22 Cooking Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

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Cooking can be equal parts challenging and rewarding. Indeed, it can be challenging even if you’ve been honing your skills for a while. As a result, you might still be making some common mistakes. Whether you have a habit of under salting water when cooking pasta or forgetting to read the entire recipe before you start cooking, you can find out how to fix it. Read on to discover if an error you’re prone to make comes up.

Let’s discover some common cooking mistakes and how you can avoid them to take your culinary skills to the next level.

1. Not leaving room in your pan

It’s tempting to cram as many vegetables as possible into a pan, but when you’re pan-frying, sauteing or roasting food, give it some space in the pan. This will ensure you don’t end up steaming your vegetables and will allow foods to achieve that luscious golden-brown colour that’s so sought after.

Now let’s turn to the mistake of under salting cooking water I mentioned in the intro.

2. Not putting enough salt in water

When cooking pasta, vegetables or rice in boiling water, some water will be absorbed while the food cooks. This means that if you don’t add salt to the water before you cook pasta, rice, or vegetables, the food will taste bland. Bear in mind that most of the salt you use will get lost in the water, so use more than you think you need to make sure some of the salt gets absorbed. If you put salt in the water while cooking, you’ll find yourself using less salt at the table and thus consuming less salt overall.

Soon, we’ll find out how you can avoid under seasoning your food. Now, let’s cover a couple of pasta-related mistakes you might be making.

3. Rinsing pasta when you’ve drained it

If you want your sauces to be silky and luxuriant, don’t do this. The starch in the pasta is what can make your sauce extra delicious and smooth. Rinsing your pasta washes the starch away. If you’re not making a stir fry, refrain from rinsing your pasta and let that starch work its magic on your sauces.

4. Forgetting to keep some of the cooking liquor

If you save a little of the water you’ve cooked your pasta or rice in, you can add it to your sauce. The starch in that cooking liquor will help make your sauce smooth and glossy. It will also enhance the flavours of your dish, because of the salt in the water.

It’s time to talk about under seasoning food.

Pasta being boiled in a saucepan of water.
Photo by Mor Shani on Unsplash

5. Under seasoning food

This is one of the most common mistakes novice cooks make. If you only add seasoning at the end of the cooking process, you’re likely to under season your food. You need to add seasoning throughout if you want to make sure your food is correctly seasoned.

6. Not toasting seeds and nuts

It takes only a little effort to toast the nuts and seeds you’ll be using in your dish or even sprinkling on top, but it can make a significant difference to the flavour you can achieve. So, make sure you toast them in future to add depth of flavour and improve texture.

7. Failing to realise how acid can add flavour to food

Most people think only of salt and pepper when they consider the seasoning of food, but acid can add a fresh zingy taste to a dish when added. A splash of lemon juice or vinegar can add zest to a meal and make it even more delicious.

8. Not pre-heating pans before adding ingredients

There is more than one good reason you should heat your pan before adding things to it. If you want to sear meat and try to do so in a cold or lukewarm pan, it won’t work. Instead, you could end up with the piece of meat stuck to your pan. So, be patient and wait until your pan is hot, not just warm. That way, you’ll be sure never to accidentally steam vegetables you were hoping to stir fry.

9. Buying the wrong cut of meat

Some pieces of meat are perfect for slow roasting or are made to be put in the slow cooker. Others need to be cooked quickly at a high temperature. If you’re unsure what cut of meat you’ll need for a particular dish, ask your butcher for advice. Whatever you do though, make sure you have the right cut for what you want to make.

10. Moving food too much when cooking

Patience is key to rectifying this error. Leave the ingredients alone to allow them to cook well. This will mean your food has a better flavour and texture. So, resist the temptation to constantly check if things are cooked by moving them around to get the best results.

11. Not sharpening kitchen knives

Did you know it’s safer to use a sharp knife than a blunt one? If you use a dull knife, you’ll need to use more strength, which can lead to your grip slipping and can cause you to cut yourself. Use a knife sharpener or whetstone every couple of months to keep the blade keen and sharp.

It’s time to find out why it makes sense to read the entire recipe before you begin to cook.

