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Culinary School Grads Are Sharing The Cooking Tricks They Wish They'd Learned Sooner, And Some Are Really Surprising

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Culinary school can be a rewarding experience filled with useful cooking tips, tricks, and techniques.

Fg Trade / Getty Images

But between the time commitment, significant expense, and overall privilege of attending, culinary school is an experience that's out of reach for many of us.

To make things a bit more accessible, people in r/Cooking and the BuzzFeed Community are sharing the most important cooking tips they've learned in culinary school and in their own kitchens. Here's what they said.

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1. For perfect scrambled eggs, start with a cold pan.

BuzzFeed / Via buzzfeed.com

"If you like custardy scrambles (and let's be honest, who doesn't?) this technique is for you. Add your beaten eggs to a cold pan with a few pats of butter and slowly begin cooking them, stirring often. As the pan gets hot, take it off the heat and continue stirring the eggs. Then place it back on the heat and repeat so the pot never gets too hot. This low-and-slow technique will result in a super creamy texture that's almost like a custard."

Jesse Szewczyk

2. Substitute soy sauce, fish sauce, or tamari for salt — and you'll get a deeper umami flavor.

BuzzFeed

"Also, because you'll need less due to the concentrated flavor, there will often be less sodium in your dish overall."

Aine8

"Soy sauce belongs on way more than Asian recipes. Try a dash in scrambled eggs or in caramelized onions. The savory salt flavor complements many dishes." —u/B-H-

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3. The more you diversify your cuisine knowledge, the better a cook you will become.

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"There's usually more than one way to do something well, and no one cuisine or continent has all the answers. My culinary school was very Eurocentric in its approach. But in the real world, people cook differently — with different techniques from one place to the next — and all create amazing food. I've learned from many YouTube cooking channels that a lot of the old cooking or baking wisdom from school doesn't apply. Or that it may be OK, but there are newer and better ways of doing things."

CCDestroyer

4. Caramelize onions in butter (rather than olive oil) and a bit of sugar.

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"Butter is especially great for browning. If you’re going a bit beyond just browning, like with fried or caramelized onions, use butter and sugar. It makes a world of difference."

Sophisticated_Sloth

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5. Avoid buying pre-marinated meats in grocery stores and butcher shops.

u/writergeek / Via reddit.com

"They’re usually older, less fresh cuts of meat that are closer to their expiration date. They're being ‘rescued’ with a marinade to cover that."

seeeyyaa

6. You'll become a better (and faster) cook if you stay clean and organized along the way.

amateurgourmet.com

"You'll move faster if you maintain the saying of 'Everything has a home, and if it's not in my hand, it's in its home.' This way, you can rely on everything being exactly in its place.

"Also, stay clean. Not just by wiping up crumbs after you use a cutting board (keep a sanitized towel nearby for a quick wipe, and it'll become second nature), but by always keeping 'landing spaces' clear. You go faster when your space is flexible, and that only happens if you stay clean."

indigoHatter

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7. Try cooking with duck fat to make food extra crispy.

Amazon, Getty Images

"Duck fat is a tasty alternative to oil, butter, or bacon fat. It's excellent when used for roasted or home fries. It used to be expensive and hard to find, but seems to be more readily available these days." 

u/kzpsmp

8. For restaurant-quality sauces, finish them with a bit of cold butter.

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"Do you ever wonder how restaurants get their sauces so shiny and rich? It's because they finish them with a few pats of cold butter before serving them. Next time you're making a sauce, try adding a few slices of cold butter at the very end to add richness and shine."

Jesse Szewczyk

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9. Know that electric stoves can get much hotter than gas.

BuzzFeed

"A high setting on gas will get you a nice sear, but the same on electric will burn. It's not something to worry about in a restaurant kitchen, but definitely at home."

Azuenz

10. Abide by the finger trick for perfectly cooked rice.

The Kitchn / Via thekitchn.com

"Add rice to your pot and cover it with just enough water so that the tip of your finger is touching the top of the rice and the the water hits your first knuckle." —u/moose_knuckle01

 

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11. Always finish gravy with a splash of cider vinegar.

