12 Foods Everybody Should Be Able to Cook by 30


I'm a pretty good cook. I can make just about anything — from single meals for myself to four-course feasts for a crowd — and I learned how to do it all on my own. If you're age 30 or older, you should probably have these mastered. Let's get cookin'.

1. Pasta

Pasta is one of the most versatile, easy, and budget-friendly foods you can buy. As for dressing it up, you can't go wrong with a basic homemade tomato sauce or creamy alfredo. Not in the mood for sauce? You can also eat it plain with olive oil, or toss it with meats, seafood, vegetables, or whatever else suits your taste.

2. Eggs

There are plenty of ways to cook eggs (my favorite? baked eggs for brunch), but the three styles you should master are scrambled, fried, and hard-boiled. It's worth the effort to learn how to cook eggs perfectly, exactly how you like them. (See also: 6 Ways to Make Perfectly Cooked Eggs)

3. Beef, Chicken, and Pork

The three staple meats of the American diet are beef, chicken, and pork. That's not meant to offend anybody of religious affiliation, of course — I totally respect that not everyone eats these meats — but those are our primary sources of protein in this country. And, they're the trickiest items on this list to cook.

Raw meat contains so much bad-for-you bacteria that it can make you sick or potentially kill you if not prepared properly. Chicken, especially, must be cooked all the way through (to 165º F) before eating. Investing in a meat thermometer can help you make sure you've properly cooked your meat to temperature.

Baking is one of the easiest and tastiest ways to cook chicken thighs and drumsticks. Simply season them with olive oil, salt, pepper, and other seasonings of your preference, toss in a 400º F oven, and let them cook for 20–30 minutes. Chicken breasts can also be baked or cooked right on the stovetop, and make a great addition to salads and pasta. Add a little olive oil to a hot pan, season the chicken, sear each side, and then turn the heat to low and cover until cooked through.

Not in the mood for chicken? Try some foolproof pork chops with caramelized onions to please your next dinner crowd. A simple home-style meatloaf is also a super easy and delicious meal to dress up ground beef. Once you get the hang of a few basic staples, you can try spicing it up a bit.

4. Grilled Sandwiches

Who doesn't love an ooey-gooey, hot-and-melty grilled cheese sandwich? The answer is nobody in the history of ever, which is why you should know how to prepare one yourself. Once you've nailed down the gist of grilled cheese — butter both sides of bread, keep the heat low to medium to avoid burning — you can start experiment with other types of sandwiches that feature ingredients like bacon, ham, tomato, chicken, and pesto.

5. Holiday Ham, Turkey, Chicken, or Roast

Let's start with ham as it's the easiest of them all, because — and this might blow your mind — it's already cooked when you buy it. Yep, all you have to do is heat it up for an hour or so in the oven per instructions. Turkeys and chickens are a little trickier, but honestly not very hard. Skip stuffing the cavities of these birds as some say it's not an entirely sanitary practice. For roasts, you can set it and forget it in the slow cooker, which usually calls for a few chopped veggies, beef broth, and a dry soup mix from the grocery store — that's it.

6. Pancakes

Some people will tell you that making pancakes from scratch is the way to go, but if you're not so worried about that, I stand by box mixes. I've made both varieties, and in terms of taste I don't think homemade is any better than box brands. If you can follow directions, mixing the batter isn't rocket science, but to master the art of flipping you should have the griddle on medium heat and wait until bubbles form on the pancake before making your move.

7. Fish and Shrimp

Learning how to cook fish and shrimp is getting into much fancier territory, but if you're nearing your 30s, there's no excuse for not knowing how to cook these items in at least a basic way. Fish can be prepared dozens of different ways. It can be grilled, poached, baked, broiled and more, all fairly quickly and without a ton of effort. As for shrimp, these little buggers cook quickly in a pan or on the grill — two minutes on each side, and they're done. Or you could boil them for six to 12 minutes and drain. Simple as that.

8. Potatoes

There are so many ways to prepare potatoes, but if you're just branching out in the kitchen, it's best to stick with easy methods like roasting or baking. I prefer baking my potatoes in the oven over the microwave because I think they taste better that way, but there's a significant cook time difference; they take about eight to 10 minutes in the microwave, but about an hour in the oven. If you want to make roasted potatoes, you'll need to do a little prep. Dice the potatoes before seasoning with a little oil, herbs, salt and pepper, and putting them in a pre-heated 450 F oven for about 20 minutes. Give them an occasional stir.

9. Vinaigrettes

Instead of bringing out half-empty bottles of salad dressings and putting them on the dinner table, class up your meals and parties with freshly made vinaigrettes that require only a few ingredients and a hearty whisk or shake. Most recipes just require a few ounces of oil, vinegar, and other pantry staples.

10. Cookies

Unlike pancakes, I do think that homemade cookies far surpass the quality of store-bought. If you want to try your hand at the former, start with this easy sugar cookie recipe and graduate to chocolate chip when you're ready. I'll let you in on a little secret: I undercook my cookies just slightly so they're still a tad gooey right in the center — that's just the way I like 'em.

11. Roasted Veggies

Essentially the same methods apply here as they do with potatoes. All root vegetables need about 20 minutes cooking time in a high-heat oven, around 400 F. Chop, season with olive oil, add salt and pepper, and pop them in. Stir or turn over the veggies at the halfway mark. You're good to go.

12. Sautéed Spinach

Sautéed spinach sounds difficult, but it's fairly simple. Before turning on the heat to a high-sided pan, I add one to two tablespoons of olive oil (depending on how much spinach I'm cooking), a teaspoon of chopped garlic, and a few red pepper flakes. Turn the heat to medium just until the garlic sizzles, then add the spinach. At this point, you can't leave the stove because you need to mind the spinach while it wilts and stir it to make sure that all the leaves hit the heat. Once it gets to your desired texture, add salt and pepper to taste, stir one last time, and serve with a splash of lemon juice on top.

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Guest's picture

I would say legume-type soups - split pea, lentil, white bean. From dried beans, preferably. Also muffins, you can whip those up with just a fork and mixing bowl (unlike a lot of sweet breads like banana bread, which usually need a stand mixer). Also regular soups, which are easy. You don't even have to blend them if you don't want to. Just throw in whatever sounds good. Also, an addendum to your grilled sandwiches - fried egg sandwich. Exactly what it sounds like. We used to do just plain bread, mustard, egg, but then I decided why not grill it with some cheese...

This may or may not be by the time you turn thirty, but at least before forty: learn not only how to cook the staple meats, but also the cheapest cuts. Learn what you can do with a cube steak, or round steak, or a cheap roast. Learn how many different ways you can dress up hamburger. That sort of thing.

Finally... this article made me feel so weird. Not even twenty yet and the only ones I don't have down are the eggs and the spinach. And I don't even really like eggs. (That said, I can do scrambled eggs since I was about six and the only reason I can't do hard-boiled is because you pretty much can't do hard-boiled with laid-that-day fresh eggs._