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The Most Common Cooking Mistakes

The Most Common Cooking Mistakes

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Learn how to avoid these common mistakes for success every time.

The Most Common Cooking Mistakes

1. You don’t taste as you go.

Result: The flavors or textures of an otherwise excellent dish are out of balance or unappealing.

For most cooks, tasting is automatic, but when it’s not, the price can be high. Recipes don’t always call for the "right" amount of seasoning, cooking times are estimates, and results vary depending on your ingredients, your stove, altitude…and a million other factors. Your palate is the control factor.

Think that experienced cooks don’t forget this most basic rule? Cooking Light Associate Food Editor Tim Cebula was sous chef in a notable restaurant when he served up "caramelized" pineapple that somehow refused to brown. Turns out Tim had coated the fruit in salt, not sugar. "That’s why it wouldn’t caramelize."

2. You don’t read the entire recipe before you start cooking.

Result: Flavors are dull, entire steps or ingredients get left out.

Even the best-written recipes may not include all the headline information at the top. A wise cook approaches each recipe with a critical eye and reads the recipe well before it’s time to cook. Follow the pros' habit of gathering your mise en place―that is, having all the ingredients gathered, prepped, and ready to go before you turn on the heat.

“Trust me,” says former Cooking Light Test Kitchen tester Mary Drennen Ankar, “you don’t want to be an hour away from dinner guests arriving when you get to the part of the recipe that says to marinate the brisket overnight or simmer for two hours.”

3. You make unwise substitutions in baking.

Photo: Romulo Yanes & Randy Mayor

Result: You wreck the underlying chemistry of the dish.

Substitutions are a particular temptation, and challenge, with healthy cooking. At Cooking Light it's our job to substitute lower-fat ingredients―to change the cooking chemistry a bit while capturing the soul of a dish. When it comes to baking, this is as much science as art.

"I'll get calls from readers about cakes turning out too dense or too gummy," says Test Kitchen Director Vanessa Pruett. "After a little interrogation, I’ll get to the truth―that the reader used ALL applesauce instead of a mix of applesauce and oil or butter or went with sugar substitute in place of sugar." Best practice: Follow the recipe, period.

  • Learn more about the art of low-fat baking

4. You boil when you should simmer.

Result: A hurried-up dish that’s cloudy, tough, or dry.

This is one of the most common kitchen errors. First, let’s clarify what we mean by simmering: A bubble breaks the surface of the liquid every second or two. More vigorous bubbling than that means you've got a boil going. And the difference between the two can ruin a dish.

"I had a friend serve me a beef stew once that gave me a real jaw workout," says Nutrition Editor Kathy Kitchens Downie. "She boiled the meat for 45 minutes instead of simmering it for a couple of hours. She says she just wanted it to get done more quickly. Well, it was 'done,' but meat cooked too quickly in liquid ironically turns out very dry. And tough, really tough."

  • Read more about boiling and simmering

5. You overheat chocolate.

Photo: Romulo Yanes & Randy Mayor

Result: Instead of having a smooth, creamy, luxurious consistency, your chocolate is grainy, separated, or scorched.

The best way to melt chocolate is to go slowly, heat gently, remove from the heat before it’s fully melted, and stir until smooth. If using the microwave, proceed cautiously, stopping every 20 to 30 seconds to stir. If using a double boiler, make sure the water is simmering, not boiling. It’s very easy to ruin chocolate, and there is no road back.

Associate Food Editor Julianna Grimes recently made a cake but didn’t pay close enough attention while microwaving the chocolate. It curdled. "It was all the chocolate I had on hand, so I had to dump it and change my plans."

  • See our 20 favorite lightened chocolate desserts

6. You over-soften butter.

Result: Cookies spread too much or cakes are too dense.

We’ve done it: forgotten to soften the butter and zapped it in the microwave to do the job quickly. Better to let it stand at room temperature for 30 to 45 minutes to get the right consistency. You can speed the process significantly by cutting butter into tablespoon-sized portions and letting it stand at room temperature.

Properly softened butter should yield slightly to gentle pressure. Too-soft butter means your cookie dough will be more like batter, and it will spread too much as it bakes and lose shape. Butter that’s too soft also won’t cream properly with sugar, and creaming is essential to creating fluffy, tender cakes with a delicate crumb.

7. You overheat low-fat milk products.

Result: The milk curdles or "breaks," yielding grainy mac and cheese, ice cream, or pudding.

If you're new to lighter cooking, you may not know that even though you can boil cream just fine, the same is not true for other milk products, which will curdle. The solution is to cook lower-fat dairy products to a temperature of only 180° or less.

Use a clip-on thermometer, hover over the pan, and heat over medium-low or low heat to prevent curdling. And if it curdles, toss and start again. One alternative: Stabilize milk with starch, like cornstarch or flour, if you want to bring it to a boil; the starch will prevent curdling (and it'll thicken the milk, too).

8. You don’t know your oven’s quirks and idiosyncrasies.

Photo: Romulo Yanes & Randy Mayor

Result: Food cooks too fast, too slow, or unevenly.

Ideally, every oven set to 350° would heat to 350°. But many ovens don't, including expensive ones, and some change their behavior as they age. Always use an oven thermometer. Next, be aware of hot spots. If you’ve produced cake layers with wavy rather than flat tops, hot spots are the problem.

SaBrina Bone, who tests in our kitchen, advises the "bread test:" Arrange bread slices to cover the middle oven rack. Bake at 350° for a few minutes, and see which slices get singed―their location marks your oven's hot spot(s). If you know you have a hot spot in, say, the back left corner, avoid putting pans in that location, or rotate accordingly.

9. You’re too casual about measuring ingredients.

Result: Dry, tough cakes, rubbery brownies, and a host of other textural mishaps.

In lighter baking, you're using less of the butter and oil that can hide a host of measurement sins. One cook's "cup of flour" may be another cook's 1¼ cups. Why the discrepancy? Some people scoop their flour out of the canister, essentially packing it down into the measuring cup, or tap the cup on the counter and then top off with more flour. Both practices yield too much flour.

"Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups, then level with a knife," advises Test Kitchen Director Vanessa Pruett. A dry measuring cup is one without a spout―a spout makes it difficult to level off the excess flour with the flat side of a knife. "Lightly spoon" means don’t pack it in.

10. You overcrowd the pan.

Result: Soggy food that doesn’t brown.

Food releases moisture as it's cooked, so leave room for the steam to escape. It's easy to overcrowd a pan when you're in a hurry, particularly if you have to brown a large amount of meat for a beef stew. But the brown, crusty bits are critical for flavor, particularly with lower-fat cooking.

A soggy batch of beef going into a Dutch oven will not be a beautiful, rich, deeply flavored stew when it comes out, even if it does get properly tender. This browning principle applies equally to quick-cook foods like crab cakes and chicken breasts. Leave breathing room in the pan, and you'll get much better results. If you need to speed things up, use two pans at once.

  • Learn more about hearty, healthy stews

11. You mishandle egg whites.

Result: The whites won’t whip up. Or, overbeaten or roughly handled, they produce flat cake layers or soufflés with no lift.

Properly beaten egg whites are voluminous, creamy, and glossy, but they require care. First, separate whites from yolks carefully, by letting the whites slip through your fingers. A speck of yolk can prevent the whites from whipping up fully.

Let the whites stand for a few minutes―at room temperature they whip up better than when cold. Whip with clean, dry beaters at high speed just until stiff peaks form―that is, until the peak created when you lift the beater out of the bowl stands upright. If you overbeat, the whites will turn grainy, dry, or may separate.

12. You turn the food too often.

Result: You interfere with the sear, food sticks, or you lose the breading.

Learning to leave food alone is one of the hardest lessons in cooking; it’s so tempting to turn, poke, flip. But your breaded chicken or steak won't develop a nice crust unless you allow it to cook, undisturbed, for the specified time.

One sign that it’s too early to turn: You can't slide a spatula cleanly under the crust. "It'll release from the pan when it’s ready," says Assistant Test Kitchen Director Tiffany Vickers Davis. "Don’t try to pry it up―the crust will stick to the pan, not the chicken."

  • See our step-by-step guide to sautéed chicken

13. You don’t get the pan hot enough before you add the food.

Result: Food that sticks, scallops with no sear, pale meats.

The inexperienced or hurried cook will barely heat the pan before adding oil and tossing in onions for a sauté. Next comes...nothing. No sizzle. A hot pan is essential for sautéing veggies or creating a great crust on meat, fish, and poultry. It also helps prevent food from sticking.

Associate Food Editor Tim Cebula was once advised: "If you think your pan is hot enough, step back and heat it a couple more minutes. When you’re about ready to call the fire department, then add oil and proceed to cook the food."

  • Learn how to make crepes

14. You slice meat with―instead of against―the grain.

Result: Chewy meat that could have been tender.

For tender slices, look at the meat to determine the direction of the grain (the muscle fibers), and cut across the grain, not with it. This is particularly important with tougher cuts such as flank steak or skirt steak, in which the grain is also quite obvious. But it’s also a good practice with more tender cuts like standing rib roast, or even poultry.

  • Find 20-minute beef recipes

15. You underbake cakes and breads.

Photo: Romulo Yanes & Randy Mayor

Result: Cakes, brownies, and breads turn out pallid and gummy.

Overcooked baked goods disappoint, but we’ve found that less experienced bakers are more likely to undercook them. "You won't get that irresistible browning unless you have the confidence to fully cook the food," says Associate Food Editor Julianna Grimes.

"Really look at the food. Even if the wooden pick comes out clean, if the cake is pale, it’s not finished. Let it go another couple of minutes until it has an even, golden brownness." It’s better to err on the side of slightly overcooking than producing gummy, wet, unappealing food. Once you've done this a few times and know exactly what you’re looking for, it'll become second nature.

16. You don’t use a meat thermometer.

Result: Your roast chicken, leg of lamb, or beef tenderloin turns out over- or undercooked.

Small and inexpensive, the meat thermometer is one of the most valuable kitchen tools you can own. Using one is the surefire way to achieve a perfect roast chicken or beautiful medium-rare lamb roast, because temperatures don’t lie and appearances can deceive.

We love digital probe thermometers, which allow you to set the device to the desired temperature. A heat-proof wire leads to an external digital unit that sits outside the oven and beeps when the meat is ready. This eliminates the frequent opening and closing of the oven door to check the temp―during which you lose valuable heat―and that speeds the cooking.

17. Meat gets no chance to rest after cooking.

Result: Delicious juices vacate the meat and run all over the cutting board, leaving steak or roast dry.

Plan your meals so that meat you roast, grill, sear, or sauté has time to rest at room temperature after it’s pulled from the heat. That cooling-off time helps the juices, which migrate to the center of the meat, to be distributed more evenly throughout.

