Sometimes, what the kitchen really needs is a rebel at the helm. Someone who isn’t afraid to test out unique spice combinations or experimental recipes; a chef who sees commonly-held cooking rules as mere suggestions. Everyone from home cooks to celebrity chefs have shared the cooking “crimes” they happily commit, and now you, too, can break the rules in your own home. But be careful: some of these should be taken with a pinch of salt — and with the nearest pizza place on call.
1. Don't add salt to a bland dish
What if we told you that you shouldn’t always add salt to a bland dish? This may sound like the cooking betrayal to end all betrayals, but hear us out. We often turn to salt as the savior of boring dishes, but sometimes, it isn’t the answer: just ask Reddit chef u/FoodandWhining. “When salt isn’t ‘helping’ a dish, what’s missing is acid,” they revealed.
u/FoodandWhining described this discovery as an “a-ha” moment for them. “Lemon juice, vinegar, or citric acid… transforms a dish in a surprising way,” they wrote. If salt is the lead of the play, then acid is the essential supporting player.
2. Touch raw hamburger beef as it cooks
There’s a common belief that touching raw meat could result in a bacterial disaster of epic proportions. It’s true that consuming or even touching raw meat can cause salmonella or e-coli infections. But if handling raw meat is so dangerous, then how come Bobby Flay says it’s okay? Flay likes to firmly press his thumb into the center of a raw hamburger as it cooks on the grill.
This should help it cook more evenly and prevent the beef from puffing up in the center. Of course, make sure you wash your hands thoroughly after touching raw meat of any kind!
3. Don't buy that super-popular knife set
It’s easy to get caught up in the new, sharp, and shiny knife sets sold on late-night infomercials. But what’s new and shiny is usually also expensive and, it turns out, unnecessary. “Three good knives of different sizes, properly sharpened and cared for, should be all you need,” Reddit user u/kniebuiging wisely wrote. Another Reddit user got even more specific.
“Paring knife, chef’s knife, and bread knife. I have never had a need for anything else,” said u/AugmentedOnionFarmer. At the end of the day, you need sharp knives, not new ones.
4. Don't compost using vegetable scraps
Instead of adding your vegetable scraps to your compost bin — or worse, tossing them into the trash and contributing to food waste — consider this Redditor’s idea. “Make your own stock!” Reddit user _____yikes suggested. “Save the parts of veggies you didn’t use — like ends of onions, innards of peppers, and chicken bones — in a Ziploc in the freezer,” they continued.
“When you have enough, put it all straight from the freezer bag into a pot. Cover with water, throw in a few bay leaves, and salt and pepper, and simmer for two hours.” Composting is great, but having your own stock is also pretty cool.
5. Don't buy the best ingredients
You no longer have to spend hundreds of dollars on organic foods and high-end brands, unless you want to, of course. As it turns out, buying the most expensive ingredients for the most complicated recipes is vastly overrated. This doesn’t mean you should go ahead and buy the worst foods, though. As Redditor u/JohnnyUtah_ said, “You don’t have to buy the best. Just aim for somewhere in the middle.”
It’s true that very few people will taste the difference between an expensive wine and a cheap wine, or ugly produce and normal-looking produce. Use ingredients you can actually afford!
6. Over-season pork and chicken
When you bite into a juicy chicken leg, would you rather it be too bland or too spicy? Both extremes are “cooking crimes,” and some cooks would argue that it’s easier to fix a bland chicken or pork dish than one overpowered with spices. But we beg to differ. You see, chicken and pork are actually the ideal canvases for experimenting with spices.
As Reddit user u/KKalonick wrote, “both meats are wonderful seasoning sponges,” meaning they absorb more spices than you may think. So go nuts the next time you put together a unique seasoning blend — your chicken dish just may benefit from it.
7. Don't peel potatoes
Cooking is full of contradictions, but one consistency is that most people peel potatoes before they turn them into mashed potatoes. Yet just because something is done a certain way doesn’t mean it’s the best way! Gordon Ramsay himself claims that we should wait to peel potatoes until after they’ve been cooked or boiled. What does Ramsay know that we don't?
Well, Ramsay says that keeping skins on while they’re cooking helps keep potatoes from getting overcooked or soggy. Plus, it means they will retain their nutrients during the cooking process.
8. Make the same five dishes over and over again
There’s no greater cooking sin than preparing the same five meals over and over again, except maybe adding zero seasonings to a chicken dish. But sticking to the same few meals for a while doesn’t have to mean you aren’t expanding your palate or exploring new techniques, quite the contrary.
If you master five diverse dishes, then you’re probably well on your way to being able to cook new recipes at a faster rate and with more skill. Practicing the same recipes also means you’ll have a few dependable go-tos if you unexpectedly have to cook.
