Cooking is a delicate art. In fact, many people say it’s a combination of art and science. For people who really love food, it’s not just about making something to fill your stomach, but about creating something that’s the result of great chemistry.
You might not be a gourmet chef, but that doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from knowing how to cook amazing food. Not only will it make your weeknight dinners better, but it’ll also get everyone asking what your secret is in the kitchen.
Good chefs will tell you that great cooking is the result of a couple of things. First, you need knowledge of flavors. That means finding a balance of saltiness and sweetness, fat and acid. If you haven’t heard, there’s a Netflix show about that exact topic!
Of course, you’ll also need to develop some techniques when it comes to cooking. That comes, simply, with practice. So, if you want to become a great chef, don’t give up when you burn grilled cheese or add too much salt to a dish. Every chef has done that.
But here’s the best part: every chef relies on some tips that are guaranteed to make food tasty and satisfying. Here are some secrets of the kitchen to improve your food.
1. Cook in stock, not water.
This applies to all sorts of dishes, from soups and stews to meat and more. If you’re using liquid to cook, reach for some vegetable stock over water. It’s a great way to intensify the flavor of whatever you’re making.
2. Salt veggies for a super crunchy salad.
This goes for juicy vegetables like tomatoes and peppers. These have the tendency to leak, making a salad soggy. To draw out moisture, sprinkle them with a little salt and let them sit before adding to a salad.
3. Add mustard to macaroni and cheese to make it gourmet.
Okay, “gourmet” might be a little farfetched, but it’ll add a pop of flavor to your macaroni that’ll take it to the next level. It’ll also improve texture for a thicker, cheesier sauce.
4. Start your grilled cheese at room temperature.
This goes for butter, bread, and cheese. Why? Because the butter will spread evenly and the cheese will melt evenly — no more burning.
5. Reduce the bite of raw onions by giving them a cold-water bath.
Some people find raw onions delicious, while others find them too pungent to enjoy. If you’re adding them to a dish, give them a bath in some ice for a few minutes to reduce their sting.
6. Make the best cup of coffee ever by adding cinnamon and salt.
Salt cuts back on a little of the bitterness of coffee, making a smooth, flavorful cup without the bite you typically taste. Cinnamon, meanwhile, intensifies the flavor and takes the flavor to the next level.
7. Make sure to use low-sodium stock.
Low sodium stock is a highly versatile staple you can use. It’s always better to use the low sodium version. Not only is it healthier, but it also reduces the risk of ending up with an overly salty dish.
8. Use kosher salt.
Kosher salt has a couple of things going for it, but it pretty much comes down to the size and flakiness. Large salt crystals flavor more effectively and improve the texture of your dish.
9. Velvet your meat.
The term might sound a little odd, but it’s really just a method of coating meat using a mixture of egg whites and cornstarch before cooking it. The result is a soft texture that helps distribute moisture and prevent overcooking.
10. Know your cake ratios off the top of your head.
You don’t need a recipe to make a cake if you know the correct ratio of ingredients. Just remember to keep the weight of sugar to flour and fat to eggs roughly equal. You’ll make a delicious cake and wow everyone with your culinary know-how.
11. Remember that dessert needs salt.
Salt isn’t just for making dishes — well, salty. It’s a natural flavor enhancer, which means it makes every flavor taste more like what it is. It’s especially important to add a sprinkle of salt to dessert, to make every flavor stand out.
12. Thicken and enhance sauces with mustard or peanut butter.
It might seem like an odd idea, but a couple of tablespoons of mustard or peanut butter added to a sauce can intensify flavor while creating a nice, thick texture.
13. Try a basted egg.
Basted eggs are essentially a better version of poached eggs. All you have to do is steam them in a pan with some water while covered. The result is delicious, softly-cooked eggs.
14. Enhance flavors with balsamic vinegar.
Vinegar is another flavor enhancer, and it can be paired with almost anything. Gourmet chefs frequently use it in desserts and with fruit dishes for an added pop and a more intense taste.
15. Mix breadcrumbs into burgers.
When you’re preparing ground meat for burgers, don’t forget to add a binder to keep them from falling apart on the grill. Breadcrumbs are a perfect choice. They add texture but without drying out the meat.
16. Learn the right way to brown meat.
There are three steps to getting perfectly browned meat. First, pat it dry with a paper towel before cooking. Salt thoroughly. And cook in a hot pan that isn’t too crowded.
17. Make pie crust flakier with vodka.
This might seem like a strange hack, but trust us — it’ll make flaky pastry as you’ve never tasted. The alcohol cooks off, so it doesn’t add vodka flavor. Instead, it produces an incredible texture.
18. Start your pie crust out cold.
Pie crust is all about flakiness, and the way to accomplish that is with cold ingredients. That means cold water and cold butter. Cut the butter into small pieces and toss them through the flour with your fingers until the dough resembles fine breadcrumbs.
19. Thicken chili with tortilla chips.
Chili looking a little too thin? Crush up some tortilla chips and toss them in. They work like breadcrumbs and create great texture.
20. Use cornstarch in scrambled eggs for perfect fluffiness.
Cornstarch is a versatile ingredient used to thicken baked goods, jams, frosting, and sauces. But it’s also a great way to get silky, fluffy scrambled eggs. Just add a spoonful before cooking and enjoy.
21. Know how to make perfectly crisp meat.
It’s actually pretty straightforward: salt the meat, rinse it, pat it dry, and sear it on high heat. This process ensures that the outside of the meat isn’t too moist, which means you’ll have a great crisp.
22. Add baking soda to your iced tea.
Iced tea is a delicious staple during the summer, but as it sits, the tannins tend to produce bitterness. To counteract this, add a spoonful of baking soda.
23. Or to meat for extra tenderness.
Baking soda is also a great way to impart extra tenderness and juiciness to meat. Rub a little on before cooking to let the baking soda react with the muscle.
24. Treat your knives right.
Keeping your knives in great shape comes down to washing and storing them. Always hand-wash, as dishwashers are too rough on the blade. Store them in a wood block to keep them sharp.
25. Make your plates as warm as your food.
There’s a reason that restaurants put your food on hot plates — it’s to keep dishes at the best temperature and avoid quick cooling. In general, match the temperature of your serving plates to the temperature of your food.
26. Melt chocolate with hot butter.
Melting chocolate is a difficult process. For smooth, shiny chocolate, melt butter in a pan, then remove from the heat. Mix the chocolate into the hot butter in a bowl until melted.
27. Add an egg to your mashed potatoes.
You probably wouldn’t think of putting an egg in potatoes. But it’s the perfect way to make mashed potatoes extra creamy. Just mix the egg in as you mash and then put back on the heat.
28. Brine your chicken breasts to get tender, juicy meat.
Cooking chicken is a delicate process: just a small mistake can make the difference between meat that’s juicy and tender and meat that’s dry and stringy. To get a tender chicken breast, soak it in salt water for 15 minutes before cooking.
29. Add a dash of coffee to your chocolate cake.
Want to add a layer of depth to your chocolate cake? Put in a tablespoon or two of coffee grounds. It’ll yield a rich, complex flavor that sets your cake a tier above the rest — pun intended.
30. Improve flavor with a splash of acid.
Never underestimate the role that acid can play in taking the flavor of food to the next level. Add a splash of citrus or vinegar to dishes to make them pop.
31. Add mayonnaise to cake for a velvety texture.
Most people don’t put mayonnaise and cake in the same sentence but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. Mayonnaise is mostly fat, so it’s perfect for enriching baked goods and imparting a super smooth texture.
32. And use it in place of butter when you’re making grilled cheese.
Traditional grilled cheese recipes involve pan-frying in butter. But if you want a sandwich that’s the perfect combination of golden, crunchy, and fatty, substitute mayo for the butter.
33. Use an oil with a high smoke point for high-temperature cooking.
Butter or olive oil have low smoke points, which means they burn easily. For high-temperature cooking, opt for vegetable or peanut oil instead.
34. Season as you go.
Don’t wait until the end to add your seasonings. Doing so is a good way to over-season, especially when it comes to salt, which can ruin your dish.
35. Don’t overmix your cake batter.
The key when you mix cake is to combine the ingredients, not whip them. When you mix too much, you can overdevelop gluten, which results in a dense, bread-like texture.
36. Cook potatoes in heavy cream instead of water.
For extra decadent mashed potatoes, boil them in heavy cream instead of water. Bear in mind, though, that these are extremely rich, so for the sake of your cholesterol, make them an occasional treat!
37. Use milk powder to intensify the flavors of baked goods.
Milk powder is a lesser-known flavor enhancer. It doesn’t have much of a taste on its own. What it does instead is to ramp up all the flavors that are already in your recipe.
38. Put an ice cube in the middle of burgers to keep them juicy.
Burgers on the grill are delicious, but you have to take steps to keep them juicy. To keep them moist, put an ice cube in the middle of the meat before tossing it on the heat.
39. Cook eggs on low heat for super creaminess.
Most of us naturally think high heat is better for eggs. But cooking them low and slow in a pan is a recipe for super creamy eggs without the dreaded rubbery texture.
40. Toss some brown sugar into your spaghetti sauce.
An old-school secret, brown sugar in spaghetti sauce is the perfect way to cut back on the acidity of the tomatoes while adding an extra level of flavor. You don’t need more than a spoonful!
41. Sprinkle flour on bacon to keep it big and crispy.
Have you ever cooked bacon and been disappointed to see how much it shrank? A little dusting of flour will help it keep its size and soak up excess grease so it stays deliciously crispy.
42. Improve frosting consistency with powdered milk.
Powdered milk is a really versatile pantry staple. Not only does it naturally enhance flavors, but it’s also a good way to thicken frosting without any graininess.
43. Add a tiny bit of instant coffee to spaghetti sauce.
Here’s another unorthodox way to add an extra layer of flavor to spaghetti sauce: coffee. Not only will it make the flavor richer, but it’ll also cut back on some of the acidity for a more balanced taste.
44. Cook bacon in the oven on parchment paper.
Want to get perfectly crisp bacon every time? Don’t fry it in a pan. Instead, bake it in the oven for 15 minutes on 400 degrees, but make sure to lay it on parchment paper. This soaks up the excess grease so the meat stays crunchy.
45. Lay bacon out in a cold pan.
Cooking bacon in a hot pan causes it to curl up and cook before the fat has time to render, making it chewy instead of crispy.
46. Keep salmon moist and flavorful with Greek yogurt.
Fish is delicious and healthy but if cooked wrong, it can become a dry, grainy mess. Keep salmon moist by coating liberally with Greek yogurt before you pop it into the pan or the oven.
47. Lay salmon on a hot sheet pan for perfect searing.
When cooking fish, you want it to get a nice sear on the outside while staying juicy on the inside. The best way to do this is to heat your pan before laying the fish on it. Simply place the pan in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes at 400 degrees and then place the salmon on and pop it back in to bake.
48. Intensify flavor with wine.
Have you ever tasted a dish and thought that it was missing just a little extra something? Sometimes, the answer to that problem is a splash of wine. Wine can heal a lot of hurts, and a bland dish is one of them.
49. Make cookies extra soft with an extra egg yolk.
If you’re a big fan of soft, cake-like cookies, you’ll be happy to learn that they’re super easy to make! Just add one extra egg yolk than your recipe calls for. You’ll end up with cookies that are perfectly soft and chewy.
50. Sift your flour to make baked goods light and fluffy.
Ask any professional baker and they’ll tell you: sifting flour is a must. Sifting flour makes it lighter, breaks up any lumps, and ensures that it mixes properly so that you have a perfectly combined result.
51. Cook tomatoes with sugar.
If you’re worried about the acidity of your dish, a spoonful of sugar is a great way to bring some balance. You can stir it into a sauce, salsa, or any other tomato dish — or any dish that has a high level of acid, even without tomatoes.
52. Bring your apple pie to the next level with some lemon juice.
It’s amazing what a small addition can do to ramp up the flavor of food. For a truly delicious apple pie, add a splash of lemon juice. The contrast of sweet apples and tart citrus will brighten the taste.
53. Rinse your rice before cooking.
Just ask your grandmother — she’ll tell you the importance of rinsing rice before cooking. This gets rid of extra starch that can affect the taste and texture while it’s on the stove.
54. Don’t rinse your pasta when you drain it.
Many people naturally run the faucet over pasta when they’re draining it, but this is a major mistake! In fact, don’t drain all that pasta water. It’s full of starch, which is essential to make sure your sauce sticks to the noodles.
55. Use paprika. A lot of it.
Just like wine and acid, paprika is an element that can be the answer for that “something” your dish is missing. It’s an awesome, versatile spice, so sprinkle it everywhere. Don’t be afraid of spice!