21 Common Cooking Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

“When you make a mistake, don’t look back at it long. Take the reason of the thing into your mind and then look forward. Mistakes are lessons of wisdom. The past cannot be changed. The future is yet in your power.”

Hugh White

Everyone commits mistakes. Who doesn’t? This shows that man is not perfect at all times. Instead of feeling bad on your mistakes, use them for motivation. Do the right thing by learning from your own mistakes and from the mistakes of others.

Mistakes are usually done by beginners. It takes constant repetition to master a task or process until the person becomes experienced. But, being experienced does not guarantee perfection – only lesser mistakes.

Cooking is a huge topic and there are lots of things (old and new) to learn about. When trying to learn how to cook, chances are that you will be doing many things wrong. No need to feel bad about it; get back up and correct whatever those mistakes where; read books; watch cooking shows; ask a friend who cooks;

These tips might also be helpful:

1. Recipes are not used.

Recipes are guidelines, instructions, procedure, blueprint, and formula that make cooking easier. It is acceptable not to use recipes only when you are: an experienced Cook and have been making the same dish over and over again; and you are only boiling water or frying eggs (even beginners need guidance in frying eggs).

21 Common Cooking Mistakes

Photo Credit: Stefo

If you think that you lack information on the meal that you are making, get a credible recipe and use it. Consider a recipe as your user’s manual.

2. Recipes are not completely read before starting.

You want to learn how to make Siopao Asado and Pork Siomai for your food cart business. You printed the recipes for both and started to follow the step by step procedure without bothering to read and understand the entire recipe. There is nothing wrong in following the recipe, step by step; but, it is better to understand the component that you are trying to build before working on it.

Having a general idea or understanding before doing anything gives you the advantage to plan ahead and work towards your goal, rather than completing each step without understanding its purpose. Understanding a recipe will give you an overview on what you are about to do. This will make you work efficiently while saving some time.

Read and understand the entire recipe before doing anything.

3. Cooking verbs are misunderstood.

Verbs are words that indicate action, event, or state. Cooking verbs are specific action words commonly used in the culinary circle. These words make a recipe work by telling what action needs to be done in every step.

Misunderstanding cooking verbs means incorrectly doing a procedure. Imagine a procedure asking you to blanch the broccoli. You grab a mallet and started to pound them – now you have a problem.

To understand cooking verbs means listing them in your notebook along with their meanings. You do not need to memorize everything, simply refer to your list whenever you need them. This post on the Definition of Cooking Verbs can help you.

4. Ingredients are not properly measured.

The word “eyeball” is starting to be popular in cooking shows. No, they are not cooking eyeballs, silly. It is a word used to describe the manner of estimating the measurement of an ingredient by staring at it. If you are a popular cook with years of cooking experience and more than two TV shows attached in your name, you have all the right in the word to do it.

If you think that you are not the person that I am describing, go and get yourself some measuring cups and spoons. Starting from the basics by accurately measuring your ingredients is the way to go. You can start eyeballing ingredients only after completing your 1,000th dish.

5. Ingredients are not completely prepared before cooking.

Cooking does not need to be time consuming, unless you are preparing for a feast. Being a good and efficient cook means preparing all the ingredients before hand. This saves you a lot of time.

Gather all the necessary ingredients and place them in a table. Peel and chop the vegetables; open the cans; wash and chop the meat; line every ingredient in the order stated in the recipe.

Now, you can start cooking.

6. Cooking tools and equipment are not correctly chosen

Do you fry eggs in a deep casserole? How about using a steak knife to mince garlic? I bet you tried cooking clam chowder in a small frying pan.

These are some of the things that we do which are left unnoticed. I am guilty of doing some of these things. I did them because of necessity and not ignorance. I wanted some clam chowder but I can’t seem to find any casserole or pot with cover; I improvised. I needed to cook garlic rice but I have no chef knife around; I used whatever is available. These incidents only happened once. I tried to invest on cooking tools and equipment to make cooking easy and more enjoyable.

If you plan to make cooking a part of your life, invest in basic kitchen tools and equipments and use them on the right moment.

7. Pan is overcrowded

You cannot sear meat on an overcrowded pan. Natural liquid will come out of the meat. You’ll be surprised to see that you are now boiling the meat instead of searing it.

Frying on an overcrowded pan takes some time to complete and the result is often not the one that you are expecting. Overcrowding the pan means more heat needed to complete the cooking.

Cooking in batches, whether frying or searing, does not require too much heat and often yields satisfactory results. If you think that this will not work for you, go get a bigger pan.

8. Frozen meats were not completely thawed before frying

Thawing also means defrosting. Never ever fry frozen or semi-thawed meat if you do not know how to handle it. Warning: This is very dangerous.

