Food and Nutrition

5 Incredibly Common Cooking Mistakes That Make Professional Chefs Cringe (Because They’re Just Too Easy To Avoid)

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Photo: Stocksy/Andrey Pavlov
Everyone makes a cooking faux pas every now and then—even the pros. (Ask your favorite chefs how many times they've burned themselves on a hot pan in the last few weeks, and you'll be alarmed).

That being said, some of the most common cooking mistakes made at home, like not salting your pasta water or neglecting to sharpen your knives, make professional chefs cringe because they're just too easy to correct, and skipping these steps can significantly downgrade your results. And yes, those who have been cooking for years still make them.

We spoke with some of the nation's best chefs to gather a few of their pet peeves—and how to correct them—to help you hone your skills and avoid their least favorite cooking mistakes at all costs. With just a few simple modifications to your kitchen habits, you’ll start saving time, eliminating culinary guesswork (especially when it comes to baking), and have an even tastier, more pleasant cooking experience every time.

5 common cooking mistakes chefs want you to stop making

1. Not weighing your ingredients when baking.

Shari Tanaka, the Pastry Sous Chef at Gramercy Tavern in New York City, affirms that you should always weigh your ingredients as opposed to using measuring cups, especially when baking. "If you’re looking for optimal interpretations of recipes that include weight measurements, always opt to weigh [the ingredients],” Tanaka says. This is because weighing ingredients ensures both accuracy and consistency; measuring cups leave too much margin for error when making dishes and desserts that require precise amounts.

Tanaka points out that this is particularly true for dry ingredients such as flour. "Cup measurements are okay for liquid ingredients where volume is concerned; however, it’s not the same for measuring dry ingredients," she explains. “The results can vary wildly. For example, a cake that should be perfectly moist can come out dry as cardboard if you pack too much flour into a measuring cup instead of using a scale to measure the weight."

Using a portable digital scale ($30) can help you get exact measurements while baking. BTW, the tare feature subtracts the weight of your mixing bowl to zero out the scale, so you only measure what you want (flour, oats, baking soda) for perfect baked goods every time.

2. Not having enough patience—i.e. cooking in a cold pan or turning your food too soon.

King Phojanakong, Chef and Founder of Kuma Inn, Small Axe Peppers, and Cook Like King in New York City, says that lacking patience is one of the most important common cooking mistakes that can easily be remedied. “I know that whole patience-is-a-virtue thing has been repeated to death, but following this simple rule of thumb will help improve your culinary abilities almost instantly when learning to cook," he says.

One of the best ways Phojanakong recommends practicing this skill is by waiting for your pan to get hot before you start cooking. “There’s nothing worse than adding your proteins or vegetables to a cold pan,” he says. A piping hot pan can help you get the highly desirable golden crust on your food, also known as the Maillard reaction. This chemical reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars is what gives browned food its distinctive flavor and deliciously crisp texture.

To further test your patience, Phojanakong pleads that you avoid touching your food as it cooks until it’s actually ready to be turned. “Let the pan do the cooking,” he says, “I can’t tell you how many times I see home cooks poking, prodding, and turning the food over and over without letting it cook. If you’re looking for a nice sear on your chicken breast, don’t touch it until it no longer adheres to the pan." Easy enough, right?

3. Forgetting to taste your food as you cook.

In addition to practicing patience in the kitchen, Chef Phojanakong says it’s imperative to remember to taste your food as you go. “Taste, taste, taste!” he emphatically notes. “Taste and check your dish for seasoning before serving it to your family or friends—or even yourself.”

Why? Because getting caught up in the moment and the exact steps of a challenging recipe can cause you to forget to taste your final product before it's already on the table, which will likely result in over- or under-seasoned or salted food. One way to counteract this cooking mishap is to fill a container with clean tasting spoons and leave them near your prep area, like your cutting board. Once they’re used, place them in a separate container labeled 'Dirty' to avoid cross-contamination.

4. Not cooking your beans the right way.

Missy Chapman-Smith, Lead Chef, Health-Supportive and Pastry Arts at the Institute of Culinary Education Los Angeles, says she’s surprised at how often she encounters incorrectly cooked beans. She teaches her students that it's best to soak their sorted and washed beans at least 24 hours. "This can also help your body digest the beans as well as absorb their vitamins and minerals," she adds.

But by soaking them, you also promote more even cooking. Chapman-Smith notes that this is partly because any given bag of beans will contain beans of various ages, meaning different levels of dryness. A longer soak helps create a homogenous dish, no matter how dry each bean is compared to the next. (FYI, though almost every bean benefits from prolonged soaking periods, lentils are soft enough as-is and don’t require soaking.)

5. Overcooking your stir-fried dishes.

Jazz Singsanong, chef and owner of Jitlada, a Southern Thai restaurant in Los Angeles, says correctly stir-frying vegetables requires a piping hot wok. She recommends getting your cooking oil as hot as possible over high heat and seasoning your vegetables before placing them in the pan. Next, she says to add ingredients into the hot oil and constantly toss for just about 3 minutes. That's it.

Instead of stir-frying for a more extended time at a lower temperature, Singsanong points out that “your dish will come out perfectly if you don’t stir-fry for long, which can make your food mushy or overcooked.”

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