17 Basic Cooking Skills Everyone Should Know
Do you wish you could cook nutritious, homemade meals for your family but you don’t have the basic cooking skills to begin? When I was younger, I really wanted to make wholesome meals for my family, but I just didn’t know how. Over the years, first I mastered tacos from browned ground beef, a packet of taco mix and some taco shells.
For years that was our standby meal because it’s really all I knew how to make that was good. I made mac and cheese from a box and ramen noodles. That was what we could afford at the time. I also didn’t understand the importance of healthy, fresh, chemical free food.
As I added more and more things to my repertoire, I began to evolve from a crappy cook to an okay one. Then I honed my skills some more and learned a whole lot more about healthy food, and I really became a decent cook. I always loved to bake, but cooking was not my thing until a few years ago when I started using the food network as background noise for the kid’s nap. There’s not a lot of swearing, and the volume is pretty consistent, so it’s a way to keep them from waking if the phone rings or someone beats on the door.
(Bless their hearts if they ring the doorbell or knock loudly during nap here, there’s even a sign, they’ve been warned!)
Anyhoo, back to the cooking. Sometimes I listen to what they are doing on the shows and every once in a while, I have time to sit down for a few minutes of a show during nap to relax. I learned a ton about the nuances of cooking and I’m really a pretty good cook now. I love serving my kids healthy, homemade food. Creating new flavors makes cooking fun and I enjoy cooking now. Click here to see why healthy food is so important.
Here are a few skills to get you started on your cooking journey. If you want tips on how to get your kids to eat healthy food, click here to check this out.
Basic cooking skills-How to cut without cutting yourself
Knife skills are one of the basics of cooking for beginners. If you don’t have basic knife safety, your cooking journey will be more difficult. Don’t give up. You can learn to cut safely on your own.
- Always protect your food holding hand. It’s fairly unlikely that you will cut the hand you hold the knife with, but something has to support the food as you cut it. Make sure to fold your fingertips in so if your knife slips, you don’t cut the end of your fingers, you cut your knuckle instead. It’s a lot harder to cook with a cut fingertip than if you cut the back side of your hand. As you are holding your onion, carrot or whatever, roll your fingertips under your knuckles just a bit so you protect your fingertips.
- Never cut toward your hand. Think about holding a bagel and slicing it in half. One of the most common emergency room visits is for bagel cutting accidents. It’s difficult to slice a bagel without holding it in your hand, but always, always, place it on the cutting board to slice it. Never in your hand. The same goes for other things. Don’t cut toward your hand, cut away from it.
- Don’t rush when cutting. Take your time and avoid costly mistakes.
Basic cooking skills-How to chop an onion
Cutting up an onion can be time-consuming and is one of the most important basics of cooking for beginners because most savory recipes start with a chopped onion. It takes some time to learn how to chop an onion evenly so it cooks consistently. It also takes practice, but it’s a basic cooking skill everyone should know.
- Place your onion on the cutting board on its side and slice off the root end where the little fuzzies come out.
- Turn the onion around and slice off the top end.
- Place the onion firmly on one of the now flat ends and cut it in half.
- Now the peel is easily accessible. Peel it off of both halves.
- Next, put the cut edge that was the center of the onion flat on the cutting board and slice the onion into thin slices. You may have to hold the slices in place while you pull the knife out so they will stay together.
- Now take your sliced half and turn it half a turn and slice the other way. The layers of the onion are already separate the other way, so your onion slices will now give you a nice chopped onion.
- Repeat with the second half.
After some practice, you will have this technique mastered and you’ll be able to do it in no time. Don’t give up if it’s hard at first. It was for me too.
Basics of cooking-sweating an onion
A great basic cooking skill for beginners is to know how to sweat an onion or cook it until it’s translucent. Once you have chopped your onion, as shown above, heat your pan to medium heat and add some fat. You can use butter, coconut oil, olive oil or whatever you like. Add your onion and stir and cook the onion. If you don’t stir it, it will brown. Brown onions can taste bitter and they don’t soften.
If you have the heat too high, you will see it starting to brown. I add a tablespoon or two of water to help it cook slower and let that cook out. You can also add salt and that will help it break down in the pan faster. It will look translucent or kind of clear. You can taste a piece of the onion and there shouldn’t be any crunch left. Onions that have been sweated will kind of melt into your recipe so you won’t get that crunch that puts a lot of people off.
Basics of cooking-slicing a tomato
Slicing a tomato can be a daunting task for a beginner cook. It seems like they just smash into a pile of mush. The secret to slicing it perfectly and not losing the shape is to use a serrated knife. The skins on tomatoes can be tough and you have to slice through them without putting too much pressure on the flesh inside. A serrated knife can do just that for you. Use a sawing motion, not just pressure. The serrations will cut right through that skin.
Basic cooking skills-browning ground beef
Browning ground beef is one of the basic cooking skills everyone should know. Ground beef is inexpensive and very versatile. You can even brown 10 pounds of it at a time, making the same mess as browning 1 pound and only taking a little bit more time, and then freeze it in 10 portions for later use. This tip will save you tons of time.
Heat your skillet or pan to medium heat and toss your meat into the pan. Cook and stir so the meat won’t clump up until there is no pink remaining.
Basic cooking skills-cooking pasta
The number one rule to cooking great pasta is to heat the water to boiling before adding the noodles. Add a generous amount of salt to the water. The water should taste like the ocean. If you skip this step, your pasta will not have as good of flavor. Once your salted water is to a rolling boil, add your pasta and set the timer for the amount of time indicated on the package. When the timer goes off, take out a noodle or two and taste them. Pasta should still be firm, not soggy, but should not be crunchy or stick in your teeth.
Basics of cooking-stock
Cooking stock is a basic cooking skill that can give you healthy broth for hardly any money. Cooking stock also helps you save waste on the food you buy. Click here to see more ways to cut down on food waste.
You can use your vegetable scraps, and meat bones after you’ve removed the meat to make delicious, healthful stock. Stock can then be used in soups, stews, casseroles, sauces and other dishes to enhance flavor and add valuable nutrients.
All you have to do is dump your veggies and/or bones into a crock pot, stock pan or instant pot and you’ll have delicious stock in no time. Click here to see more about how to make it.
Basic cooking skills-roux
A roux is a basic cooking skill that is the base for gravies, sauces and some soups. You just need a bit of fat, such as the oil left from browning meat or some butter or olive oil. You add the same amount of flour as you have fat. Cook and stir until the flour is cooked down and slightly starts to brown. This will give your roux the best flavor.
Once your roux flour is browned, add liquid to make your gravy or sauce. For gravy, you need 1 cup of liquid for every 2 T. of flour or fat. If you started out with 4 T. of fat and added 4 T. flour, then add 2 cups of liquid. White gravy is made with milk, brown gravy is made from stock or the juice left from cooking meat. (not the fat, just the meat drippings with the fat skimmed off). Cook your sauce until it thickens up and is bubbly. The longer you cook a roux or gravy, the better it will taste. Just remember to stir constantly so you won’t get lumps.
For béchamel sauce, such as you would use for a casserole or mac and cheese, you just make your roux, add milk and cheese if desired, then add it to your recipe. You can make mac and cheese by adding cheese and mixing the sauce with pasta. You can make alfredo sauce by mixing the roux mixture with parmesan cheese. You can make pot pies, by mixing the roux with stock and adding cooked chicken and veggies. Then top with crust or biscuits. Béchamel sauce is super versatile.
You can use a roux to thicken soups or stews. You just begin your roux and when it’s browned, add more liquid than the 2 T. to 1 cup ratio and you will have a soup but with a thicker consistency. Boil and stir for a while to incorporate it. You can use this method for chowders, cream soups (using milk or cream for your liquid), gumbos and whatever else you like.
The secret to gravies and sauces is to mix the flour with the hot fat. That’s what keeps it from clumping. Roux is so versatile. It’s a great beginning cooking technique to learn.
Basics of cooking-hard boiled eggs
Making the perfect hard boiled egg is simple but so easy to miss the mark. Overcooked eggs have green and chalky yolks. Under cooked eggs are runny and slimy.
For perfect boiled eggs, every time (even with farm fresh eggs), place eggs in a large pan in enough water to cover them. Add a few tablespoons of salt for easy peeling. Set the stove burner on high and set your timer for 25 minutes. By the time the eggs come to a boil, they will boil for the perfect amount of time to turn out perfect every time.
Immediately dump out the hot water when your timer goes off. Pour cold water over the eggs. Dump several cups of ice over the eggs and leave until cooled completely. They will be perfectly hard boiled and easy to peel.
Basic cooking skills-scrambled eggs
Making perfect scrambled eggs is super simple. It’s a great cooking skill to have. It’s inexpensive and fast when you need a meal in a pinch. Scrambled eggs make great breakfast, lunches or dinners. First, crack two eggs per person you are serving. For my kids, I usually make a dozen. There are 8 of us and they are always totally gone. I can make 16 eggs and the same thing happens. Two dozen, still gone. My kids eat like lumberjacks.
Back to making scrambled eggs. Pour about a tablespoon of milk per two eggs into your bowl. You can use cream instead for richer eggs. Add as much salt and pepper as you like and some dried herbs. I love to add dill to my eggs. Herbs are nutritious and tasty. Thyme is good in eggs as well as fennel. Now grab a fork or a whisk and beat your eggs like mad until they are well incorporated. You don’t want to see yellow and clear parts, it should all be a consistent color and texture.
Once your eggs are beaten well, you can add other things such as cooked bacon, sausage or ham, or you can add diced up greens or broccoli. Everything tastes good in eggs. Plain eggs are just fine too. If you want to add onions or peppers, sweat them in the pan before you add the eggs, they take a little longer to get soft.
Cook your eggs on medium low, stirring occasionally. If you keep stirring the eggs constantly, they will be rubbery and dry. Just scrape the bottom of the pan occasionally so the eggs on the bottom don’t brown. Browned eggs don’t taste good. Once you see the eggs are almost dry, turn the heat off and let them finish cooking off the heat. If you overcook them, again, they will be dry and rubbery. Once the eggs are cooked, you can add a sprinkle of cheese if you like for even more yumminess.
Basics of cooking-fried egg
The secret to cooking a really good fried egg is cook them slowly. Fried eggs run into trouble when they are rushed. My grandma always made what we call “lacey” eggs. They were her eggs, and I loved them, but a well-cooked fried egg is a piece of art.
Warm your pan on medium heat. Once the pan is hot to the touch, add a tablespoon of butter, oil or even better, bacon grease. Whatever fat you have is just fine. Let it melt for a second or two and then crack your egg into it. Salt and pepper the egg and add herbs if you like. When you see the white part turn opaque on the bottom. Slide a spatula under it and flip it over. Cook for a few seconds more and take it out. This is an over easy egg.
If you want your eggs sunny side up, just leave them on the first side and baste them with a bit of the fat from the pan while they are cooking. You can do this by scooping it over the egg with your spatula taking special care not to hit the egg with your spatula. Make sure the whites are opaque and not clear. If the whites are clear at all, the egg is not cooked.
If you want your eggs to have a solid yolk, once you turn the egg, cook it on the second side for a couple of minutes and it will set the yolk.
Basic cooking skills-grilled cheese sandwich
Grilled cheese is a super easy sandwich to make well. Slice up some cheese. I don’t use American cheese because it’s processed. We use mild cheddar for our grilled cheese sandwiches. Grab two slices of bread and place a generous amount of cheddar inside. Heat a skillet on medium heat until it’s hot. Add a pat of butter and let it melt in the pan. Add your sandwich and let it cook until the bread is brown.
Once the bread has browned on the first side, give it a little smoosh with your spatula and then turn it over and brown it on the second side. Take it out of the skillet and enjoy. There is not much better than a well-cooked grilled cheese.
Basic cooking skills-quesadilla
A cheese quesadilla is a super basic dish and is made similarly to grilled cheese. Heat your pan, add butter, add a tortilla with slices of cheddar topped with another tortilla. Brown on both sides. You can add slices of ham, cooked chicken, or whatever else you’d like to make it special.
Basic cooking skills-roasting a chicken
Cooking up a whole chicken is a super great cooking skill to have. The most important thing is to make sure it’s done but not overdone. To prepare the chicken for roasting, rinse it and pat it dry. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. That’s all it needs. If you’d like to sprinkle herbs on it, that would be great too. You can also put an onion or a lemon in the cavity, or some garlic cloves. You can mince garlic and rub on the skin. You can use other spices on the skin. Whatever you like on your chicken will be fine. Click here to see a great bbq rub that would work well.
Once your chicken is well seasoned, you can choose if you’d like to roast it in the crock pot, instant pot, or oven. For oven roasting, place your chicken in a pan. Preheat your oven to 350. Cover the chicken with the lid to the pan or with foil or parchment paper. Roast until the temperature in the center of the thigh is 165. It takes about an hour, but times will differ depending on the size of your chicken. A meat thermometer is a must for cooking pork or poultry. I would suggest investing in one if you don’t have one. Click here to see how to roast your chicken in the crock pot and how to roast it in the instant pot.
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Cutting up a whole chicken is a great way to save money on meat. Click here to see how.
Basic cooking skills-baking-creaming butter and sugar
Creaming butter and sugar together is a common method for baking. To cream them, the butter needs to be room temperature. If your butter is cold, it will not cream. Add the room temperature butter and sugar to your mixing bowl and beat vigorously until they incorporate together and become smooth and a lighter color. Then continue to the next step of the recipe.
Basic cooking skills-baking-separating an egg
Another basic baking technique is separating an egg. It can be daunting, but the easiest way to separate the yolk from the white is to crack the egg into your hand over a bowl and catch the yolk with your fingers while allowing the white to run through and into the bowl. You can also skim the yolk from the whites with half of your egg shell and let the white fall into the bowl. Be gentle with the yolk, they are easy to break. If your recipe calls for beaten egg whites, they will be difficult if not impossible to whip up if there is a touch of yolk in them.
Basic cooking skills-baking-leveling off flour
Leveling off flour is a way you measure dry ingredients. You fill your measuring cup with flour loosely without packing it down. Then you take the back of a butter knife and scrape the flour flat so it measures exactly one cup. This exact measuring will help your recipes turn out consistently. Baking is science and it needs to be precise to be successful. Don’t guestimate.
I hope these tips will help you learn basic cooking skills that will improve the quality of your life by allowing you to make healthy, homemade food. These 17 basic cooking skills will give you the knowledge you need to make a huge variety of things you might have thought you couldn’t. Refer back to it as often as you need until you master them all and then work on learning some more new basic cooking skills in the kitchen. When I began to learn to cook, I used the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, or the red checkered cookbook which I still use most often today. It has all of the basic recipes you need to start a successful cooking life. Click here to see more about it. Happy cooking!
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