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42 Cooking Hacks That Are A Little Bit Weird But 100% Useful

Why didn't anyone tell me about these sooner?

Whether you're just starting out in the kitchen or you already consider yourself to be a great at-home chef, there's *always* more to learn when it comes to cooking. 🍳

Here are some of the very best small (yet super effective!) hacks, habits, and tips that can make a big difference in the kitchen. If you've got one to add, leave it in the comments!

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1. For pancakes that always turn out extra fluffy (not flat), leave a few lumps in the batter.

@cooksillustrated / Via instagram.com

In a test, Cook's Illustrated used two identical batches of pancake batter and found the way they were stirred made a huge difference. You want to stir very gently β€” *just* enough to barely combine ingredients, making sure to keep some of the lumps intact. Doing so will ensure super airy pancakes with height.

2. For the fudgiest brownies you've ever tasted, split the baking time.

buzzfeed.com

That's according to Alton Brown β€” who swears by letting his brownies bake in the oven for 15 minutes, letting them rest on the counter for another 15 minutes, then putting them *back* in to finish off.

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3. When cooking ground meat, add a pinch of baking soda to make it brown more deeply and evenly.

@testkitchen / Via instagram.com

As America's Test Kitchen explains, tossing ground meat with a bit of baking soda helps lock in moisture. Without it, that liquid pools out and prevents deep, even browning on the meat.

4. Mix soy sauce and butter to instantly boost the flavor of savory dishes.

Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

As a smart Redditor sums up: "I never tried mixing butter and soy sauce in the same dish until I was in my late twenties, but once I tried it, it quickly became one of my favorite flavor combinations. It's excellent in just about any savory dish. It works especially well with mushrooms."

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5. To make baked chicken taste fried, add a bit of mayo to the egg-and-breadcrumb coating before baking.

thekitchn.com

As it bakes, the mayo crisps up the individual breadcrumbs, and adds a boost of flavor (and fat) that mirrors traditionally fried chicken. Read more here.

6. Freeze lime juice into ice cube trays to make ready-made margarita starters.

reddit.com

When the craving strikes, just add tequila and sweetener β€” and you're all set. This is also a great way to get more mileage out of dry (or about-to-spoil) limes.

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7. And when juicing those limes, cut the bottom off first β€” so all the juice runs through, rather than getting trapped in the rind.

Twitter: @FreddyAmazin

This will allow you to get every last bit out of your limes. (Or lemons!)

8. Use a nonstick pan sparingly β€” it's only good for a few things.

Lauren Zaser / BuzzFeed

Nonstick pans are great for eggs, pancakes, or French toast β€” and not much else, says NYC chef Amanda Cohen. That's because they give off a very specific type of heat β€” one that's not quite as hot (or as conducive to crispiness) as a regular pan. When in doubt? Stick to your standard set.

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9. Add a tiny bit of salt to your coffee to make it less bitter.

youtube.com

Alton Brown explains further: "Not only does salt cut the bitterness of coffee, but it also smooths out the 'stale' taste of tank-stored water," Brown says. "Research has proven that salt is actually better at neutralizing bitterness than sugar."

10. When pouring marinades or leftovers into a Ziploc, roll down the top of the bag over itself so the closure (and the outside) doesn't get messy.

Melissa Jameson / BuzzFeed

This also makes it a little easier to shape the bottom of the bag so that it can sit upright on the counter on its own. (Which will make the pouring part easier for you!)

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11. Shrink a sheet pan with a simple strip of foil.

food52.com

This is a great hack for any time you want to downsize surface area β€” like if you're making pizza or an egg bake, but don't have enough ingredients to cover the whole thing.

12. Convert a regular cake pan into a bundt pan by placing an empty bean or soup can in the middle of it.

Tasty

Just use uncooked rice or dry beans to weigh the can down and keep it in place.

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13. Remember that the Instant Pot comes with a built-in lid holder.

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TBH, I was late to the game in learning this, but it's been a game changer ever since. (Shoutout to my fellow Instant Pot owners with limited kitchen counter space!)

Read more: 18 (Seriously Useful) Instant Pot Tips, Tricks, And Hacks

14. To prevent guacamole from browning, cover it with a thin layer of pico de gallo until it's time to serve and eat.

When it's time, just scoop up and eat the pico de gallo (or mix it in fully) and you're left with perfectly green guac underneath.

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15. Grate ginger with a microplane instead of mincing it.

thepioneerwoman.com

It's much faster this way.

16. And store ginger in the freezer to make it even easier to grate.

Tasty

Good to go!

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17. For naturally sweeter lemonade, roast lemons in the oven before juicing them.

Westend61 / Getty Images

Roasting them draws out their natural sugars and tones down their tartness. Depending on your taste, you might not need as much sweetener later β€” or any.

Read more: How the Oven Will Help You Make Even Better Lemonade

18. Season mushrooms and zucchini *after* they brown in the pan, not before.

Both carry excess water β€” and salt will draw it out even more, causing the food to get soggy. To avoid that, let mushrooms and zucchini pick up some color first and shed their extra liquid. Then add salt. (Also, make sure they're completely dry before they hit the pan!)

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19. And dry meat before searing it to drain excess moisture too.

Alvin Zhou / BuzzFeed

Meat can carry a layer of moisture on the outside, so it's important to get rid of that if you want the cleanest, sharpest sear when the protein hits the hot pan. The quickest way? Pat it dry first with a paper towel.

20. When working with aromatics, add garlic last.

seriouseats.com

Because garlic burns easily, many recipes tell you to add it last, and that's a great blanket rule β€” especially if it's minced or chopped.

