You don’t need culinary school. You don’t need expensive equipment. You don’t even need that much experience. All you need to be a better cook today is a little bit of knowledge. Or, in the case of this list, 57 little bits.
1. BUY AN INSTANT-READ DIGITAL MEAT THERMOMETER.
The quickest way to ruin a perfectly marbled $25 steak? Cutting into it to figure out if it’s medium rare. Yes, the Thermapen is $95, but four steaks later, you’ve broken even.
2. WRITE IN YOUR COOKBOOKS.
Soup could have used more tomato? Chicken needed ten more minutes in the oven? Make a note of it and you’ll never make that mistake again.
3. MASTER THE QUICK-PICKLE.
Whisk a little salt and sugar into some white vinegar. Pour over thinly sliced raw vegetables. Wait 20 minutes. Eat.
4. GET YOUR KNIVES PROFESSIONALLY SHARPENED.
You may have a steel or a sharpener at home, but once a year, get a pro to revive those knives. Your chopping will get faster, more precise—and, believe it or not, safer.
5. FOUR WORDS TO LIVE BY: CHICKEN THIGH FAMILY PACK.
Chicken breasts are expensive and can get dull after a while; thighs are juicier, cheaper, and more flavorful.
6. TOSS MOST OF YOUR SPICES—ESPECIALLY THAT GROUND CUMIN.
Ground spices die quickly. So give them a whiff—if they don’t smell like anything, they won’t taste like anything. And if they don’t taste like anything, you’re cooking with a flavorless, brown powder.
7. JOIN A CSA.
At a minimum, you’ll learn how to cook kale fifteen ways. At a maximum, you’ll broaden your culinary horizons by finding ways to use up all that fresh produce.
8. REPLACE YOUR NON-STICK SKILLET.
Do your scrambled eggs slide off the pan if you don’t use oil or butter? They should. Might be time for an upgrade.
9. TREAT YOUR HERBS LIKE FLOWERS.
There’s nothing worse than limp herbs. Next time, trim the stems and put the parsley in a glass of water, fit a plastic bag over it, and stash it in the refrigerator.
10. GET A MANDOLINE AND DON’T BE AFRAID TO USE IT.
Want gorgeous scalloped potatoes or perfectly julienned carrots? Buy a mandoline. Are you a scaredycat? Wear a cut-resistant safety glove until you feel comfortable bare-handed.
11. DOUBLE THAT BATCH OF RICE (OR QUINOA, OR BULGAR, OR…)
Having cooked grains in your fridge means that fried rice, pilafs, rice bowls and robust salads are just minutes away.
12. MAKE SURE YOUR WORK AREA IS WELL LIT.
Look, the 40-watt lightbulb in your oven hood isn’t going to cut it. Get a cheap clamp light from a hardware store so you can see what you’re doing.
13. BUY PARCHMENT PAPER.
What else are you going to roast your vegetables on? How else are you going to make quick dinners of fish en papillote?
14. STOCK UP ON SUPER-CHEAP, RANDOM CUTS OF MEAT.
A freezer full of roasted turkey necks and bony beef cuts will ensure you always have what you need to make broth.
15. KEEP YOUR PARMESAN RINDS AND FREEZE THEM FOR LATER.
Remember that thing about super-cheap cuts of meat? Think of rinds as cheese bones.
16. BUY A NEW KITCHEN SPONGE.
Existential question time. If your sponge is filthy and smells, how can you expect it get your dishes clean?
17. PUT THE LID ON THE POT TO MAKE YOUR WATER BOIL FASTER.
Seems obvious, but if you don’t know, now you know.
18. DRY YOUR SALAD GREENS USING A KITCHEN TOWEL.
Salad spinners? So bulky and annoying. Instead, pile your just-washed greens into a clean dish towel, gather it by the ends, and swing that sucker around until your salad is dry (or your arm is tired).
19. SAVE THE SCHMALTZ.
Chicken fat is amazing stuff, whether you’re frying onions in it, sautéing greens in it or spreading it on toast. So after eating your roast chicken dinner, drain the now-cooled liquid fat into a plastic container and store it in your freezer. (Pro tip: This also holds true forbacon fat.)
20. USE A GARBAGE BOWL.
Hat tip to Rachael Ray. Buy a large bowl and keep it at the ready to fill up with egg shells and other trash generated while cooking.
21. BUY A NEW Y PEELER.
Like anecdotes about high school football games, peelers get dull, especially after a couple years. We recommend the Kuhn Rikon Swiss Peeler, which is just seven bucks.
22. FIND THE BIGGEST MIXING BOWL YOU CAN AND BUY IT.
You cannot toss a salad or mix cookies or make meatballs in a tiny cereal bowl. All you can do is make a bigger mess.
23. AVOID EVIL GLASS CUTTING BOARDS.
And they’re all evil. Glass cutting boards send shivers down your spine when you use them. They dull your knives. They’re slippery. And they’re hard to use. Use wood, bamboo or plastic instead.
24. BUY TWO LOAVES OF THAT AWESOME BREAD AND FREEZE ONE.
Bread keeps really well in the freezer. And there are always plenty of uses for it. Just remember: Air is the enemy! Wrap that loaf in foil (sliced or unsliced) and put it in a freezer bag before stashing.
25. STOP CROWDING YOUR PANS.
Food that’s crowded into a cast-iron skillet or sheet tray gets steamed—and soggy—instead of crisp.
26. TOAST YOUR SPICES…
A quick stint in a dry skillet over medium heat wakes dry spices up and releases their oils, which means your paprika will taste a lot more paprika-y. Use whole spices, watch the pan like a hawk, and stir constantly until the spices are fragrant, then transfer to a plate to cool before using.
