Cooking Tips We Learned From Our Parents

Long before the writers and editors at The Daily Meal were reading cookbooks, watching Food Network and working for a food website, we learned how to cook from the earliest teachers in life: our parents. We'd sit on the counter as Mom rolled out cookies or sip orange juice while Dad made weekend brunch. Some of the best things we learned cooking with our parents weren't just the basics, but cooking hacks that we still use to this day. These are the most useful tricks that The Daily Meal staff learned from Mom and Dad.

A cast-iron skillet makes everything better

There's a lot you can do with a cast-iron pan — as long as you use it properly. Our parents taught us that no pan gets a sear on your steak or adds flavor to fried chicken quite like a cast-iron skillet. Plus, as your skillet absorbs oil, the seasoning adds flavor to your pan, creates a natural non-sticking surface and also provides protection against rust.

Italian dressing is a quick and easy marinade

If you're not sure what to make for dinner on any given night, look no further than your pantry. A bottle of salad dressing, especially Italian dressing, makes a super simple and scrumptious marinade for a chicken breast.

Put cheese in the freezer before grating

Whether you're grating cheese for a wonderful, over-the-top mac and cheese recipe or simply to top a salad or pasta, it's important to make sure you're using the cheese grater properly. One method of making this easier is to put the cheese in the freezer for about 15 minutes or so prior to grating.

Toast old spices to revive them

Using old spices that have lost their flavor is definitely a bad cooking habit, but you don't need to throw those spices out entirely. Add the amount of spice you intend to use to a skillet that's on medium flame, shaking the pan or stirring for one to three minutes until the spices start to give off a strong aroma again.

Save bones for stock

Bones are one of those ingredients that no one cooks with anymore but should. If you save your vegetable scraps and carcasses from turkey, rib roast or whatever meat you had for dinner and simmer them all together, you'll make a broth that's better than anything you can buy at the grocery store.

Add more butter than a recipe calls for

Whether they would use chicken fat, lard or pure butter, our parents taught us that you should read the amount of fat listed in a recipe as a suggestion — and then use way, way more to up your flavor. And though you may think fat is bad for you, there are a surprising number of reasons you should actually eat more fat.

Refrigerate your cookie dough before baking

If you want your cookies to be pillowy soft but not flatten out as you bake them, refrigerate your dough and thoroughly chill it before you put it into the oven. This allows the fat to penetrate the cookie and gives the sweet ingredients like sugar and vanilla time to marinate and become more pronounced.

Use dental floss to cut doughy, sticky ingredients

Cutting sticky foods like cinnamon roll dough or soft cheeses can be a hassle and super messy. But if you use unscented, unflavored dental floss, you can easily slice through a number of tricky ingredients with accuracy.

Use dowel rods when rolling out dough to keep it even

Dowel rods are essential tools in the kitchen. When rolling out dough, place 1/8-inch-thick dowel rods on either side of the dough. Doing this will steady your rolling pin and result in an even thickness throughout your dough. This way, your end result will all bake at the same rate.

Water and plastic wrap will keep your guacamole fresh

You've made the most delicious guacamole ever, but despite your best efforts, you can't finish it all in one sitting. Mom gave us one hot tip: After spooning your leftover guac into a container, lightly press it flat with a spoon to eliminate any air pockets and pour a thin layer of water over the top. It sounds gross, but the water sits on top of the dip and creates a perfect air-tight barrier.

Just get takeout

Mom and Dad knew when to call it quits. Whether you burned your roast chicken, forgot to pick up an integral ingredient at the grocery store or just had a really long day at work and are tired, you should know when to take care of yourself, relax and order takeout from your favorite pizzeria.

Sprinkle cinnamon on top of your drip coffee

Even if you're drinking the very best coffee in America, a black cup of java can still be bitter. If you don't want to use an artificial sweetener or creamer for your coffee, sprinkle some cinnamon in your mug. The spice will help to cut some of the bitterness.