Amazon, Getty Images

"Chicken gravy, turkey gravy. The acid rounds everything out, and it's a game changer."

neanotnea

12. Salt in the hand, not in the pan.

Alvin Zhou / Via buzzfeed.com

"When adding salt to a dish, don't pour directly from the box or salt container into the pan. You'll have more control if you transfer to your hand first."

Importchef

"Pouring directly is also why spice shakers can get clogged as you run out, if you're shaking them over a hot pan. Steam + salt or spices = stale clumps."

indigoHatter

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13. Don't bother rinsing poultry or fish before cooking it.

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"There’s literally no point in rinsing it off, and some would even consider it a health hazard to rinse pre-cut chicken or salmon.

u/velvthamr

14. When prepping or cooking a recipe, plan your next two tasks as you're performing your current task.

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"That way, you always know what you're moving toward."

SmackedWookiee

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15. Dry any ingredients that trap moisture — like meat, fish, and vegetables — with a paper towel before cooking them.

Lauren Zaser / Via buzzfeed.com

"The thing that's made a huge difference in my cooking is thoroughly drying meat, fish, and vegetables with a paper towel before cooking. My mom’s cooking was always too watery — and not properly crispy, browned, or caramelized — because she missed this step. (But to be fair, it isn’t mentioned in most recipes.)"

half_a_sleep

16. Pay attention to all your senses.

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"Sautéing things like onions sounds different at different stages. It's more of a hiss at the start as steam escapes, then it settles down to a crackle. Similarly, everything you cook will have subtle changes in the way they smell as they cook. There have been many times when I have been multitasking and my nose has alerted me to check on whatever I have in the oven."

theoakking

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17. Place cherry or grape tomatoes in between two plastic lids to quickly cut them all in half.

Erin Phraner / Via buzzfeed.com

"As long as your knife is sharp, you can cut 15 to 20 at a time this way instead of one at a time."

exstaticj

18. A few drops of hot sauce can take vinaigrettes to the next level.

Amazon

"A little bit of hot sauce (like Crystal) or fish sauce can be unrecognizable in a vinaigrette, dip, or sauce — but it's an absolute game changer. A touch of heat, umami, sugar, or acid can turn a flat dish into something people crave. Little drops, add more. Stop when you taste it and start salivating."

OviliskTwo

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19. Don't be afraid to use premade seasoning powders.

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"Culinary school never teaches you to use premade seasoning powders (like Knorr stock powder, Old Bay, Tony Chachere's, etc.) or MSG. They're essential for certain food businesses. In my culinary school, MSG was never talked about, and I had to learn how to use it myself when I opened my business."

arcerms

20. Never throw out your leftover pasta water.

Tasty

"Use it to make nice and thick sauces that stick to the pasta. I always save a bit of pasta water to add to my sauce, even if its just a plain old marinara." 

u/Centaurious

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21. Never throw away bacon fat.

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"Filter cooled (but still liquid) bacon fat through a paper towel into a coffee mug or heat-resistant container. It stays fresh uncovered in the fridge for months. Use it anywhere you'd use butter, lard, or oil. It makes great gravy and is also perfect for sautéing veggies, especially leafy stuff like kale and spinach. Just remember that bacon fat is salty, so you'll want to adjust your recipe for that."

GrannyRUcroquet

22. Give your spices time to bloom, and they'll impart deeper flavor.

Hannah Loewentheil

"If you’re seasoning with a spice like powdered garlic or onion, let it bloom by adding it to a little bit of water. Then add it to your cooking. You’ll use less and get a more robust flavor." 

u/trainwreck42

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23. Always "cook one off" — and taste your product or prep mixture before you dive into making the rest of it.

Tasty / Via tasty.co

"Too many people just go along making recipes and don’t taste up front or along the way."

totsornot

This is especially important when you're making batches of things from the same prepped mixture — like meatballs. Panfry one, taste it, and if it's off (e.g., needs more salt), edit the mixture before cooking the rest.

24. Use olive oil to drizzle on your food, but beware of its low smoking point.

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"Olive oil is a condiment you should add to cooked food to impart flavor, but it is terrible to fry with. Use vegetable oil, grapeseed, or any other neutral oil. These oils have higher flash points and are pretty much flavorless."

MeMuzzta

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25. Salt throughout the cooking process.

