Cooking Tips and Tricks

Useful Cooking Hacks Everyone Should Know

All you need to be a better cook is a little bit of knowledge

Updated: March 5, 2021
By: RSH Web Editorial Staff
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A collection of some very simple cooking tips can make any dish better or just simplify your cooking process altogether

Over 75 basic cooking tricks you should add to your chef repertoire
From cooking bacon, alcohol substitutes to cooking the perfect pasta. Cooking tips that will make everything better

These quick and clever kitchen hacks will change how you look at cooking

Bacon

Rinse bacon under cold water before frying. This reduces the amount the bacon shrinks by almost 50%

Chicken Breasts

The best buy at the supermarket is to purchase a large bag (usually 3-4 pounds) of boneless, skinless chicken breasts from the freezer section, rather than buying it a pound at a time from the fresh meats section. This saves me about $15.00 a month or more

Marinading Meats

Lemon and lime juice and vinegar aren't the only things that work well as marinades. I use kiwi fruit, either sliced, mashed, or juiced. For sliced, lay the meat over the slices and lay slices over the top of the meat as well. Allow 2-4 hours to marinate. For a faster method, mash or juice the kiwi and use in marinade as a substitute for lemon, lime, or vinegar. This method only takes about 1/2 hour for tender meat. I also use unseasoned meat tenderizer powder (found in the spices section of the supermarket) for the times I just don't have time to marinade meat

Meatballs

When making many meatballs a fast and simple way is to shape the meat mixture into a log and cut off slices. The slices roll easily into balls. Another option is to pat the meat into a square and cut it into cubes which again easily roll into meatballs of uniform size

Meatloaf

Meatloaf will cook faster if you make it in small rounded loaves or even in muffin cups. Muffin cups make reheating leftovers a breeze

Thawing A Turkey

The best way to thaw a turkey is in the refrigerator (in its original packaging on a shallow baking sheet). You should allow approx. 24 hours for every 5 lbs. of bird weight. The refrigerated method is safest and will result in the best finished product. For accelerated thawing, thaw the bird in cold water (in its original wrapping). The cold water must be changed every 30 minutes. Allow approx. 30 minutes per pound

Breading Meats

To bread chicken cutlets and other ingredients. Use one hand for wet ingredients and another for dry when breading - that way you won't bread your hands along with dinner. To coat chicken pieces or stew-meat pieces chicken in flour or crumbs. Place the coating mixture in a plastic bag (self-sealing is the most convenient), add the chicken or beef, seal, and shake until the coated. Shake off any excess coating before you cook the chicken or beef

Grill With Lean Meats

Unless specified for a particular recipe, always us the leanest meat possible when grilling. It's healthier, will reduce flare-ups, and help keep your cooking equipment cleaner

Room-Temperature Meats

Allow meat to stand at room temperature 1 hour before cooking. It will cook more quickly, brown more evenly, and stick less when pan-fried. (Do not do this with highly perishable meats like ground beef and organ meats.)

Pan-Fried Meats

For even, deep browning of pan-fried meat and poultry. Blot the surface of the item with paper towels to remove excess moisture before cooking

Roasting Poultry

Do not roast poultry in a oven temperature lower than 325 degrees. Poultry should be roasted at 325 degrees or higher to avoid potential food safety problems

Roasts

Roasts should be allowed to "rest" 10-15 minutes after being removed from the oven. This allows the juices to settle before carving

Preparing Meats For Cooking

Leave a thin layer of fat on steaks and roasts during cooking to preserve juiciness. Trim fat after cooking. Pat steaks, cubes and pot roasts dry with paper toweling for better browning. To make cutting into strips for stir-frying easier, partially freeze beef to firm. Salt beef after cooking or browning. Salt draws out moisture and inhibits browning

Grilling On Skewers

When using wooden skewers for kebabs, soak in cold water for 10-30 minutes to prevent them from burning. Thread shrimp onto skewers lengthwise so they won't curl as they grill. They're also less likely to fall into the fire

