10 Tips for People Who Think They Can’t Cook

Use this cooking advice to ramp up your skills—and transform from chef no to chef pro!

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Man prepares chicken wings with cranberry sauce in a home kitchen
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Remember, if you can read, you can cook

Easy for us to say, right? True story, though. A recipe is just an instruction manual for a great dish. Take the time to read through it before you start, much like you would (or should) any other set of instructions. Here’s how to read a recipe the right way.

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Woman cleaning a kitchen worktop with natural cleaning products lemon, bicarbonate of soda and vinegar.

Start clean!

Give yourself room to work. Clear the clutter to make sure you have enough space. Gather and clean the tools you need before you start. You don’t want to have to stop in the middle of the recipe to wash a pan or measuring cup.

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Home kitchen table top view with laptop, food ingredients, raw vegetables, kitchenware and utensils, top view

Know the terms

It’s important to learn a bit of the lingo before you get started. If the recipe calls for you to grease the pan or fold in egg whites, be sure you know what that means. Most general cooking terms are simple, but if you have any doubt, take a minute to look them up.

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Slicing onion on cutting board in kitchen. Cooking image.
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Do the mise en place thing

This fancy French phrase simply means “setting up.” A clean space is key, but you should also take time to measure and prepare your ingredients before you put a single thing in a pan. You can buy simple dollar-store prep bowls to hold everything. That way, when the heat’s on, you’re ready to go. (And you won’t forget that you’ve already added something important like hot sauce and do it twice. Not that we’d know anything about that.) Here are more tips we learned in culinary school.

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Chef sprinkling cooking salt onto a raw ribeye steak while preparing dinner with fresh salad ingredients and herbs on the counter; Shutterstock ID 1181786554; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): Taste of Home

Use quality ingredients

You want ingredients that are fresh. Even though you got a bargain on that expired cake mix, you’ll be disappointed when it bakes up flat. Make sure your spices are fresh, too. (Heads up: They only keep 6 to 12 months). If you’re still using the ones in the tin cans, you should think about updating. You won’t have to update these everlasting pantry staples, though.

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Use quality tools

If you’re just starting out, try to splurge on one good pan. Think you might like cast iron? Check out the thrift stores; they’re a great resource. Decide which is the best type for you with our frying pan buying guide.

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Timer on kitchen worktop with cooling rack in the background
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Watch the time

Don’t rely on your memory to keep track of time; distractions happen. Set a timer (or two) to help stay on task. Always start checking your meal five minutes before the given cook time. It’s easy to leave things cooking a little longer but near impossible to save something that’s overcooked.

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Pancakes onto the pan. Concept of Cooking ingredients and method on white marble background, Dessert recipes and homemade.
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Break it down

Don’t be overwhelmed by the instructions—follow the steps, one by one, and you’ll be fine. Sometimes one step is a whole paragraph. Separate that into sentences and you’ll discover the recipe is not as hard as you thought.

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Be patient

Patience is definitely a virtue when you’re in the kitchen. Sauces need time to thicken; cakes need time to bake. Don’t try to rush a recipe. Take your time, stick to the plan, and you’ll have a dish to be proud of when the timer dings.

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The hands of a man is removing a burnt cake from the oven
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Imperfection is still perfection

Mistakes happen to all of us, from seasoned cooks to newbies. Most of the time those mistakes will still be edible, even if the food is not perfect. As Julia Child said, “No one is born a great cook. One learns by doing.” So go forth and do. The more you cook, the better cook you’ll become.

Sue Stetzel
Sue has been working with Taste of Home since 2011. When she isn’t writing, she’s answering your burning cooking questions and working with our team of Community Cooks. She spends her free time cooking, crafting, and volunteering for various organizations in her home town.