Thunder is formed when cold air mixes with hot air. Imagine the effect when frozen meat meets hot oil; it will be thunder like.

Always remember to completely thaw any type of meat before starting to cook.

9. Oil was not heated enough before frying

Oil needs to be heated before frying for a couple of reasons. Hot oil prevents the meat from sticking to the pan. Hot oil also prevents fried food from being too greasy. How is that possible? The outer part of the meat serves as the protective layer. Frying meat in hot oil enables meat to form a protective outer coating which blocks the oil from entering further.

The next time you fry, make sure that the oil is in its smoking point. It is a state where the oil is hot enough to produce little smokes.

10. Not knowing when to start and stop

Burnt meat is the result of not knowing when to stop while burnt meat is still the result of not knowing when to start. Confused? Don’t be.

Imagine that you are cooking stew. You need to sauté the meat in oil and spices before adding the broth. Not knowing when to stop sautéing burns the meat. Not knowing when to start pouring the broth burns the meat.

Know when to start and stop. Have someone by your side to teach you or go back to number 1.

11. Replacing ingredients without adjusting the recipe

Each type of meat has different characteristics. It takes more time to tenderize beef compared to pork and chicken. If you want to cook beef soup while using a chicken soup recipe, you’ll end up with tough beef.

It is important to know the characteristics of each ingredient. When an ingredient is replaced, adjusts the recipe as necessary.

12. Meat is not allowed to rest before slicing

Letting meat rest before slicing is necessary because resting lets the meat retain its juices. These were the same liquid that were forced out during the cooking process. It also evens-out the temperature of the meat.

Always let the meat rest for 15 to 20 minutes before slicing.

13. Heat is not controlled while cooking

It is important to control heat while cooking because it can affect the outcome of your dish. You are aware that simmering for long hours tenderizes the meat. Are you doing the right thing?

If you do not adjust the heat to a lower temperature, which is lower than the boiling point of water, then you are boiling instead of simmering – there is a big difference.

Heat is an important factor in cooking. While understanding the recipe, determine when to control the heat by identifying steps where adjustments are needed.

14. Breads and cakes are either under baked or over baked

Would you like your bread under baked or over baked? Neither, we all want our bread baked just right. Baking is more complex than cooking. All the ingredients need to have the exact measurement and the baking time (indicated in the recipe) needs to be followed. But, why do breads and pastries get under or over baked even if a recipe is followed?

Based on experience, the oven that we use is a huge factor. You see, not all ovens produce the same heat. If the recipe author successfully bakes bread at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes, chances are that your temperature needs to be adjusted to achieve the same effect at the same time. It can be 375 degrees if your oven produces more heat; probably 425 if it produces less heat.

It will be helpful to peek 5 to 10 minutes before the estimated baking time and perform the toothpick test. This test will let you know if your bread needs more baking time or otherwise. Get a toothpick (not from your mouth) and insert it on the bread that you are baking. Pull it gently and try to examine. If the toothpick comes-out clean then you’re bread is ready.

15. Chocolate is boiled instead of melted

Chocolate candies are adorable. It is not hard to make one if you know the proper way of melting chocolates. Melting chocolates does not mean placing them directly in a hot pan and waiting for it to melt and boil.

There are 2 ways to properly melt chocolates: using a double boiler; and microwaving.

A double boiler is a combination of two saucepans. The first saucepan holds water while the second saucepan is placed on top of the first, in a way that it does not touch the water (this should be bigger than the first). The chopped chocolates are placed on the second sauce pan while the first is being heated. The heat coming from the water vapor (boiling water on the first saucepan) slowly melts the chocolate on the second saucepan. While the chocolate is melting, try to stir it gradually with a rubber spatula.

Using a microwave to melt chocolate is the lesser complicated method. Chopped chocolates should be placed in microwave safe bowls. Determining the time is the hard part. It will be safe to consider this estimate that I got from Elizabeth LaBau: 1 minute for 1 ounce of chocolate, 3 minutes for 8 ounces of chocolate, 3.5 minutes for 1 pound of chocolate, and 4 minutes for 2 pounds.

16. Food is flipped multiple times

When cooking, the food needs to be flipped or turned to cook the opposite side. How often do we need to flip foods?

Once; let one side cook completely before flipping. It sounds simple, does it? Well, it actually is.

There are two factors to consider in determining when food is already cooked: temperature and time. Temperature is represented by the heat of the stove, oven, or grill; time is represented by minutes, usually.

