How to Become a Good Cook in 7 Comprehensive Steps
Ask anyone how you can become a good cook and they’ll probably say;
“I joined a cooking course at a culinary school last summer and my family told me I cook much better now!”
“Just read a whole lot of cookbooks and watch cooking videos, you’ll get there.”
They're not wrong, but where does that put you? Probably demotivated to even start. You may also think of taking up that cooking class you saw on an IG ad as the fastest way to get good.
But what if you don’t need a cooking class to get good at cooking?
Sure some have the extra cash to spend on cooking courses. Some even have the time, energy, and extra money to invest in quality cookbooks and watch cooking videos for hours on end. But there are situations where you’re not able to do either one!
Cooking is an essential life skill and life’s too short to suffer through bad cooking all the time. So we’ve put together a guide on how you can become a better cook and get in tune with your inner chef over seven comprehensive steps.
Step 1: Build Your Cooking Foundation
Get to Know the Essential Basic Cooking Techniques
Start by familiarising yourself with essential basic cooking techniques such as:
Chopping and cutting
These techniques serve as the base of almost every recipe, which will allow you to easily grow into creating a wide range of dishes.
Learn How to Accurately Measure Ingredients and Cooking Temperatures
Rule of thumb when it comes to ensuring consistent cooking results; accurate measurements. This includes measuring ingredients and learning how to read cooking temperatures.
It’s why almost, if not all kitchens have measuring tools. The usual suspects range from kitchen scales, measuring spoons, measuring cups, to a cooking thermometer.
You can learn how to accurately measure by first learning the difference between wet ingredients and dry ingredients. Then follow up by learning how to level ingredients for the exact measurements.
Here’s an example on measuring dry ingredients: When measuring 1 tablespoon of sugar, you’ll want to first scoop the sugar, then level it by running the flat edge of a knife or spatula over the top of the measuring spoon. That’s how you level ingredients to get the exact amount needed for the recipe.
And an example on measuring wet ingredients: When you need to measure cooking oil, pour it into a measuring cup that is placed on a flat surface while watching the exact measurement at eye level. This means that your eyes ought to be at the same level as the measuring cup. Yes, you'll probably have to do a cheeky squat or bend over for that!
Learning how to read the temperature of meat while it cooks, be it while searing steak or baking chicken, is also a fundamental skill professional chefs typically encourage learning.
Understand the Five Basic Tastes
The five basic tastes are sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami. Learning how to distinguish each taste and how they interact in dishes will help you craft well-balanced meals that are also pleasing to the taste buds.
But why distinguish if they are all clearly different? That’s because you may run into a situation like getting confused between salty and umami as they share close similarities.
Both serve as a base that enhances the flavours of food. But while salt serves as a natural flavour enhancer, umami brings in a welcoming level of depth and complexity to dishes.
Once you’re more familiar with the five basic tastes, you could even look into building a little spice rack of assorted herbs and spices. These could include commonly used herbs and spices like salt, pepper, thyme, oregano, cinnamon, and chilli flakes.
Mise-en-place is a fundamental skill chefs and culinary students are taught even before they begin cooking in the kitchen. It’s a French term that means “everything in its place” or “putting in place”.
It’s essentially a form of cooking organisation, where you prepare the ingredients, utensils, and cookware you need by laying them all out so they are ready to go the moment you begin cooking.
But that's just one of the two parts that encompass mise-en-place!
The other one involves cleaning as you go. Done using that bowl to hold beaten eggs? Place that bowl into your dishwasher or soak it in the sink immediately. Finished with that whisk? Place it in the dishwasher, soak, or wash it immediately! The key is to keep the kitchen organised by cleaning your workstation and equipment as you go.
Practising this at the beginning ensures that you develop a great habit that will keep you organised and safe in the kitchen. It also removes the frustration of a messy kitchen and saves you heaps of time from having to search for what you need when you need it.
Step 2: Build Your Confidence in the Kitchen
Start with Easy-to-Follow Recipes
It’s tempting to start on the deep end and try out recipes that involve popular techniques like browning and flipping. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves and get overwhelmed. The key here is to begin with easy recipes as you familiarise yourself with the kitchen and cooking.