The resting rule applies equally to an inexpensive skirt steak or a premium dry-aged, grass-fed steak, as well as poultry. With small cuts like a steak or boneless, skinless chicken breast, five minutes is adequate. A whole bird or standing rib roast requires 20 to 30 minutes. Tent the meat loosely with foil to keep it warm.

18. You try to rush the cooking of caramelized onions.

Result: You end up with sautéed onions, which are nice but a far cry from the melt-in-your-mouth caramelized ideal.

If you want real, true, sweet, creamy caramelized onions to top your burger or pizza, cook them over medium-low to low heat for a long time, maybe up to an hour. If you crank the heat and try to speed up the process, you’ll get a different product―onions that may be crisp-tender and nicely browned but lacking that characteristic translucence and meltingly tender quality you want.

Bottom line: Know that caramelized onions take time, and plan to cook them when you can give them the time they need.

19. You overwork lower-fat dough.

Result: Cookies, scones, piecrusts, and biscuits turn out tough.

Recipes with lots of butter are more likely to stay moist and tender because of the fat, even if the dough is overkneaded. But without all that fat, you absolutely must use a light hand. That’s why many of our biscuit and scone recipes instruct the cook to knead the dough gently or pat it out (instead of rolling), and our cookie or piecrust recipes say to mix just until flour is incorporated.

“Whenever I make any of our cookies, I stop the mixer before the flour is completely incorporated,” says the Test Kitchen’s Deb Wise. “I do that last bit of mixing by hand, and it makes a difference.”

  • Learn all about baking bread

20. You neglect the nuts you’re toasting.

Result: Burned nuts, with a sharp, bitter flavor.

Toasting intensifies the flavor of nuts. But the nut is a mighty delicate thing―in an oven it can go from perfectly toasty to charred in seconds. This has happened to every one of our Test Kitchen cooks.

Arrange nuts in a single layer on a heavy baking sheet, and bake at 350° for as little as two minutes for flaked coconut to five or more minutes (for dense nuts like almonds); shake the pan or stir frequently so the nuts toast evenly―they tend to brown on the bottom more quickly. They’re done when they’ve darkened slightly (or turned golden brown for pale nuts like pine nuts or slivered almonds) and smell fragrant and toasty.

21. You don’t shock vegetables when they’ve reached the desired texture.

Photo: Romulo Yanes & Randy Mayor

Result: Mush.

Toss green beans, broccoli, or asparagus into boiling water for three to seven minutes, and they’ll turn vibrant green with a crisp-tender texture. But if you don’t “shock” those vegetables at that point by spooning them out of the boiling water and plunging them into ice water (or at least rinsing under cold running water) to stop the cooking process, the carryover heat will continue to cook them to the point that they turn army-green and flabby. This is not a concern if you intend to serve the vegetables immediately.

  • Find 20-minute side-dish recipes

22. You put all the salt in the marinade or breading.

Result: Fish, poultry, or meat that’s underseasoned.

Healthy cooks try to keep sodium levels in check and only allocate a small amount of salt to a recipe―so they need to maximize the salt’s impact. For example, chicken marinating in citrus juice and salt will only absorb a tiny amount of the marinade. When you toss out the marinade, you also toss out most of the salt and its seasoning effect.

It’s better to use a little salt in the marinade, then directly sprinkle the majority of the salt on the chicken after it comes out of the marinade. The same goes for breaded items. Sprinkle salt directly on the food and then coat it with the breading.

23. You pop meat straight from the fridge into the oven or onto the grill.

Photo: Romulo Yanes & Randy Mayor

Result: Food cooks unevenly: The outside is overdone, the inside rare or raw.

Meats will cook much more evenly if you allow them to stand at room temperature for 15 to 30 minutes (depending on the size of the cut) to take the chill off.

A roast that goes into the oven refrigerator-cold will likely yield a piece of meat that is overcooked on the outside and undercooked at the center. As you slice the roast, you’ll see a bull’s-eye effect: The middle is rare (or even raw) while the outside is well done. This is less of a problem with smaller cuts like chicken breasts―though even those benefit from resting at room temperature for five or 10 minutes before cooking.

24. You don’t know when to abandon ship and start over.

Photo: Romulo Yanes & Randy Mayor

Result: You serve a disappointing meal. And you know it’s disappointing!

There’s no shame in making a mistake; we all do. And while it may feel a bit wasteful to throw food in the trash, tossing out burned garlic, charred nuts, or smoking oil is the right thing to do. Start again fresh (if you have extras of the ingredients). Of course, there is a no-turning-back point, too. If you’ve overcooked a chicken because you didn’t use a meat thermometer, you’re bound to serve an overcooked chicken. At that point, the best practice is to 'fess up, apologize, pass the wine, and move on.

25. You use inferior ingredients.

Result: Sigh.

This is an important point because it’s the linchpin of great cooking: Good food begins and ends with the ingredients. The dishes you cook will only be as mediocre, good, or superb as the ingredients you put in them. As a rule, we recommend using high-quality ingredients whenever available and affordable.

Always shop for the best ingredients. They’re the foundation of good cooking and why we strive not to make the mistakes described here. Choose top-notch produce, meats, and cheeses, and protect them as you would anything else precious―handle with love, respect, and care so you can be a steward of the joys of great food. Your cooking will invariably turn out better.

26. Your poached eggs aren't pretty

Result: The typical botched poached egg is tentacled, scary, tough, overcooked.

First, fill a wide saucepan or sauté pan with water to about two inches. Bring it to a gentle simmer—not a rolling boil, which toughens and twists the whites. Add a few teaspoons of vinegar, which does help eggs keep their shape. Crack eggs (fresher ones won't spread as much) into small ramekins or custard cups. The cups let you gently pour the eggs into the pan so the whites stay in a tight circle, and ensure that you won't crack a broken-yolk dud into the water. Cook three minutes (the whites should be set and the yolks still creamy), then remove carefully with a slotted spoon. Drain them for a few seconds, or blot with a paper towel. Voilà: no more poor poaching. You can now perch your perfectly poached gems atop a dish like Two Potato and Beet Hash with Poached Eggs.

27. Your gravy is lumpy

Result: Lumpy gravy. Next time, whisk wisely. Meanwhile, here's a fix.

One cause is the direct dumping of dry flour, cornstarch, or other thickener into the hot stock or broth. Another: adding broth too quickly into a roux—the flour-fat mixture that some gravy recipes start with—which can cause clumping or a gluey layer on the bottom of the pan. Hot spots in a large pan can complicate things, as well. In any starch-based sauce, the thickener needs to be gradually introduced to the hot liquid it's supposed to thicken. The easiest way, as with our recipe for the Mushroom Gravy, involves whisking a flour slurry into the broth mixture, then stirring until the gravy comes together.

If lumps happen, pass gravy through a sieve or strainer, or puree it (with an immersion blender or, very carefully, in a regular blender). If the gravy originally contained sautéed mushroom slices, well, the guests needn't know that, and it will still be delicious.

28. Your mashed potatoes are gluey

Result: Gluey mashed potatoes. Next time, watch the cooking time and drain well.

Gluey mashed potatoes are more than just unfortunate—they're usually a lost cause. Overcooked or insufficiently drained potatoes can become sticky, as can the wrong kind of potato. But the main problem is overworked spuds. The science is simple: Boiled potatoes develop swollen starch cells. When ruptured during mashing, the cells release starch. The more cells are ruptured, the gummier the mashed potatoes. So if you use an electric mixer or food processor to mash your potatoes, you'll probably beat them mercilessly and end up with wallpaper paste. Instead, use a potato masher, or even better, pass the potatoes through a ricer or food mill before mixing them with butter and hot milk—these devices are gentler on the starch cells, and they'll also prevent lumps.

Low-starch (or waxy) red potatoes hold their shape well after boiling, so they require more effort to mash. Hence, you're likely to overwork them. Try mashing them just partway, as in our Herbed Smashed Potatoes. By contrast, high-starch (mealy or floury) baking potatoes, also called russets, break down more readily, yielding light and fluffy mashed potatoes (or, with a little more milk and butter, smooth and creamy).

29. You Burn the Brown Butter

Result: Dark and bitter butter. Next time, pay attention to the visual cues.

Browning butter is a sure way to suffuse a dish with a great deal of nutty, buttery flavor without using a lot of fat. Example: Sautéed Chicken with Sage Browned Butter. But the process is a little tricky because once the butter begins to brown, it can race right into burnt. Then nutty becomes bitter.

Success depends on visual cues, so use a stainless steel pan—you can see the butter change color better. Use no more than medium heat so that the browning proceeds gradually. First the butter will foam in the pan: The milk solids are separating from the butterfat, and the water is evaporating. Then the foam subsides and the milk solids begin to brown. Now the butter gives off its characteristic nutty aroma (the French call brown butter beurre noisette, or hazelnut butter). Some recipes call for adding lemon juice at this point; the tartness complements the sweet butter, while the juice cools it and slows the browning. Either way, when the butter turns amber-brown, take the pan off the heat. If you're not using it immediately (say, drizzling it over steamed vegetables), get it out of the hot pan and into a bowl so the residual heat doesn't continue to push the butter from brown to burnt.

30. Your bacon is burnt and crinkly

Result: Burnt and crinkly bacon. Next time, bake your bacon.

Pan-frying is the standard way to cook bacon, but it has drawbacks. Only a few strips fit flat in most skillets—any more than that will slope up the sides, cooking unevenly. And bacon strips can shrink more than they need to in a hot pan. (Starting them in a cold pan helps, but you'll still need to flip often.)

Take a cue from chefs—bake your bacon. Heat hits from all sides, cooking more evenly. The result: consistently flat strips.

Line a jelly-roll pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper to make cleanup easier. Set a wire rack on the pans so the bacon doesn't sit in fat. Place bacon slices in a single layer on the rack, and bake at 400º for about 20 minutes (depending on bacon thickness and how crispy you like it).

Unless your oven has major hot spots, you don't have to flip the bacon or turn the pans. You can even put the bacon in while the oven preheats—the gradual temperature increase will render the fat more slowly and won't shrink the meat as much.

31. Your Green Veggies Turn Brown

Result: Drab veggies. Next time, baby them and they will stay vibrant.

When vegetables take a sad turn from bright green to khaki drab, it conjures memories of grade-school cafeteria food and the ruined texture of canned asparagus. The most common culprits: overcooking and acidic dressings. A cook has to know how to care for the delicate source of the green: chlorophyll.

Vegetables such as green beans, broccoli, and asparagus lose their bright color—and crisp texture, for that matter—after six or seven minutes of cooking. If you know you'll be eating them immediately, just remove, drain, and serve. But if you'll be busy assembling other dishes, consider blanching and shocking. Cook for two minutes in salted boiling water, then remove vegetables immediately and plunge into ice water. The ice bath halts the cooking process and helps set the color. Later, the chilled vegetables can be quickly reheated—by sautéing in a bit of olive oil, for instance—without losing their green.

