You might not be a Michelin-starred chef, but you probably think you at least somewhat know what you’re doing in the kitchen. Simple dishes like scrambled eggs and stir-fry might be easy for you to whip up without even using a recipe. And you know some common food preparation slip-ups could make you sick. But there are some bad habits you probably don’t even notice.
Lots of home cooks have bad habits that they didn’t think were doing any damage, but that have been changing the quality and taste of their food. Cooking chicken might seem easy, but there are dozens of lazy habits that can turn a juicy, flavorful chicken breast into a bland, chewy mess. And as much as you think you know about herbs and seasonings, there are probably some errors you’re making in how and when to use them. And yes — some of these habits could even be dangerous. Here are the bad cooking habits you need to stop right now.
If you’re defrosting food too quickly in the microwave or refreezing food repeatedly, you need to stop that right now. To ensure that your food is safe, follow these specific guidelines on best practices for defrosting frozen food. Doing so the wrong way could result in food poisoning, especially if you defrost frozen meats.
Whether you’re baking a cake or grilling restaurant-quality burgers, you want to make sure you’re preheating properly before you cook. Throwing meat on a cold grill or pan is a common cooking mistake that results in uneven cooking or a less flavorful meal. You want the surface to be nice and hot when the meat is added to ensure that perfect sear you’re looking for. At the same time, you also don’t want to overheat a pan with certain ingredients. This can result in burnt garlic, oil or spices. Make sure not to heat your pan to the point where you see smoke — the smoke is an indication that something on your pan is burning. This can add a burnt taste to your food.
Every time you open the oven, you’re letting out the precious hot air your food needs to cook. When you close the oven again, it can take some time before the temperature evens out where you want it. Yes, it’s tempting to open the oven to see how your food is cooking, but do what you can to resist the urge. Use your oven light instead and peek through the window. Allowing the temperature to fluctuate can mess with your cook times and give you an undercooked or unevenly cooked meal.
To save time, you might be tempted to throw all your ingredients in the pan at once. But if you fill your pan to the brim, you could actually end up with a less than satisfactory result. Overfilling a pan causes less of the surface area to be available to the food as it cooks. This can increase cook time and leave you with a mushy result, rather than a crispy edge or a nice sear. Too many cold ingredients added simultaneously can also lower the temperature of the pan. Exercise your patience and cook food in batches if your pan is too small.
There’s a reason spices come with an expiration date. Expired spices likely won’t give you food poisoning, but they do lose their flavor. Using spices that are past their prime can result in a recipe with less of the taste you expected. Toss your expired spices and organize the remaining ones to best serve your use.
Always chop your vegetables on a separate cutting board from raw meat. The cross-contamination can result in you or your family members ending up with food poisoning from foodborne bacteria. In addition to using a separate cutting board, make sure you wash the cutting board that held the raw meat effectively. Those nooks and crannies can hide some nasty germs.
Contrary to what you might have guessed, using a dull knife is actually far more dangerous than using a sharp one. While a dull knife can slip and slide, a sharp knife cuts right through whatever is in front of you. A nicely sharpened knife also cuts down on prep time. That being said, different knife cuts should be used for different tasks. Knowing how to properly use these basic knife cuts will make you look like a master chef.
One of the most common mistakes people make when cooking chicken breast is to overcook it. This can result in an unpleasant chewy texture rather than a tender, juicy piece of protein. To make a perfect plate of chicken every time, use these tricks to ensure you aren’t cooking your chicken to be unnecessarily dry.
Trying to avoid food poisoning? Do not wash your chicken. While produce needs to be rinsed before you eat it, chicken does not. Doing so could contaminate your sink and expose your family to foodborne bacteria.
Many home cooks turn to their nonstick pan to cook anything and everything: eggs, salmon, bacon, you name it. But sometimes, a cast-iron skillet is a better choice. When you repeatedly expose a nonstick pan to high heat you risk the pan deteriorating as a result, which could end up releasing toxic particles into your kitchen and your food. Foods such as crêpes, omelets and fried eggs can (and should!) be cooked over a lower heat in your nonstick pan. But meats and other high-heat recipes are much better made on a cast-iron skillet.
