My goal is to help you build confidence in the kitchen through science. Every recipe I publish has cooking tips that take the guesswork and mystery out of the process, so you can enjoy the tasty results.
While testing hundreds of recipes in culinary school, on the blog and in my cookbook, I’ve made COUNTLESS mistakes along the way. I look at these as experiments and learning lessons that empower me (and now you!) to become a better cook.
1) Understanding the Science Behind the Cooking Method
When developing a recipe, consider the end taste and texture you want to achieve. Knowing this, you can then figure out which essential cooking methods to use. You’ll see these reflected in my recipe instructions.
In general, cooking methods fall into three categories:
- Dry-heat (use fat to cook, or hot air)
- Moist-heat (use water or steam)
- Combination of both
When I want a crispy golden crust on halibut, I’ll use a dry heat pan-searing technique. To quickly cook broccoli and vegetables without losing too much of their nutrients, I’ll steam them with moist heat. For a fall-off, the bone short rib, sear it in a hot pan with fat, then braise it in a flavorful liquid.
2) How to Properly Measure Ingredients
In most kitchens, we use cups and spoons to measure volume instead of weight. This works fine with savory recipes, but it’s more of an issue when baking because precise measurements are needed for reproducible results.
Density also comes into play with various foods, especially with different types of flour. Finally, some foods aerate easily or compact with more pressure. All of these things can impact the actual ingredient amounts added to a recipe.
The first thing to do is to make sure to use the right tool for the job:
- Dry ingredients like flour, herbs, chopped ingredients, sugar, or thick and viscous foods should be measured with a measuring cup.
- For small quantities, 1 tablespoon or below, use measuring spoons if they are dry or wet.
- Use a liquid measuring cup with clear markings for all liquids, make sure to pour on a flat surface.
For tricky ingredients like flour, sugar, or cocoa, use the dip and sweep method. I find it gives less variability. Simply dip the measuring cup into the bag or container, then use a straight edge spatula or knife to sweep away the excess.
To take your cooking repertoire to the next level, use a digital kitchen scale. In my recipes, you will typically see the cups, grams, and ounces amounts no matter if the recipe is for sweet or savory. A digital scale verifies that the amount is the same every time for more consistent results.
3) Choosing the Right Cookware
There are so many types of cookware materials that it can feel overwhelming. In my kitchen, I have stainless steel, cast-iron, and nonstick on hand. I also have a variety of different size skillets, pots, a wok, and a large dutch oven. Typically an 8, 10 and 12-inch skillet and various saucepans and pots like 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, or 12-quart.
Examples of when I would choose a certain pan or pot:
- A large stainless steel pan for searing a steak to develop a golden-brown crust.
- A cast-iron skillet for baking a crispy pizza.
- A nonstick pan for cooking pancakes.
- A 6 to an 8-quart stockpot for fried chicken.
- A wok for my favorite chow mein.
4) Selecting the Right Cooking Oil
A must-know culinary term, smoke point. This is when the oil or fat begins to break down and visibly produce smoke. It’s important to know how to select the right oil for different cooking methods.
Also, consider the time of cooking, you’ll need a high smoke point oil like peanut for deep frying foods, whereas a lower smoke point fat like butter can be used to finish a dish.
5) Take Accurate Temperature Readings
Whenever I’m cooking I ALWAYS have an instant-read thermometer handy. It’s a quick scientific check, other than using your senses to know if food is done cooking. More importantly, if the doneness is where you want it to be.
I also use a separate oven thermometer. The temperature display on the front panel of your oven can fall out of calibration over time. I’ve made the mistake too many times of trusting my oven screen and the results were disappointing, especially in baked goods or roasting.
Tips on how to take a proper reading (instant-read thermometer):
- Slide into the center of the food, it should not go through to the other side.
- Don’t hit the hot pan, bones, or hollow cavities, otherwise the reading will be off.
- For steaks, chops, chicken breasts, fish fillets, or thin foods, lift the food out of the pan with tongs. Insert the probe into the side closest to the center.
- For large roasts, like turkey and chicken take readings from both sides of the breast and thickest part of the thigh.
