Article first published as 5 Ways To Be A Better Cook on Blogcritics.
Not everyone loves to cook or is good at it. However, there are things you can do to improve your skills. I did not become a decent cook overnight. I’ve been cooking for myself and others since I was about 12 years old, and I have really improved in the last few years. Hopefully those of you who dread cooking or simply can’t seem to get recipes to turn our right will pick up some wisdom from what I have learned.
1. Read The Recipe. Yes, I know that sounds trite, but you should read every recipe all the way through before starting. This is especially important if you are making something new. Understand how much time it will take, make sure you have all the ingredients on hand and that you understand the cooking techniques used.
2. Prep your ingredients. That’s right; I am here to tell you that if you want to improve the odds that your recipe will turn out you should assemble all the ingredients on your counter first. This ensures that you have everything the recipe calls for, or a suitable substitution ahead of time. I also recommend you measure out the ingredients first in separate prep bowls. Yes, that means extra dishes to wash when you’re done. It makes preparing a new or complicated the dish so much easier.
3. Use Thermometers. You need one for the oven, one for the fridge/freezer, one for meats and one for candy. Each has a distinct job in making sure your food is safe to eat and will be cooked to your liking. I use a digital meat thermometer with a probe that can stay in the oven. Most have an alarm setting so you can set your desired doneness and wait for the buzzer to go off. They are inexpensive and will prevent you from serving undercooked chicken!
4. Own Cookbooks. With all the recipes available online, why would someone need a cookbook anymore? Well, a good general cooking book will have reference material in addition to the basic recipes you’ll need. Times and temperatures for roasts; substitutions for basic ingredients; how to select fresh produce or meats at the market. Plus recipes for the basics like breads, roasts, side dishes and desserts. My go-to is the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook. I’ve had it for years and it’s the first place I look when I need a basic recipe like pancake batter. I also own specialized cookbooks, like one devoted just to cookies.
5. Keep Trying New Things. It takes time and effort to become a master, and cooking is no exception. Once you are comfortable with the basics, try more complex recipes, new spices or international cuisine. If you need inspiration try cooking shows on Food Network, Cooking Channel or Public Television. Continue to try new recipes and don’t let an occasional flop keep you from persevering. Practice creates success and success with embolden you to try new things.