There are few things better than a home-cooked meal. Thanks to increasing awareness about nutrition and an ever-expanding market for meal kits and grocery delivery services, people are spending more time cooking at home than ever before. In fact, according to a recent study, 72 percent of Americans cook at home four or more nights a week, with many indicating that they plan to increase the number of meals they prepare themselves.
However, many home chefs—whether experienced or just learning the ropes in the kitchen—are making crucial cooking mistakes. From serving soggy vegetables to cutting into food too fast, we’ve rounded up the cooking habits you need to stop now. And when you want to make every meal healthier and more delicious, make sure you have the 40 Things Healthy Cooks Always Have in Their Kitchens on hand.
Not Preheating Your Pan
Whether you’re cooking eggs on the stovetop or making roasted vegetables in the oven, starting with a hot pan is crucial. If you haven’t heated your pan before you add your ingredients, it will take longer for the dish to cook and will increase your risk of overcooking your food. And when you’re ready to say “so long” to your other questionable culinary behaviors, ditch the 37 Worst Breakfast Habits for Your Waistline, too.
Overmixing Your Dough
While finding little pockets of flour or baking soda in your baked goods is far from ideal, over-mixing is an equally egregious error. Over-mixing dough squashes the tiny air pockets that give baked goods their fluffiness and can cause the resulting product to become tough.
Leaving Your Spoons on the Counter
Think of all the things that make their way onto your kitchen counter: Curious pets, bleach-based cleaners, packages that have been sitting on your front stoop. If you’re resting your cooking utensils directly on your countertop, you’re likely ingesting tiny bits of all of those things. And while eating off a spoon that’s come in contact with a household cleaner probably won’t put you in the hospital, wouldn’t it be better to not to ingest bleach or ammonia at all?
Adding Dairy to Your Slow Cooker Recipes Too Early
Making creamy soups is a tricky business, especially if you don’t know when to add your dairy ingredients. If you’re making a slow cooker recipe that calls for dairy, make sure you add it at the end. If you incorporate milk, sour cream, or cream cheese any earlier, you risk it curdling in the pot. When you want to make sure your next slow cooker meal is a success, start with these 50 Cheap and Easy Slow Cooker Recipes.
Using a Dull Knife
Although it may seem like a dull knife is less likely to cut you, a sharp one is a safer bet in the long run. Sharper knives require less pressure to pass through food, meaning you’re less likely to overestimate the force you need and accidentally cut right through food and into your hand.
Not Spinning Your Salad
A watery salad is a sad salad. Before you serve another lackluster salad sitting in an inch of water, invest in a good salad spinner. Drying your greens with paper towels rarely wicks away moisture from your veggies, and a salad spinner can help you save a few trees in the long run, too.
Cooking Food From Frozen
While it may seem like cooking food from its frozen state will save you time, all it will really do is make your meals mushy. If you’re cooking frozen food, you’re essentially steaming it in its own moisture first, causing it to be a soggy mess. For the best results, either defrost frozen food in the microwave or allow it to come to room temperature and drain any excess moisture before it hits your pan.
Letting Food Sit Before Refrigerating It
If you’re waiting for your food to return to room temperature before putting it in the fridge, stop immediately. While some people claim that waiting for food to return to room temperature inhibits bacterial growth, letting it warm up before refrigerating it actually keeps it in a dangerous, bacteria-promoting temperature zone for longer.
Cooking Wet Vegetables
If your freshly-washed vegetables are going into the oven wet, don’t be surprised when they result in a soggy meal. To make sure your vegetables roast properly, dry them off before they hit the pan.
Winging it When Baking
As they always say, cooking is an art but baking is a science. It’s true: Winging it while baking just doesn’t work. If you’re baking, using exactly the right amount of any given ingredient and following recipes to a T is the difference between delicious baked goods and inedible ones.
Using Cheap Wine
Take this motto to heart: If you wouldn’t pour yourself a glass of it, don’t cook with it. Bad wine, especially wine that’s taken a turn to the vinegary side, won’t taste much better in a recipe than it does in a glass. While this doesn’t mean you should pour an expensive vintage into your pasta sauce, you should make sure any wine you use in your cooking is palatable on its own.
Cooking Meat Right Out of the Package
Slapping a steak on the grill straight from the fridge is a great way to ruin it. To ensure a proper char and even cooking, you’ll want to bring your meat to room temperature and dry off any excess moisture before heating it up. And when you want to add some healthier yet equally-filling protein to your menu, start with the 29 Best-Ever Proteins for Weight Loss!
Cutting Meat Right Off the Stove
When your steak is cooked, give it a little time to breathe before digging in. When steak is exposed to heat, the liquid within it collects toward the center of the cut. However, if you let your steak sit for a few minutes after removing it from a heat source, this liquid has time to redistribute and reabsorb throughout the steak, keeping more moisture in your meat and less on your plate in the long run.
Using Dried Herbs in Place of Fresh Ones
Dried herbs and spices can be lifesavers when you’re cooking, but they shouldn’t be used interchangeably with fresh ones. Dried herbs contain less moisture than their fresh counterparts and therefore have a more concentrated flavor. If a recipe calls for a teaspoon of fresh sage and you use a teaspoon of dried, you’ll end up over-seasoning your dish.
Seasoning Food at the End
If you want a delicious, perfectly-seasoned meal, don’t wait too long to add your herbs and spices. Seasoning at the end of the cooking process means that those seasonings won’t have a chance to develop into more complex flavors by melding with your recipe’s other ingredients. What’s worse, in many cases, those herbs and spices won’t incorporate at all, making your dish taste so spicy or salty that it’s practically inedible. Luckily, if you want to make every meal more flavorful, the 20 Healthy Fats to Make You Thin are easy additions to any meal.