But blanching won't keep veggies vibrant if you dress them too soon with an acid such as vinegar or lemon juice. Wait until just before serving (as we do with our SuperFast asparagus sides).

32. Your Salad Goes Limp

Result: Soggy salad. Next time, consider three important factors.

A soggy pile of wilted greens makes for a sorry salad indeed. Tender greens like Boston lettuce, mâche, and arugula are delicate little things that perish at the mere rumor of mistreatment (tearing or roughly handling lettuce bruises it), but even crisp, hearty lettuces like romaine need to be treated with care. To keep them at their best, you need to consider three factors: time, volume, and temperature.

Only dress your greens just before serving, particularly when using vinaigrette: Oil quickly permeates the waxy surface of leafy greens, turning them dark green and droopy. If you've washed your greens, use a salad spinner or blot them delicately with paper towels to dry them. Water clinging to leaves will repel oil-based vinaigrettes and thin out creamy dressings, leading to bland salad.

Put dry greens in a salad bowl. Add less dressing than you think you'll need (to avoid overdressing), and pour it down the sides of the bowl, not onto the greens—you'll dress them more evenly this way. Gently toss, adding dressing as needed, until the greens are lightly coated. If you do overdress them, a quick whirl in the salad spinner will shake off any excess.

Finally, follow the lead of professional chefs and serve your salad on chilled plates to help keep the greens crisp as you enjoy them.

33. You Incinerate Chicken on the Grill

Result: Charred skin and rare meat in the thickest part of the breast.

Grilling bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts feels like it should be simple enough. Even experienced grillers often try to cook them entirely over direct heat, figuring it's just a matter of timing. At which point dripping fat causes flare-ups that engulf the breasts, charring the skin while the meat remains rare deep within. Yet perfectly grilled chicken—with crisp, browned skin and juicy, succulent meat—is relatively simple if you learn to manipulate the heat.

First, establish two temperature zones: Set one side of a gas grill to medium-high and the other to low, or build a fire on one side of a charcoal grill. (Make sure your grate is clean and oiled to prevent sticking.) Start the chicken skin-side up on the low- or no-heat side, and cover the grill. After a few minutes, when the chicken fat starts to render, flip the meat, skin-side down. Point the breasts' thicker ends toward the hot side to help them cook evenly. Cover and grill for about 25 minutes. When the meat is done (165° at the thickest part of the breast), crisp the skin on the hot side for a minute or two, moving it as needed to avoid flare-ups. Wait until the last few minutes to brush on barbecue sauce: The sugars in the sauce will char quickly.

34. Your Hard-Cooked Eggs Are Icky

Result: A rubbery, chalky, green-gray hot mess! Next time, heat slowly and cool quickly.

We’ve all puzzled, after following someone’s can’t-fail advice, over less-than-perfect hard-cooked eggs—the eggs with rubbery whites, chalky yolks, and that tell-tale green-gray film between yolk and white. The cause? Temperature differential: The white of an egg dropped into boiling water cooks much faster than the yolk at the center, and that’s trouble. By the time the yolk sets, the white is tough. And if the egg stays over high heat too long, or isn’t cooled quickly after cooking, sulfur in the white will react with iron in the yolk, creating that nasty off-colored ring.

Here’s the fix: To keep the temperature of the egg white and yolk close, heat the eggs gradually. Place them in a saucepan, cover them by an inch or two with cold water, and set the pan over high heat. When the water reaches a full boil, remove from heat, cover the pan, and let the eggs stand for 10 minutes. This cooks them gently and keeps the whites from toughening. Peel the eggs immediately under cold running water; or, if you’re not using them right away, set them in an ice water bath. This lowers the eggs’ temperature and minimizes the pressure that causes sulfur rings to form.

35. Your Turkey Burgers Are Parched Pucks

Result: A dried out burger that sticks to the grill. Next time, add a little heart-healthy fat to help the meat stay moist and juicy.

A well-made turkey burger is a delicious, lower-fat backyard grill treat, but if you don't compensate for the leanness of the meat, you could be eating turkey-flavored particleboard. Mostly it's a matter of getting the patty off the grill before it dries out (or sticks and falls apart)—a job made trickier by the need to cook poultry to 165°. So, to avoid sawdust syndrome, add a little fat to the meat. Yes, add fat. This might seem counterproductive, but it's not if you use a fat that's heart-healthy.

The fat in question? Olive oil. Stirring in two tablespoons olive oil per pound of ground turkey keeps the burgers moist and juicy and also helps them form a nicely browned crust on the outside that won't stick to the grill.

Even better: Sauté 1 cup diced onion in 2 tablespoons olive oil until nice and tender, let cool slightly, and then mix the onion and oil from the pan into a pound of ground turkey to form four patties. The oil-coated onions do a marvelous job of adding both moisture and flavor to lean poultry burgers, and you get a hit of that nice, oniony sweetness, too.

36. Your Rice Gets Gummy

Photo: Mary Britton Senseney

Result: Sticky, gummy goo. Next time, use more water.

Rice is the great staple grain of much of the world, but it can strike fear in the hearts of some American cooks who have learned that the famous 2:1 water-to-rice ratio is not reliable in many cases or for many varieties. And stovetop prep can be tricky (rice cookers are reliable, so if you love rice, consider buying one). Slightly undercooked rice can sometimes be fixed with more water and time, but the dreaded gummy rice is a dead loss.

When rice is cooked in the traditional way—simmering in a lidded pot—the close-packed grains rub together and release starch, often leading to stickiness. The solution is blessedly ratio-free, though it may seem counterintuitive: Use more water. Lots more, so you cook the rice like pasta until it reaches the proper consistency, then drain. The pasta method keeps rice from rubbing together too much as it cooks; draining ensures it won't suck up more water than it needs.

Check brown rice for doneness at around 25 minutes. You can also sauté brown rice in olive oil after it's drained, to evaporate excess moisture. For white rice, which absorbs water more readily, try sautéing the grains before boiling, for about two minutes in a tablespoon of oil. Then add roughly four times as much cold water as rice to the pan, and boil. Check for doneness at around 15 minutes (timing starts when water boils). The oil forms a protective layer around the white grains during boiling—and sautéing lends the rice deliciously toasty flavor.

37. Your Caramel Meets a Burnt, Bitter End

Photo: Mary Britton Senseney

Result: Burnt, bitter caramel. Next time, a little water—and patience—goes a long way.

Caramel is a one-ingredient recipe for experts, two for more cautious cooks who add water to the sugar—but either way it can quickly turn into a chemistry experiment gone wrong. The problem is a rapid acceleration of browning, which can quickly move your sugar sauce into bitter, burnt territory.

Sugar behaves differently from other foods when it's cooked. While most ingredients absorb heat from the pan, sugar actually generates its own heat as it breaks down. This causes the temperature to rise fast—about one degree per second. When you remove the pan from the heat as the caramel reaches the perfect light-amber hue, it can still burn because residual heat from the pan keeps the action going.

The key is watchful, hands-off cooking, as slow and even as possible. Adding ¼ cup of water per cup of sugar dissolves the sugar uniformly and slows boiling, providing more control as you look for that honey-gold color. Use a light-colored stainless steel or enamel saucepan and a candy thermometer.

To make the caramel, cook the sugar and water, without stirring (or absolutely minimal stirring, if you must), over medium-low heat until golden and fragrant, about 335°. With experience, you'll learn to trust color more than temperature.

The hands-off approach works best because stirring can cause hot caramel to crystallize when it hits the cool sides of the pan, and that can set off a chain reaction that ruins the sauce.

Set the pan in an ice bath for two to three seconds to stop the cooking (any longer and the caramel will seize), then use immediately.

38. The Turkey Hack Job

Result: Your turkey platter resembles a crime scene.

On turkey day, it's your well-earned right to parade that magnificent roasted bird around the dining room. But carving is best done where there's elbow room and a large, stable cutting surface. You'll need a well-honed knife; have it professionally sharpened before the big day.

Now, as the pros say, "break" the bird down in the right order (this is where many cooks go wrong—trying to slice meat directly off a big, hot bird). Leg quarters come off first, then breast meat, with the tucked-under wings serving to stabilize as you cut. Set the big pieces onto a cutting board where you can deal with them properly.

Take the breast meat off the bone in one piece, then slice crosswise, which ensures uniformity and allows for slightly thicker slices that are juicier and less fibrous than thin portions. Cut the thigh meat into large chunks. Reserve room on the platter for legs if you have a Henry VIII in the family.

Oh, and remember—in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, you can always practice your technique on a nice roasted chicken: same configuration of bird parts, no game-day pressure.

39. Your Cookies Gain Unwanted Holiday Width

Result: Sad gingerbread men.

Baking holiday cookies can go from a labor of love to an exercise in frustration when your gingerbread men come out more bloated than a Macy's parade float. The problem is too much heat—but not at the baking stage, at the mixing stage: Your butter is too warm.

The solution: Keep your butter cool, right until baking. Butter starts to melt at 68°, and once that happens, its water-fat emulsion breaks and there's no getting it back. Cold, emulsified butter helps give baked goods structure by taking in air when mixed with sugar. For cookies, you want butter well below room temperature; between 50° and 65° is optimal. Cut the butter into chunks, and let it stand at room temperature to soften (nix the microwave idea entirely).

If the butter is still cold to the touch but spreadable, you can start creaming. Butter and sugar need only be mixed (or "creamed") for about 30 seconds—much longer and the butter warms up. Chill the dough for 20 to 30 minutes before you bake. Lastly, don't put the cookies on a hot pan. If you're working in batches, cool the used pan for a few minutes, then run it under cool water before reloading (don't do this while it's hot, though, or you'll risk warping the pan).

40. Your Flapjacks Flame Out

Result: Blotchy, burned pancakes

Too often, pancake cooks put up with a few poor specimens at the beginning—splotchy and greasy—and a few more duds at the end; the latter can be scorched from a too-dry pan yet perversely underdone within. This is not a heat problem or a batter problem: It's a pan-prepping problem.

The solution: Don't pour oil directly into the pan. Hot oil will spread, pooling in some areas, leaving other parts dry. Just a scant amount of cooking oil creates a smooth, even cooking surface throughout, so pancakes cook evenly from start to finish.

If you're using a pristine nonstick pan, you may not need oil at all. Otherwise, here's how to apply it: Heat a skillet (any variety) over medium heat, then grasp a wadded paper towel with tongs and douse it with 1 tablespoon canola oil. Brush the pan with the soaked towel. You could also use cooking spray, except for nonstick pans: It leaves sticky residue on Teflon surfaces.

Add batter, flipping only when bubbles form on the surface of each pancake, about two to three minutes. Resist the urge to peek, which breaks the seal between the pan and the batter; that seal is what ensures even cooking. Swab the pan with the oiled paper towel between batches to keep it properly greased.

