The Playbook of Beginner Cooking Tips & Tricks to Make Your Time in the Kitchen Fun & Easy
Not gonna lie. Cooking looks intimidating when you typically spend less than 5 hours per week in the kitchen.
When ingredients make you feel like you're in a lab, that uncertainty is enough to raise your white flag. So does the thought of having your efforts go to waste with the dreaded "what if the dish turns out bad" thought.
But guess what? That's only when you enter the kitchen and start cooking with blind enthusiasm. Which we're here to help you avoid with our not-so little guide.
Because cooking is not only a life skill, but fun avenue you could add into your weekend list of fun things to do. It can be a truly rewarding and enjoyable experience to cook your own food when you know what to expect.
So here's a list of essential and fun cooking tips and tricks beginners wish they knew before they first started cooking!
35 Essential Cooking Tips for Beginners I Wish I Knew Before I Started Cooking
1. Read the Recipe Thoroughly. Not Just Once, but Twice or More.
Take time to read the entire recipe from start to finish so you know what to expect before you begin cooking. Familiarise yourself with the ingredients you'll need for the entire recipe, along with the likely measurements and cooking techniques.
Not only will you get vision of how to create the dish, but you'll also avoid being caught off-guard with any surprises or mistakes along the way.
Pro Tip: I like to view recipes as the essential "check-in ticket" to my next cooking adventure. Except for days where I'm just cooking up instant ramen which you don't need a recipe, unless you prefer yours absolutely boujee with extra condiments and ingredients via a recipe online.
2. Gather All the Ingredients and Equipment Before You Start Cooking
Preparation is truly what separates the kitchen veteran and beginner chef in the kitchen. This is also known as one part of mise-en-place. Before you even start cooking, gather all the ingredients and tools you'll need for your recipe. (This is why I advise reading the recipe before you even begin!)
This involves washing, chopping, dicing, and measuring out your ingredients and setting them in their respective bowls and dishes so they're ready to go at a moment's notice. You'll also want to lay out all the tools you may need, be it a spatula, stick blender, saucepan, or whisk.
So get your favorite recipe out, crack eggs, boil water, cut vegetables, measure out your dry ingredients, chop those onions, or whatever it is you need to do.
It'll save you heaps of time and eliminate stress while cooking.
3. Start with Simple Recipes
One of the best cooking tips for beginners is to start with simple recipes. This means recipes with fewer ingredients, fewer steps, and basic cooking techniques.
I'd say it's best to start this way because there's nothing more demotivating than to end up with unfavourable results when you're just starting out. Some may disagree, but since it's an essential life skill I'd recommend starting with simple recipes to build your confidence through success and in turn, gradually build familiarity in the kitchen.
Once you're a little bored with simple recipes or you feel you're ready to scale to the next level, then by all means please do get adventurous and try out complex recipes!
4. Keep Your Knives Sharp
Dull knives are recipes for disaster, no pun intended. They make cutting more difficult so you'll find yourself hacking and sawing away unproductively when it comes to the prep work.
Invest in a good knife sharpener and keep your knives sharp, honed, and clean to make your time in the kitchen that much safer and efficient.
Regular kitchen knives need sharpening on average every 1 - 2 months, depending on how often you use them.
5. Create a Stable Base With Grip for Your Cutting Board
A simple hack I like to use for chopping, cutting, slicing, and dicing tasks is to place a damp dish cloth or tea towel under my cutting board. This keeps the cutting board in place with little to no movement, which helps a ton when it comes to safety and precision.
It also adds a nice cushion to the base to reduce grip and wrist fatigue for heavy knife work. But remember, you don't want a soaked cloth, just one that's lightly damp.
6. Learn and Master Basic Knife Skills
Learning basic knife skills will change your experience in the kitchen from a tiring one to a fun and speedy one. Learn and practice knife techniques like chopping, slicing, and dicing to cut off heaps of time spent on food preparation.
7. Taste as You Go
Your taste buds are one of the best guides you could ever have in the kitchen. Taste your food as it cooks so you can estimate or know for sure how to adjust the flavour and seasoning as needed.
8. Invest in Quality Measuring Cups and Spoons
There are various types of measuring utensils these days, but I'm of the thought that transparent measuring cups are the best. Yes, that typically means glass or plastic measuring cups.
