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38 Pro Tips for Every At-Home Chef

Whether you're cooking or baking, these surprising and handy tips will help bring your kitchen and food to the next level.

By
Bruce and Jeanne Lubin
8-minute read
pro tips for chefs

From keeping a hair dryer in the kitchen to stacking pots and pans, these clever hacks will have your food coming out better, all while being easier for you to make.

Maximize Your Ingredient

1. Spin-Dry for Best Results
You need to wash and dry fresh herbs (just like fruits and veggies) before using. But wet herbs can turn into a mess on your cutting board, and any lingering moisture can dilute their flavor. Of course, you can let herbs dry naturally on a paper towel. Or you can speed the process by tossing them in a salad spinner or giving them some help with a hair dryer.

2. Shake Up Your Garlic
It can be so simple to remove the skins from garlic! Just break the cloves off from the head and place them in a bowl or mug. Place another bowl on top and shake heartily. Even more fun: Use a cocktail shaker! With either approach, the skins will start to come off, making the garlic easy to peel.

3. Skip the Point
The pointy end of lemons can make them difficult to squeeze by hand or even with a press. Take just a second to trim that end and create a flat edge. The reward: More juice!

4. Better Butter Spread
To make your butter super spreadable for bread or corn on the cob, take a room-temperature stick of butter and whip it with a small amount of water. Not only does this trick make it light and spreadable, but it will also last longer because it expands in volume!

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5. Never Leave Your List at Home Again
How many times have you jotted down the ingredients you need to purchase for a new recipe, only to leave the list at home? Next time, take a photo of the ingredient list with your smartphone. You’re much less likely to forget your phone than a random scrap of paper. 

Master Smart Techniques

6. Simple Step to Better Bacon
Pan-fried bacon never seems to cook evenly, because we try to cram in slices that don’t fit so well. The super-easy solution: Cut the slices in half. They’ll lay flatter to cook and fit into sandwiches better to gobble up.

7. Press Your Breakfast
Have a panini press tucked back in a cabinet? Pull it out to cook breakfast! Just a few minutes in the press cooks bacon crisp and delicious. Or create an omelet: Scatter some chopped veggies on the press, pour two beaten eggs over the top, and close the press to cook for about 2 minutes. Roll the result to serve and eat.

8. Sandwich Toast That’s Tops
When toasting bread for sandwiches, put two slices of bread in one wide toaster slot. That way, the bread gets toasty on the outside but stays soft on the inside. Great for BLTs!

9. Simmer on Any Stove
Cooking over low heat for any amount of time is super difficult—especially on a gas stove, where you can only pare back the flames so much. But if you can’t take the flames lower, make the burners higher to put more space between the heat source and the pan. How? Simply stack two burner grates.
                                       
10. Pluck Herbs with Less Work
Cooking with certain fresh herbs requires stripping their leaves from their stems. Translation: a lot of work. But you can use an easy trick to save time and still savor the flavor of herbs such as cilantro and dill. The magic tool: a simple colander! Just thread the herbs through the holes of the colander, starting from the inside. Leaves pull away and collect in the bowl of the colander.

11. You Can Keep a Dried Mushroom Down
Ready to rehydrate? There’s a tip you need to know to stop the bob. Those dried mushrooms tend to want to float on the soaking water instead of diving in. The problem: That leaves some mushrooms tough or still crunchy. The solution: Force them down by nesting a smaller liquid measuring glass or bowl inside the larger glass or bowl you’re using to soak the mushrooms.

12. Make Your Own Mini Pizza Stone
Baking, or pizza, stones give you crisp cooking results. How they work: Put the stone in the oven to heat before you add the food to bake on top. The only catch is, the stones can be pricey (plus, heavy and large to store) for how much use they get in a typical week. So why not make your own smaller version? All you need are unglazed quarry tiles, which are cheap and easy to pick up at home improvement stores and garden centers. They’re small enough to fit in your toaster for cooking and a drawer for storage. Use a few together to cover more cooking area, as needed.

13. Make Fast Froth
You can froth milk for a café-style latte (or hot chocolate) right in your microwave! Add about ½ cup milk to a mason jar. Secure the lid and shake vigorously until the milk volume is doubled. Remove the lid, and microwave on high for 30 seconds. Spoon on the foam, and enjoy your sip!

14. Say Yes to Yogurt
Coating your meat in yogurt may sound odd, but one taste of the cooked result will convince you otherwise. Yogurt is an amazing tenderizer! Use plain, unstrained yogurt combined with the usual marinade suspects (garlic, lemon, herbs).

15. Prep Amazing Roasted Chicken
The number-one secret to crispy cooked chicken skin is starting with dry skin. Start by patting the chicken dry with paper towels. Then set your hair dryer to high and treat your chicken pieces to the heat for about 2 minutes, or until they appear dry. Now you’re ready to roast! This technique works for turkey and duck as well.

16. Soften or Melt Chocolate
Need to soften chocolate a bit for easier shavings, or melt just a small amount for decorating or a single-serving treat? Turn to your hair dryer—it’s easier to monitor your progress than melting in your microwave. It works to soften butter, too!

17. Help Cakes Release
Simply direct heat from the hair dryer to the sides of your pan to help a cake glide out. This tip works especially well for cheesecakes.

18. Separate Frozen Foods
Fruits, veggies, and even pieces of meat can freeze into a clump, making it difficult to portion out only what you need for tonight’s dinner or your morning fruit smoothie. A quick blast from a hair dryer can help you pull them apart.

19. Ease Ice Cream Scooping
Household can’t wait for an ice cream treat? A blast of warm air from your hair dryer can soften ice cream as well as your microwave but with less mess.

