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17 Practical Cooking Tricks I Learned While Working In Restaurants

AKA why restaurant food tastes so damn good.

Zoë Burnett / BuzzFeed

Hello! I'm Jesse from BuzzFeed's food team and I spent some time working in kitchens...

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When I was in high school, I started to cook in restaurants and absolutely loved the energy and thrill of service.

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I also loved everything I was learning about cooking! I learned how to work smarter and faster — and what makes restaurant food taste so damn good.

Here are 17 of those insider cooking tricks you can use in your own kitchen. You might already know some of them, but it's a good refresher!

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1. Store your herbs in a damp paper towel so they remain crisp, green, and worthy of a 'gram.

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As soon as you get home, wrap your herbs in a damp paper towel and store them in a plastic baggie. This will make sure they stay crisp, green, and perky. (For salad greens, store them with a dry paper towel to absorb any excess moisture that will make them soggy.) See how to do it here.

2. For a perfectly golden sear, always dry your proteins with a paper towel before cooking them...

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Every line cook knows that the only way to get a deep sear is to dry your proteins. Just give them a quick patting with a paper towel to make sure your sear is dark, crisp, and flavorful. See how to do it here.

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3. ...and let your pan heat up while you're prepping the rest of your ingredients to make sure it's nice and hot.

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Burners in a professional kitchen are way hotter than the ones in your home. One way you can mimic that level of heat is by letting your pans heat up while you're prepping the rest of your ingredients. This will give you a killer, restaurant-quality sear at home.

4. Don't bother buying a fancy peeler (because there's only one type you need, TBH).

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Years ago I bought a fancy AF ceramic peeler from Japan but quickly realized that every chef has the same exact peeler. Those cheap, Y-shaped peelers you see chefs using (like this set of three for $9.05 on Amazon) are the only peelers worth buying. Why? Because they're sturdy, cheap, and gentle enough to peel delicate veggies like baby carrots without ruining them.

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5. Place a second sheet tray on top of your bacon to prevent it from curling.

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Just top the bacon with a piece of parchment paper and another sheet tray. This will prevent the bacon from curling and keep it perfectly flat. This trick is also great for making crackers, crispy tortillas, and anything you want to keep super thin and crispy.

6. Partially freeze your proteins before cutting them to make clean, even slices.

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This tip is especially helpful when cutting slippery items like prosciutto and bacon. Just let them hang out in the freezer for 15 minutes before cutting them and your knife will glide through with ease.

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7. Prevent your delicate seafood items from falling apart by using a fish spatula.

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If you're regularly making fish at home, get yourself a fish spatula (like this one for $5.44 on Amazon). The ultra-thin, flexible spatula allows you to easily flip proteins without tearing them. Line cooks use them to flip fish, scallops, and delicate veggies without destroying them.

8. When it comes to certain knife skills, line cooks are not ninjas ― they just know how to use a mandoline.

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Those insanely thin slices of radishes and onion you see at restaurants are not cut by hand, they're sliced on a mandoline ($20.83 on Amazon).

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9. The secret to making a silky-smooth sauce is a magical cone-shaped strainer called a chinois.

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Sure, fancy, high-end blenders are one way to get a smooth sauce, but I've found what you really need is a cone-shaped strainer called a chinois ($24.26 on Amazon). The thing that makes these strainers unique is the fine mesh insert that catches even the smallest impurities.

10. Buy your tools at a restaurant supply store, not a fancy cooking store.

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You will NEVER find a line cook shopping at one of those fancy cooking stores. Instead, seek out your nearest restaurant supply store and shop there. The supplies will be higher quality and the prices will be much lower.

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11. A cake tester is the ultimate tool for making perfectly cooked steak and seafood every time.

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Sure, instant-read thermometers are great for making sure your steak is cooked, but so is a simple cake tester (like this one for $4.33 on Amazon). They're great for checking the doneness of veggies, seafood, and (most commonly) scallops. Place your cake tester in the center of a scallop; if the metal is warm, your scallop is done. This method is a bit less accurate when cooking steak, but it comes in handy when cooking rare steaks. (Gotta make sure the center is warm!)

12. Push your seasoning further so you can learn when to stop.

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My second cooking job was working the fryer station. On opening night, my chef noticed I was under-seasoning the fries. I increased the salt, yet it still wasn't enough. He finally broke down and said, "I won't be happy until someone sends an order back for being too salty!" Five minutes later, an order came back.

I'm not advocating over-seasoning your food, but it's important to realize that salt is a key component to balancing flavors. Don't be afraid to use it, but learn when to back off. It's tricky, but you can learn how to do it well here.

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13. Stop fussing around with giant sheet trays and use a sizzle platter to cook just about anything.

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Any proper kitchen will have stacks of these magic aluminum pans ($10.40 on Amazon). The heavy platters are perfect for roasting veggies, broiling meat, and toasting nuts. Check out all the ways to use them here.

14. Food scraps are the secret ingredient to a flavorful meal.

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Herbs stems, bones, butts, and skins are used to infuse dishes with a ton of flavor (for not a ton of money). Just save them in a plastic baggie and stick them in the freezer. When you're ready, bring them out to make stock, braises, and broths. Check out all the ways you can use them here.

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15. Nonstick pans are perfect for frying eggs (but not much else).

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Nonstick pans are thin and don't get very hot. If a dark sear is what you're after, ditch the nonstick for a stainless steel pan or a heavy skillet (like this one for $15.92 on Amazon).

16. For maximum flavor, always toast your nuts and seeds.

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For most nuts and seeds, a quick minute or two in a hot pan is all you need to bring out their flavor. This is a quick way to add a ton of flavor without adding additional ingredients.

17. Butter + shallots + stock + salt + acid is the secret combination of ingredients that makes restaurant food taste so delicious.

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It's just about learning how to make them balance each other out. Get a crash course in the basics here.

Looking for more helpful cooking tips? Check out these posts:

13 Pasta Cooking Tricks You Really Should Know By Now

12 Egg Cooking Tricks You Can Steal From Pro Chefs

14 Practical Cooking Tips From Famous Restaurant Chefs

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