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"Salt early, salt late. Season your meat, and add salt as you cook. Adding salt at different points while cooking dramatically affects the final taste of your food."

labretirementhome

26. Memorize the three-step method for perfectly crispy fish skin.

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"1) Scrape the skin with the back of a knife to dry it out. 2) Put it in a hot pan with fat skin down, and press it until it stops trying to curl. 3) Put the whole pan in the oven, and roast until done. Cook it the whole way skin down. Perfectly crispy skin every time."

timmymac1000

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27. If a dish tastes bland, it probably needs an acidic ingredient.

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"If your dish is well seasoned (aka you've added enough salt and pepper) but it still tastes like it is missing something, try incorporating an acidic element to brighten it up. You can use lemon or lime juice, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, or anything that will add some acidity."

u/Kuosen

28. Know when to use kitchen shears instead of a knife.

"Use scissors to cut things! Dough, pizza, some cuts of meat, veggies, herbs, etc. So much faster, less to clean up, and better cuts."

Aszshana

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29. Treat baking like science and cooking like jazz music.

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"Bake cookies with a recipe and follow it exactly, but season and cook your meals with your heart (and maybe a meat thermometer)." 

DeviousThread

30. If you do it enough times, you can make a great sourdough loaf by feel.

Tasty / Via youtube.com

"Add your flour to make a loaf the size you choose, your starter into a levain, your water and salt. You can tell by the feel of the dough if it's hydrated where you like it. You don't have to measure anything. I make my best loaves this way!"

Ennion

"I've been making sourdough for a few years, and I tell this to people who are just starting. If you do it enough, you'll know when it's time for the next step."

hydersturka

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31. If you're cooking a meal with lots of components, use appliances to keep things at temperature — *without* taking up real estate on stove burners.

Joe Lingeman / Via thekitchn.com

"A slow cooker, Instant Pot, or grill with some kind of temp control can all have things going low and slow, holding food at temp waiting for you."

severoon

Thanksgiving dinner is a great time to put this into play. Here's a recipe for Instant Pot mashed potatoes.

32. Recipes are a road map. You don't have to follow them exactly.

Getty Images

"Remember that it's OK to deviate. (Unless you are baking! In which case, follow the recipe exactly. 😂)"

CrowEyedWolf

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33. Brining is the key to perfectly cooked meats.

BuzzFeed

If you've ever wondered why pork chops and chicken are so much juicier when you order it at a restaurant, it's because the meat is brined. That's basically just a fancy word for soaking meat in salt water, but brining results in meat that tastes juicy, succulent, and bursting with flavor. Plus, brined meat is much more forgiving when it's overcooked.

34. Invest in a reliable meat thermometer — it's the most important kitchen tool.

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"A digital meat thermometer is hands down the best $10 I ever spent for kitchen gadgets. It has a temperature alert setting that takes the guesswork out of when to take something out of the oven. Plus, it will ensure moist poultry every time you cook it."

u/deleted

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35. And get yourself a good, 8-inch cast iron skillet. Then, use it to cook absolutely everything.

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"You can braise meats, bake desserts, and make potato hashes all in a simple, 8-inch cast iron pan."

36. Don't go overboard by buying lots of single-use kitchen tools.

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"You really don't need a gazillion tools and utensils. In my day-to-day cooking, a basic kitchen knife does a lot of the heavy lifting, so learn to use it properly." 

u/0x53r3n17y

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37. Use plenty of garlic, but add it strategically.

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"The flavor that is imparted by adding garlic isn't just a matter of quantity. It's dependent on when you add the garlic. Add it early for light flavor or later for a bolder flavor."

u/Orbnotacus

38. Use cheesecloth to impart the flavor of fresh herbs without the unwanted texture.

Foodie Crush / Via foodiecrush.com

"Herbs and spices can be annoying to eat (for example, finding a twiggy piece of rosemary in a bite of chicken). Put herbs and spices in cheesecloth or an emptied-out tea bag draped in your cooking liquid to impart the flavor into your dish without the unwelcome texture." 

u/canada_is_best_

Here's a tutorial on how to make a bouquet garni, aka homemade herb packets.

What's a useful cooking tip or trick you wish you'd learned sooner? Share in the comments!

Note: Responses have been edited for length and/or clarity.

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