s some of the most helpful (or most unique) pieces of advice we found:

1.“When using boxed cake mix, add an extra egg, use milk instead of water, and use melted butter instead of oil (and double the amount).”

“When using jar pasta sauce, adjust seasonings to taste, and add a couple splashes of caper brine. I added the brine for the first time the other day because I accidentally over salted it, and holy crap it made all the difference!”


2.“ACID, ACID, ACID!!! If something is lacking flavor and adding salt doesn’t fix it, it needs acid. A splash of lemon, lime, or vinegar can really boost the taste of a meal.”


Cut lemon and lime.

Bjones27 / Getty Images/iStockphoto

3.“You can massively improve the quality of your proteins with fond. It doesn’t matter the protein — bird, beef, pork, or tofu. Fond is the dark brown stuff that sticks to your pan when you’re cooking. It’s not burnt unless is actually black. To get it off the pan and on the food, pour in either an alcohol or acid to dissolve it and get the now brown liquid to coat your protein. Different proteins work best with different alcohols. Good rule of thumb: dry white wine for chicken or any lighter meat, and red wine for beef. Lemon juice works great for almost everything.”


4.“Don’t be afraid to add notes to your cookbooks! If you added something more or adjusted the cooking time, put it in the book for next time you make the recipe.”


An opened cookbook next to a chef making food.

Rebeka Vodrazkova / Getty Images/EyeEm Premium

5.“If it grows together, it goes together. Want a tropical-tasting dish? Find a fish that lives in tropical climates, and add tropical fruits. Want something Italian? Roma tomatoes, oregano, Italian parsley — they all come from the same region. Of course, you can add things from other climates, but it’s a simple rule to follow.”


6.Mustard is a secret ingredient in a lot of things. Veggie beef sour? Mustard. Macaroni and cheese? Mustard. Potato, tuna, or chicken salad? Mustard. It only takes just a little, but it adds so much flavor.”


A spoon in a jar of mustard.

Andrew Balcombe / Getty Images/EyeEm

7.“Use mushroom/umami seasoning instead of salt. It can elevate any savory dish without making it too salty.”


8.“A falling knife has no handle.”


A knife resting on its handle.

Richard Drury / Getty Images

9.“Buy cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, cloves, apple/pumpkin pie spice in August or early September if you don’t have any on hand. You can also buy them loose if you don’t bake that much and just need a pinch here and there, but still, buy early. Get all the holiday spices you need for pies and cookies ahead of time. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked in November and December because I stupidly waited, and the shelves are BARE.”


10.“For spices and dried herbs you don’t use a lot, buy the smallest container. They lose flavor after a while, especially dried herbs. Make sure they haven’t been sitting on the shelf at the supermarket forever, too. If the tarragon has an expiration date next year and a more popular herb like basil has an expiration date in two or three years, you know that tarragon is already old.”

“Keep in mind that certain things cook better when you bring them up to room temperature before cooking, especially meat and eggs. Doesn’t mean you have to leave meat sitting out forever — just put it in a plastic bag and immerse in lukewarm/cool water for 15 minutes before cooking.

Also, I always undercook my pasta a bit and let it finish cooking in the sauce.”


A chef making pasta and putting it in a strainer.

Empphotography / Getty Images

11.“Have a waste bowl. Dump wrappers, skins, any kind of trash in there so you don’t have to make multiple trips to the garbage can.”


12.“The amount of garlic flavor in a dish is dependent on WHEN you add the garlic. Add it early for light flavor, and add it late for bold flavor.”


Minced garlic simmering in a pan.

Graiki / Getty Images

13.“The spice measurements in most online recipes are way too small. I usually double them. Also, cinnamon isn’t just for sweet foods. It can be really really good in savory foods.”


14.“Best tips for perfect white rice every time: Rinse with cool water about five times to remove starch, use the knuckle of your thumb to measure water (water level should be above the top of the rice in the pot to your knuckle), and never lift the lid when simmering. When done, fluff with a fork, then cover the pot halfway with the lid for five minutes.”


A bowl of rice with a spoon.

Capelle.r / Getty Images

15.“I love cooking authentic Chinese food at home. One of my favorite ingredients is doubanjiang, a Sichuan spicy fermented bean paste. Seriously, it makes my stir-fries taste like the highest end Chinese takeout. MSG is also a good one, too. It’s like if salt had a personality. As for more general cooking, use a digital thermometer for cooking meats (or breads, or casseroles, or soups) rather than trying to guess if a dish is done.”

“Temperature doesn’t lie. Along that line, if you find that your oven-baked dishes aren’t done, or are overdone, for the cooking time in your recipe, get an oven thermometer to see what the oven temperature REALLY is. When I first baked cookies in the oven in my apartment, they were raw in the middle and all burnt on the edges. Turns out my oven is consistently 25 degrees hotter than what the dial says.”


16.“Don’t be afraid of salt! Samin Nosrat and her Salt Fat Acid Heat cookbook have changed my life. Know how and when to salt your foods. Salt meat in advance for a well-seasoned, tender end result. Salt your pasta water ‘until it tastes like the sea.’ Buy a good kosher salt, and don’t be afraid to use it.”


A bowl of salt with a spoon.