27. …AND YOUR NUTS.
“These nuts are too crunchy,” said nobody ever.
28. …AND ALSO YOUR GRAINS.
It’s the first step to building roasty, warm flavor. (Using quinoa? Toast it before you rinse it.)
29. SEASON (SOME OF) YOUR VEGETABLES WITH SUGAR.
Carrots, squash, tomatoes—these vegetables have a natural sweetness that’s enhanced by a dash (just a dash!) of sugar.
30. DON’T BE AFRAID TO SET OFF THE SMOKE ALARM.
Especially when cooking meat. Smoke equals char, and char is delicious.
31. PUT A DAMP PAPER OR KITCHEN TOWEL UNDER YOUR CUTTING BOARD.
That way, your board won’t slip around as you chop.
32. WHEN A RECIPE CALLS FOR CHOCOLATE CHIPS, BREAK OUT A BAR OF CHOCOLATE INSTEAD.
Chopping your own chips creates pockets of melty chocolate throughout your cookies—some small, some large, all delicious.
33. SALT YOUR SALADS.
It adds texture. It makes the dressing pop. It’s proof that there’s nothing—nothing—you shouldn’t be salting.
34. COOL YOUR FOOD BEFORE PUTTING IT IN THE FRIDGE OR FREEZER.
If you don’t, the temperature in the refrigerator will rise. And the only thing that benefits is mold.
35. DON’T TOAST YOUR TOAST. FRY IT.
Warm some butter or olive oil over medium-high heat. Lay in bread and fry until golden on both sides. Sell your toaster.
36. BUY YOUR AVOCADOS AT A MEXICAN GROCERY STORE.
Those are the stores that sell them ripe.
37. ALWAYS KEEP LEMONS IN THE FRIDGE.
They’ll keep longer that way, so you’ll always be able to add fresh lemon juice to everything from dressings to cocktails. Plus, you can use the squeezed rinds to clean and deodorize your wooden cutting boards.
38. CARAMELIZE MORE ONIONS THAN YOU NEED TO.
A lot more—you’ll use the extras in omelets and sandwiches; on chicken, steak and pork; in pastas and stews.
39. GET A MICROPLANE.
Sick of shredding your knuckles instead of cheese? Buy a Microplane, which will provide years of shredding power for about $15.
40. SWITCH TO METAL MEASURING CUPS AND SPOONS.
Plastic warps over time, making them less precise.
41. STORE SALAD GREENS IN A RESEALABLE PLASTIC BAG WITH A PAPER TOWEL.
The towel is there to absorb moisture, which keeps your greens crisper, longer.
42. FIND (AND BUY) PROFESSIONAL-GRADE KITCHEN TOWELS.
Oh look, we just found them for you.
43. SOFTEN YOUR BUTTER…
Serving it cold and hard on toast—on anything, really—is the one way to make butter bad. (Need it soft in a hurry? Here are four ways.)
44. …AND MIX SOMETHING INTO IT.
A little shallot, some chopped herbs, maybe some lemon zest—boom. You just made compound butter.
45. MICROFIBER DISH-DRYING MATS ARE BETTER THAN DISH RACKS.
So is a decent dish towel. Who has space for a dish rack?
46. BUY BROWN SUGAR AS YOU NEED IT, IN AS SMALL A QUANTITY AS POSSIBLE.
The stuff just doesn’t keep very long.
47. BUT IF YOUR BROWN SUGAR IS ROCK-HARD, DON’T THROW IT OUT.
Revive it with a minute or so in the microwave.
48. ESTABLISH A SALT BOWL.
Having a stash of salt always within arm’s reach when you’re at the stove is the first step to better seasoner (see tip 57).
49. BAKE PIES IN GLASS PIE PANS.
It heats more evenly than tin, and when your pie is perfectly golden-brown everywhere, you’ll know it.
50. OIL, SALT, ROAST—IN THAT ORDER.
When roasting vegetables, toss them in oil, then season them with salt and pepper and toss again. This way, the seasoning actually sticks to your food.
51. KEEP YOUR VEGETABLE SCRAPS.
Toss fennel fronds, carrot ends and other vegetable scraps into a resealable plastic bag you keep in the freezer. When you reach critical mass, make vegetable stock.
52. MAKE YOUR OWN CROUTONS.
Toss cubed bread on a rimmed baking sheet with oil, salt, pepper and whatever other tasty thing you fancy. Bake at 350, tossing once or twice, until golden brown. Now see if any actually make it to your salad.
53. AIR-DRY YOUR CHICKENS.
After you’ve unwrapped and rinsed your bird, pat it dry, salt it generously, and let it stand in the refrigerator, uncovered, for a few hours before roasting. The bone-dry skin will cook up to a crackly, crunchy, golden brown.
54. PEEL GINGER AND KEEP IT IN THE FREEZER.
Not only will it last longer, it will grate it more easily.
55. MARINATE YOUR CHEESE.
Mozzarella, feta, and fresh goat cheese? Delicious. Mozz, feta and goat cheese marinated in olive oil, chile flakes, and fresh herbs? More delicious.
56. BUY A BETTER ICE CUBE TRAY.
The ice cubes that come out of the dispenser in your fridge? They’re watering down your cocktails. Cubes made in silicone ice trays are denser and keep your Bourbon cold for hours (or, you know, however long it lasts).
57. TASTE—AND SEASON—AT EVERY STAGE OF COOKING.
Because if you wait until the end, it’s probably too late.
Really nice recipes. Every hour.
Show me what you cooked!