Basic Cooking Skills & Tips To Know

Study up, because these are essential tricks to know

Becoming a professional chef takes years of learning and refining techniques, and for those who love to cook as a hobby, your skills improve with every dish you make. Though no two people make carbonara exactly the same, there are a few essential things every great cook does—culinary degree or otherwise.

Whether you're working in a professional kitchen or cooking at home, here are nine things you should be doing every time you get out the pots and pans.

① Keep your knives sharp.

Sharp knives are one of the most essential tools to have in the kitchen. Not only do they help you cut and slice food easily, they also allow you to work faster and safer. "Sharpen knives every time you use them," Harold Moore, executive chef at Harold's Meat + Three, says. "Then every time you use [one], it's sharp." Learn how to hone your knife correctly here.

② Never put knives in the dishwasher—and dry them immediately after washing.

The dishwasher is a great way to clean and sanitize most kitchen tools, except knives. Especially if you've shelled out the big bucks for expensive cutlery, putting them in the dishwasher will absolutely ruin them. Handwashing is the best way to get them clean, and remember to always dry them immediately afterward, so they don't get dull or rusty over time.

③ Salt and taste while you're cooking.

To get layers of flavor, it's essential to salt and season as you cook. "Taste, season, taste again," Emeril Lagasse says. If you add salt at the end, it only sits on top of the dish, whereas if you salt while you're cooking, it will flavor the dish from the beginning, leaving plenty of time to adjust as you go. Chef Jamie Bissonnette also points out how important it is to "salt evenly and high. You might make a mess but you'll avoid clumps for proper seasoning." 

④ Keep a clean work space.

"I'm all about cleaning as you go," chef and author Gaby Dalkin says. "When I was recipe-testing my first cookbook, it was an invaluable lesson I learned. If I clean and load the dishwasher as I go, then the aftermath of cooking for myself, my husband or a dinner party is way less daunting!"

⑤ Have an extra bowl just for scraps.

Chef and restaurateur Ken Oringer's trick for keeping things clean is "always having a dump bowl for scraps next to your cutting board." You'll work faster and more efficiently, and can discard all of your scraps at the end.

⑥ Always salt your pasta water.

A well-seasoned bowl of pasta starts in the pot. "Salt your water so it tastes like broth," chef and restaurateur Scott Conant says. "Cook your pasta 85 percent of the way in that water, then finish it the rest of the way in the sauce." He also recommends you "use the pasta water to adjust the sauce consistency and make it the desired thickness."

⑦ Know when to use extra-virgin olive oil.

Sorry to burst your bubble, but you shouldn't be using extra-virgin olive oil for cooking and sautéing. Instead, use regular olive oil and save the EVOO for dressings, dips and as a finishing touch for already-plated food.

⑧ Repurpose bones and vegetable scraps to make stock.

Those leftover chicken bones and vegetable scraps might seem like waste, but they can easily be turned into a delicious homemade stock. Just cover the bones in water and simmer for at least three hours, skimming occasionally. Then, strain the liquid through a cheesecloth until it's a clear broth and store in an airtight container for future use.

⑨ Toast your spices.

If you haven't been toasting your spices before adding them to your dishes, you're missing out on some serious flavor. As Lagasse explains, "Toasting spices in a hot pan will wake up their flavor." You can heat up both whole and ground spices, but keep an eye on them because they burn easily.