You can be the guy who never gets toast right or a foodie who loves to grill and entertain. Regardless, you’ll pick up a trick or two from this monster list of chef-approved techniques, secrets, and advice.
Chicken and Poultry
1. Buy in bulk
Get carried away—especially when there’s a sale. When you get home, break the packages down into single servings, place them into re-sealable plastic bags, and freeze. To save even more time, pour your favorite marinades directly into the bag so the chicken is ready to defrost and cook.
2. Conquer a tough bird
Always flip poultry skin-side down before taking your knife to it. The pressure of the meat against the skin will give you clean cuts while reducing the risk of you nicking yourself.
3. Hold on the sauce
To avoid charring your meat—and guarantee a rich, caramelized exterior—hold off on applying sweet sauces like BBQ, teriyaki, and honey glazes until the last 2–3 minutes of cooking.
4. Try a salt bath
Brining chicken or turkey is a surefire way to maintain moisture. One easy recipe: Take equal parts sugar, kosher salt, and water, and fill up a container (a cooler or big zip-top bag works well for whole poultry). Add your protein, making sure it’s fully submerged. Keep the meat cool and leave to soak overnight if you’re doing a big bird or 3–4 hours for small cuts of meat.
5. Salt the skin
Before baking a chicken, sprinkle kosher salt over the bird and leave uncovered in the fridge for a few hours. The salt draws out moisture for optimal crispiness.
Beef and Pork
6. Defrost faster
After pulling meat from the freezer, pour some vinegar over it. This helps tenderize the meat and raises its temperature, so it’ll thaw quicker.
7. Blot your burger
Blot the surface dry before you add it to the pan. Excess moisture steams the meat, instead of searing it—costing you that rich brown crust.
8. Pitch a tent
Whether you’re pulling them from the grill or the oven, always “tent” the meat (rest foil on top without sealing it) for a few minutes to let the juices redistribute.
9. Use your hands
Use your thumb to press about half an inch deep into the center of your burger patties. The indentation will promote more even cooking.
10. Make a clean cut
When preparing steaks or roasts, always slice each serving of meat off in one complete pass. Don’t saw; pull back all the way through the cut to make a straight, neat, efficient slice.
11. Eliminate toughness
To tenderize inexpensive cuts, try marinating them in beer, vinegar, or fruit juice. Scoring the meat’s surface with a pizza cutter, going against the grain of the meat, will also help.
12. Add flavor
Mix chopped dried cranberries, low-fat cheese crumbles, or canned beans into lean burgers for a healthy flavor boost.
13. Warm up
Prime rib is a tricky dish to get right because it’s meant to be rare. Char the outside of the meat with a hand torch before popping it into the oven. This way you’ll get a tasty caramelized crust without risk of overcooking.
[Photo: Charles Masters]
Fish and Seafood
14. A no-stick trick
When grilling delicate meat like salmon that sticks easily to your cooking surface, try holding it about an inch in front of a high-heat grill with your hands and then toss it with a swivel slide onto the grate. The fish should slide a few inches and in the process oil the surface, while also developing a bit of a crust. Let it cook until it gets crisp and has color, then flip to the other side.
15. Extra flaky
A baked fish fillet runs the risk of turning rubbery. Save yours by running a kitchen torch over the surface of the fish to tighten the skin before putting it in the oven. Bake as you would normally and the fillet will come out nice and flaky.
16. Even searing
Before tossing a fillet in a pan to cook, position your knife blade at a 10-degree angle and then scrape firmly a few times across the skin. This will pull some of the moisture off and allow for more even texture without overcooking.
17. Prep like a pro
Need to slice fish super-thin—for homemade sushi, perhaps? Toss your fresh fillet in the freezer for a few minutes. Don’t freeze it…just firm up the flesh a bit so it’s easier to cut.
18. Cook in pairs
Tired of shrimp and scallops flipping around on your skewers every time you grill them? Solving the problem is easy. Just thread them through two parallel skewers instead of using just one.
19. Keep cool
Keep shrimp ice cold before peeling shrimp. The cool temp makes it easier to remove the head and shell without destroying the meat.
20. Cook without measuring
Fill a large pot with more water than you think is necessary, add some salt, and bring to a boil. Add the rice, turn heat to low, and simmer until rice grains are chewy. Drain it, put rice back in the pot, and cover with a clean towel until ready to serve.
21. Keep it fluffy
To keep your rice nice and airy, add half a teaspoon of lemon juice for every two cups of water used to boil the rice.
22. Mix it up
Not so keen on chewy brown rice? Try making a 50/50 mix of brown and white rice. You’ll get a hybrid side dish that’s delicious and full of fiber.
23. Cook in bulk
Make a big batch of rice (or quinoa or beans) and store single servings in freezer- and microwave-safe containers. The sides will keep for up to three months. When you’re ready to defrost, just splash a little water into the bowl, cover with a damp paper towel, and microwave until warm.