Easy recipes typically use few ingredients and rely on basic cooking techniques like the ones mentioned in Step 1. A fine example would be a simple Aglio E Olio which involves boiling spaghetti followed by some light sautéing with olive oil, chilli flakes, garlic, and parsley.
Something simpler would be the classic scrambled eggs, where advanced chefs even take it a step further by cooking it with sour cream (it's totally understandable if you have a bunch of question marks at the sight of sour cream and scrambled eggs in the same sentence).
Or if you want to take it a small step further, try out this delicious dairy free carbonara recipe that is super easy to follow and suitable for the whole family to enjoy!
Invest in Basic High Quality Cookware and Utensils that are Versatile
As you grow more comfortable and confident in the kitchen, you can start looking around and learning about cookware and utensils you can invest in. It’s always best to get high quality cookware and utensils that last, are versatile, and are easy to clean. That’s because the right cookware and utensils will make cooking far more enjoyable for you.
For starters, I’d recommend looking into high quality non-stick cookware as they are great for cooking almost all recipes without the fuss of stubborn stains and stuck food after. A versatile cookware set that can handle almost all recipes would look like an oven-safe pot, a non-stick pan, and a sauté pan.
Cosmic Cookware’s array of non-toxic and Swiss-certified ceramic non-stick cookware are stunning examples that not only look fantastic in your kitchen but ensures that your food cooks beautifully as well. They are carefully crafted to work on all cooktops including induction and the oven too. I certainly can’t think of a more convenient option that works as well as it looks!
Personally I wouldn't recommend looking into cast iron cookware in the beginning, even if that beautiful enamelled cast iron pan looks exquisite. That's because cast iron can be rather finicky to handle especially when you're still familiarising yourself with cooking.
As for utensils, the best ones are often either stainless steel, wooden utensils like the classic wooden spoon, or heat-safe silicone utensils. But between the three, silicone utensils are easier to handle and more forgiving as they are gentle enough to be used on all types of cookware surfaces, yet durable enough to handle almost all cooking tasks.
Learn to Taste Your Dishes as You Cook
Don’t wait until the end to taste the dishes you're cooking! You’ll want to taste as you go so you can refine the flavours until you’re satisfied with how they turn out.
This is crucial as it allows you to embrace the learning process along with its failures, all while growing your confidence in the kitchen. Plus point, you’ll also eventually get to know on instinct what works and what doesn’t.
Step 3: Explore New Flavours and Techniques
Try Out Different Herbs and Spices to Elevate Your Dishes
Now that you’re probably more comfortable in the kitchen, it’s time to venture into culinary exploration. I promise this is where the magic happens!
Start by experimenting with spices and seasonings away from the usual call to "add salt" or "add pepper". It could be anything from seasoning lamb with rosemary, mixing chilli sauce and mayonnaise to make a tangy chilli mayo sauce, and even lightly coating turmeric on cauliflower before roasting it.
You can even try out the differences between kosher salt, Himalayan pink salt, and truffle salt (yes, it's a thing!).
Refine Your Knife Skills
Part of getting better means getting faster in the kitchen. This is where you develop and refine your knife skills as efficiency and safety are crucial when it comes to food preparation. You can learn about different types of kitchen knives that you can get, along with the recommended frequency of sharp knife maintenance to cover this step.
You’ll practise getting faster at safely chopping, slicing and dicing ingredients. You may even learn to carve a roast chicken if you're feeling adventurous enough to take it a step further!
Learn How to Make Homemade Stocks and Sauces
Ready-made sauces and stocks can easily be purchased at your nearest supermarket, but it cannot compare to the depth and deliciousness of homemade stocks and sauces.
Here’s where learning how to make these at home will also earn you a new underrated life skill - batch cooking. That’s because homemade stocks aren’t usually made in a one-off portion but in a big batch.