Michelle Arnold / Getty Images/EyeEm

17.“No matter the complexity of the recipe, read it over at least three times! Make sure you have the time and all the ingredients before you start anything. Period. I learned this the hard way. For example: Don’t start bread from scratch at 5:00 p.m. if it’s to go along with dinner that same night. Read, reread, and read it again.”


18.“Prep your ingredients beforehand! In the middle of cooking your dinner is not the time to be measuring ingredients. That extra minute saved can make the difference between properly cooked and burnt food!”


An assortment of ingredients measured out and waiting to be used.

Hinterhaus Productions / Getty Images

19.“Brown meats in small batches, and do not over-crowd the pan. It will cause meat to sweat, and it will not brown properly.”


20.“Test ALL new silicone utensils, mitts, etc. yourself (without food involved) before you get into a situation where you need to rely on them. You don’t want to find out halfway through a dish that your silicone wasn’t heat resistant like advertised, and now you’re burnt and your food is full of melted silicone.”


An assortment of kitchen utensils and tools.

Getty Images

21.“Keep it simple. The number of ingredients doesn’t say anything about the taste of a dish. Go for dishes you can make in 30 to 40 minutes with 6 to 8 ingredients. Keep a notebook. Gather a list of recipes and dishes you make regularly. Expand gradually with new stuff. Don’t just buy cookbooks you never really use.”


22.“My mom added mayonnaise to her mashed potatoes, and I do, too. It makes them luxuriously smooth and adds some depth of flavor. I still do butter and cream (or light cream/half and half) on top of that. It doesn’t taste mayonnaise-y either. People always love my mashed potatoes.”


A pot of mashed potatoes.

Igor Nikushin / Getty Images/iStockphoto

23.“It’s not a clever hack or anything, but season your pans. I grew up in the age of (bad) non-stick pans, and nobody ever taught me that I needed to do this. I followed an online tutorial, and suddenly my pancakes and teriyaki started turning out every time.”


24.“Salt and pepper! And, not just a teensy bit at the end. You should be seasoning throughout the cooking process and tasting when it’s safe to do so. If salt and pepper aren’t doing it, acid or even sugar might be what your dish needs.”


A salt and pepper shaker.

Kinga Krzeminska / Getty Images

25.“Sharpen your knives. Learn about the different salts. The right salt applied at the right time can make a difference. Practice and experiment. If you want to make the best macaroni and cheese in your circle, try reducing heavy cream vs. using a roux, try different cheeses (individually and mixed), try different pastas, try adding other things (ham, mushrooms, etc.), and try stovetop vs. baking. Find your own path.”


26.“Homemade teriyaki sauce! Just requires four ingredients: 1x sugar, 2x soy sauce, 2x mirin, and 2x sake. Always the same ratio when using a teaspoon, tablespoon, cup, measuring jug or what have you. Put all in a sauce pan, and mix and cook for about five minutes, or until it’s reduced to the consistency and/or thickness of your preference. You can use it as a dipping sauce or to marinate, season, or cook. It goes with pretty much anything — meat, veggies, seafood, eggs, fruits (like pineapple), or stew. Experiment however you like. Store it in the fridge, and it’ll keep for at least two weeks. Teriyaki sauce is best used to grill, fry, or cook on an open fire because the sugar in teriyaki sauce caramelizes, but don’t let this stop you from cooking it in an oven!”


A bowl of teriyaki sauce.

Sungmin / Getty Images/iStockphoto

27.“If your oven temperature is inaccurate, you can have it recalibrated by an appliance technician. If it’s your own expensive oven, it makes sense to do that. If in a rental, a thermometer is obviously the best solution. I would suggest buying a thermometer even if you don’t bake. I found out my oven is 10 degrees lower when set at 350, 15 lower at 275, and accurate at 400.”


28.“Use the back of the knife to push food on a cutting board so you don’t dull the edge. A dull knife is both less effective and more dangerous.”


A person incorrectly using the blade to push food from a cutting board into a sauce pan.

Getty Images

29.“I always have a jar of instant espresso in the pantry. I add it to my boxed brownies to enhance the flavor of the chocolate, and to gravies to darken them and give the flavor a boost. I also add it to brown sugar and coconut oil as an exfoliating hand scrub in the kitchen.”


30.“Add fresh herbs to your dish closer to when it’s finished (5-15 minute before done) and dry herbs early in the cooking process. Dry herbs need more time to release their flavor and permeate the dish. Fresh don’t.”


An assortment of herbs.

Getty Images

31.“My family gets mad at me because I don’t measure my ingredients. I always say there’s never too much garlic. I just eye the seasonings. Don’t be afraid to test out different ingredients. Being a good cook is usually about trial and error and learning from your mistakes. I also love watching cooking shows and learning from them!”


32.“Clean as you go. Most recipes should have a bit of ‘down time’ while the food is cooking. Use that time to clean some dishes, wipe off your work area, put things away, etc. Trust me…the last thing you want to do after cooking a meal is deal with a large clean-up project.”


A chef washing dishes.

Bgton / Getty Images/iStockphoto

33.Finally: “Don’t skimp on the butter.”


What’s a piece of cooking advice that you think everyone should know? Tell us in the comments! 👩‍🍳

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


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