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12 Little Cooking Habits You Should Steal From Prep Cooks

Cook smarter, not harder.

Zoë Burnett / BuzzFeed

Fact: Prep cooks are the unsung heroes of the restaurant industry.

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That's because they have the difficult task of cutting, prepping, and cooking everything needed for a restaurant — which is not an easy job.

But that also means they have some super practical tricks up their sleeves for making cooking easier. Here are 12 of the best:

1. Read your recipes before starting to cook — then gather everything you need and begin working in stages.

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There's nothing worse than starting a recipe and realizing you don't have a certain ingredient or already missed a step. To prevent this, always make sure to gather everything you need before you start cooking. This will make the whole process smoother and prevent any unexpected surprises.

Also, always work in stages when prepping a recipe. For example, if your recipe calls for peeled and diced carrots, wash them all first, then peel them, then cut them. Working in stages like this will make the whole process go faster compared to jumping from task to task.

2. Make a prep list to help you work smarter and stay on track.

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With so many things to do, prep cooks often rely on a prep list to help guide them through the day and make sure they're not forgetting anything. To do this at home, if you're making pasta for example, the very first thing on your list should be to boil water. Overlooking this first step can set you back about 20 minutes, and making a simple list (whether it's in your mind or written on paper) can help you stay on track.

3. Use parchment paper to cut your cleaning time in half.

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Parchment paper is not only great for preventing things from sticking to your sheet pans — they make clean up a breeze, too. When prep cooks roast several trays of food at once, they almost always line them with parchment so they can just throw it out and have a practically spotless sheet tray. Less cleanup = faster cooking.

4. Set up a waste bucket near your cutting board.

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When prep cooks set up their station, they almost always set up some sort of waste bucket. This is just a small bowl where they throw all of their scraps during cooking so they're not constantly having to walk to the garbage to throw things out. It may seem like an insignificant detail, but these small steps can save prep cooks a ton of time during a shift. (And make cooking at home easier, too.)

5. Peel eggs and shrimp under cold, running water to make it go faster. And quickly defrost things in running water, too.

Peeling both shrimp and eggs can be a tedious and time-consuming task, but one way to speed it up is to peel them under water. The force of the water helps remove the shells easier and wash them away.

You can also use running water to quickly defrost things. To do that, just submerge your frozen food (still in its packaging) in cold water with the faucet on — or just change out it every 30 minutes. This will defrost your foods quickly and safely in a fraction of the time. Check out some other ways to safely defrost food here.

6. Utilize the equipment you have and prep your ingredients ahead of time.

You'll rarely see a prep cook chop a ton of garlic by hand — it's just not practical. Instead, they use the equipment they have (such as food processors or blenders) to make these tasks quicker. For example, to chop garlic, many prep cooks just throw it in a food processor and let it go. Most food processors come with several attachments for different jobs (such as shredding or slicing things), so take a look at them to make sure you're not wasting your time doing something your food processor can do way faster. Check out all the different things a food processor can do here.

7. Get yourself a good pair of kitchen shears to quickly cut things.

Kitchen shears are great for simple, one-off tasks such as slicing bacon, chopping herbs, or cutting tomatoes right in the can. Sometimes you don't need to set up a cutting board and knife, and having a pair of these handy can save you time. Learn more about all the things you can do with kitchen shears here.

8. Take care of your knives and hone them every time you cook.

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Most prep cooks hone their knives every day to make sure they stay in proper shape. But it's important to realize that honing is not the same as sharpening. Honing tools realign the blade whereas sharpening tools actually grind them down to create a new edge. Although honing will never sharpen your knife, it is an important preventative maintenance step that will keep you knives sharper for longer — and having sharper knives will make cooking quicker, safer, and easier. Learn everything you need to know about taking care of your knives here.

9. Make DIY baking and spice mixes to cut your prep time in half.

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For some prep cooks, it's their job to make premeasured mixes that can be quickly prepared. To adopt this practice at home, try measuring all of the dry ingredients of a recipe you want to make later in the week into a Ziploc bag. That way, when it comes time to actually prepare it, half the work is done for you.

10. Set up your kitchen so the most used items are within reach— and the heaviest are stored on the lowest shelves.

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Always keep your most used items in reach — and the heaviest items lowest. This will allow you to work seamlessly without having to stop and grab more equipment. Storing heavy items near the ground (like food processors, big pots, and cutting boards) will also save you the hassle of getting bulky items off off high shelves — and possibly prevent you from hurting yourself.

11. Memorize the veggies you can get away with peeling after cooking.

There are several fruits and veggies that actually become easier to peel after you cook them. Beets, peaches, and blanched pearl onions are just some of the items that can be peeled after cooking — saving you both time and hassle during the first few stages of cooking.

12. If you're chopping a bunch of herbs or garlic, throw some salt onto your board to prevent it from flying everywhere.

Have you ever tried to quickly chop some garlic or herbs and they end up flying all over the place instead of staying put? Well, to prevent that, add just a pinch of salt over them while cutting to help them stay put. The salt will act as an abrasive and hold onto whatever you're cooking, preventing it from flying everywhere. See how to do it here.

Let's get cooking!


Have any other pro cooking tips you love? Let us know in the comments!