10 Kitchen Mistakes Good Cooks Make


How did I manage to overcook that roast? Why did my cookies spread all over the pan? These cooking mistakes are common, yet can be avoided.

We have all made mistakes, even pros like Julia Child. My mother once made a Baked Alaska mistakenly using salt; my mother-in-law set off the smoke alarm so many times we called it her oven timer. Just learn from your mistakes, and move on. (See also: 7 Surprising Cooking Hacks That Save Time in the Kitchen)

Here are 10 common errors, and how to avoid them.

1. You Didn't Taste Before You Served

So, you followed the recipe to the "t," but it just didn't measure up when it hit the table. Who is to blame? You are! Taste as you go. Your sauce may need more sweetness, acid, or salt, and while you are cooking is the best time to add, not once it is ladled out. (Note: This does not apply to baking, where use of exact ingredients is important, and where you do not want to eat raw eggs.) If you are still unsure, get a second opinion. My husband is pretty used to me coming at him with a spoon.

2. Under-Salting

My parents' generation got a big scare from the media about the use of salt. As a consequence, food often tasted bland. Most salt in your diet comes from processed foods, so if you are cooking your own food, you don't have to be such a fraidy-cat. Just watch a few professional cooking shows or videos and see how much salt the chefs use. I am usually astounded. Certainly, if you have issues with high blood pressure or your heart, you need to be careful — but otherwise, salt away!

3. Eating Right Away

It is much easier to slice up a roast, or a chicken, and the result will be tastier, if you allow it to "rest" after cooking. Meat continues to cook even after you remove it from the oven. The center continues to heat while the outside cools down. Let the meat "rest" and re-absorb the moisture. A large roast needs about 25 minutes; a whole chicken or turkey should sit for 20 minutes. If you are worried about it getting cold, tent it with some aluminum foil. Slice too soon, and there go your juices!

4. You Don't Know Your Oven Temperature

The oven dial may say 350 degrees, but is it, really? Get a second opinion. For just a few dollars, you can buy an oven dial thermometer to check. If it's off, check your owner's manual; you may be able to fix it. If not, you may want to call a professional repairman.

5. Over-Softened Butter

I do this too often, because I live in a warm, humid climate. Butter softens here in record time. And then what happens? Cookies, which should be plump, spread. Cake batter will not cream properly. If this happens, start over. Properly softened butter should be the consistency of Play-Doh.

6. Your Knives Aren't Sharp

Dull knives are dangerous. If your blade is dull, it can slip off of the food you are cutting and cut you! You also use more force with a dull knife. You are more likely to work more safely when using a sharp knife. Sharpening knives is not that difficult to learn.

7. You Crowded the Pan

Sometimes, I just want to get some big-batch cooking done and put too many vegetables on the cookie sheet to roast… or try to brown too much meat at once. And then what happens? Things get soggy. Yuck! Food that needs to brown needs room, so it's better to do it in batches, if you have a lot of it.

8. Dang, Burned It Again

Most often, it's because I am using the wrong burner size on my gas stove. Sometimes, I have the flame up too high (it should never go up the outside of the pan). Also, sometimes I get distracted between the news, texting, or checking a recipe while I am cooking. Good tricks to prevent burning are to set a timer, if you are walking away, or to eliminate some of the distractions until you can turn the stove off.

9. What's Wrong With the Mashed Potatoes?

My mother insisted on "whipping" her potatoes with a hand-mixer, and that's why they became gluey. You are much better off using a ricer or a hand masher. The potato you select makes a huge difference, too. Try Yukon Golds — and this perfect mashed recipe — for really delicious potatoes.

10. You Didn't Practice "Clean As You Go"

Unless you want to end up with a sink full of dirty dishes, pots, and pans, you may as well clean up as you go along. It's pretty tiring to cook a meal, then turn around and survey the mess. If most of the dirty kitchen has already been dealt with, you will simplify mealtime.

Cooking should be fun. Even if you make mistakes, chalk them up to experience, and move on. Everyone who cooks has a funny "mistake" story! Remember, as Julia Child said, "Have the courage of your convictions!"

Have I overlooked any common kitchen mistakes? Please share in comments!

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