[Photo: Charles Masters]
24. Cut the fat
If your soup or sauce starts getting a fatty or greasy sheen on top while you’re cooking, add an ice cube. The ice will attract the fat and make it easier to scoop out. Or try tossing in a large lettuce leaf, which can also help to absorb oil. Remove the leaf once it goes limp.
25. Make Your own
Deglazing a pan after cooking meat creates a great sauce. To do it, remove the meat and add twice the amount of water you want for the sauce. Crank the heat to high, and start scraping and stirring the pan to loosen the browned bits of food left inside. Keep boiling until the sauce starts to thicken.
26. Preserve crispness
Help fresh greens last longer by wrapping them in a damp paper towel and placing in a resealable plastic bag.
27. Drain Your greens
When making salads, always dry greens well. Invest in a good salad spinner—or, if you don’t have one, try placing a saucer upside down in the bottom of the bowl before adding the salad. Extra water will run under the saucer and help keep the leafy greens fresh.
28. Dress right
Make your own salad dressings to avoid additives. One easy recipe: Add 1 chopped shallot, 1 tbsp each honey and Dijon mustard, 1½ cups extra-virgin olive oil, and ½ cup vinegar to a 16 oz jar. Season with salt, pepper, and a fresh herb like basil or cilantro. Shake vigorously and serve.
29. Say cheese
Keep cheese from drying out after you slice it by smearing a bit of butter on the cut to seal in moisture.
30. Perfect al dente
For the best pasta, always boil 1 to 2 minutes less than the package directs.
31. Make it stick
Add a bit of parmesan to your pasta after draining—it’ll help the sauce to adhere.
32. Cook oil-free
Avoid adding oil to pasta when you cook it. Oil collects on the outside of the pasta and can repel other toppings.
33. A better sauce
Mix 1/3 to ¼ cup of the water you cook your pasta in to your sauce of choice before serving. The starch in the water adds body and creaminess.
34. Fight bugs
Toss a bay leaf into your pasta canister. It will help to repel insects. (It works for flour, too.)
[Photo: Charles Masters]
35. Ripen faster
If you have avocados, peaches, or nectarines that aren’t quite ripe, put them in a paper bag, fold the top closed, and leave them on the counter for a day or two. For really unripe fruits, add a banana to the mix.
36. Avoid overripening
Bananas release a gas called ethylene that causes fruit to ripen quickly. (All fruits and veggies emit the gas, but bananas produce the most.) To lessen its ripening effect, don’t keep your bananas in a bunch or in a fruit bowl with other fruits.
37. Save your fruit
Once bananas get too ripe to eat, freeze them instead of throwing them out. You can leave the peel on or take it off. Place them in freezer bags and then toss into cold storage, or mash and freeze them in sealed containers for an easy smoothie addition.
38. Get more juice
Before squeezing lemons or limes, roll them on the counter under the palm of your hand to help free up the trapped liquid. You can also microwave the fruit for 10–15 seconds to help further release juices.
39. The drip method
Just need a few drops of lemon or lime juice? Poke the fruit with a skewer and squeeze out exactly what you need. If you slice the fruit in half, it’s more likely to dry out or spoil before you’ve had a chance to use it.
40. Love smoothies?
Instead of prepping fresh fruit every morning, do it once a week. Throw your favorite mix of berries, banana, and whatever else into a bag and freeze so it’s ready to grab and blend—just add yogurt, milk, or juice and go.
41. Slice it nice
Whole pineapple is much cheaper than the precut, canned stuff. To properly break down the prickly fruit, cut a big slice from the bottom. Stand the pineapple up, and cut off the skin in strips, from top to bottom. Next, chop the top off and slice the pineapple lengthwise into wedges—remove the core from each wedge—and break down into chunks.
42. Rinse right
Washing fruit starts the decomposition process. Don’t rinse something off until right before you plan to cook it or put it on your plate.
43. Scramble with ease
Always add eggs to a hot pan. Heat expands the metal and seals off imperfections that the eggs would otherwise stick to.
44. Precision cracking
Break an egg on a rounded corner and shards of shell are more likely to fall into your food. Instead, use a hard, flat surface like your counter.
45. Perfect hard-boiled
To easily peel eggs, run them under cold water immediately after cooking.
46. Are your eggs fresh?
To find out, put them in a cup of water. Fresh eggs sink; bad ones float.
[Photo: Charles Masters]
47. Fresh spears
Store fresh asparagus spears in the fridge, standing in a bit of water. When you’re ready to cook them, don’t use a knife to trim the ends. Instead, grab the base of the stem and snap it off. The stem will naturally break right above the point where the flesh of the plant becomes too tough to eat.
48. Sandwich toppers
For faster caramelized onions or mushrooms, nuke diced chunks of either veggie to help them soften and then finish them off in the skillet.
49. Avoid bitterness
Never chop onions in a food processor or run your knife over them many times. Overcutting leads to bitterness.