41. Your Oven Fries Fizzle

Result: Pale, soggy spuds or dried up and burnt fries.

Great oven fries can mimic, if not entirely duplicate, the best qualities of their deep-fried cousins—golden, with a crisp exterior and fluffy middle—yet remain much lower in fat. Bad oven fries, however, can turn out pale and soggy, or dry up and burn, sometimes achieving both states in the same batch.

The solution: It seems counterintuitive, but you need to presoak. Nearly half a potato's weight is accounted for by water. Soaking pulls out starch, which reduces the water content of the potatoes: less water, less steaming in the oven.

Start with baking potatoes (russets): They're drier than waxy varieties. Cut each peeled potato in half lengthwise, halve again, and slice each quarter into ¼-inch-thick strips (a mandoline is nice but not essential). Even thickness and wide surface area prevent burning and give you more crispy real estate. Soak in cold water for 30 minutes, then dry thoroughly with paper towels.

Toss with olive oil, and then spread on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Don't overcrowd the fries, or it will be a steam bath in there. Bake on the bottom rack at 400° for 35 minutes. Flip once halfway through.

42. Your Lettuce is Lifeless

Result: Withered and shriveled lettuce.

Nice lettuce is a mighty pretty thing, until it shrivels and withers 'twixt store and salad bowl—or, worse, rots and blackens around the edges. Once opened, even relatively shelf-stable bagged lettuces suffer this fate. And lettuce leaves are prone to nasty bruising when roughly handled. This is among the most delicate of foods.

The main storage problem is usually too much moisture. Wet lettuce spoils faster as water condenses on the leaves and suffocates them. More moisture also means more gases, like ethylene, which speed up ripening and spoilage in fruits and vegetables. But here's the rub: Lettuce needs some water to stay crisp—otherwise leaves dry out and droop.

The solution: Keep lettuce moist, but just barely. Loosely wrap a head (or the contents of bagged lettuce) in slightly damp paper towels, and seal in a zip-top bag. This will absorb excess water without dehydrating the leaves. Store in your crisper drawer—the best spot for consistent, controlled humidity. Don't wash lettuce until you're ready to use it.

43. Your Guac Gets Icky

Result: Brown guacamole.

Guacamole is a surefire and healthy party pleaser, at least for those who arrive at the party early. Stragglers know they're late by the muddy brown shade the dip has assumed in the bowl. Obviously, oxygen is the enemy of guac, as it is for sliced potatoes and apples. The question is, can you delay the oxidation process? (Leaving the pit in the dip, an old myth, doesn't help.)

The solution: A two-part strategy involves using acid to delay oxidation, then doling out the dip as needed from an airtight container. The antioxidant property of ascorbic acid, plentiful in lemon or lime juice, is your first line of defense. Toss cubed avocado in citrus juice, about 3 tablespoons per avocado, then drain before mashing, reserving the juice. After you've mashed all your ingredients, add some juice back to taste. Still, your dip will brown eventually if you serve all at once, so serve in small batches, with the rest stored in the fridge like so: Rub a little olive oil onto a sheet of plastic wrap, then press the wrap, oil side down, onto the surface of the dip—the thin film of oil creates an impermeable barrier, with plastic as a reliable backup. And the dip stays green.

44. Your Blueberries Take a Dive

Result: Sunken berries.

Nothing brightens a bite of a summertime muffin quite like the burst of a fresh-baked blueberry, unless you discover the poor things have sunk to the bottom, where they have congregated into a mush.

The cause of sinkage is in a sense the season itself: In the heart of the summer, fat, ripe berries may be more dense than batter, causing them to drop.

The solution: A dash of flour will help blueberries defy gravity for the very simple reason that the flour makes them stick to the batter and stay put. Just toss blueberries with a tablespoon of flour before folding in. But use flour from the recipe—don't add extra; that will keep your ingredient ratios even.

As always, be gentle when mixing the muffin batter. As batters are overbeaten, they can thin out, exacerbating the problem and producing a poor crumb as well. If your batter does seem a bit thin, try sprinkling some of the berries on top just before baking.

45. Your Fish Sticks to the Grill

Grilled fish makes for a delicious, healthy summertime meal, but many backyard chefs give the seafood counter a wide berth for fear of disastrous results: fillets that cling to the grill rack and break into little pieces when you try to flip them. A grimy grill, insufficient heat, and the wrong fish are all often to blame.

The solution: Stickage prevention is a process, and it starts at the store. Skip delicate, flaky fish like tilapia, cod, or flounder, and go with firmer-fleshed fish, such as salmon, tuna, or swordfish. Pat the fillets dry with paper towels before grill time.

Now prep the grill. Set the rack over a hot fire for five minutes to burn away lingering debris, then scrub thoroughly with a grill brush. Carefully lift the rack and coat with cooking spray. Don't spray into the fire; if you can't remove the rack, swab it with oil using wadded paper towels held with tongs. But don't use the tongs for the fish: A spatula is less likely to tear the fillets. Let the fillets cook undisturbed for a few minutes. When they're ready to flip, they'll release cleanly.

46. Your Thawed Berries are a Mushy Mess

Freezing fresh-picked berries lets you preserve a delightful dose of summer flavor for months after the season is over. But when thawed fruit becomes a squishy clump with juice spilling out, it's barely fit for smoothies. The freezing method is the culprit: If you're putting raspberries, blueberries, and the like in bags to freeze, you're doing it wrong.

The solution: The longer it takes food to freeze, the larger the ice crystals will be. These big ice chunks destroy cell walls inside the food, so when it thaws, it loses structural integrity and turns mushy. Big frozen-food companies use special equipment to flash-freeze berries individually. This makes for small crystals, so the thawed product better retains fresh taste and texture.

To approximate an industrial quick-freeze at home, spread berries in a single layer (not touching) on a baking sheet, and place the sheet in the back of your freezer. The extra space allows more exposure to the cold, freezing the fruit faster and preventing it from clumping. Then transfer frozen berries to large zip-top bags.

47. Your Pudding Looks Like Porridge

So you undertake the decidedly oldschool but comforting job of making a pudding. You carefully stir the beaten eggs into the hot milk mixture, but soon you see the dreaded signs of mixture separation. And when it breaks, it breaks fast—and now you’ve got a watery pile of scrambled eggs suspended in a milky broth. The problem is a failure to temper, the critical heat-control technique that basically acclimates eggs to higher heat.

The solution: Slowly whisk a thin stream of the hot milk mixture into beaten raw eggs in a bowl. Tempering will heat the eggs gradually without cooking them completely. The milk-egg mixture can then be returned to the pan and cooked as the recipe requires. Be patient cooking, though: If you crank up the heat after tempering, you can still wreck things, even with the inclusion of flour or cornstarch helping to stabilize. A small jump in the pudding’s temperature can lead to coagulation.

48. Your Soup Sports an Oil Slick

When a bowl of soup leaves lips as slick as if they'd just been slathered with balm, it's a bummer. This problem occurs most often with brothy, meaty soups, such as chicken noodle and beef barley. Fat from the meat—along with oil or butter used to sauté the veggies—rises as the broth simmers. The problem comes when this fat isn't removed. But even if you stand with your skimming spoon at the ready or try the messy and potentially scalding trick of dabbing the surface with a paper towel, you may still leave enough grease there to annoy.

The solution: Skim smarter. Move the soup pot halfway off the burner every 15 minutes or so, and skim from the edge that's tilted off the heat. Impurities and fat gather at the coolest spot—in this case, the side of the pan off the burner. Tilt the pan slightly as you skim to avoid taking off too much broth. Simmer the soup gently, and never boil: That just churns fat into the broth, making an oily, unappetizing emulsion. If time allows, chill the soup overnight. Fat will solidify on top; simply spoon it off before you reheat.

49. Your Apple Pie Is Too Puffy

A just-baked apple pie with a mountainous golden crust is nice if there's a mountain of perfectly cooked apples under the hood, but often there is, instead, a yawning gap between crust and filling that makes each serving seem skimpy and sad. The cause is often the steam slowly given off by thick apple slices as they bake; steam pushes the crust up as the fruit cooks down.

The solution: The examples above show that thinly sliced apples, rather than wedged or cubed fruit, deliver a trimmer pie profile. Because sliced apples cook quickly, steam is allowed to escape without lifting the crust. Arrange slices tightly in the pie shell, layering by hand as you would when making a tart, to minimize air pockets than can also produce an uneven pie. With nicely packed fruit you don't need to overfill; a good ratio is about 3 pounds of apples per pie. Remember to vent the crust: Three large slits across the top will expel steam during baking, leaving the filling even and juicy throughout.

50. You Scorch Your Root Vegetables

A mixed batch of roasted winter vegetables is the perfect healthy side this time of year: hearty, sweet and savory, full of nutrients and fiber. And it seems easy. But what's even easier is turning out vegetables that are pale and soggy from overcrowding, or, worse still, black and dry from overcooking. The problem is that while different veggies can certainly cook in the same pan, they need to be sized and spaced with care. It also helps if you use a good, thick pan, as thin pans conduct heat unevenly and lead to scorching.

The solution: Cut veggies about ½ inch thick. Items that stay whole, like baby carrots, can be your benchmark there. Preheat the oven to between 400° and 450° with a heavy roasting pan inside; the hot pan will jump-start the browning process. Spread oil-coated veggies in the hot pan in a single layer; don't crowd them, because that leads to steaming. Stir after 15 minutes to promote even browning and prevent sticking. Check after another 10 minutes, and then pull when gorgeously browned and fork-tender. If they're well browned but still tough, sprinkle with a couple of tablespoons of water, reduce heat to 350°, and cook until tender.

51. Your Lasagna Dries Out

What exactly happens when a baked dish of noodles, sauce, and gooey cheese comes out withered and pasty, with tough, brittle pasta edges? The problem lies in the layering method itself: If the filling doesn't cover the noodles, lasagna dries out. With light lasagnas, which often contain less filling, it gets trickier.

Solution: Take the time to spread sauce and filling evenly and all the way to the edges, especially on the top and bottom. Putting plenty of sauce (at least ¼ cup) in the pan first will prevent sticking and, if you're using no-boil noodles, help soften the pasta. If you seem to be running low on sauce, stretch it with about ½ cup unsalted chicken stock or wine (red for red sauce, white for béchamel). Spread another ¼ cup sauce on top to keep the lasagna moist when you brown under the broiler later. Be aware that no-boil noodles absorb more sauce, so if you use them, keep the pan covered with foil during baking to retain moisture. Even with conventional noodles, if the assembled lasagna looks like it might get dry as it bakes, minimize evaporation by covering it with foil for about two-thirds of the baking time.