Most types of oil are a healthy choice for cooking, as they are rich with healthy fats and nutrients. However, not all oils behave the same when you cook with them. Certain oils (coconut oil, for example) are better for use at lower temperatures because they have a low smoke point. After exceeding the temperature of their smoke point, these oils will begin to smoke and give a different taste. Additionally, it’s important to keep in mind that some types of olive oil are better to use for certain cooking tasks than others. While a high-quality olive oil will make a big difference in terms of taste if you’re using it to finish off a dish or make a salad dressing, you’re wasting money by using a high-quality olive oil to sauté over high heat. When cooking over high heat in a pan, the compounds in higher-quality olive oils that give them their unique taste may begin to break down.
Cutting into chicken or steak immediately after it’s done is a big mistake. The juices that give it so much of its flavor will run out before they’ve had had a chance to settle, which can dry out your meat. Let your cooked piece of chicken or beef sit for approximately five minutes before you dig in. The bigger the piece, the more time it will need — a whole bird, for instance, should sit for at least 20 minutes.
Freshly minced garlic can elevate the flavor of a dish, but not if you’re cooking it wrong. If you’re adding freshly minced garlic to a pan of hot oil, you’re ruining the flavor of the garlic before it’s had a chance to work its magic. The garlic burns, resulting in an unpleasant harsh taste in your food. Instead, add the garlic with the oil to the pan before preheating it and allow both ingredients to come to a higher temperature together. As soon as the garlic begins to brown, add your other ingredients right away.
Fresh herbs are well worth the investment. But if you don’t cook with them correctly, you could be missing out on a lot of the flavor they add to a dish. Timing is everything when it comes to herbs. Woodier herbs like rosemary and thyme can be added early since they are strong enough to withstand cooking. Softer herbs such as cilantro and parsley, however, should be added at the end.
Don’t be afraid to use spices, salt and other seasonings liberally. This is one of the many mistakes people make when cooking grilled chicken or other meats — they’re afraid to use salt. Salt and spices are essential for adding flavor to your food. If you’re wondering why that restaurant burger is so much better than the one you grilled at home, this could be partially why. Use more seasoning than you think you need, because chances are you’re underestimating.
Hard-boiled eggs seem easy to make, but most people are doing it wrong. As a result, they end up with sulfur-smelling green yolks or impossible-to-peel shells. Follow this simple guide to perfect hard-boiled eggs so you never suffer those offenses ever again.
You might think that pasta is so simple it’s impossible to mess up, but that’s simply not true. There are lots of mistakes people make when cooking pasta from a box, and this is one of them. Rinsing your cooked pasta under the sink is unnecessary and can wash away some of the starches that help sauces and seasonings stick.
Yes, you’re saving a dish by using your fork or knife to move things around in the pan, but at what cost? Always use a wooden or plastic utensil when cooking in a nonstick pan. If you use metal, it could scrape away the nonstick coating that makes these pans so great.
Pancake batter, cake batter and brownie batter alike should not be mixed too much before cooking. It’s important that everything is well combined, but don’t overdo it. Mixing too much can lead to compounds changing in the flour, messing with the fluffy texture you desire in your final product. If your goal is a perfect, fluffy cupcake, mixing your batter just the right amount is paramount to your purpose.
Even if you don’t rinse your meat before cooking it (which you really shouldn’t do, by the way), you should pat it dry before adding seasoning. Seasonings such as salt and spices will better stick to your chicken or beef, and you will also end up with a better crust and color on the final product.
Cooking can be a test of patience. Try not to poke, stir and prod your food too often as it cooks. While something like a creamy batch of scrambled eggs may require constant attention and movement, most dishes do not. By moving the food around too often, you’re missing out on the texture changes that happen when you allow a food to cook for longer in one place.
Seriously, you need to be washing your vegetables before you eat them — even if you plan to cook them first. Even “pre-washed” lettuce could be hiding dangerous bacteria. Make sure to rinse your produce under the sink to prevent food poisoning. You also should think about taking these important steps to prevent your family from getting sick.
More from The Daily Meal: