7 Common Cooking Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Even When Following a Recipe

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Recipes can be helpful when it comes to cooking times, ingredients, and seasoning quantities. But following one can—surprisingly—also lead to mistakes. Here are the top issues you might encounter in the kitchen and how to avoid them.

  • 01 of 07

    Using a Recipe

    Woman cooking with a recipe

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    That's right, sometimes using a recipe at all can be a mistake! Recipes are great for helping a cook replicate a dish—whether it's their own or someone else's. But unnecessary adherence to a recipe can turn cooking into a science experiment, rather than something we do daily to feed our families. 

    Not only that, but over-reliance on recipes will ensure you never learn how to cook. It's like only driving with your GPS and then discovering you can't find your way around your own city. Ultimately, cooking isn't about following recipes. It's about learning basic techniques and knowing how to use them to make food taste good. After all, what good is a recipe that says "sauté something for five minutes" if you don't know how to sauté?

    Sure, for certain dishes–especially desserts and baked items–you might need very specific measurements, especially if you've never made it before, but ask yourself whether you really need a recipe to make a casserole or pasta or stew.

  • 02 of 07

    Substituting Ingredients

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    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.

  • 03 of 07

    Not Tasting as You Go

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    Recipes can have mistakes in them. If you've never used a given recipe before, you should make sure each ingredient, and quantity thereof, passes the common sense test before blindly dumping it in. Humans also make mistakes, and if you misread a recipe, it's better to know about it sooner than later so you can make an adjustment. Mistakes aside, personal preferences can vary, especially when it comes to spiciness and seasoning. Tasting as you go is all about nipping problems in the bud, which is a useful habit for any cook to cultivate.

  • 04 of 07

    Starting Too Late

    Man cooking pasta at night

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    Something recipes almost never tell you is when to start cooking. A recipe will usually list some sort of estimated prep time, but is that really exactly how long it will take you to prepare that dish in your kitchen? Does it include the 10 minutes you spend rummaging around in your utensil drawer looking for the grater? Or waiting for your eyes to stop tearing while you chop onions?

    The point is, you need to know when you want a dish to be finished and then calculate backward from there. Not to mention, if you're serving more than one dish and the two dishes need to be cooking at the same time, there's some coordination involved.

    This, by the way, is another reason to follow the recipe. It's true that substituting ingredients can alter the flavor and consistency of a dish, but it can also change the cooking time, which then ends up throwing off all the other components of your meal.

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    Taking on Too Much

    Person cooking with many pots on stove

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    This brings us to the next common recipe blunder: Trying to cook too many dishes in your kitchen at one time. You know when you order a dish at a restaurant and it comes with a main protein, a vegetable, and perhaps a soup and a salad? It might have taken eight different cooks to prepare all that food.

    If you're trying to prepare three different recipes in your little home kitchen and they all need to be done at the same time, you're going to find yourself at your wit's end pretty quickly; imagine cooking with three separate cookbooks open or even worse, using just one cookbook that has all three recipes in it and you're flipping madly through the pages. Don't do this to yourself! That's what potlucks are for.

  • 06 of 07

    Making Extra Work for Yourself

    Man stirring pot on stove

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    At the opposite end of the spectrum are the folks who can't resist stirring the soup, turning the steaks over (and over and over), opening the oven door to check something, or just generally doing things that the recipe doesn't actually say to do. This is mainly due to nervous energy, feeling like you need to be doing something.

    This is not only unnecessary but also counterproductive. Stirring the soup can make it cloudy. Flipping the steaks can prevent them from obtaining a lovely brown sear. Opening the oven door lets out the heat, thus slowing down the cooking. And so on. If you've really got nothing to do, you're probably doing something right. Instead of going around stirring, reward yourself with a drink.

  • 07 of 07

    Not Cleaning as You Go

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    Another way to occupy yourself while the roast is in the oven is to wash dirty dishes and utensils, wipe down the counters, and generally tidy up. Even better, get in the habit of cleaning dishes and utensils as soon as you're done with it. That way, when dinner comes out of the oven, you have a nice clear space to work with for the final plating, carving, or any other finishing touches.

    This is especially helpful if you've serving multiple courses and you're clearing away salad plates to make room for the main course. If the sink is already full of dishes, those salad plates have nowhere to go! Cleaning while you go is bound to make your culinary endeavors far less stressful.