52. Your Pork Is Dry and Gray

The USDA rules about pork changed more than two years ago—the safe internal temperature dropped from 160° to 145°—which makes all the difference in getting juicy results from a lean, go-to cut like tenderloin. But fess up: It's taken a little psychological adjustment to serve pork that's gently pink. There's still a slight inclination to let it cook just a little longer, a hesitation that can shoot fast-cooking cuts past the right temperature before you know it.

The solution: Insert a thermometer into the thickest part of the tenderloin after the minimum cook time recommended by the recipe. Even better, insert a remote-probe thermometer at the beginning of cooking. Watch for 140° to 145°, and then remove pork from oven. If it reaches the desired temperature in the oven, it will overcook as it rests. Check once more before cutting, and then carve.

53. Your Pizza Crust is Soggy

Perfect pizza crust—crisp yet chewy, not soggy or saggy—can be tricky. Pizza geography presents a challenge: The bare coastal edges cook faster than the topped center. What's more, the natural tendency to pile on toppings leads to overloaded, soggy crusts.

The solution: Sear the crust first to firm it up. Put your pan or pizza stone in the oven as it preheats, and arrange the dough on the hot pan before you top; this sets the crust. For veggie pizzas, sauté toppings to keep ingredients like zucchini and mushrooms from watering out as they bake, and use restraint with those toppings. Spread a scant layer of sauce (about ¼ cup), so the dough is still visible underneath, and finely chop or thinly slice vegetables (big chunks cook unevenly). If you have very fresh mozzarella, drain off any excess milk before adding.

54. Your Breading Falls Off

A golden, crunchy-crisp coating adds oodles of eating pleasure to chicken breasts, fish fillets, pork chops, and the like. But then a breading failure happens—a kitchen tragedy. The problem is often a pan that's too cool. A cool pan grabs breading and won't let go, causing whole slabs to peel off. Uneven coating will also chip and tear. Yes, lots of frying oil would make the job easier, but that's not the way we do things. Technique is the key.

The solution: Flour first, and keep your pan nice and hot. Breading works best as a three-step process: Dredge in flour, dip in liquid (usually egg or buttermilk), and coat with breadcrumbs. Flour helps the liquid cling, which in turn holds the breading in place. Shake off excess at every stage to keep coating uniform. Heat oil over medium-high heat (a drop of water should sizzle when it hits the pan), and cook a few minutes without touching; hands-off cooking helps form a crust that adheres. Turn the food gently with a spatula; tongs will pinch and tear the breading. Cook until done.

55. Your Burger "Meatballs" on the Grill

Photo: Becky Luigart-Stayner

It's a classic backyard snafu: You flip the patties on the grill, and suddenly what seemed like perfectly bun-wide servings of meat contract into domed pucks. This is the dreaded meatball effect, which is the result of too much shrinkage: Proteins in the ground beef coil up during cooking, squeezing out moisture as the patty tightens into a ball. Adding more beef isn't an option for health-minded cooks, and it won't work anyway. And flattening the patties with a spatula as they grill—a technique we've witnessed many times—simply pushes out delicious juices, causing flare-ups and sooty, dry burgers.

The solution: Make the raw, 4-ounce patties a bit larger in circumference than the hamburger buns. Press the mixture together gently; overworking it increases contraction and makes the cooked meat dense and dry. Use your thumb to make a nickel-sized indentation, a little more than ¼ inch deep, in the center of each patty. This prevents the burger from doming into a ball, keeping it flat and even as it cooks. Voilà: no meatballs in sight.

56. Your Pesto Gets Dark & Murky

Photo: Becky Luigart-Stayner

Pesto is the perfect answer to a bumper crop of basil, but if you're not careful, the herb mélange can discolor faster than a batch of guacamole, dulling as soon as it hits hot pasta—or even before, in the food processor. There are two causes: Chopping basil produces ethylene, the gas that turns vibrant leafy vegetables a dull, dark color.

Also, overworking the basil in the processor heats the mixture, breaking down the chlorophyll, which is the source of the green. Some chopping is necessary for the herb's essential oils to release their flavor. But a prolonged puree turns things muddy.

The solution: Pulse; don't puree. Place whole basil leaves, garlic, cheese, nuts, and about 2 tablespoons oil in the bowl of a food processor, and pulse 2 to 3 times or until a rough paste forms.

Repeat with more oil, pulsing after each addition, just until smooth. You can also add a couple of tablespoons of parsley or spinach to help preserve that bright green color. When it's time to serve, top hot foods with pesto in the serving bowl at the last minute, rather than in the skillet. To store, place in an airtight container, and place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pesto. You can also drizzle on a top layer of oil to help prevent oxidation.

57. Your Pasta Clumps Together

A bowl of hot pasta misses the mark catastrophically if the noodles come out of the pot sticking together or, worst of all, knotted up in gummy clumps. The problem is pot space: Noodles need room to release starch and cook evenly. Pasta absorbs nearly double its dry weight in water. If the noodles don't boil in enough water, sticking happens. A shallow boil also means very starchy water, which makes for gluey noodles. Adding some oil to the pot isn't an ideal deterrent to sticking; it makes the noodles too slippery for sauce to stick.

The solution: Use plenty of water, about 5 quarts per pound of dry pasta. Give the pot a stir as soon as you add the pasta to help keep the noodles separated when they plunge in. Boil vigorously until al dente. Drain the pasta (never rinse), and do as chefs do: Finish the last bit of cooking in the pan in which you've made your sauce. The noodles absorb more flavor this way, and everything just marries together nicely. Add a little reserved pasta cooking water if the sauce becomes dry.

58. Your Scrambled Eggs Turn Rubbery

The definition of perfect scrambled eggs differs from person to person and generally has to do with the size of the curd and the degree of wet creaminess, but there is one point on which we can all agree: Nobody wants dry, tough eggs. Cooked correctly, the proteins in an egg form a net, holding in moisture that later steams into light, fluffy curds. But too much heat and time cause the proteins to coil so tightly that moisture is wrung out.

The solution: Cook low and slow, moving the eggs constantly in the pan; this maintains the creamy texture. Heat butter in a pan over medium-low heat just until foaming; then add beaten eggs. (You don't need to add water to your eggs—it needlessly prolongs the process.) Use a wooden spoon to drag uncooked eggs to the center of the pan. Dragging the spoon, rather than stirring vigorously, creates medium-sized curds—perfect for light, fluffy eggs. If you like smaller curds, gently break the mixture more. Make sure to remove the pan from the heat when the eggs are still glossy, or slightly undercooked; residual heat will finish cooking them.

59. Your Piecrust Shrinks

No shortage of home bakers have witnessed the Great Piecrust Disappearing Act—dough that looks perfect in the pan but contracts in the oven. The problem: too much gluten. The gluten in dough can become like rubber bands stretched to their limit: too much strain, and the proteins snap back into a tangled heap. You need some gluten for structure, but you need to treat it gently. By the way, even packaged pie dough can shrink.

The solution: Relax your dough. It's tempting to work homemade dough into a cohesive ball, but this over-develops gluten. The dough should just hold together when squeezed in the palm of your hand, with bits of fat visible throughout. Form the dough into a disk, wrap, and chill at least 20 minutes—this lets the gluten unwind. To form the pie shell, gently roll the dough into a circle larger than the pan, at least 12 inches, and then trim and flute. Stretching a too-small circle to fit the pan will stretch the gluten. Chill the pie shell before filling. (If you feel you've stretched purchased dough, chill it, too; this will relax the gluten and help prevent shrinkage.) The fat, still solid from the fridge, will melt and steam in the oven, creating delicious flaky layers.

The 7 Mistakes You’re Making When Grilling, According to a Pro

Plus expert advice on how to cut your cleanup time in half.

Grilling is an excellent fuss-free cooking method, and quite frankly, we𠆝 rather not make meat (or fish, vegetables, or fruit) any other way in the summer. But here&aposs the thing: According to Chef Andre Rush, one of the top chefs in the United States military and an award-winning member of the U.S.਌ulinary Arts Team, home cooks make all sorts of errors when grilling. Luckily, none of them are hard to fix. Here’s the Chef’s expert advice on how to barbecue better, with lots of time-saving benefits to boot!

1. Choosing the wrong type of grill method

There are so many different ways to sear foods on a grill that it can understandably be very difficult to know exactly what to do with the grill you’ve got. Charcoal and gasਊre the main types, but electric and pellet grills are also fairly common,ਊnd the rules are different for each one of these options. As a rule of thumb, remember that charcoal is much more hands-on than gas because the heat is inconsistent you need to know how to use direct and indirect heat to get good results. If you’re more of a novice when it comes to grilling, no problem—just go for gas instead.

2. Opening the lid too often

Keeping the grill top closed is another issue we often see cooks having a hard time with—it’s in our nature to keep checking on what we’re cooking. Just remember that your grill is like an oven, and every time you open the lid, heat escapes and the temperature drops dramatically. It’s especially important to keep the grill top closed when you’re cooking for a short period of time.

3. Moving (or flipping) your meat too early

Once your meat touches the grill grates, leave it alone! Chicken, burgers, fish, and more need time to cook and caramelize, and਎very time you move them, you essentially start over. Once your steak “un-sticks” from the grill grates, that means it’s ready to be turned over.ਊlso, whatever you do, don’t press it down.

4. Pairing grilled food with the wrong type of wine

Thanks to the sweltering temps of the summertime, it’s easy to assume white or rosé wine is the best option for serving alongside barbecue fare. And not to nitpick�use when it comes to wine, you have to do you𠅋ut versatile reds are often the perfect pairs for grilled meat. “I love Josh Cellars Military Salute Edition Lodi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon because its flavor profile is so diverse," says Chef Rush. "It can go with charred chicken, beef, pork, and even seafood.”

5. Making cleanup harder than it needs to be

There are a few different things you can do to make grill-cleaning quick and painless. First, use grill spray or extra virgin olive oil and rub it on your grill’s grates before cooking. It’ll prevent whatever you’re cooking from sticking, plus it’ll make your grill marks much more defined. Second, always clean your grill when it’s still hot with a grill brush. If you wait for it to cool, it’ll take that much longer to clean.

6. Not taking temperatures

All too often, we misjudge a food’s doneness when grilling. It’s easy to assume a piece of meat or fish is done because it’s been on the grill for the recommended amount of time or because it’s covered in defined grill marks, but this is a grave mistake. Relying on visual cues (read: guessing) not only makes it easy to over- or undercook the burgers or chicken, but it puts you, your kids, and your dinner guests at serious risk of food poisoning.

The only way to know for certain is to enlist the help of a food thermometer. When inserting, make sure you put it into the thickest part of the meat to take its internal temperature. It’s also important to know what the recommended cooking temperatures are𠅏ind those here.