Whole Fish

Scale a fish easily by rubbing vinegar over its skin. To neatly bake a whole fish, wrap in aluminum foil. When done cooking, open the foil and gently slide a spatula under the fish

Add Flavor With Food Waste

Save the loose skin on onions and garlic to toss into the fire just before grilling meats or vegetables. And throw dry fennel tops on the fire when grilling fish

Apples

Refrigerated apples last up to 10 times longer than those left at room temperature. To prevent apples from speeding up the ripening process of other items in your produce drawer, store them in a plastic bag

Asparagus

For tender asparagus, gently bend a spear until it breaks. The natural breaking point should separate the tender spear from the tough end. Dispose of the end pieces and steam to perfection

Cabbage

Instead of blanching cabbage leaves to wilt them for stuffing, simply leave the whole head in the freezer overnight

Celery

Wrap celery in aluminum foil when putting in the refrigerator, and it will keep for weeks

Chopped Onions & Green Peppers

You can buy frozen chopped onion or green peppers for a quick recipe shortcut, or since they freeze so well, chop a whole bunch at once and freeze them in single servings

Chopping Onions & Grating Horseradish

Hate how your eyes water? Tear off a section of a slice of bread (I prefer to use the heel, as I don't eat it) and place it between your lips, allowing it to protrude from your mouth while cutting

Citrus Fruit Juice

To get the most juice out of fresh lemons, limes and oranges, bring them to room temperature and roll them under your palm against the kitchen counter before squeezing. Another method is to microwave fruit on high for 30 seconds, let stand a couple of minutes before cutting and squeezing them. Rolling it between your counter and hand also does the trick

Citrus Zest

Before you squeeze juice from a lemon, grate off the rind into a freezer bag and freeze. Then when a recipe calls for lemon zest or rind, just pull it from the freezer. Sprinkle a little sugar over citrus zest or fresh ginger before chopping. The sugar not only dissolves and absorbs the juices but also helps spread the flavor

Corn

When boiling corn, cooking for 3 minutes is all that's necessary; any more time will only boil out the flavor. Instead of adding salt to the boiling water, add a pinch of sugar to bring out the natural sweetness of the corn

Crisper Drawer

Line the bottom with a paper towel to absorb liquids that make veggies wilt

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Frozen Vegetables

These are an important staple, a quick way to separate them is to pour boiling water over them in a colander and then add them to your casserole or stove-top dish to finish cooking

Garlic

To mince a garlic clove quickly, rub it over the tines of the back side of a fork. Save yourself lots of time by always using jarred minced garlic that can be found in the produce or condiment section of the supermarket. Peel garlic by using the heel of your hand, press the flat side of a chef's knife onto an entire clove of garlic. You can then slip the slightly crushed garlic from its skin. Hands smell after peeling garlic? Rub hands with the rounded side of a stainless steel spoon under running water

Hot Peppers

When working with fresh chiles and peppers, wear disposable gloves. Don't handle the peppers under water (it extracts painful vapors)

Leafy Greens

The sooner you consume lettuce, spinach and other greens after they are picked, the crisper they will be. Rinse not-so-fresh greens under cool water to "revive" them. Dry by running the greens through a salad spinner or wrapping them in dry towels. Place in a loosely closed bag and refrigerate 1 hour. Leafy greens are packed with vitamins and minerals. When buying fresh greens, remember that they cook down considerably. One pound of spinach or mustard greens will yield a cup or two of cooked greens. Serve iceberg lettuce wedges instead of torn salad greens to save time making a salad. Also, before refrigerating iceberg lettuce, wash and remove the core so each time you need some for salad it's clean and ready.