Use older eggs for boiling

If you want to cook and peel hard-boiled eggs perfectly every time, don't start with a dozen eggs you just bought at the grocery store. Older eggs will peel much more easily. Add the eggs to a pot of cold water, bring them to a boil, take them off the heat and stew for 13 minutes. Then you can make the most delicious deviled eggs with ease.

Add soy sauce to your eggs

Soy sauce is one of many unexpected ingredients that go great with eggs. Use it to flavor your eggs instead of plain old salt as you scramble them or with hard-boiled eggs too. Once you try it, you'll never eat your eggs without soy sauce again.

Revive old lettuce with water

Did the spinach in your spring mix get all sad and droopy before you had the chance to put it into one of the best salads ever? If you want to bring that green back to life, fill a sink with cold water about 4 inches deep and add half a cup of white vinegar. Put your lettuce into the bath and it will crisp right back up.

Frozen produce is just as good as fresh

When Mom and Dad were on a budget or looking to save time when meal prepping, they'd forego fresh fruits and vegetables and opt for frozen broccoli, peas and berries. As it turns out, frozen food can be just as healthy as fresh produce, and it keeps much longer.

Turn leftover pie dough into a new dessert

When trying a classic pie recipe or a new creation entirely, save the trimmings. You can sprinkle cinnamon and sugar on that leftover dough and bake it quickly for an extra sweet treat.

Soften butter with a rolling pin

If you're baking cookies or a cake, chances are the recipe calls for a certain amount of butter, softened. If you didn't have the foresight to set it out early enough, don't pop it in the microwave. Instead, put your butter in a zip-lock bag and roll it out using a rolling pin. This trick will help even an amateur baker look like a pro.

Substitute eggs with applesauce or bananas

Whether you're looking to make a vegan-friendly dessert or you're simply out of eggs, both bananas and applesauce can be used as a good alternative. The general rule is to use one mashed banana or 1/4 cup of applesauce per one egg called for in the recipe.

Let steaks rest after cooking

In order to make the perfect steak, it's important to allow your meat to "rest" after cooking it. Place the steak on a plate or cutting board, lightly covering it with some foil, and leave it for about five minutes or so. This allows the juices in the steak to settle and distribute evenly; if you cut into the steak too soon, you risk allowing it to dry out.

Freeze or refrigerate dough for a more flaky texture

If you're baking bread or a pastry that calls for a more flaky texture — such as scones, pie crust or a homemade childhood dessert like toaster pastries — leave your dough in the freezer for 20 to 30 minutes or in the fridge for an hour or two. It's important to do this before rolling out the dough to get that nice flake when baking.

Add a small ball of dough when you’ve used too much salt

It can be easy to make the mistake of adding too much salt when cooking, especially since there are so many ingredients that already have a surprising amount of sodium. If you've found yourself in this predicament, mix some flour with water to make a small ball of dough and place that in the pot along with your food. Let the ball sit in there for a few minutes before taking it out, and it should soak up some of that extra salt.

Soak onions in water

One trick to chopping onions without crying is to do so in a bowl of cold water. This will also take some of that "bite" out of raw onions. Leave your cut onions in a chilled bowl of water for five to 15 minutes, and it will get rid of some of that pungent flavor.

Grow your own vegetables

Fresh ingredients can make all the difference when cooking, and produce doesn't get any fresher than when it's homegrown. Even if you're new to gardening, there are plenty of easier things to plant such as basil, mint, green beans, cherry tomatoes and radishes. Growing your own vegetables may seem kind of old-school, but it's probably part of the reason your grandma was such a great cook.

More from The Daily Meal:

How to Cook Chicken, Turkey, Steak and 12 Other Foods Correctly

Natural Cleaning Tips for Your Home

How to Make Your Food Last Longer

Recipes That Use a Lot of Milk

The Greatest Food Debates of Our Generation


Save vegetable scraps for vegetable stock

Just as bones should be saved for use in a chicken or beef stock, vegetable scraps can be used in making a vegetable stock instead of being thrown out. If you're saving up those scraps for more than a couple days, make sure you know how to freeze them properly.