How to Avoid the Most Common Cooking Mistakes

Since most people spent more time in the kitchen in 2020 than any other year, many of these mistakes have already been self-corrected the hard way. Now that restaurants are beginning to re-open, many of you will be forgetting your mistakes and leaving the cooking to the experts.

For the rest of you who are still trying to establish a comfort zone in the kitchen, these red flag adjustments might come in handy as the year at home enters into what we hope is the home stretch (even though there’s still not place like home).

How to Avoid the Most Common Cooking Mistakes

Recipes Taking Far Longer Than Planned

Mistake: You’re all set to make a new recipe and it ends up taking far longer than you had planned to complete the recipe.
Solution: Always read an entire recipe through to the end before beginning.
For instance, sourdough bread can take almost a week to make, anything using dried beans will need overnight to soak the beans, tough cuts of beef will need hours to marinate, bread doughs may need multiple breaks to sit and rise properly, an instant pot recipe will need time to release pressure and cookie dough may need to chill before producing the ultimate results. Reading through a recipe first will better define a start and end time for your work in order to ensure a timely meal.

Not Salting the Water

Mistake: Not salting the pasta water.
Solution: Add plenty of salt to the pot of water before it boils. Since dried pasta absorbs water as it cooks, it will also absorb the salt flavor directly inside. All foods should be seasoned while they cook, adding more seasoning to the finished plate only if it’s needed. Also, don’t overcook pasta – stop the cooking when they’ve reached al dente for best results. Here’s more on cooking pasta.

Overcrowding the Pan

Mistake: Piling proteins or vegetables into a pan that is too small, whether it’s on the stove or in the oven.
Solution: Make sure all foods touch the pan. Contact with a hot pan will ensure a crispy exterior. When foods are layered or crowded into a pan they will begin to steam. This will cause a soggy instead of crispy surface.

Using Old Dried Herbs

Mistake: Using dried herbs and spices that are well beyond their EatByDate.
Solution: For best results, use fresh herbs whenever possible. Dried herbs are an OK solution, but they don’t provide the same pop of flavor. Old expired dried herbs will either add almost no flavor or, if they are really old, they will add a bitterness to the dish. See our spice page for more information.

Not Using a Food Thermometer

Mistake: Poking and prodding your food to test if it’s cooked.
Solution: Meat, poultry and fish should always be cooked to the proper internal temperature in order to prevent the possibility of harmful bacteria. Use a meat thermometer and stick it into the largest part of the meat, avoiding the bones and muscles. Check our internal temperature chart to be sure the protein is done.

Using a Dull Knife

Mistake: Using a dull knife.
Solution: Continually sharpen your favorite knife. Most people find this hard to believe, but a dull knife is actually more dangerous than a sharp one. This is because a dull knife can easily slip from the intended food and cut a finger. Invest in a simple knife sharpener and use it often. A sharp knife will actually make your foods more presentable, save time and prevent accidents.

Not Tasting Along the Way

Mistake: Not tasting the dish during the preparation process.
Solution: Individual tastes vary. Tasting can help guide a dish toward the tastes on your household. (Note: Be sure that foods that are intended to be cooked before eaten are indeed cooked before even tasted.) Other things to watch for include oven temperatures that vary by household the altitude where the recipe is being made. Also, keep in mind what making substitutions for any ingredient can do to the original recipe.

How to Avoid the Most Common Cooking Mistakes

More Information

Here’s a good solution for a dull knife.

To determine what a substitute might do to the outcome of a recipe, check our tables to find the best substitute possible.

To find out how long other foods are good for, please visit the Dairy, Drinks, Fruits, Grains, Proteins, Vegetables and Other sections of Eat By Date or use the search function below.

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