Leeks

To clean leeks. Cut off dark green top and discard or save for stock. Trim root end, leaving base intact so that leek remains in one piece. Starting 1/2" from base, slit leek through the other end; give it a quarter turn and repeat, so the leek is quartered and the root end is intact. Soak the leek in cold water or rinse it under running water, gently spreading the leaves to remove any grit and dirt

Mushrooms

Mushrooms soak up water like a sponge, then release it later while cooking (which can change the consistency of recipes). Try "dry cleaning" your favorite fungi. You can find a "mushroom brush" with soft bristles at most kitchen stores. Lightly moisten the brush (or a rag) with water, and gently wipe the mushrooms clean

Onion Leftovers

If you need only 1/2 an onion, save the root half. It will last longer

Onion & Garlic Odors

To deodorize a plastic storage container in which onions or garlic were stored, wash thoroughly, then stuff a crumpled piece of newspaper in the container, and snap on the lid. In a few days the smell will disappear

Parsley

Fresh parsley can be dried or frozen for later use. For either method, wash and dry parsley then chop. To freeze, simply pace in a plastic zipper bag and freeze. To dry, spread chopped parsley evenly on a baking sheet and place in a 200 degree oven with the door slightly ajar. Check occasionally and remove from oven with completely dry. Store dried parsley in an airtight container. When selecting parsley, remember that the curly-leaf variety has a milder taste and the flat-leaf has a bold taste

Peeling Fruits and Vegetables

Vegetable peelers are good for more than just carrots and potatoes. Use them to peel avocados, kiwi fruit, and many more produce items. Try it out next time you need to peel something difficult. To peel tomatoes, peaches, and pears, scald them in boiling water before peeling will allow you to peel their skins right off

Peppers

When buying fresh peppers, choose those that are a little wrinkled but still unblemished. Wrinkling indicates mellowness

Potatoes

To keep them from budding, place an apple in the bag with potatoes

Ripening Fruits and Vegetables

Many fruits and vegetables found in supermarkets today look ripe, but are hard as a rock. Soften them up by placing them in a brown paper bag and hiding the bag away in a dark cabinet for a day or two. This is great for items such as avacados, kiwi fruit, peaches, nectarines, and more. Once ripe, refrigerate the produce to preserve vitamins

Saving Herbs For Winter

Is your basil thriving? To preserve summer herbs for winter soups and stews, make herb cubes in the freezer. Chop up your herbs and place them in ice cube trays, then cover with water and freeze. To preserve the color and flavor, use boiling water to fill the tray (this blanches the herbs). Some herbs, like cilantro, keep better when frozen in oil. Mince the herb in a food processor, then introduce olive oil until you produce a fine puree. Pour into ice cube trays or bags and freeze. When introducing the frozen herbs to recipes, remember that they contain water or oil. If this will throw off the recipe's consistency, thaw and drain the cubes first

Tomatoes

Never refrigerate a tomato that is not fully ripe. Most tomatoes sold in stores are still ripening, and would benefit from a few days on the counter. Cold temperatures alter the fruit's flavor and stop the ripening process. Once ripe, a tomato can be refrigerated for several days. To ripen a tomato fast, put it with an apple in a perforated bag. To peel and seed tomatoes, cut out the core and score an "X" on the bottom. Immerse in boiling water for 10 seconds. Remove the tomato and plunge into cold water. Remove the skin, cut in half and squeeze out seeds

Alcohol Substitutes

Substitute chicken stock for wine in entrees. Substitute 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. almond extract for each 1/4 cup of Amaretto or almond liqueur requested. Substitute frozen orange juice concentrate and a little orange zest for orange liqueurs. Substitute quadruple-strength coffee for coffee liqueurs

Brown Sugar

To keep brown sugar moist, store in an airtight container with a whole orange, lemon, or lime. To soften brown sugar, place in a microwave-proof dish, add a slice of soft white bread or an apple wedge, cover tight and microwave at 100 percent power for 30 seconds. Discard the bread or apple and stir. If you're out of brown sugar, try substituting an equal amount of granulated sugar plus 1/4 cup molasses (light or dark) for every cup of white sugar

Butter

To soften butter, let it stand at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes. No time for that? Place it between sheets of wax paper and pound with a rolling pin

Cheese

To easily shred cheese, let sit in freezer for 30 minutes. The firmer cheese is less likely to make a melted mess on your grater

Cottage Cheese

Keep cottage cheese fresh longer by storing carton in the refrigerator upside down