20. Speed-Dry Tall Containers 
Want to dry out the bottom of water bottles or vases quicker? Grab your hair dryer to help clear out the last of the moisture.

21. Give Your Sponge a Tidy Home
Even dryer attachments can help in the kitchen! A lot of us have no need for the add-on diffuser attachment that comes with many hair dryers. But it’s the perfect shape and size to hold a kitchen sponge in its spikes when not in use and drying.

Baking Magic

Make It Easy

22. Create More Counter Space Instantly
If your kitchen isn’t as big as you’d like it to be, you’re not alone. You may especially long for more space when you’re baking. Where do you put all those cookie sheets as you’re scooping out dough? A simple solution that doesn’t require a kitchen renovation: Pull out a few kitchen cabinet or island drawers. It’s a quick way to create more temporary space upon which to rest sheets.

23. Muffin Pan Hack
Sometimes a muffin or cupcake recipe makes more than one pan but not quite two. Or maybe you’ve run out of muffin pans. You can create individual muffin pans by placing paper liners inside the rings of mason jar lids. Set them on a baking pan or tray to make them easy to lift in and out of the oven.

24. Never Buy Cupcake Liners Again
It’s easy to make your own! Just cut parchment paper into 5-inch squares, then mold each one around the bottom of a container that fits inside your pan’s muffin cups. A juice glass or small can may work well. Sandwich the paper between the muffin cup and the container. Press the glass or jar down into the tin to flatten the liner’s bottom.

25. A New Cookie Shortcut
If you can’t find or don’t own cookie cutters, there’s an easy replacement that’s probably in your kitchen right now. Pull out your nonstick cooking spray, then pull off the top. Facing down, the lid’s edge makes easy cuts into dough to shape perfect-size cookies or biscuits.

26. Plastic Wrap to the Rise Rescue
Most bread recipes require multiple “fold” and “let rise” steps. It’s easy to lose track. But all it takes to know just where you are in the process is plastic wrap and a marker. Write notes on the current step and timing on the plastic wrap you use to cover the bowl of rising dough.

27. Surprising Cake Decorating Tool
Trying to decorate a cookie or write or draw on a cake? Icing bags are still too big and leave you without much control. Try a clean kids’ medicine dispenser—the syringe design helps the icing come out slowly at your push.

Best Results

28. Smooth Batter Secret
Having your ingredients (milk, butter, and eggs) at room temperature is the secret to smooth batter. If you haven’t planned ahead, you can take the chill off milk and butter quickly in the microwave. But what about those eggs? Give them a warm bath! Place eggs from the fridge in a bowl of warm water. As the water cools, repeat by draining the bowl and refilling it with fresh warm water. Let the eggs sit in warm water for about 5 minutes before cracking and adding to the batter.

29. Drop That Cake
That’s right, drop it! After you pour the batter into the pan, smooth the top. Then, from a height of about a foot, drop the pan bottom on your countertop. The drop will magically knock out any air bubbles in the batter for a more professional cake shape and appearance. Do this for cakes leavened with baking soda or baking powder.

30. Drop Cookies Too
For cookies, the drop comes after you take them out of the oven. Just bang the pan straight down on the stove to force the cookies to settle.

31. Scoop Dreams
For perfectly baked cupcakes that are uniform in size, use an ice cream scoop instead of pouring batter or using a regular spoon. Give the scoop a spritz of nonstick spray to make the task even easier.

32. Bananas for Baking Anytime
Sudden craving for banana muffins or bread but your bunch isn’t soft enough yet? You can speed the ripening process along with your oven! Line a baking pan with parchment paper or foil, then place the bananas on it and cook in a 300ºF oven for 30 to 40 minutes. Remove them from the oven and let them cool for 20 to 30 minutes. Then peel and get to baking your favorite banana recipes!

33. Lock in Moisture
Do your cakes seem to dry out as they cool? Keep your cake moist by setting a piece of bread on top until you’re ready to frost it. You can secure with a toothpick if you like. The cake will stay fresh and moist even if you let it sit overnight!

34. Easy and Impressive Chocolate Garnish
Want to really impress your guests? Get out the bubble wrap! For an amazing garnish, spread melted chocolate on top of clean bubble wrap. Let it set, turn over, peel off the bubble wrap, and stand in awe of your creation. It’s perfect for topping a cake, or break into smaller pieces to garnish cupcakes, cocktails, or coffee.

35. Try a Cookie Stack
Cookie bottoms keep burning? Try baking on two sheets stacked one on top of the other.

Sweet Solutions — Simple Ways to Soften Hard Sugar

36. Treat it to a Towel 
Another way to restore moisture? Give it the warm-towel treatment: Microwave brown sugar in a bowl covered with a damp paper towel in 15- to 20-second increments until soft. Use your fingers or a fork to soften any clumps that remain.

37. Prick a Potato
Wash and dry a potato, then poke a few holes into the potato with a fork. Toss the potato in and seal the sugar container. Your brown sugar will be ready for action the next day, no matter how hard it has become.

38. Fight Sugar with Sugar
Toss in a marshmallow or two. It’ll add the moisture your brown sugar needs. You'll never have to throw out a hardened rock of brown sugar again, and you won't have to spend money on a special brown-sugar-keeper disk.

About the Author

Bruce and Jeanne Lubin

Bruce Lubin and Jeanne Bossolina-Lubin are the proud parents of three boys and more than a dozen books. After saving thousands per year using everyday tips and simple lifehacks, they started their own business in the hopes of sharing their knowledge with others. They have been known to go into their friends' refrigerators to turn their eggs upside down so that they last longer.

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