Are you tired of serving up bland and uninspired meals? Want to impress your family and friends with culinary prowess? If you're looking to level up your culinary game and become a master in the kitchen or, as I call it, the CFO (Chief Food Officer), you've come to the right place. Whether you're a beginner or an experienced home cook, there's always room for improvement in your cooking skills. In this post, we'll share 14 Expert Tips to Enhance Your Cooking Skills and elevate your dishes to the next level.
Use this section to jump to areas of interest within the post.
- Cook your favorite foods
- Find your cooking mentors
- Master the art of efficiency in the kitchen
- Cutting corners on ingredients can sabotage your dishes
- Spice up your cooking
- Get to know your stovetop and oven
- Clean as you go
- Taste after every step
- Salt is your sidekick
- Tools of the trade
- Understand the impact of acid
- Don’t overcrowd pans
- Don’t rush hot food to the table & allow cooking with ease
- Cooking is allowed to be FUN
Cook your favorite foods
Most people rotate between the same 6-12 meals. Why? Because they’ve made it so often, they can cook it on autopilot. Therefore to them, it’s easy. When you’re strapped for time and energy, it’s like putting money in the bank. Low risk, high reward.
It’s a time-saver outside the kitchen too. When you cook with common ingredients, it helps you to remember what you need to buy and where to find it in the store.
If you love to eat what you’re cooking, you’ll be more inspired to make it, and consequently, confidence is a great jumping point to take it further. Which is most important, always coming back.
When you love the food you're preparing, it serves as a source of inspiration, increasing your motivation to cook and experiment further. As you gain more confidence in your cooking abilities, you become more comfortable taking risks and trying new things. But most of all, the key to success is to keep returning to the kitchen and continuing to hone your skills. By doing so, you'll develop a deeper love and appreciation for cooking.
Find your cooking mentors
The ones that you relate to and can learn best from. You get a deeper insight into the creators’ ability by reading the details they add above the recipe within the post. That’s where I share my expertise and talk to you through techniques that space doesn’t allow in the recipe card.
My other tip is to visit your local library and browse its cookbook section. Usually, cookbook authors start by blogging and sharing their recipes for free on their sites. From there, you’ll be able to sign up for newsletters and email subscriptions, allowing you to go deeper with your preferred cooking mentors.
Master the art of efficiency in the kitchen
First things first, read through the full recipe - twice. Visualize the process before starting. This ensures that you have everything you need at your fingertips when you need it, allowing you to stay focused and move swiftly without any unexpected interruptions.
Cooking is not one thing; it’s always prep and pickup.
A time saver, especially if you’re a beginner, to have all the ingredients prepared mise en place, or meez in kitchen slang, the French term for having all your ingredients measured, cut, sliced, peeled, and grated before you start cooking. You’ll be greatly satisfied when you can get in and out of the kitchen as quickly as possible with a great-tasting meal on the table and a little mess.
Recipe recommendation to practice mise en place: Harissa Roasted Cauliflower
Cutting corners on ingredients can sabotage your dishes
Recently, in a friend’s kitchen, I whipped together a simple, oil-based salad dressing. It was an abrupt reminder that quality counts. The bottle she had on hand was the plastic kind from a popular brand that is not known for its quality but more so for the price. The dish tasted awful and, honestly, cheap.
Oils are an ingredient that should be mindfully selected. Sample a spoonful from the one you have in your cupboard - it should have a smooth grassy flavor with a clean, quickly dissipating aftertaste. That flavor (and aftertaste) will be present in every bite, and your olive oil could make or break it.
A dark glass bottle is key to detracting UV light and the breakdown of fatty acids. Get familiar with reading the label and buy from brands that are making the oil, not just bottling it. I’m not saying you need to overspend. Feel free to cut costs elsewhere, just not with this ingredient.
Recipe recommendation where oil counts: Easy Gluten-Free Pasta Salad
Spice up your cooking
Spices can induce paralysis in the kitchen for beginner cooks. Probably because most recipes just have you tossing them in when needed without giving any additional information on why they selected it.