7. Assuming all vegetables cook in the same amount of time

When grilling delicate foods like vegetables, there are a few things you can do to ensure they come out exactly as you𠆝 like them to. First, get a vegetable rack you can stick on your grill—it’ll deliver the same results as the grates will and help to keep everything contained. Second, don’t cut your veggies too small, especially if you don’t have a rack. The small-sized pieces will either fall through the grates or cook too quickly (or both). Third, and most importantly, remember that not all vegetables cook at the same speed. If you like to take everything off the grates at the same time, try to cook similar vegetables together only. Potatoes and asparagus, for example, have two very different cook times. Broccoli and cauliflower, on the other hand, can grill to perfection together.

Substituting Ingredients

Anjelika Gretskaia / Getty Images

With that said, if you're going to use a recipe, follow it! Whether you got it from a friend or relative or you found it online or in a book, you owe it to that recipe to make it the way it's written. Changing the recipe is like taking your date to a party and then dancing with someone else all night long.

The Most Common 'Common Cooking Mistakes' of All Time

By now, if you're a loyal reader, you're probably very familiar with our Common Mistakes stories. We started the series in 2011, and since then we've warned you about everything from putting liquid into your scrambled eggs to seasoning the you-know-what out of your steak. And over the years, we've noticed a few trends—the most common "Common Mistakes," if you will. There are four big things you need to watch out for, no matter if you're making cookies, quinoa, salmon, or salad.

When it comes to everything, good-quality, seasonal products usually yield much better results. This goes especially for meat (which should be fed a healthful diet) and fish, which should be sustainably harvested and, ideally, wild-caught.

<del>#### 2. I Shouldn't Use Too Much Salt, Right?

Salt is one of the most important ingredients in any dish—it brings out flavors, whether they're sweet, salty, fatty, or sour. Everything from the steak on your grill to the lettuce in your salads to your oatmeal needs at least some (and in the meat's case: A LOT). So don't be afraid of salt!

<del>#### 3. Make Sure It's Done—Cook It 10 More Minutes

We get it: With everything from omelets to pork chops, you want to make sure they're done (those yucky bacteria!). But don't overdo it! For meat, use a thermometer. With omelets and scrambled eggs, get them out of the pan right before they're done—they'll continue to cook, even on a room-temperature plate (see Common Mistake no. 4 below). And if you want your brownies nice and fudgy, take them out of the oven right when your recipe says to—not sooner, and not later.

<del>#### 4. Eat It While It's Hot!

We know it seems natural to serve everything right off the grill, out of the oven, or hot from the pan. But it's a good idea to let your food chill out for a minute—or 10 minutes. We've said it before: beef, pork, and chicken all need to rest for a while to let their juices redistribute after cooking. You don't want all that glorious liquid to run out onto the cutting board. Quinoa and rice need to steam after you cook them, too—this is crucial to getting them nice and fluffy, so don't even think about lifting that pot's lid. Even brownies need to hang out in the pan for a bit, as they'll continue to set as they cool, and will be much easier to slice and get out of the pan.

So, folks, if you just heed these four common mistakes before you cook anything, you'll probably end up with much better results than if you hadn't. Let us know if we missed any in the comments!

Pro Chefs Reveal The Most Common Cooking Mistakes We All Make (20 Pics)

If you’ve ever found yourself struggling when cooking a more complex meal and thought “I wish I was a pro chef, everything would be so much easier”. Well, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Lucky for you, there are professionals out there who already went through the things you’re struggling with and are more than willing to share their experience.

Some time ago, Reddit user TakingItOffHereBoss asked professional chefs to share some common mistakes amateur cooks make and how to avoid them – and it’s an absolute must-read for any new chef. From sharpening your knives to refrigerating your cookie dough – check out the most common cooking mistakes shared by pros in the gallery below!

The most dangerous piece of equipment in a kitchen is a dull knife.

SLOW THE F**K DOWN! Just because you saw Gordon Ramsay chopping s**t at a thousand miles a minute on a youtube video doesn’t mean that you can do that. Cut first, go slow, and speed will get there.

Taste as you cook. Continually adjust seasoning (salt level) as needed. Acidity is also a very overlooked aspect of seasoning. Tons of dishes light up with a little lemon juice or vinegar.

Clean as you cook. Most dishes have some downtime while cooking them, use that time to clean up the mess you made.

My pro chef and former chemist friend gave me an earful for putting my tomatoes in the fridge.

He explained how the cold temp. changes the chemical composition and makes them taste s***tier.

I no longer put my tomatoes in the fridge and they are tastier.

Not a professional chef, but if you’ve put enough salt in your dish and feel that putting anymore would over-season it, but you still feel it’s lacking in taste, add some sort of acid.

Lemon juice/zest, lime juice/zest, balsamic/red wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar – you’ll be surprised at how much this lifts the dish!

When I was getting interested in cooking, I would skip the acid completely because I honestly couldn’t be bothered. I would always chuckle and joke at how much lemon/lime/vinegar chefs like Gordon Ramsay and Alton Brown put in their cooking.

Now, every dish I make has some sort of acidity in it because it’s just not the same without!

Pastry cook here, on the sweet side of things, my biggest piece of advice is to follow the recipe exactly if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing. Baking is basically science and if you don’t calculate substitutions right, it’s never going to come out right. Also make sure you have good ingredients. That box of baking soda from 5 years ago is not going to work that well anymore.

If the recipe says an ingredient is supposed to be room temperature, make sure it’s room temperature! Eggs are particularly important for this rule — room temperature egg yolks break more easily and incorporate better into whatever you’re mixing. And for something like cheesecake, or anything else with high fat content, cold eggs can actually harden the fat and make your mixture lumpy.

You take preheating the oven as a suggestion rather than a requirement. it can really affect the texture and appearance, as well as the timings. not preheating can lead to flat/hard cookies and dense/unevenly cooked cakes, among other things.

Pressing burgers to make them cook faster. Don’t you ever do that again.

Also, sharpen your knives. It makes them safer and way less frustrating to use.

Seriously though don’t you ever press that f***ing burger again you bastard.

Now, this one is a weird one, but everyone is guilty of it, even some professional chefs. Stirring. Everyone has been stirring stuff wrong for generations. If you have a large pot of something like stew, soup, or sauce, you probably stir in a circular motion, usually clockwise or counter-clockwise, right? Perhaps along the edge of the pot, or in a spiral, either going inward or outward?

Well, you’re doing it wrong. When stirring, do in one of two manners: First, in small circles, working from the outside and going inward. Similar to how you might draw a cloud or petals on a flower. Or, stir in a figure-8 motion. This is especially useful if stirring in an oval or square-shaped container. Also, stir upwards. How? Angle your spoon so that basically, you’re bringing the part of the food that’s closest to the heat source, up to the surface, and vice versa. This allows for a quicker and more even heat distribution. Also helps to prevent burning.

Using too much water when making top ramen

One really common mistake people make is putting food on a cold pan. You should let the pan heat up a bit before you put anything on it.

If you don’t have a good feel for how done meat should be, use a thermometer. Ignore any recipe that gives precise cooking times, because they’re rarely going to be correct.

You throw all your ingredients together at once and mix them without thinking about their order. If you see butter (or any fat) and sugar listed first in a recipe, it’s a creaming method — which means you mix together the fat and sugar first, until it’s light and kind of airy. When you add the eggs, add them one by one to make sure they mix in well and so that your batter keeps its light texture.

After you mix your cookie dough, REFRIGERATE IT so that the fat hardens and doesn’t melt like cookie brittle or brownie bark — unless you like it that way!

Hello, I am the chef at a 5 diamond hotel in San Francisco. The biggest thing to learn when just starting to cook, is mise en place. “Everything in its place.” This is ultimately to get food timings correct and precise, and for safety and control reasons. The second biggest thing to learn in the kitchen is safety. I once had a cook with 25 years experience get complacent and splashed hot oil on his face. Now we call him twoface. Cooking is a creative release when done outside of a professional kitchen, so take your time and don’t hurt yourself. The third biggest thing to learn, and I tell all my cooks this everyday, is taste, season, taste. Taste your food, season it, and taste it again. Most people (whether they believe it or not) have the same taste thresholds, so what tastes good for you will taste good for someone else. Last thing I can add if you want to improve your cooking, is to cook more! Cook everyday, because practice makes perfect. Eat. Eat everywhere and anything.

Too much or too little salt. Salt is one of the most magical ingredient known to mankind. It can make all the ingredients of the dish shine like stars. It can also f**k up all your hard work by overpowering the other ingredients. Cooking, like every other thing in the world, is about balance. It is the art of balancing flavors that compliment each other

Start with salt and pepper and get those right first. Seasonings make or break your food, but if you’re just throwing s**t in because it sounds good you’re gonna have a bad time. Also, keep in mind that you can pretty much always add more later but you can almost never take it back out.

Aušrys Uptas

One day, this guy just kind of figured - "I spend most of my time on the internet anyway, why not turn it into a profession?" - and he did! Now he not only gets to browse the latest cat videos and fresh memes every day but also shares them with people all over the world, making sure they stay up to date with everything that's trending on the web. Some things that always pique his interest are old technologies, literature and all sorts of odd vintage goodness. So if you find something that's too bizarre not to share, make sure to hit him up!

7 Common cooking mistakes you’re probably making

Like you, I am hardly a master chef. If I was, I would be kicking it with Gordon Ramsay and eating delicious risotto all day long. But even as a somewhat average-to-good cook, I know &mdash there are plenty of things I’m doing wrong in the kitchen.

The funny thing is, even we average cooks have a wealth of information at our fingertips. We can scour Pinterest for the latest cooking hacks. We can watch titillating YouTube videos uploaded from the kitchens of pro chefs around the world. We can even devour expert cooking shows on one of our 500 channels, on loop 24 hours a day.

We’re so lucky. But we’re also so busy. If you don’t have the time to nurture your culinary knowledge on the side, then use these top tips from the experts to correct your most common cooking mistakes:

1. You don’t have basic knife skills

Crystal Sykes, food blogger at Simply Playful Fare, nails the most common cooking problem I encounter again and again: I have never learned how to properly cut produce, and I more resemble Edward Scissorhands than Wolfgang Puck in the kitchen. In her upcoming e-book, Kitchen Rock-Star, Sykes lays down the basics of professional knife skills (that can apply to all kitchen prep) in her helpful onion cutting tutorial:

  1. Proceed with caution, as you’ll be cutting toward yourself. Leave the root intact, and cut the end where the skin comes together. This will help reduce the release of sulfur into the air.
  2. Next, peel the onion by removing the outer skin, but leave the roots intact.
  3. Cut the onion in half, lengthwise.
  4. Next, cut the onion in quarters.
  5. Lay the onion down on the flat side.
  6. About 1/2 inch above the bottom of the onion, slice across the onion, and bring your knife front to back.
  7. Make another cut above the first, the same size. Continue until you reach the top.
  8. Slice lengthwise (top to bottom) from root to end, bringing your knife all the way to the bottom of the onion.
  9. With your guiding hand still on the back of the onion, slice across the cuts you made through the onion, and bring your knife from the top of the onion all the way to the bottom of the onion. You should see small squares release from the onion.
  10. Continue from the front to the back, until the entire onion has been diced, discarding the end when it gets too small.