Curry Powder

When you use commercial curry powder, combine two or more brands - each has a different mix of spices

Dry Beans

Soak beans before cooking to soften them, which reduces cooking time, and to allow some of the gas-generating substances to dissolve into the water, making them easier to digest

Eggs

The simplest way to tell is an egg is fresh it to observe it's shell. If it's rough and chalky, it's fresh. If it's smooth and shiny, it's old. You can also place an egg in cold salted water. If it sinks, it's fresh. If it floats, it's old. To tell if an egg is hard boiled or raw, spin it. A hard-boiled egg will spin. A raw egg will wobble. It is easier to separate eggs when they are cold

Measuring Corn Syrup, Molasses, and Honey

Dip measuring cup or spoon either in hot water or brush with oil before pouring in the syrup. This way, you get all that's in the cup to come out

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Milk

Rinse the pan with cold water before scalding milk to prevent sticking

Nuts

To chop or grind nuts fine in a food processor without turning them into nut butter, add 2 or more tablespoons sugar from the recipe. Toasting nuts intensifies their flavor. Fire up a skillet (high temperature) and spread pecans, walnuts, almonds, pine nuts, etc. over its surface. Stir constantly. When the nuts start to turn brown, remove from the heat and reserve for use in salads, pasta, baked goods and more. Keep a constant eye on them during the process - nuts can turn from brown to black in seconds. Nuts can also be toasted in the oven (or a toaster oven). Spread on a cookie sheet, then bake at 400 degrees for 5 to 10 minutes. Be sure to stir the nuts occasionally while roasting. Broken pieces will toast faster than whole nuts

Rice

Does your rice dry out when you reheat it? Next time, add 2 tablespoons of liquid for each cup of cooked rice. Cover and heat for a few minutes on the stove or in the oven. In the microwave, cook on high about 1 minute per cup. Fluff it with a fork and enjoy! Perk up white rice by adding chicken broth with a pinch of crumbled dried thyme, marjoram, rosemary, or basil in the cooking water

Salt

Sea salt is the only salt used in my kitchen. The taste is more potent and the rigid shapes of the grains don't roll off your food as easily. Now that it has become more popular and more widely available, sea salt can be purchased iodized, which I recommend getting. When salting a dish, less is always best. As we know, you can always add more, but never take away. Less salt allows for your guests to season to their own taste, not yours

Soy Sauce

Use light (slightly sweeter) soy sauce for marinades; use dark (slightly heavier) soy sauce for cooking and sauces

Sugar

A sack of lumpy sugar won't be if you place it in the refrigerator for 24 hours

Tortillas

Tough and chewy tortillas? Try spraying tortillas with water (or running them quickly under the faucet), then sauteeing them briefly in a lightly greased skillet over medium high heat

Vanilla

Make your own vanilla by placing 2 split and chopped vanilla beans in 1 liter of vodka or bourbon. Shaking the bottle once a day, let sit for 2-3 months, or until desired color. This also makes great holiday gifts when poured into glass bottles

Wine

Don't throw out all that leftover wine. Freeze into ice cubes for future use in casseroles and sauces

Boiling Over

Butter the rim of a pan in which you cook rice or pasta so it won't boil over

Cooking Lasagna Noodles

Use lots of water so the pasta has plenty of room to expand. To prevent tearing, cook at a moderate yet constant boil. Use a wood or plastic spoon, or heat-resistant rubber spatula to stir occasionally while cooking. Stir gently. Always boil pasta less time (the short end of the cook time) if it will continue to cook in a baked dish or in a recipe on the stove top. This also reduces the chance of tearing. Drain pasta carefully! Slowly pour water from pan so that pasta slides gently into a colander. Rinse pasta thoroughly in cold water and drain well. Place in a covered container right away to prevent pasta from sticking together.