Step 4: Expand Your Culinary Horizons
Explore New Cuisines
Each culture in the world brings a unique array of new flavours while calling for different cooking techniques. This not only opens up endless possibilities for creativity in your cooking, but it’s also a great point of conversation with your guests at your next dinner gathering or soirée!
You could start cooking a new recipe with turmeric just like this hearty Moroccan chicken baked in one-pan, or experiment with miso for a Japanese-inspired dish at home like a yummy Coconut Miso Salmon.
Watch Cooking Tutorials and Sample Different Cuisines Near and Far
Keep your eyes and ears open for hints of worldly cuisines as you browse social media or enjoy a quiet hour on Youtube. Perhaps even sample different dishes you’ve never seen or heard of before during your holiday travels.
You could even do so within your town or city as there are often eateries that offer different cuisines around like Chinese take-outs or Indian restaurants for starters.
Optional: Join a Group Cooking Class
If you have the time and extra cash on hand, you could even participate in hands-on cooking classes to receive personalised guidance and feedback while learning new recipes!
This is a fun option because you’ll also get to meet like-minded people on the same culinary journey.
Step 5: Refine the Cooking Skills You’ve Learned
Shop Fresh, High-Quality Ingredients at Your Local Farmers Market
I'm always excited for the weekly farmer’s market! Shopping for high-quality fresh produce like butter, vegetables, and meat there is such a delightful experience that connects you to your local farmers and artisans who are often more than happy to share their knowledge on local and seasonal ingredients you could try!
It’s essentially a visit to a vault of treasured produce at peak freshness and flavour. Not only will it be a well-informed visit, you’ll also get to play your part by contributing to sustainable and environmentally conscious food practices. As a bonus for making the trip, you can even treat yourself to freshly baked goods by the baking artisans there!
Give Recipes Your Personal Twist
You’ll want to follow recipes to a T during the first few steps. But now that you’re confident in cooking and you've learned new skills, it’s time to get adventurous and start adding your own personal touch to recipes to create good food you'll love.
Experiment with new ingredients you’ve discovered which you think may be a better alternative to recipes you’d like to try or already know well. This will not only develop your creativity in the kitchen but give your confidence a major boost when your personal twist tastes better than the original recipe!
Pro tip: Add a personal twist to dishes you’re serving at the dinner table to get constructive feedback from friends and family. It really does help in continuously improving your skills!
Most Importantly…Don’t be Afraid to Fail and Keep Practising!
The journey to become a good cook is a transformative one full of ups and downs. It calls for dedication, passion, and an open-mind to explore and experiment.
So don’t be afraid to fail, because you will encounter several failures along the way. Almost as much or maybe even more than the number of successes you will enjoy. But that’s what ultimately makes your cooking successes that much sweeter.
At the end of the day, remember to celebrate each stage of your progress and achievements in honing your cooking skills and embrace the sheer joy of cooking.
With the right cookware and right mindset, you’ll be well on your scrumptious way to becoming a good cook in no time. Happy cooking!
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I Teach Myself to be a Good Cook?
Teaching yourself to be a good cook involves discipline to continuously learn and practice. Whether it’s watching cooking shows or reading and collecting cookbooks to gain new inspiration and discover new techniques, the key is to keep going.
Embrace mistakes as opportunities for growth and allocate time you can mindfully spend cooking. There will be days where you’ll unintentionally be on auto-pilot to cook for the day, so mindful cooking will bring you back to the learning and practising zone.
How Can I be a Better Cook When I am Lazy?
There are certainly no shortcuts to becoming a better cook, especially not with laziness in the picture. BUT you definitely can become a better cook even if you’re lazy, simply with proper planning and smart strategies.
Some smart strategies include cooking quick and easy recipes that require minimal effort, and even developing your own way to reduce the cooking times of said recipe as your cooking skills improve.
You could even consider meal prepping to save time, which will lead you to practise on measuring and estimating the right amount of ingredients you may need.
Lastly, invest in quality non-stick cookware so you can keep the cleaning effort at an all time low. Cosmic Cookware’s ceramic non-stick cookware is the perfect buddy when it comes to this! ;)