2. You’re cutting fruits and vegetables in advance

Even I have to admit I’m baffled by this one. Every DIY hack I’ve ever seen pinned on Pinterest says to prep everything in sight and store it in the refrigerator or freezer for later in the week. Silvia De Antonio, The Fresh Diet’s chief culinary officer, disagrees: “While you may want to preplan dinner, cutting vegetables days or even hours ahead increases oxidation, and the loss of important nutrients can occur. Dryness is another downfall of pre-cutting vegetables and can change their texture. It’s best to cut vegetables when you’re ready to use them.”

3. You don’t know your oils

Speaking for myself and every other mediocre cook out there, I don’t know the smoke point of cooking oil from my elbow. According to Madeline Given, CNC, this is a major (but common) cooking mistake that could affect your health. Given tells SheKnows, “The majority of my clients never knew that every cooking fat or oil has a different ‘smoke point,’ which is the temperature at which it burns and becomes rancid. Cold-pressed, virgin and unrefined oils &mdash that is, extra-virgin olive oil &mdash contain minerals and enzymes that can be healthful, until they hit their smoke point and begin to release free radicals that are not safe to consume. Countries that are known for their olive oil consumption, like Italy, typically consume the oil raw or uncooked, as a dip or dressing, making it exceedingly healthier.”

Given explains, “The smoke points of oils and fats are all a rough estimate, since they all break down at different speeds and are refined differently. Grapeseed oil has a higher &mdash over 400 degrees F &mdash smoking point, but I don’t recommend it since it is high in omega-6 fatty acids, which most of us already have too much of in our diet &mdash these can be inflammation-causing. Cooking oils recommended at higher smoke points are animal fats &mdash ghee, lard, etc. &mdash and tropical plant fats &mdash coconut, avocado, etc.”

4. You underseason

If you are a home cook, you are likely to fall into the same habitual trap, says Chef Elana Karp, VP of culinary at Plated: You are afraid of salt. Chef Elana encourages newbie chefs to face their fears and bust out of the bland-food rut: “The key to seasoning properly is taking a large pinch of kosher salt between three fingers, and sprinkle it over food from high above. This will ensure even seasoning and enough flavor. For pasta: Be sure to add enough salt so that the water tastes like the ocean. This will impart just the right amount of flavor into the noodles &mdash and don’t worry, you don’t eat the pasta water, so you’re not actually ingesting that much salt.”

5. You’re using the wrong measuring cups

Man, this is a tough one. Not only am I a beginner cook, but I am oft very lazy. It’s so tempting to reach for any measuring device that is clean &mdash dry, liquid or otherwise. Charla Draper of ChowChow & Soul, editor at Special Fork, explains one of the most common cooking errors she sees in her work with novice to experienced chefs: “People [often] use liquid measuring cups for dry ingredients and vice versa. As for dry ingredients, it is important to remove the dry ingredients from the canister and put what is removed into the dry measuring cup and level the measuring cup off.”

6. You haven’t organized your kitchen

Don’t count on a five-star dinner coming out of that cluttered kitchen anytime soon, says Andrea Brundage, professional organizer at Simple Organized Solutions. Given the fact that my kitchen looks like a tornado hit on most nights of the week, I think I can learn a thing or two from the self-proclaimed Bringer of Calm. Brundage lists a few of the most common organizational errors she sees in client kitchens: “People start a project before checking to see that they have all the ingredients they need, thus creating an abandoned project or a quick trip to the store. Cooking utensils and pans are not stored and readily available near the cooking area essential ingredients &mdash spices, oils &mdash are stored away from the cooking area pantry is not organized in like-with-like fashion &mdash flour, sugar, brown sugar should all be next to one other to make for easy picking when ready to cook.”

7. You overcomplicate things

In the kitchen, I like to shoot for the moon and hit the Michelin star when I can. But Claire Siegel, registered dietitian with Snap Kitchen, says that in the majority of cases, simple cooking is better &mdash and even more delicious. Siegel explains, “You don’t need to waste time, money or valuable pantry space on specialty ingredients you’ll only use once. Some of the best recipes are made up of simple ingredients &mdash bonus points if you have them on hand already &mdash combined in novel ways.”

11 Common Cooking Mistakes And How To Fix Them

1. You Don’t Read The Recipe

When you’re excited about a new recipe, it can be tempting to dive in and make it right now. But being hasty with a new recipe is an easy way to make mistakes!

Instead, take the time to read the whole recipe from start to finish at least once (or better yet, twice) before getting started. Having an idea of when to add certain ingredients and the pacing of each step will make it much easier to succeed on the first try!

2. You Over-Soften Butter

Recipes for cakes and cookies often call for softened butter, but what does that really mean? Ideally, you should be able to leave a dent in softened butter when you press on it with your finger, but it should still hold its shape.

If you press on it and it doesn’t hold it’s shape, it’s likely over-softened and may produce flat cookies and tough cakes. Instead, let cold butter sit out on your countertop for 30-45 minutes before using it to achieve the right amount of softening.

3. You Don’t Measure Accurately

Haphazard measurements may may get the job done when you’re cooking, but it’s not a good practice when baking! I always used to use my measuring cup to scoop out flour before leveling it off, but I recently learned that this method almost always yields more flour than you really want.

The best way to measure out flour—or the next best way after weighing it on a scale—is to lightly spoon it into your measuring cup , then use a knife or other flat object to level the surface. (The operative word here is “lightly,” meaning you don’t want to pack it in!)

4. You Overcrowd The Pan

I’m a pretty impatient cook, so I like to get everything in the pan at once whenever possible. But this can overcrowd the pan and make it much harder to achieve a nice crust or caramelization on the exterior of your food!

It’s better to split the amount in half and cook it in two smaller batches (or in two pans at once if you’re feeling ambitious). Either way, the improved air movement and heat distribution will yield more delicious results!

5. You Turn Too Often

Another symptom of my impatience in the kitchen is that I often struggle to leave food alone while it cooks! I feel the need to turn, poke, and flip food more often than necessary, which makes it almost impossible to achieve a nice golden crust on something.

Now I try my best to leave the food alone so it can do its thing, and I only flip it once I can easily slide a spatula underneath. That means the food has released from the pan, which is a good sign that it’s ready to flip!

6. Your Pan Isn’t Hot Enough

If you aren’t giving your pans enough time to heat up on your stovetop, you could be doing a disservice to your food. If your pan isn’t hot enough, the food can start to soak up the oil or butter you put in the pan, making it unpleasantly oily and reducing your chances of achieving a good sear, crust, or caramelization.

Instead, put your fat in the pan and let it heat up for a few minutes. To test the temperature, drop a small piece of whatever you’ll be cooking into the pan. If the food starts to sizzle right away, the pan is hot enough to start cooking!

8. You Forget About Carryover Cooking

“Carryover cooking” refers to the way the residual heat inside your food continues to cook it, even after you’ve removed it from the cooking surface. Carryover cooking usually only lasts for a few minutes, but it can make or break certain foods—especially when they’re as delicate as fresh veggies!

If you take boiled or steamed veggies out of the pot when they taste perfectly done, you can stop carryover cooking from ruining them by dunking them into a bowl of ice water. The “shock” from the ice water will stop the cooking process in its tracks, and your perfectly crisp-tender veggies will stay that way instead of becoming a mushy mess.

9. You Cook Meat Straight From The Fridge

One of the most basic food safety practices is to keep raw meat cold, which many of us have taken to mean we shouldn’t take meat out of the fridge until the moment we’re ready to cook it. But in reality, throwing a fresh-from-the-fridge steak on your grill is likely to result in a steak that’s overcooked on the outside and an undercooked on the inside. Bummer!

Instead, you should take your meat out of the fridge about 15-30 minutes before cooking to let it warm up a bit. It’s enough time to get the chill off, but not so long that you have to worry about the food temperature “danger zone.”

10. You Don’t Rinse Grains

Most dry grains (like rice, quinoa, farro, etc.) are coated in a starchy powder that formed as the grains rubbed against each other during the packaging and shipping process. And once that starchy powder meets liquid, it can turn your grains into a sticky, goopy mess!

To avoid this issue, put your uncooked grains into a fine mesh sieve and rinse them well with cold water. The rinse will remove the starchy powder, so you end up with fluffy, perfectly cooked grains.

11. You Only Season Your Marinade/Breading

When it comes to adding flavor to meat, you should consider salt and pepper as a separate element from marinades and other flavorful coatings. If you only use salt and pepper in your marinade or breading mixture, most of the impact of the seasoning will be lost during cooking. Instead, add salt and pepper to meat after marinating it (but before breading it.)

Have you ever learned a skill or technique that made cooking easier for you?

I believe we should all love the place we call home and the life we live there. Since 2011, I've been dedicated to making One Good Thing by Jillee a reliable and trustworthy resource for modern homemakers navigating the everyday challenges of running a household. Join me as I share homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make life easier so you can enjoy it more!

Every day I share creative homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make your life easier and more enjoyable!

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The 8 Most Common Meatball-Making Mistakes

It seems like every Italian grandmother has her own secret for the perfect meatballs. Some soak their breadcrumbs in milk. Some use a special blend of herbs and spices. Some combine different types of meat for that oh-so-perfect texture. But if you're not a nonna, meatballs can be difficult. It's tough to get the texture right, how to tell if the meat is seasoned enough, to sear them for the right amount of time. Too often, they come out spongy, dry, and dense.

We're here to help! We asked Assistant Food Editor
Alison Roman for the most common mistakes people make when serving up a plate of spaghetti and meatballs, and she shed some light on the art of mixing, rolling, and cooking these little balls of meaty joy.

1. Salt Doesn't Matter
Meatballs need to be seasoned, period. As a rule, about 1 teaspoon per pound will make for perfectly salted meat. If you're using a salty cheese like Parmesan in the mix, cut back on the salt a little bit. You don't want your balls to be too salty.

2. Who Needs Greens?
Herbs! They're an important part of your standard Italian-style meatball mix. Without them, your meatballs will end up tasting like a burger. But don't feel like you have to be married to parsley or basil. Mix it up with herbs like mint, oregano, and marjoram. Add a pinch of nutmeg, too--it adds a subtle depth of flavor that will make guests ask, "What is that?" (in a good way).

3. Eggs=Moisture
Eggs are not a source of moisture! They're in the meatball mix to bind the meat, breadcrumbs, cheese, and herbs. The eggs will cook and make the meatballs dense and spongy--you want light, airy meatballs. For one to two pounds of meat, you usually won't need more than one or two eggs. And make sure not to add too much breadcrumbs, either--about a half cup per pound of meat will suffice.