Cooking Perfect Pasta

To prevent pasta from sticking together use plenty of water, cook at a constant boil, and stir occasionally. There is no need to add oil to pasta while it's cooking. Once pasta has been added to boiling water, start timing when the water returns to a boil. There is no need to rinse cooked pasta. If you do, the sauce won't cling. Rinse pasta only if it will be used for a salad or will be set aside or stored for later use

Cutting Pizza

No pastry wheel? You'll find that kitchen shears cut through pizza - stringy cheese and all - more quickly and cleanly than a knife. Besides, they won't scratch or mar your pizza pan

Freezing Pizza Dough

Make pizza dough in double batches and freeze half. You can even roll out the extra dough, fit it into a pizza pan, and freeze it flat for a head start on a fast meal

Making Better Pizza Sauce

Intensity of tomato sauce may be adjusted by amount of garlic and crushed peppercorn used. "Bite" of sauce may be increased by adding Balsamic vinegar. Create oil sauces using extra virgin olive oil, herbs/spices, and fresh garlic

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Making Better Pizza Crusts

Use 1 oz. dough portion or less per 1" pizza diameter (for example, 8 oz. dough = 8" pizza). Store individual raw dough portions dusted with flour in ZiplocĀ® bags in refrigerator up to a week or in freezer up to a month. Bake on pizza stone or pizza screen for crisper crust

Casseroles

Most casseroles can be made up to 24 hours in advance and refrigerated. Be sure and add 15 or 20 minutes to the cooking time to compensate

Chilling Foods

To chill foods quickly put them in your freezer for 20 to 30 minutes rather than longer in the refrigerator

Food Stains in Plastic Storage Containers

Use a baking soda paste (baking soda and water) and rub into the stain. You can then rinse with vinegar (optional) and wash normally. Another method is to place container outside on a nice sunny day and the sun actually bleaches the stain out. To avoid stains in the first place, spray container with cooking spray before putting things in it that stain i.e. spaghetti sauce

Fried Food Odors

Next time you fry foods, try placing a small cup of bleach nearby. The bleach absorbs much of the "fried" odor (that would otherwise linger for days!) Be sure to clearly mark the cup and keep it out of the reach of children

Greasy Gravy

A small amount of baking soda added to gravy will eliminate excess grease

Keep Your Cutting Board From Slipping

Place a thin layer of damp paper towels underneath to anchor the board to the work surface

Lining Pans Means No Scrubbing

Line baking pans with aluminum foil before you cook to avoid scrubbing pans afterwards. To line pans easily, turn pan upside down and press a sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil around it. Remove foil. Flip the pan over and drop foil inside. Crimp edges of foil to rim of pan

Oil Temperature

To find out if oil is the proper temperature for frying foods. For deep-fat frying, drop a cube of white bread into the hot oil. If it browns evenly in 60 seconds the oil is 350-365 degrees, in 40 seconds, 365-382 degree, 20 seconds, 382-390 degrees. For shallow frying, the oil is hot enough if it is shimmering and rippling along the bottom of the pan. The most reliable way to gauge the temperature is to use a deep-fat thermometer

Prevent Spattering While Sauteing

To prevent spattering and burns while sauteing, tilt the pan away from you to pool the oil every time you add more food, then lay the pan flat again. You can also add a few sprinkles of salt to the pan to prevent spattering

Soups

Place a lettuce leaf in a pot of greasy soup or pan of greasy gravy - it'll absorb the grease - then, remove the leaf from the pot and discard. Place a raw potato in a pot of salty soup - it'll absorb some of the salt - then, remove the potato from the pot and discard

Thickening Soups & Sauces

To thicken soups or sauces, try one of the following methods. Reduce the soup or sauce by cooking it longer. This will result in a thicker mixture with stronger flavor. OR Add arrowroot, a tasteless powder available on the spice aisle. Arrowroot will thicken your dish, but does not perform well at high temperatures. OR Add a mixture of cornstarch and water. While this thickens well, it can produce a chalky taste. OR Add roux. Cook equal parts of butter and flour until the mixture reaches a golden brown color. Add the mixture to your soup or sauce for added richness and thickness

Wok Cooking

Don't stir ingredients as you add them to a wok. You'll cool the wok and make the food greasy

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