9 Common-Sense Cooking Tips You Should Always Remember

When you're caught up in a new recipe, it's easy to forget even the most obvious cooking tricks and tips. But memorize these, and you'll always have success in the kitchen.

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Use Your Noodle

The most helpful kitchen tips often aren't the most complicated. Instead, they're simple and logical — the kind of things that might make you say "why didn't I think of that?" We've outlined a few must-know tricks and techniques to always have in your arsenal. Whether you’re a culinary newbie an experienced home-cook, you'll benefit from memorizing them.

Dry Off Herbs and Veggies Right After You Buy Them

Lots of supermarket produce gets misted and sprayed until it’s way too wet. And soggy leaves rot quickly, especially in sealed produce bags. After unpacking your root vegetables and herbs, un-bunch them, trim off wet tops or roots, and then gently pat dry (with lettuces, shake off the excess liquid). Wrap the produce in a single layer of paper towel before re-bagging to keep it perky.

Crack Eggs Into a Separate Bowl First

Murphy's Law says that when you're breaking a bunch of eggs for an omelet, the shell from one will fall into the bowl (or worse, a bad egg will contaminate them all). To isolate the damage, break each egg into a small bowl or cup before transferring it to your mixing bowl. The same goes for separating eggs; always do them one at a time to prevent one broken yolk from spoiling a bowlful of whites.

Cut Up Butter Before Baking With It

If your recipe calls for soft, room-temperature butter, cutting it into smaller pieces will help soften it faster. On the other hand, many recipes, like those for pie crusts, call for rock-hard ice-cold butter. Cut the butter into little cubes, spread them out on a plate, and pop the plate in the freezer. The butter will be ready to use in minutes.

Choose the Right Measuring Cups for the Job

While both liquid and dry measuring cups can measure similar volumes, choosing the wrong one can still affect accuracy. Dry measuring cups have flat rims, which get you the most accurate measure of dry ingredients like flour, sugar and oats. You just fill up the cup and sweep off the excess with the side of a knife.

If you put dry ingredients in a liquid measuring cup, which often has a curved edge and measurements marked up the side, you have to pack the ingredients down to get an even line; this compacts the contents, increasing the amount and possibly throwing off the recipe. Likewise, if you measure a liquid  (like water, milk or syrup) in a dry cup, you'll find it hard to fill it to the very top.

Grate Food the Long Way

When using a hand-held box grater, hold the ingredient lengthwise or at a slight angle, so more of the surface is grated with each swipe. This creates longer and prettier shavings. This technique also helps you grate more at once, making the chore go faster. (Remember to protect your fingers with a kitchen towel.)

Freeze Slightly Before Slicing

Even with the sharpest of knives, slicing meat and soft cheeses can be difficult. To cut raw steak, chicken breast or pork into thin, even slices for stir-fries and the like, firm it up in the freezer first: Wrap the meat in plastic, freeze for about 20 minutes (just long enough to stiffen up the edges) and then give it a go. This trick also works with with soft melting cheeses, like mozzarella and some cheddars, and semi-soft cheeses like Havarti, fontina and Monterey Jack.

Spread Food Out to Cool Completely

Cooking in big batches to get ahead for the week? Instead of waiting for a pot of stew to come to room temperature before refrigerating, divide it among wide, shallow pans or containers so it cools fast and you can chill it safely. Likewise, spread out hot rice and other grains on a baking sheet before refrigerating. It brings down the temp and stops your grains from turning to mush.

Freeze Flat, Then Store Efficiently

To freeze items like canned tomatoes, sauces, beans and lentils, set a resealable plastic bag on a plate or small baking sheet. Pour in the food so it spreads out and the bag sits flat, then zip, squeezing out excess air. Put the plate with the bag in the freezer until it freezes solid. You can store your rock-hard food “sheets” upright and organized, or just slide them into a crowded freezer wherever they fit. When it's time to cook, tap your frozen food pack on a hard surface so it breaks into smaller pieces, and it will thaw quickly too!

Salt as You Go — and Taste Before Serving

Even some of the best cooks forget this one: Add salt to a dish as you cook, sprinkling carefully to make sure each of the ingredients is evenly seasoned. And make sure to taste a dish before you bring it to the table. If the food needs seasoning, add salt little by little, tasting after each addition to get it just right. Too little salt is fixable; too much can make your masterpiece inedible.