Say, you want to have fried pork chops for lunch. Pork chops need to be fried for about 4 to 5 minutes per side on medium heat. If you are frying one side for 2 minutes and decided to flip it, adding 2 to 3 minutes will not make-up for the 4 to 5 minutes needed to cook one side. You will end up having under cooked or over cooked pork chops.

Let one side completely cook before flipping.

17. Not using a meat thermometer

Meat thermometer is an important kitchen tool. If you love roasting, smoking meat, or grilling you must always have a meat thermometer by your side.

You like medium well Roast Beef and got a recipe; but, it did not say anything about the outcome (or state of the meat when cooked). You knew that the internal temperature of the beef should reach 150 to 155 degrees Fahrenheit for it to be medium well. How can you have medium well Roast Beef if you cannot measure the internal temperature of the meat?

Always have a meat thermometer when you are roasting, grilling, or smoking meat.

18. Not using a kitchen timer

How do you measure time when you are cooking or baking? Are you looking at your wristwatch or cell phone every minute?

Time is a very important ingredient in cooking. Just like any other main ingredient, your dish won’t be complete or cooked as expected when the amount of time used is not exact.

While using a wrist watch or cell phone to monitor cooking time can work for you, it is still recommended to have a kitchen timer around.

Kitchen timers have built-in alarms that call your attention when cooking is done. Buying one will not cost you a fortune. You may also use the built-in kitchen timer of your Microwave oven.

Get a kitchen timer and use it at all times.

19. Multitasking while cooking

Multitasking is a great way to complete all your work at once; but, you should set some restrictions.

Doing the laundry and cleaning the house while cooking keeps you pre-occupied. If you are waiting for the meat to simmer for an hour and decided to clean the house while waiting, the best kitchen timer won’t be able to get your attention when you are far away. Overcooked or burnt food is the least of your problem, if this happens.

I am not saying that you should concentrate on cooking alone. Let’s not waste valuable time. Rather, do other things around the vicinity of the kitchen until your finished cooking. You can do the laundry if the machine is near your kitchen, or wash the plates, perhaps.

While cooking, do other things that won’t keep you far from the kitchen’s vicinity.

20. Food is not tasted for adjustments

Do you always taste the food during and after you cook? You should. This will help you check if something is missing or some adjustments need to be done.

I, for one, am guilty of this mistake. Overconfidence is sometimes the problem. Cooking the same dish for the hundredth time does not make anybody an expert. There are still other things out there that can affect the outcome of what you’re doing.

Taste the food during and after cooking and do adjustments, if necessary. Do not use the same spoon twice, for sanitary purposes.

21. Cooking is considered as a task

Think about the thing that you enjoy doing most? If that is cooking, you don’t need to read further.

You enjoy doing whatever it is (maybe) because it feels good; it provides a sense of accomplishment; it entertains; it makes your wife or husband happy; and so on.

Doing the things that makes us happy does not seem to be hard at all. Isn’t it? No matter how tiring or complicated it is, we don’t seem to complain. Why? Because we love it and we don’t consider it as a task. What if you do the same with cooking?

Do not consider cooking as a task. Think of it as an art or a hobby.

I know that there are more items to add and more tips to share. Can you help me make the list longer? Type-in your ideas and tips on the comment section below.


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Comments

  1. Khaos says:

    I just wanted to point out your tip for #16 (Food is flipped multiple times)

    There’s already some people arguing this long known fact, stating that flipping your meat (at least for steaks and burgers) at least every 15 seconds when trying to get that sear results in a more even, and faster cooking.

    With that being said, I do love your site. Your recipes, videos and methods put me in this path of searching for the best way to cook. I GREATLY appreciate all the work you put in on this website.

    Looking forward for more of your tips and recipes!

  2. Hi Vanjo,

    Just wanted to comment on Tip #9: Oil was not heated enough before frying. World’s Healthiest Foods (http://www.whfoods.com) does not actually recommend heating oils past their smoke points, as this signifies that the oils are actually being broken down and are possibly generating carcinogens.

    I would like to quote a sentence from WHFoods’ article “High-Temperature Cooking & The World’s Healthiest Foods”:
    *How you prepare the foods you eat can be just as important to your health as what you eat.*

    Oftentimes, we forget in our quest for great-tasting food that the main purpose of eating is getting nutrition. Of course, it certainly helps if we derive enjoyment out of it. But sometimes, nutrition is overlooked in favor of the taste. I think this is especially true in Filipino cuisine — think /sebo/. We often hear people say, /Minsan lang naman/, but what people don’t realize is that these /minsan/’s ill effects actually accumulate over time. :)

    Sources:
    WHFoods: Is it OK to cook with extra-virgin olive oil?
    WHFoods: High-Temperature Cooking & The World’s Healthiest Foods

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