12. Neglecting to read the whole recipe before starting to cook

You know what it’s like. You’re excited to cook something new and can’t wait to jump in. So, you don’t read the entire recipe before you start. Then, you realise you were supposed to leave the meat to marinade overnight … and you’re already halfway through making the dish. Oh no! Make sure you read the whole recipe. Taking a few minutes to do this might save you hours down the line.

13. Not preparing ingredients before you start to make something

Taking the time to prepare your ingredients and chop vegetables before doing anything else can make for a less stressful time in the kitchen. Prep might also include weighing out the ingredients you’re going to need. Good prep is what separates novices from professionals.

You should start by dicing and chopping all the veg and organising your work surface, making room for each ingredient you will need. You’ll also need to prepare any herbs and spices you want to use, like basil and garlic when you’re making pesto, for instance. If you do this, you’ll make fewer errors and be more relaxed.

14. Not checking meat with a food thermometer

How do you know when meat is cooked? Some will tell you to cook it until the juices run clear (in the case of chicken) or to listen to the meat in the pan. Whatever your favoured method, the most accurate way to tell if meat is perfectly cooked is to use a meat thermometer. If you can afford it, buy one. It’s worth the investment.

15. Never letting meat rest after it’s cooked

If you let meat rest for about 15 minutes after it’s finished cooking, the juices inside the meat will settle and spread to ensure all the meat stays succulent and juicy. If you don’t let it rest, the delicious juices will run out of the meat, taking moisture and depth of flavour with them. You’ll get better results if you hold off from digging in for just a short while.

Now, let’s explore some baking faux pas.

16. Not learning the 3-2-1 method for making pastry

Have you been searching for a fool-proof method for making pastry? Well, you’re in luck. Use three-parts flour to two-parts fat, to one-part water. This means if you use 12 ounces of flour, you’ll need 8 ounces of fat and 4 ounces of water. If you use the 3-2-1 ratio, you’ll be on the path to pastry perfection.

17. Forgetting to use scales to weigh out ingredients

This is especially important if you’re baking. Taking the time to weigh out ingredients accurately with scales will prevent you from turning out some oddly textured bakes. Buy a good pair of food scales and you won’t regret it as you develop your baking skills.

18. Not making sure your ingredients are at room temperature before starting to cook

It’s crucial to use ingredients that have not come straight from the fridge (unless the recipe states otherwise). If your ingredients are warm, they will be easier to mix, and your cakes will be lighter and fluffier.

19. You don’t line your cake tins with baking parchment

If you don’t line your cake tin with baking parchment, it might be difficult to get your cake out of the tin once baked. So, always remember to use baking parchment to prevent your scrumptious cake from sticking to the tin. That way, you’ll avoid many post-bake disasters.

20. Not waiting until your timer goes off to check if your cake is ready

Resisting the temptation to open the oven when your cake is baking is critical if you want the best results. Opening the oven before the cake is ready may interfere with the raising process by allowing cooler air in.

If you can’t overcome the urge to peek, switch on the interior light and look through the oven door. But if you don’t have a see-through oven door, you will just have to be patient and wait until the baking time has elapsed before checking on your cake.

21. Not waiting for your cake to cool before decorating it

Trying to decorate a warm cake is a recipe for a baking disaster. The buttercream or icing will probably begin to melt, and your cake will crumble more easily, which will make it more difficult for you to get a good finish. To avoid this, wait for your cake to go cold before you start expressing yourself through the medium of icing.

Flower cupcakes on a white table.
Photo by Ana Tavares on Unsplash

22. Not adding salt to your dough

Salt is an essential ingredient, even in sweet bakes. It enhances the flavour of your sweet creation and counteracts the sweetness. So, be sure to add a pinch to your next bake. Be careful not to overdo it though, adding too much salt to anything is super unhealthy.

Wrapping up

There you have it. Whether cooking is your passion, or you’re an enthusiastic hobbyist, if you work on eliminating some of these mistakes in your cooking, you’ll soon be able to level up your skills and impress all your friends and family with your newfound culinary prowess!

Published by Lizzie

Lizzie here. I'm a freelance copywriter and editor based in the UK. I'm also passionate about volunteering and hold a MA in History from the University of Warwick. I've written for a multitude of fantastic websites and companies, including a legal automation software company, a dog training site and more. Check out my reviews on Fiverr and Upwork for more info!

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