Things Could Always Be Worse
Imagine picking up a frying pan and lighting it on fire because you let it get too hot. Imagine under-cooking pasta so horribly that it crunches when you chew it. Imagine that you don’t know you need to brown meat before you add spaghetti sauce to it, putting your family at risk for salmonella.
Boiling water seems like an insurmountable task. Even making a simple dish, like a grilled-cheese sandwich, is impossible.
These unbelievable cooking mistakes are exactly what you’ll find on Food Network’s “The Worst Cooks in America.”
Reality TV is a trend that, good or bad, is here to stay. It’s seeped into every topic imaginable, from treasure hunting to shopping for a wedding dress. So it’s no surprise that the Food Network has adopted the Reality TV model. The “Worst Cooks in America” series is no exception.
Suspense makes for great TV, but this show takes it to a whole new level. You don’t know what crazy mistakes the contestants will make next.
The following common cooking mistakes are “small potatoes” compared to the crimes committed in the “Worst Cooks in America” kitchen, but they still keep you from creating the best food you can.
1. You Don’t Read the Recipe Through Before You Start
I don’t like to read the directions before I start putting Ikea furniture together. So naturally, this is a common mistake I make a lot.
Some recipes require that you follow the directions exactly, and if you don’t walk through step-by-step, they will flop.
I usually forget to take the butter out of the fridge to soften. If you try to add cold butter to a recipe that requires soft butter, you’ll have a crazy-lumpy mess. Likewise, if you try to cut soft butter into a recipe that requires cold butter, your dough will not turn out right.
You might also find yourself in a situation where you don’t have the ingredients you need to make a recipe. It’s possible to get away with some substitutions, but if you don’t have milk, there’s really nothing you can add that will make your recipe turn out.
Just get in to the mindset that it only takes 30 seconds to give the recipe a quick read-through before you start cooking. It will save you a lot of time in the long run.
2. You Don’t Know What Temperature to Cook Food on the Stove-top
First, unless the recipe states otherwise, you should always preheat your pan.
Most recipes will tell you the heat your pan should be set at. Don’t assume that you can reduce cooking time by turning the dial up to high heat. You should rarely use high heat, because it’s too hot for most applications.
There are a few standards to know, though.
When sautéing, the pan should be set at medium-high heat. Sweating is usually done at medium-low to medium heat. Pancakes should be cooked at medium. Grilled cheese is best cooked on medium, with the lid on to allow the steam to melt the cheese.
3. You Don’t Cut Vegetables into Similar-Sized Pieces
This seems like it wouldn’t be a big deal, but if your vegetables are varying sizes, they won’t be done at the same time. The small vegetables will burn, or overcook at the very least. The larger vegetables will be under-cooked or still raw when you pull them from the pan.
You don’t want to eat a burned vegetable in one bite and then a raw vegetable in the next.
Proper knife skills will go a long way in helping you cut the vegetables the same size.
The types of dishes where this will make the most difference are stir-fried dishes, roasted vegetables, kabobs, vegetable pasta dishes, casseroles, and sautéed vegetables.
4. You Don’t Season at Every Step
One of my favorite things to do when I’m cooking is to season at every step. It makes me feel like I’m a professional chef cooking in a restaurant. More importantly, what you’re doing is adding layers of flavor.
Salt is not just a way to add flavor, it also pulls out moisture to help with the cooking process. For instance, you want to add lots of salt to onions or mushrooms while cooking to help them break down.
Every time you add food to a pan or pot, season with salt and pepper. If your ingredients are already salty, like olives, pickles, cheese, or capers for example, you may be able to get away with skipping the salt for that seasoning round.
Usually, you’ll only want to add herbs and/or garlic to your dish once during the cooking process.
Garlic should be added somewhere in between the beginning to the middle. If you’ll be cooking something for a long time, add garlic in the middle to make sure it doesn’t burn.
It’s best to add dried herbs at the beginning to let them bloom during the cooking process. If you want the herb flavor to really permeate into every bite of the dish, add fresh herbs at the beginning.
It’s important to know there’s a difference between the taste of fresh parsley and cooked parsley. If you don’t want to change the flavor too much, add fresh herbs right at the end.
5. You Don’t Taste as You Go
You need to taste your food as you go. It gives you the opportunity to add what might be missing. If you’ve been cooking long enough, you should be able to taste a dish and realize that it needs a little Italian seasoning, some cayenne pepper, or some sugar for depth of flavor.
You’ll also know if you’ve added too much of something. If you did, don’t worry, because there are a few things you can do to fix minor mistakes.
If you added too much salt, you can add potatoes to soak it up, or more water to dilute it. You can also add some acid, like lemon juice or white vinegar, but be careful not to add too much.
If your dish is too spicy, you can add sugar to balance it out and cool it down.
6. You Don’t Season Meat with Enough Salt Before You Cook it
Meat (especially chicken and steak) needs a good salt and pepper seasoning. You might not realize how much salt and pepper it actually takes to season meat.
Don’t be afraid to liberally add salt and pepper. You’ll want to cover it from end to end.
A good rule to follow is 1/2 teaspoon per pound, sprinkled evenly on both sides. Trust me, it won’t taste too salty.
7. You Don’t Let Meat Rest After You Pull it From the Heat
When meat is cooked, the juices collect at the center and stay there. When allowed to rest for 10 minutes after cooking, the juices redistribute to the rest of the meat. If you don’t let your meat rest before you cut it, the juices will escape.
All that tasty juice is left on the plate or cutting board instead of in your mouth.
This goes for all meats, not just steaks off the grill. Chicken breasts, roasts, pork chops, etc. all need to rest. The exceptions are hamburger patties, kabobs, and meats in stews and soups.
To rest meat, put it on a plate, cutting board, or cookie sheet, and loosely cover it with foil. If you cover it tightly, it will continue to cook. Imagine you’re making a tent with the tinfoil.
Covering the meat will keep it warm while the juices are redistributing.
What You Should Do Next
If you’ve been making these mistakes, fear not! You’ve now got a great start to building a base of solid cooking skills.
Make sure you always keep learning. There are some great resources to help you continue learning tips, tricks, and the right way to do things.
One of those resources is our cooking course, The Smart Person’s Guide to Basic Cooking Skills, which is currently free. It’s a 12-week self-study course that’s sent directly to your email inbox.
We’d love to help you learn the basic cooking skills you need to succeed in your cooking!
Remember, the course is free, so just click the link above (or use the form below) to get started now.
Crystal is the founder of Simply Playful Fare. She has been in the kitchen for as long as she can remember. She has a degree in English with an emphasis in creative writing.