Why transparent measuring cups? That's because it's easier to measure liquid and ingredients accurately when you can see the measurements clearly at eye level. Precise measurements can certainly make a difference between a culinary success and a flop.
You can't do that accurately with an opaque measuring cup now, can you? As for measuring spoons, any will do - but stainless steel ones are my favourite.
9. Use Room Temperature Ingredients
When you're baking or cooking, it's best to use ingredients when they are at room temperature. Be it eggs, butter, or dairy. Simply remove it from the refrigerator or freezer and allow it to sit until it comes to room temperature before you use it. It's that simple!
Room temperature ingredients are easier to blend evenly and to work with overall, so you'll be looking at better cooking results.
10. Preheat Your Oven
It's a common mistake to put the dish in the oven and turn on the temperature to 180°C just because the recipe says "place the dish in the oven at 180°C".
What it actually means is that you have to pre-heat the oven to 180°C first, before placing the dish in the oven to bake. Keep this in mind to ensure that your baked goods rise properly and cook evenly.
11. Don't Overcrowd the Pan or Pot
It can be tempting to cook a bulk of food and fill up all every bit of space you see in the pan, or fill the pot up to the brim when boiling water. But don't do that.
Give your ingredients room to breathe and give yourself space to manoeuvre them as they cook. If you have to, you can even cook it in batches to ensure that heat is consistently distributed evenly.
12. Use a Timer
Whether you're roasting vegetables, baking cookies, boiling water for pasta, or leaving dough to rise, use and set a kitchen timer so that you avoid overcooking or under-rising.
It's far too easy to get distracted in the kitchen, be it by yummy snacks or in the midst of cleaning up. So a kitchen timer is the perfect underrated companion to help you stay on track.
13. Learn the Basic Cooking Techniques
Basic cooking techniques involve boiling, baking, and sautéing. They serve as the base to almost every recipe, so mastering it opens up your path to a wide range of recipes and cuisines.
14. Keep a Fire Extinguisher Nearby
Safety always comes first. You may have a smoke detector in the kitchen, but that's almost not enough when fires break out.
So get one and learn how to use it. It's a precautionary step that can save lives and prevent accidents.
15. Use a Meat Thermometer
This may be an optional step, but it's a handy one nevertheless. Meat thermometers help you to ensure the meat you're cooking reaches the correct internal temperature. This guarantees meat dishes that are both safe to eat and cooked to medium-rare or medium perfection.
16. Let Cooked Meat Rest Before Slicing
You'll want to let cooked meats like steak or roast chicken to rest for a bit before slicing. Allowing it to rest after cooking lets the juices redistribute, so you'll get to enjoy a juicier and more flavoursome dish.
The general rule of thumb is to allow 1 minute of resting time for every 100g of meat. Based on this, steak should be allowed to rest up to 5 minutes, and roasts up to 20 minutes depending on its size.
17. Keep and Repurpose Vegetable Scraps and Meat Bones
It's second nature to toss vegetable scraps away, but resist from doing so. Collect vegetable scraps and meat bones and store them in their respective bags before freezing them.
They're the perfect ingredients for you to make your own homemade stock while being a sustainable way to reduce waste and enhance the flavour of your dishes.
18. Taste and Adjust the Seasoning Before Serving
Before presenting the dish to your dinner guests, give it a quick final taste test. Adjust the seasonings with salt, pepper, spices, or herbs if you have to just so you can ensure you've achieved your desired flavour profile.
This will also let you know how much sauce or gravy to dish out before having it served.
19. Embrace Cooking Experimentation
Cooking is a creative endeavour and the kitchen is your atelier. Don't be afraid to go a little wild and experiment with recipes by making little tweaks here and there.
Let your taste buds guide you. Some of the best recipes are born from unexpected cooking experiments!
20. Rely on Your Kitchen Scale
Don't be afraid to get our your kitchen scale and get those ingredients or dishes accurately weighed. Sometimes certain ingredients like meat may require longer cooking times depending on its weight so you don't want to be caught unprepared while cooking meat.
21. Learn How to Store Food and Ingredients Properly
Different types of food and ingredients require different means of storage. This includes storing meat separately to prevent cross-contamination and keeping your pantry and spice racks organised.
22. Keep Your Workspace Organised
A cluttered workspace can hinder your cooking process and even end up becoming hazardous. Keep your countertops clean, dry, and organised so you can work efficiently and safely. And stress-free too!