It’s also rare for dried spices to spoil. This may explain why we often overlook the possibility of their flavors fading over time. However, once spices are ground, their aromas begin to dissipate, and their flavor diminishes. To combat this, it's recommended to purchase whole spices and grind them as needed using a mortar and pestle, coffee grinder, or spice grinder. Additionally, it's important to source spices from a supplier with a high turnover to ensure their freshness and potency.
Spices should be stored in a cool, dry place and are usually good for 2 years. Once ground, they retain their essence for 8 to 10 months.
Some herbs are best used fresh. Herbs like rosemary, thyme, mint, and sage can be steeped in tea, so there’s no worry over leftovers.
Recipe recommendation that relies on spice: Sticky Tofu with Sumac
Get to know your stovetop and oven
It’s your job as the cook to evaluate and control the heat. That means knowing how your oven works beyond what the buttons do. Which is tricky since no two seem to be the same. I’ve cooked a meal at home perfectly, then when visiting my mom, made the same dish, realizing that her burners, when set to medium-low, were way hotter than mine requiring me to adjust as I went.
We all have that one burner that we gravitate towards using more, causing hot and cool spots. It’s common for ovens to be improperly calibrated. Getting an oven thermometer will provide better insight; if it’s more than a few degrees off, you might want to call someone who can recalibrate it. Most cookbooks ignore how unreliable recipes can be; location can create different results with the humidity and altitude alone.
Recipe recommendation: Easy Blueberry Strawberry Pie
Clean as you go
This is a tip that I live and breathe by. In fact, it’s my number one kitchen tip! Especially if you believe you have “no time” to cook. If you’re not used to cleaning as you go, the first few times might feel tricky, but I promise you’ll become more efficient as you repeat. I spend 5 minutes quickly cleaning the kitchen before I start.
That means emptying the sink and dishwasher, wiping down the countertops, and quickly reshuffling the fridge to have eyesight on what I need/have.
If you’re a beginner to this method, you might find mise en place, the French term for having all your ingredients measured, cut, sliced, peeled, and grated before you start cooking, helpful in keeping the kitchen clean. Another beneficial tip is picking a recipe that has passive time allocated. This gives you the chance to clean up while something cooks in the oven etc., like my roasted squash soup.
Recipe recommendation: Healthy Butternut Squash Soup (Vitamix Recipe)
Taste after every step
Have you ever gone through cooking an entire meal without tasting one bite just to find out something is off once it’s on your plate? It’s a common mistake but one that can easily be fixed by forming the habit of tasting as you go. Before cooking, set out a tasting spoon, or you can get fancy by buying your own professional tasting spoon.
Taste and you’ll quickly have questions. Soon you’ll learn how to troubleshoot based on taste.
Here's a professional-tasting spoon I'd recommend. It also makes a great gift for someone who loves to cook or is looking to enhance their cooking skills.
Salt is your sidekick
It’s probably the most used ingredient in your kitchen, and outside of adding a pinch, you might be surprised to find out that there are serious skills when it comes to salting.
I could write an entire book on salt! It can transform food, not just season it when you know how to use it. There are dozens of flavor combinations, like lemon salt and truffle salt, and different grain sizes specific to certain dishes. I use flakey salt sprinkled over roasted potatoes as a “finishing salt” since it clings easily, while fine-grain salt quickly dissolves and works perfectly when cooking or baking.
Those that love to cook will find themselves in the spice aisle plotting new ways to use fancy salt. But if salts don’t light you up, here are a few main salt tips to be aware of when cooking.
- Never salt your food before tasting it, but don’t rely solely on adding salt at the end. Salt early and salt often.
- When cooking pasta, the water should be as salty as the ocean. If just the thought of that causes hypertension, don’t fret, most of the salt gets dumped down the drain anyways.
- It helps to have a salt dish, also known as a salt cellar, for easy access. The top should be wide enough for you to comfortably place two fingers and your thumb inside to grab “a pinch of salt” when necessary.
Here's a highly rated and modern-looking salt box.
Tools of the trade
Invest in a chef’s knife. You won’t become good at cooking if you don’t have the right tools. Once you invest in learning how to properly cut, chop, dice, and slice, you’ll see why this is the #1 tool of the trade.