50. Sprinkle sea salt
Sprinkle vegetables with a bit of sea salt before grilling. The salt draws out moisture and helpsthem to caramelize.
51. Slice right
Cutting onions lengthwise, with the grain of the plant, ensures the slices hold up better during cooking. Slice an onion crosswise, with the grain, and it will break down more while cooking.
52. Tater tricks
To kick-start a baked potato, prick it a few times with a fork, nuke for three to four minutes, and then move to a 425° oven for an additional 25 to 30 minutes.
53. Guac basics
To store half an avocado without it turning brown, refrigerate flesh side down in a bowl of water with a bit of lemon juice.
54. DIY peppers
Rather than sautéing peppers or roasting them in the oven, use a hand torch to blacken them. It’s a quick and easy way to add texture and flavor to the skins.
55. Herb overload?
Freeze the excess. Chop them up, put in an ice-cube tray, and top with a bit of olive oil or chicken broth. Toss the frozen herb cubes into dishes for a burst of fresh flavor.
56. Stock up on kale
You can bake it with a mist of olive oil and sea salt when that salty craving hits, throw it in your morning blueberry smoothie for a “first-thing” antioxidant punch, swap it for cabbage in your favorite slaw, or just shred a bunch to add some healthy crunch to your salads.
57. Rip, don’t cut
Remove the tough stems on lettuce, chard, and greens by simply ripping the leaves off the stem instead of slicing.
58. Roasting potatoes?
Try parboiling them first to cut the cooking time in half. Just boil them until they start to soften, drain, toss with a bit of olive oil and herbs, and finish off under the broiler.
59. Fresh again
Bring the crunch back to old carrots, celery, or radishes by soaking them in a bowl of ice water with a slice of raw potato.
Prep and Cleanup
60. Wet a dish towel, wring it out, and spread it flat under your cutting board. This will help keep the surface in place.
61. Peeling veggies? Trimming fat from meat? Add all scraps to one big bowl. (A colander sitting in your sink is ideal.) It’ll keep your counters clean as you go, making it easier to prepare your meal.
62. Buy a pair (or two) of kitchen shears. They’re faster than cutting food with a knife. Use them to chop herbs, break down a whole chicken, dice dried fruit, and slice tortillas.
63. Moving food around your cutting surface with your knife blade down dulls the edge. Instead, just quickly turn the knife over and use the spine to push your chopped pieces aside.
64. To tell if your knife needs sharpening, slash the edge of a piece of paper. Sharp knives will cut cleanly; a dull knife will tear the paper.
65. To deep-clean a wood cutting board without chemicals, rinse it, sprinkle salt on top, and scrub with half a lemon. The salt acts as an abrasive, while the acid in the juice sanitizes and deodorizes.
66. Try a bit of rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball to remove spots from stainless-steel pans. To save a pan in which you burned food, sprinkle on a spoonful of baking soda, some salt, and enough water to cover, then let sit overnight.
4 Quick Kitchen Fixes
67. Next time you burn a pot of rice, lay a slice of bread on top and put the lid back on the pot for 5–10 minutes to draw out the scorched taste.
68. Oversalt a pot of soup? Drop in some peeled potato slices to absorb the excess sodium. (Apples work as well.) Simmer the soup for 10 minutes, then remove the slices. If the dish contains citrus juice or wine, adding more can also help to balance things out.
69. Burn a dish containing milk? A pinch of salt will hide the scorched smell and taste.
70. Overcooked meat? Slice it thin and top with chopped tomato, onion, and jalapeño—or add olive oil and lime juice. The acid/oil combo will help to restore moisture levels in the abused protein.
Golden Rules for the Kitchen
71. If you’re cooking for someone important, never try a new recipe and a new ingredient at the same time.
72. Always read a recipe from start to finish before you start cooking.
73. Quality ingredients are always the most forgiving.
74. Remember: Recipes are guides, not rules. Amounts are never absolute—add a pinch, scale back a tad.
75. Don’t crowd any pan—leave the food alone so it has room to cook.
76. Taste as you go so you can adjust seasoning as needed.
77. Impress your guests. Serve hot meals on hot plates; cold meals on chilled plates. Use your oven or freezer to start heating or cooling the plates 10 minutes before it’s time to eat.
78. Time your salting. Salting early draws out moisture. That means crispier meat but soggy veggies. Save the salt for the end if you want a food to fully caramelize.
79. Practice mise en place (the fancy French term for “putting everything in place”) before you actually start making a recipe. You’ll never start to cook thinking you have all the ingredients when you don’t. And you’ll never scorch food while doing the prep that should have been done before you turned on the heat.
80. Use a timer. Mistakes happen most when chefs lose track of time.
81. Get a grip. Holding a knife properly is paramount—don’t grip the handle like you’re grabbing a pot handle or firmly shaking your boss’s hand. With your index finger and thumb, pinch the top part of the blade close to the handle while loosely holding the handle with your other fingers.