23. Experiment with Herbs and Spices
Herbs and spices are your secret weapons in the kitchen to enhance flavours. Don't be afraid to explore different combinations to add levels of depth and complexity to your dishes.
Some examples you can start with include baking bread with oregano and chopped garlic, and even a comforting warm mix of milk with turmeric and cinnamon!
24. Use a Colander to Drain Ingredients
It can be tempting to pop the lid on freshly boiled pasta before tipping it over the sink to quickly drain the pasta water. Don't do that. It's much safer and easier to use a colander to remove excess water efficiently.
An underrated tip is to keep the tap running as you drain excess hot liquid so you don't induce thermal shock and wear your kitchen sink out in the long run.
25. Mind the Broiler During the Cooking Process
Keep a close eye on your dishes when you're broiling it. The high heat will cause food to brown quickly so keeping a vigilant eye on it will avoid burning and overcooking.
26. Double Check Your Oven Temperature
Ovens are not made equal, so temperatures may vary. Invest in an oven thermometer and use it to double check that your oven is at the correct temperature.
This comes especially in handy when you want to accurately roast meat, chicken, or bake cakes and bread which typically call for precise oven temperatures.
27. Clean as You Go (Mise-En-Place)
The second part to mise-en-place. Cleaning as you go is a fundamental habit to learn and practice in the kitchen.
It involves washing dishes and utensils as you cook to minimise clutter and make post-cooking cleanup that much easier. It also keeps your workspace clean, which enhances your overall cooking experience.
28. Working with Citrus? Use a Citrus Reamer!
When you're working with citrus fruits like oranges and lemons, give yourself an easier time by using a citrus reamer.
A citrus reamer extracts maximum juice with one swift press. That means more juice with minimal effort!
29. Grate Butter When it's Cold
Working with pastry dough and you need cold butter? An underrated tip is to grate butter while its cold so that you can easily mix it into the dough for a flakier and more tender texture.
Not to mention that grating butter while it's cold is much, much easier.
30. Choose Pots and Pans that are Appropriately Sized
Use appropriately sized pots and pans for the amount of food you're going to cook. This helps you avoid overcrowding and ensure even cooking without having to wash more than you need to. ;)
31. Label and Date Leftovers
No I don't mean bring them out on a date (that's for those of you with cheeky questions). Leftovers can be lifesavers on hectic days, and they often somehow taste much better compared to the day you cooked it.
Labelling them with what they are along with when you cooked it makes it much easier for you to identify and use it later.
32. Underrated Cooking Tip: Embrace Patience
Cooking takes time, especially when it comes to elaborate dishes or those that require overnight marination and fermenting to name a few. There's also the fact that learning how to cook well as a beginner cook is a marathon, not a sprint.
So embrace patience and enjoy the process. The results are almost always worth the wait.
33. Don't Be Afraid of Mistakes
Even the most experienced chefs make mistakes. Take Gordon Ramsay getting scolded by Aunty Aini for making a cooking mistake when he visited a Malaysian kitchen to learn from.
Learn from mistakes and keep cooking to improve. Your culinary skills will grow with every challenge you overcome!
34. Practice Makes Perfect
Just like what you read in #33. Practice makes perfect so don't be discouraged by them. View them as opportunities to improve, because you'll never know how to pivot from there if you don't try it to begin with!
35. Celebrate Your Culinary Journey
Cooking is an on-going journey, an adventure that never ends. Celebrate every little progress you make, and take pride in the delicious dishes you create.
Because it's true when they say delicious meals are those cooked with passion.
Bonus Tip: What Should a Beginner Cook First?
Remember tip #3 which mentioned starting with simple recipes? I'd say starting with hard boiled eggs is a good one for absolute beginners to get a grasp of temperature control and boiling (one of the essential cooking techniques).
Once you master that, one of the best dishes to learn how to cook is the classic scrambled egg. The most basic version of this dish calls for only a few ingredients - eggs, butter, salt, and pepper.
But while simple, this underrated dish helps beginners practice essential cooking techniques like whisking, heat control, while being a great opportunity to introduce beginner cooks to the magic of cooking on a non-stick pan.
It also offers room for beginner cooks to experiment with extra ingredients like cheese, herbs, vegetables, and meat once they master the basic technique. And not forgetting how it's simply delicious when done well!