My personal chef’s knife is the WÜSTHOF Classic 8-inch chef's knife. It’s sharp, stable, and fits in my hand. Those are the three questions I ask when buying a new knife. Outside of my chef's knife, the number one piece of equipment I use daily for cutting is this vegetable cutter.
Recipe recommendation to practice knife skills: Buffalo Cauliflower Salad with Dill Ranch.
Understand the impact of acid
Acid is an amplifier. Ever taste test something you are cooking and think, “It’s not bad, but it needs a pop?” If you’ve been salting as you go, that’s likely not the culprit. Chances are it needs some acid to jolt it to life. Like salt, acid is meant to be in the background, not the main attraction. The goal is not to make it taste acidic but allow the dishes' flavors to brighten, lighten, and uplift. This tip will undoubtedly enhance your cooking skills once you start taste testing and understanding flavors.
My go-to acid additives are lemon and apple cider vinegar. I’m also known to grab pickle juice, capers, dried fruits, sumac, and vegan yogurt to jazz up a dish.
Recipe recommendation: Healthy Vegan Dill Dressing. This recipe beautifully demonstrates how acidic flavors, when balanced, can taste phenomenal!
Don’t overcrowd pans
It’s a simple tip, it doesn’t look like much, but it’s a common mistake you might not realize you’re making until you finally space it right.
Overcrowding causes steaming.
When roasting or panfrying food, heat is applied, causing water to evaporate. If the evaporated water is trapped around the food due to overcrowding on the baking tray, it can result in a loss of texture and overall quality. Therefore, it’s important to avoid overcrowding the baking tray to allow the food to roast or fry evenly and achieve the desired texture.
Your potato wedges will not be crispy, the cauliflower bites will turn soggy, and your nuggets won’t brown. Using a second baking sheet or batch cooking are great options that won’t make you compromise your amazing meal.
Whichever choice you choose, make sure that spacing is a nonnegotiable focus.
Recipe recommendation: Tofu Nuggets (Baked + Crispy) + DIY Tofu Press Method
Don’t rush hot food to the table & allow cooking with ease
This allows the food to cool down slightly and settle, helping the flavors meld together and ensuring a more enjoyable dining experience. Exposing our palates to hot food, whether it be high temperature or spicy chiles, not only poses a safety risk of burning our mouths but also limits our ability to fully enjoy the flavors of the dish. By allowing hot food to cool down slightly before consuming, we can better appreciate the nuances of the flavors and enjoy the dish to its fullest potential.
Some dishes majorly benefit from ‘settling’ after cooking. Most pasta casseroles need time to sit, like my Sweet Potato Sauce, to fully absorb the flavors and thicken. Another example is my Tofu Satay Skewers. They get roasted and then pan-fried in a thick BBQ sauce. By allowing 10-15 minutes for the tofu to cool down and continue absorbing flavors, the dish offers a better taste.
While it’s true that certain meals do taste better the next day as leftovers, there’s also the other side of the spectrum. When cooking something like spaghetti, it’s best to go from pot to plate asap.
A good cook determines if the dish requires to sit and cool down a bit or needs to get right to the table. Once you realize that not every dish needs to be served piping hot, you can reduce the stress and pressure of getting a meal on the table quickly. That’s how you go from stressed cooking to cooking with ease.
Cooking is allowed to be FUN
If the only cooking you do is the daily chore of getting meals onto the table in between the busyness of your life, cooking will only ever be a chore. Cooking is allowed to be fun. The more you cook, the better you become, and it’s easier to enjoy.
Prioritizing ‘me’ time can look like making a batch of cookies from a recipe you’ve had on your mind or dropping off a pot of soup to a friend who’s having a rough week.
Cooking is also allowed to be collaborative. Gather the family, turn on an upbeat playlist, and make homemade pizzas! Others can take on some of the work, making the process easy and memorable.
You are killing it BB. A really great article for anyone that is or knows someone who is a kitchen! Love the tip on salt… don’t be afraid of salt people!!!