Ordering meal delivery kits can help eliminate mistakes in the kitchen, as these kits give clear instructions and teach you as you go. But the best way to get more flavor from your food is to recognize mistakes before they happen and address them proactively. So in this guide, we’ll reveal the 10 most common mistakes people make in the kitchen and explain how you can avoid them.
1. Not Reading the Whole Recipe Before Starting
One of the most common mistakes that beginner chefs make is not reading an entire recipe before they start cooking. Reading the recipe helps you understand how the ingredients are supposed to come together. It also gives you a chance to identify potential issues or important steps—like having the right pan or preheating the oven—before you start cooking.
The solution to this mistake is simple: read the recipe from start to finish before you even start pulling out ingredients. Even better, print out a copy of the recipe. That way you can highlight important steps and jot down notes as you go. And after cooking, you can also make notes directly on the recipe about what you might want to do differently the next time.
2. Not Preparing All of Your Ingredients Ahead of Time
Another common mistake that chefs make is not preparing all of their ingredients ahead of time. You might think that you can save a few minutes by chopping the rest of the vegetables after you start cooking the garlic. But the reality is that you’re more likely to end up with burned food or miss adding an ingredient altogether.
To prepare your ingredients, put everything you’ll need to cook out on the countertop. Wash, cut, and chop your vegetables and meats. You can also pre-measure ingredients so that they’re ready to add to the pot when the time comes.
If you’re not a big fan of prepping ingredients, you may want to consider using a prepared meal delivery service where food is delivered to you ready to warm up. Services like HelloFresh also offer some kits with pre-prepared ingredients, so all you have to do is drop them into your pot. They’re a simple solution for the time-strapped cook.
3. Cooking in a Cold Pan
If you’re eager to start cooking, it can be tempting to toss your first ingredients in the pan and then turn on the heat. But this is a mistake that can significantly detract from the quality of your meals.
When you start cooking in a pan that hasn’t been preheated, most vegetables and meats are more likely to soak up oil rather than sear. They’ll also stick to the bottom of the pan, which makes cleanup much more difficult.
The solution is to turn on your stove to heat the pan a few minutes before you finish preparing your food. You should also add oil at this time so that it’s nice and hot when you drop in your first ingredients.
4. Pulling Meat Straight Out of the Refrigerator
An important part of preparing to cook is getting everything you need out of the refrigerator. But when you’re cooking meat, it’s not enough to just get it out of the fridge and then immediately add it to your pan. If you do that, you’re likely to end up with a piece of chicken or beef that’s overcooked on the outside and undercooked on the inside.
Instead, leave your meat sitting at room temperature for at least 15 minutes before you start cooking it. If you have a very large piece of meat—for example, a whole chicken or rib roast—it may take more time for the meat to equilibrate with room temperature. You can tell it’s ready to cook when it doesn’t feel cold to the touch.
5. Putting Too Much Food in the Pan
Whether you’re cooking for a large group or just want to have leftovers to put in the freezer, it can be tempting to double a recipe. If you do that, though, make sure you have a pan big enough for the job.
Importantly, a pan isn’t big enough just because it can hold everything you want to cook without spilling over. When you start squeezing too much food into a small pan, you end up reducing the temperature and adding a lot of moisture. The result is that food tends to get steamed and soggy rather than seared and crispy. Overcrowding can also cause your food to cook unevenly.
So what’s the right size pan? Ideally, you should have a little space around each piece of food and plenty of room to mix without worrying about food spilling over the side. If you don’t have a big enough pan, it’s better to cook in batches than try to cram all your ingredients in.
6. Not Resting Meat After Cooking
If you just finished cooking, your first instinct is probably to start eating right away. But if you cooked chicken, pork, beef, or another type of meat, it’s much better to wait a few minutes. Pull your meat out of the pan and onto a cutting board, then let it sit at room temperature for at least 5 minutes before you cut into it.
This process, known as “resting” meat, allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat and results in a much more delicious meal. Without resting, it’s likely that the juices will spill out when you start cutting the meat, leaving you with an overly dry dinner. If you want to keep the meat warm while it’s resting, you can lightly cover it with a piece of aluminum foil.
It’s also a good idea to pull meat off the burner a few minutes before you think it’s completely cooked. The interior of a thick piece of meat holds enough heat that it will continue cooking slightly while it’s resting.
7. Not Seasoning Throughout the Cooking Process
You might think of seasoning as something you do at the end of cooking, right before you serve up a dish. But that’s a misconception that has led many cooks to bland, tasteless dinners.
Seasoning is a process that should take place throughout the entire cooking process. As your food cooks and flavors are released, it’s important to taste your food and adjust with seasoning as needed. The seasoning in turn works to bring out more flavors, helping you get the best taste possible out of your food.
Another thing to keep in mind when seasoning is that you should never shake your entire seasoning container over the pan. Steam from the pan is likely to get into your seasoning container, causing your spices to clump together and lose their freshness.
8. Using Dull Knives
If you don’t already own a knife sharpener, be sure to add that to your list of kitchen essentials. Having a sharp knife doesn’t make your food taste better, but it can make the process of cooking much safer. That’s because a sharp knife is more likely to dig into the cut you’re trying to make as opposed to sliding out and potentially cutting your fingers.
Having sharp knives also makes food prep faster and easier. If you hate chopping vegetables, the reason could simply be that a dull knife is making the process more difficult than it needs to be.
As a rule of thumb, you should sharpen your kitchen knives every few months, or whenever they appear dull. For more advanced home chefs, it can be worthwhile to have your knives sharpened professionally every 1-2 years.
9. Turning the Heat Too High
If you’re pressed for time while cooking, the first thing you’re likely to do is turn up the heat. After all, it makes sense that a hotter pan will cook your food faster.
While that might be true, you’ll sacrifice a lot of flavor and texture in order to finish cooking just a few minutes faster. An overly hot pan is likely to leave you with food that’s burned on the outside and undercooked on the inside. Think of temperature like you would any other ingredient—if you change it significantly from what the recipe calls for, it’s likely that your food will not come out the way you expect.
A better way to save time while cooking is to use a meal delivery service like Blue Apron. Most of Blue Apron’s meal kits take less than 30 minutes to cook from start to finish.
10. Not Experimenting Enough
While beginner chefs may be best served by adhering closely to a recipe, intermediate and advanced cooks are often more hesitant than they should be about experimenting. Experimenting in the kitchen is one of the best ways to learn which flavors work together and which don’t, how adding or subtracting ingredients can change a meal, and more.
Of course, experimentation requires a willingness to fail. If your modifications to a recipe turn out poorly, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad cook. Learn from the experiment and try again.
Avoiding some of the most common kitchen mistakes can help you markedly improve the quality of your meals. You can also try out a meal delivery service to help you focus on recipes that are beginner-friendly and reduce your chances of making a mistake in the kitchen. Their easy-to-follow instructions can help you learn basic cooking techniques and complement your newfound knowledge of what not to do, helping you become a better cook. If you want to keep sharpening your skills, check out these Cooking Tips for Mexican Food.