Just like getting your driver’s license and having to deal with your first hangover (*cringe*), learning to cook for yourself is sort of a modern day rite of passage into adulthood. Sure, ramen and Bagel Bites are cutting it for now, but one day in the not-so-distant future you’re gonna get a craving for something that doesn’t come in a microwavable container.
But between the sharp utensils, hot stovetops, and general fear that you’ll screw everything up and pull a Mrs. Doubtfire, the kitchen can be a pretty scary place.
1. Not using a sharp enough knife.
No matter what you’re cooking, you’re probably going to be doing some slicing, dicing, or chopping, so a good, sharp knife is essential to getting the job done. Whether you’re using an $8 generic knife from Target or this $88,720 one (you read that correctly), if your knife is dull, you might as well be cutting with a spoon.
In fact, since you don’t have to use as much force when cutting, sharp knives are actually safer than dull knives, minimizing your chances of slipping up. And I don’t know about you, but I’m quite fond of all 10 of my fingers. So keep your fingers safe and buy yourself a damn $6 knife sharpener
2. Not using enough salt.
Contrary to popular belief, salt is not the enemy. I repeat, salt is NOT the enemy. And there’s science to prove it. And while I definitely don’t recommend that you start chugging soy sauce and dumping MSG all over your food, an extra pinch of salt here and there will help enhance flavors and make for a better final product.
See, salt does not always mean salty, which is why a little sprinkle of sea salt on top of your cookies adds that extra punch of deliciousness without being overwhelming.
3. Not reading the recipe all the way through before starting.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been happily cooking away, only to turn back to the recipe and realize that I’m missing a key ingredient or piece of equipment, leaving it up to me to improv the whole rest of the recipe. You’re much better off getting into the habit of thoroughly reading the recipe before getting started.
4. Thinking you need a ton of expensive ingredients and utensils to make good food.
Although we see celeb chefs on TV cooking with locally-sourced this and artisan that in their totally decked out kitchens, cooking doesn’t have to be complicated, fancy, or expensive. So instead of spending your entire paycheck at Whole Foods, stock up on generic brands for kitchen staples like flour, sugar, oil, salt, pasta, and rice, and splurge on fresh meats and produce.
Likewise, invest in a good (sharpened!) chef’s knife, frying pan, and pot, and pick up your measuring cups, bowls, and other utensils from a discount store. Pro tip: check out a restaurant supply store to buy these things on the cheap.
5. Trying to rush the process.
Treat cooking like a marathon, not a sprint. That means not trying to cook a four-course meal in under an hour (#guiltyascharged) and always waiting for your pan to heat up or your water to come to a full boil before adding the food. Trust me, the wait will be well worth it.
6. Not tasting as you go.
For some, tasting as you go is just a natural instinct. But for those new to cooking, it doesn’t make much sense. The recipe’s always right, right? Wrong. Even though the recipe’s probably correct, variations in the products you use (ie. one brand of canned tomatoes might be saltier than another) can really impact the end result.
The best way to avoid a ruined dish is to taste as you go and adjust the seasonings as you see fit. Just don’t spoil your dinner 😉
7. Not letting your food do its thang.
You know when you’re making a pancake and it’s taking forever and a half to cook, so you take your spatula and peek underneath just to make sure something is actually happening? And then 2.7 seconds later you check again. And again. And one more time for good measure.
We’ve all been there, but the truth is, not letting your food just chill and do its thang is one of the worst cooking mistakes you can make. So step back and relax. Everything will be okay, and if everything’s not okay, you’ll know because there will probably be smoke.
8. Letting your cooking mistakes define you.
So you set the smoke alarm off that one time while baking cookies? So what? Don’t let your mistakes define you #realtalk. Get back up, brush the flour off your apron, take a shot, and give it another go. Here’s a secret: even the best chefs break a plate or flub a dish every once in a while.
9. Being afraid to stray from the recipe.
Once you’ve got the basics down, the culinary world is your *oyster*, and the kitchen is a place where your creativity can truly shine. Experiment, have fun, and don’t be afraid to make a few tweaks to give a recipe your personal touch. And remember, if something goes horribly wrong, you can always heat up those Bagel Bites.