6) Don’t Forget About Carryover Cooking
When you remove food like steaks, chops, and baked goods from the hot cooking environment, the temperature will continue to rise and due to carryover cooking.
For meats, stop cooking when it’s 5 to 10 degrees from the target serving temperature, and let it rest. The only exception is poultry and fish because their muscle structure is less dense and doesn’t retain heat like a ribeye steak.
Pay attention to the instructions for baking treats and bread as carryover cooking is either desirable or needs to be immediately stopped with extra cooling.
7) Patience pays off- Rest meat!
Resting meat ensures maximum juiciness. Muscle fibers contract and squeezes the moisture out as it cooks. Resting meat before immediately slicing allows them to relax and absorb moisture back in. This process also plays into the carryover concept for certain food, so you can nail that perfect medium-rare temperature for steaks.
Guidelines for resting different types of meat:
- Steaks, pork/lamb chops, chicken parts: 5 to 10 minutes
- Beef, pork, lamb roasts: 15 to 30 minutes
- Pork tenderloin: 10 minutes
- Whole chicken: 15 to 0 minutes
- Whole turkey: 30 to 40 minutes
8) Knowing Which Type of Salt to Use
About 99.9% of my recipes use salt because it’s an effective flavor and texture enhancer when used properly. The amounts I provide in my recipes are guidelines, and I encourage you to season to your liking.
There are endless types of salt and they vary in size, color, and flavor. The smaller the granule, the more surface area it has, so it melts faster. For nearly all of my recipes, I use Morton’s coarse kosher salt because they don’t use additives. I also like the taste and how the flakes cling well to meats and vegetables. If you use Diamond brand kosher salt, use about 30% more.
Get into the habit of always tasting your dish throughout the cooking process, especially right before serving. It’s something my culinary school teachers pounded into our brains because the seasoning transforms over time.
9) When to Use Baking Soda vs Baking Powder
These two ingredients frequently get mixed up. because they both contain an alkaline chemical leavening agent called sodium bicarbonate. Which is simply, baking soda. And by itself, it needs an acid like buttermilk to react and bubble. Baking powder, on the other hand, is baking soda PLUS an acid like cream of tartar, and an inert stabilizer like cornstarch to prevent it from reacting in the container.
When to use one Baking Soda vs. Baking Powder? Baking soda is great to add more spread and crispiness to cookies or when a recipe already has a good amount of acid. I use baking powder (specifically double-acting) for cakes and cookies for extra insurance so that it doesn’t lose all its rising power during mixing.
Baking powder can also help to tenderize meat. It’s a technique often used in Chinese stir-fries to soften tougher cuts, but it also helps to create a crispy crust in baked chicken wings.
10) The Importance of Food Safety
As a food scientist, I feel that it’s extremely important that I mention food safety in the kitchen. Cooking for yourself and your loved ones is the fun part, but making sure the food you prepare is safe to eat shouldn’t be overlooked.
A few simple food safety tips to keep in mind:
- Cross-contamination: Do not use the same board to cut vegetables as raw meat, poultry, or fish. Cut all the vegetables first then prep the uncooked proteins. Also, clean and sanitize the sink after cleaning meats. Do not serve food on plates that have raw meat! I see this a lot when barbecuing.
- Safe thawing: Thaw frozen meats in the refrigerator and not the counter.
- Serving food: Keep cold food below 40ºF, and hot foods above 140ºF. Between 40 to 140ºF (4.4 to 60ºC) is the temperature danger zone, where bacteria can multiply rapidly and cause illness.
- Discard food: Throw food out if it’s been sitting in the temperature danger zone longer than 2 hours. If it’s above 90ºF outside and you’re having a picnic or BBQ, throw it out after 1 hour.
- Refrigerate: Refrigerate any leftovers within 2 hours. If storing hot food make sure to cool to room temperature before refrigerating.
Look at each recipe as a tasty experiment. Observe, learn, and have fun! I hope you find my Top 10 Cooking tips helpful along your culinary journey.
Stay curious in the kitchen, and hungry to learn!