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21. For glossy, restaurant-quality sauces, finish them with a pat of cold butter.

youtube.com / Via youtube.com

In culinary terms, this is known as "monter au beurre." Next time you're making a sauce, try adding a few pats of cold butter at the very end to add richness and shine.

22. To easily clean a stubborn cast iron pan, just fry the stuff on the bottom in oil. It'll pop right off.

Tasty

Here's another smart tip from a Redditor: "Anything that doesn't pop off with hot oil, add some kosher salt and scrape again. Perfectly cleaned cast iron, every time. I spent years overthinking this and having crusty pans."

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23. Finish chilis and stews with a dash of vinegar.

Melissa Jameson / BuzzFeed, gimmesomeoven.com

Just about any savory dish can greatly benefit from a bit of acid at the end β€” and that includes chili. To instantly balance and brighten the slow-simmered flavors, finish with a splash of vinegar.

24. Finish vinaigrettes with hot sauce.

Amazon

Here's another smart tip from a Redditor: "A little bit of hot sauce (like Crystal) or fish sauce can be unrecognizable in a vinaigrette, dip, or sauce β€” 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."

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25. And round out mac 'n' cheese with a spoonful of Dijon mustard.

Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

The tanginess of the Dijon will perfectly counter-balance the richness of the mac. Read more here.

26. Always rinse rice with water before cooking it.

budgetbytes.com

You'll get a much better end product if you rinse rice in a bowl or quickly run it through a strainer first. Doing so removes the surface starch that can otherwise make rice clump together or get super gummy as it cooks.

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27. Don't use olive oil when you're cooking steaks or stir-fries.

Lauren Zaser / BuzzFeed

Olive oil has a relatively low smoke point, or temperature at which it starts to burn. With anything needing high heat β€” like seared steak or fried chicken β€” you're better off using a neutral oil with a higher smoke point.

Read more: 12 Things You Shouldn't Be Cooking With Olive Oil

28. When reheating leftovers in the microwave, place a damp paper towel on top.

BuzzFeed

As the water heats up and creates steam, it'll hydrate the food underneath and help prevent toughness β€” especially in leftovers prone to dryness, like rice and pasta.

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29. Caramelize onions in half the time by adding a small pinch of baking soda.

seriouseats.com

For more on the magical science behind why this works, head over to Serious Eats.

30. Instead of turning the hand mixer, turn the bowl.

Lauren Zaser / BuzzFeed

When you're making things like thick batters, it takes less energy (and saves your wrist!) if you spin the bowl rather than the mixer.

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31. When making chocolate-flavored dough or batter, use cocoa powder β€” instead of regular flour β€” to prep countertops and pans.

Tasty

This will keep things from sticking β€” *without* the white cast that regular flour can give off on darker baked goods.

32. If you're using a cake stand, pre-line it with parchment β€” so it stays clean while you're frosting.

Tasty

For those times when you want a pristine, bakery-worthy cake setup β€” including a spotless stand! β€” put down strips of parchment paper around the base of your cake before you start decorating it. Then just slip them out once you're done and ready to serve.

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33. Keep cakes from sticking to pans with a magical DIY paste.

Marie Telling / BuzzFeed

The paste is equal parts flour, vegetable oil, and vegetable shortening β€” and for us, it worked like a charm.

34. To make whipped cream extra fluffy, refrigerate your mixing bowl beforehand.

BuzzFeed

If you pop the bowl into the fridge before starting, you'll end up with whipped cream that's more stable and peak-prone. Read more about why here.

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35. To make oven-baked chicken breasts way more flavorful, brine them first.

gimmesomeoven.com

Brining β€” or a quick soak in salt + water β€” helps meat retain moisture and stay juicy and flavorful. This method is worth it every time, and it can be done in as little as 15 minutes. (Or: The time it takes the oven to heat up!)

Recipe: Juicy Oven-Baked Chicken Breasts

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

@mestizako / Via instagram.com

Pop the bacon sheet tray into the oven, then top it with parchment paper and *another* sheet tray. This will prevent the bacon from curling and keep it perfectly flat.

Read more: 17 Practical Cooking Tricks I Learned While Working in Restaurants

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37. To cut onions without crying, pop them in the fridge or freezer first.

buzzfeed.com

We tested ten of the most popular tricks for cutting onions without tearing up, and chilling them in the fridge or freezer first made the biggest difference. Read more here.

38. De-gunk your can opener with a sheet of wax paper.

To clean out tiny bits of grime that won't budge even after a spin in the dishwasher, run a folded piece of wax paper through your can opener. It'll dislodge the gunk β€” plus lubricate the gear. Full instructions here.

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39. Use olive brine or pickle brine to upgrade savory dishes or as the base of a vinaigrette.

Melissa Jameson / BuzzFeed

It adds a perfect subtle punch to things like chicken salad, tuna salad, or any favorite vinaigrette or dressing.

40. Remember that electric stoves can get much hotter than gas stoves.

Melissa Jameson / BuzzFeed

When cooking, the difference is important to keep in mind. For example, cooking on the 'high' setting for awhile can yield a different result depending on which type of stove you're cooking with. (Gas = nice sear! Electric = likely burnt.) You'll always want to adjust accordingly.

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41. Always "cook one off" β€” and taste your product or prep mixture before you dive into making the rest of it.

Tasty

This is especially key when you're making batches of things from the same prepped mixture β€” like meatballs. Pan-fry one, taste it, and if it's off (needs more salt?), edit the mixture before cooking the rest.

42. Lastly, when in doubt? Double the garlic.

Melissa Jameson / BuzzFeed

"This tastes like it has too much garlic." β€”said no one, ever. 😎

What's a kitchen or cooking habit you wish you'd known about sooner? Share it in the comments! πŸ”ͺ

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