4. Mix It with a Spoon
When you're ready to mix it all together, make sure to put all the ingredients into a bowl at once and always use your hands to mix them. The light touch of your hands incorporates all of the ingredients without crushing the meat. You don't want to over-mix into a paste--full pieces of ground meat should still be visible.

5. All Balls Are the Same Size
Depending on how you'll serve the meatballs, you should roll them to the size appropriate for the dish. In soup, for instance, you'll want smaller, bite-size meatballs. If they're served on their own, they should be pretty big, like 2 inches in diameter. If they're on top of spaghetti, a medium meatball will suffice. This one is all about preference, but just consider how the balls will be eaten.

6. Roll ɾm Dry
If you roll your meatballs with dry hands, the meat mixture will stick to your skin and make rolling a ball impossible. To remedy this, lightly oil your hands. You'll only need a light rolling motion to form a (not too tight!) ball.

7. Don't Worry About a Mess
It's always best to be as clean as possible in the kitchen--especially when handling raw meat. Line a lipped sheet pan with parchment, and place meatballs neatly onto the tray for no mess and no roll-away meatballs.

8. Skip the Sear
There's a reason nobody ever poaches beef--you don't get nearly as much flavor as when the meat hits a hot pan. Sear the balls for a nice brown crust (if you're cooking for a crowd, space the meatballs out evenly and just throw the pan into a hot oven for the same effect), then braise them. It's really hard to overcook them in your sauce, since they're sitting in liquid. Braise them for about 15-20 minutes, or until you're ready to serve them.

30 Of The Worst Kitchen Mistakes Spotted By People That You Shouldn’t Repeat

Starting to learn how to cook can be a little intimidating at first – especially when you get to cooking things that are a little more difficult than boiled eggs or French toast. Worry not, however – no one was born a pro and making mistakes is part of the learning process. And today we have a short list of common cooking mistakes that you shouldn’t repeat the next time you’re trying to surprise your significant other with a nice home-cooked meal.

A little while ago, Reddit user MomosOnSale asked cooks to share the biggest cooking “no no’s”, and received thousands of useful answers. And I’m pretty sure that recognizing these mistakes will help you take your cooking game to the next level. Check out some of the most common kitchen mistakes that you shouldn’t repeat in the gallery below!

Medium rare chicken. Works for steaks, but not for hen.

Don’t pour oils down the drain!

If it has touched raw meat, it can’t go anywhere near cooked meat

Coming anywhere near my non-stick pan with metal. If you scratch my pan I will scratch your soul.

Don’t cut meat immediately after cooking it, more juices will flow out, the meat will become drier. Wait a few minutes

Never and I mean never panic if you start a fire on accident, you need to be calm enough to know if you have to smother it (oil or grease fires) or grab the extinguisher. Panicking can get your house burned down

Don’t try to catch a dropped knife. Back away and let it fall.

Cooking with unwashed hands

Glass cutting boards. Like seriously, just GTFO.

And in a similar vein, dangerously dull knives. I’ve seen some real bludgeons in other people’s kitchens no wonder they hate prep work.

Never pour spices directly into a steaming pot on the stove. The spices will congeal in their containers from the moisture introduced. Instead put the spices in a separate side container then add to a steaming pot.

I’d like to add to this that you should read and understood the entire recipe before you start cooking. You don’t have time to boil water when you need to “add boiling water”. And it’s nice to have the rice ready when you arrive at “serve with rice”.

Skipping fresh ingredients.

Just peel & chop garlic! Squeeze a lemon! Skip the jar/ bottle

Adding salt as a matter of course, or just because the recipe says to. Taste first, and only add if needed. If you’ve used stock or a stock cube in your dish you might not even need salt, they already have it.

guessing at amounts when baking.

Don’t use a nice knife on anything other than food. (a common offense would be opening a food package with it)

Don’t send a nice knife through a dishwasher

Don’t leave a sharp knife in the sink

Don’t leave a knife wet, even ones claiming to be stainless will often rust if left wet.

For the love of god stop mucking about with whatever it is you’re cooking. Unless it’s something you specifically need to be mixing or stirring constantly, leave it alone! You’ll never get proper color on things if they make more contact with your spatula than your pan.

People coming into the kitchen to “help”.

Cooking everything on “high” because you want it done faster.

Always wear pants while cooking bacon.

Don’t season a liquid before reducing it, it will become too salty after you reduce it.

Don’t use a cold pan to sear something get the pan hot first, better sear.

Learned this the hard way: don’t throw fresh chili peppers into a hot pan unless you want to pepper spray the whole house!

Don’t press your burgers down as they’re cooking. You’re releasing all the juice. It’ll give you a dry ass burger.

There are such things as smash burgers, but I believe on those, you smash them at the beginning before the fat has a chance to melt so you’re not smashing the juice out.

never let water touch chocolate.

Cutting with a dull knife. Get yourself a sharpener, even if it’s a cheap one.

Never put oil in the pot when cooking pasta, as the sauce will just slip and slide away instead of sticking to the pasta.

Pasta should never, ever be rinsed for a warm dish. The starch in the water is what helps the sauce adhere to your pasta. The only time you should ever rinse your pasta is when you are going to use it in a cold dish like a pasta salad or when you are not going to use it immediately

Remember, you can’t get some stuff back after you add it. Go slow with seasonings, and lightly. You can always add more, but you can’t take it back. Don’t let your food taste like ocean water.

Resting is part of cooking. That bacon you cooked to perfection that’s still in the skillet? Yeah, that’s too late. You need to remove things from heat a little earlier than youd think so that the ambient heat continues to do its job. Otherwise you’re overcooking it.

Aušrys Uptas

One day, this guy just kind of figured - "I spend most of my time on the internet anyway, why not turn it into a profession?" - and he did! Now he not only gets to browse the latest cat videos and fresh memes every day but also shares them with people all over the world, making sure they stay up to date with everything that's trending on the web. Some things that always pique his interest are old technologies, literature and all sorts of odd vintage goodness. So if you find something that's too bizarre not to share, make sure to hit him up!

7 MORE Common Cooking Mistakes (And How To Avoid Them)

1. You Cut Veggies Unevenly

Cooking vegetables that are cut unevenly often results in the smaller pieces being overcooked and larger pieces being undercooked. So it’s worth it to cut those veggies as uniformly as possible, even if it takes a little longer!

If you’re worried you lack the necessary precision, get some help from a vegetable slicer or dicer.

2. You Don’t Season Your Cooking Water

If you’re boiling your pasta or potatoes in a pot of plain water, you’re doing it wrong! Well maybe not wrong, but you are skipping over your first opportunity to enhance the flavor of whatever you’re cooking!

Salting your water is a super easy way to season your food from the inside out. Just add salt after the water begins to boil—one to two teaspoons of coarse or kosher salt per quart of water should do the trick (less if you’re using table salt).

For more tips that will help make your next spaghetti night more memorable, check out these pasta hacks!

3. You Don’t Rinse Canned Beans

The cloudy liquid in a can of beans is full of sodium and extra starches. Drain your canned beans into a sieve and give them a good rinse under cool water.

That is, unless your recipe specifically calls for the undrained beans (which happens from time to time with chili and other soups). To find out what other foods you should (or shouldn’t) be rinsing, check out this blog post.

4. You Cut Into Chicken To See If It’s Done

You should always let chicken and other meats rest for at least 3-5 minutes after cooking. This rest period gives the moisture inside the meat enough time to be reabsorbed so that it doesn’t run out onto your cutting board when you cut into it.

So how do you check to make sure that it’s done without slicing into it? Invest in an instant read digital thermometer and use it to verify that your chicken has reached an internal temperature of 165°F.

(My printable cheat sheet for meat temperatures makes the perfect companion to any digital thermometer! Download it for free here.

5. You Only Use Lean Ground Beef

While lean ground beef (around 90% lean and above) is just fine for tacos, meat sauces, and casseroles, it’s not always the best choice for other recipes! Not having enough fat in your ground beef can lead to dry meatloaf and flavorless burgers, which is definitely not what you want!

If you’re cooking something like meatloaf or meatballs, go for 80-85% lean ground beef to ensure it sticks together and retains moisture. And for juicy, flavorful burgers, look for an even higher fat content such as 73-75% lean beef.

6. You Marinate Seafood Too Long

Marinades are made up of three components that work together to add flavor and tenderness: acid, oil, and spices/seasonings. While large cuts like briskets and steaks need to marinate for hours on end to get the desired results, delicate seafood is another matter entirely!

In fact, an “acidic” marinade—think citrus juice or vinegar—can literally cook seafood in as little as a couple of hours, à la ceviche. But if you’re using an acidic marinade with seafood you’re planning to cook on the grill or elsewhere, you should only leave it in for about 20 minutes or so.

7. You Don’t Know Your Oven’s Quirks

While I normally love big personalities, my old oven’s constant mood swings used to drive me up the wall! You’d think that setting an oven to 350°F would actually result in it heating to 350°F, but as is the case with many ovens, that would actually be a pretty big assumption!

Many ovens aren’t as accurate as we give them credit for, and even change their behavior as they age. For these reasons, I always stick to two rules when it comes to my current oven:

  1. Always use an oven thermometer. I keep mine in my oven full-time, and I made sure to pick one I could read through the oven door so I didn’t have to open it to check the temperature.
  2. Know your oven’s hot spots. To test for hot spots, perform the “bread test” by covering the middle rack with slices of bread and baking them at 350°F for a few minutes. The most toasted spots indicate that your oven got particularly hot in that area. Once you know where your oven’s hot spots are, you can adjust the position of your food accordingly.

To learn more about how to calibrate your oven for better baking, check out this post.

2. The Problem: Food is Over- or Under-Cooked

The Solution: Pay Attention to Visual Cues of Doneness, Not Just the Time

Round two in the battle of cooking versus distractions is under- or over-cooked food. Here is where a small inexpensive tool, when used judiciously, can save your dish. It’s a timer. Test kitchen chefs love timers. We collect little stockpiles of our favorite ones and often have three going at the same time with one magnetized to the oven door, one hanging around our neck and one propped up on a cutting board.

The timing in our recipes is not an estimate. We literally test and retest every step with our faithful timers counting along and then pad in a slight range on either side to help account for different ovens, cook tops and pots and pans. However, the KEY thing about using a timer is that it’s a guide, not an absolute. Always defer to the visual cues in the recipe (such as "cook until brown and crispy on one side") to determine when it’s time to move on or declare the recipe done. If a recipe says to bake for 30 minutes, set your timer for 20 minutes and then go check on it. Does it look close to the visual cue for doneness? Add three to five more minutes. Still looking way off? Give it eight to ten more minutes. If it’s a recipe you love and will make again, you will know how to set the timer to a more precise time based on your personal variables (like how hot your oven is).