9. Don't follow the recipe when it comes to garlic
Recipes are meant to be followed. It’s why family recipes are often carefully preserved as they’re passed down from generation to generation. If a meal is so wonderful, why change anything about the recipe, right? Well, in some cases, this may not be the best course of action. When it comes to powerful ingredients like onions, garlic, and citrus, the recipe may not always know best.
“When you see a recipe that calls for X cloves of garlic, just cross out cloves and write in bulbs,” Reddit-user and chef, u/nickkon1, advised. This is especially important if you live in a garlic-loving household.
10. Put cardboard in the oven
What Alton Brown says, goes — even if what he’s saying sounds crazy. And purposefully putting cardboard in the oven sounds pretty mad to us. But according to Brown, it could lead to the best meatballs you’ve ever had. Let us explain: put your homemade meatballs into a cardboard egg carton — the kind made with fiber, mind you — and roast them in the oven.
Apparently, this is a useful technique for making perfectly-rounded, evenly-cooked meatballs in the oven. You must cover the cardboard carton with cooking spray first, of course! You should end up with crispy, grease-free meatballs.
11. Let oil bubble away in the pan
When you first pour oil into your pan, it can be tempting to let it heat up for just a minute or two before you start adding food. But according to one Redditor, this is a rookie mistake. “The oil just absorbs into the food if it’s not hot,” said user u/CurtisX10. And no one wants a soggy omelet that tastes like cooking oil, right?
So let your oil heat up sufficiently before you start adding food. Just make sure the liquid doesn’t start smoking, which could be dangerous.
12. Overcook eggplant
Overcooking anything sounds like a big no-no, but sometimes, it’s the best way to get soft, easy-to-chew food. So when you’re cooking up a vegetable medley, the eggplant may not require as much of your attention as the other veggies. You see, eggplants almost always take longer to cook than your instincts may be telling you.
We automatically assume that most vegetables take about ten minutes to cook all the way through, but eggplants could take an additional fve to ten minutes of cooking time to reach their optimal consistency.
13. Don't wash your pans
That’s right: don’t wash your pan! At least, don’t wash it immediately after you’ve finished sauté-ing onions or garlic. We’re not saying that you should allow the remnants to rot, but as Fine Dining Lovers says, the sticky liquid and food remnants left on the pan are actually “a condensed, caramelized essence of all your ingredients.”
And that “caramelized essence” can make for a pretty delicious sauce if you know how to deglaze. In simple terms, deglazing is when you add wine, chicken stock, or even juice to the “essence” to form a sauce or soup base.
14. Use canned tomato paste for homemade pizza sauce
Ah yes, the debate of canned vs. fresh ingredients. For many home cooks, the idea of using anything other than the freshest ingredients isn’t only a cooking crime, but a sin. But one Redditor begs to differ, especially when it comes to making pizza from scratch. “I make my pizza sauce from a base of canned tomato paste,” u/rabbithasacat admitted.
And according to them, they’ll never go back to making pizza sauce from scratch. “Everyone who has ever eaten a pizza of mine has specifically said they loved the sauce,” they revealed. “I ain’t gonna stop now.”
15. Cook your steak in mayo
Adding mayonnaise to anything other than a sandwich or slaw sounds downright disgusting. But chef Brown wants you to open up your mind to new ideas, including his for steak covered in a thin layer of mayo. According to Brown, the reason this recipe won’t send you straight to jail is because mayonnaise is, at its core, a flavorful substitute for oil and butter.
Once your steak is covered in mayo, cook it on a cast-iron skillet. It should develop a tasty crust that puts a spin on more traditional steak rubs or marinades. Oh, and egg yolks and vinegar also help pull out the unique flavor.
16. Use frozen ingredients
No one can argue the superiority of homemade meals, especially when they’re cooked by someone who knows what they’re doing. But don’t shy away from using frozen products just because all those hoity-toity professional chefs told you they weren’t as good. Using frozen ingredients may be frowned upon by purists, but it can certainly save you lots of time and energy.
Plus, hardly anyone with a non-professional palate will notice the difference! “Every time I use a pre-made crust, people love it,” said the user u/Tullimory on Reddit. Everything from shrimp to berries may be best bought frozen, too.
17. Add cheese to non-cheesy dishes
For some people, the idea of adding cheese to anything other than nachos or macaroni is about as pedestrian as it gets. After all, nothing makes a fancy seafood spread feel cheap more than melted cheese, right? Wrong! As one cheese-lover told Reddit, adding cheese to traditionally cheese-free dishes is simply “delicious” and shouldn’t be discounted. Sometimes all a seafood dish needs in order to reach unconventional levels of deliciousness is cheese.
It may not be the Italian way, but in countries like Chile and France, seafood alfredo and salmon sprinkled with parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs are beloved staples.
18. Remove food from heat before it's done cooking
Obviously, you shouldn’t take certain foods off the stove or out of the oven before they’re done cooking or you’re risking serious contamination issues. But some — including cheese, eggs, and some proteins — actually continue to cook for a few more minutes after they’re taken away from heat. “Carry-over heat does a lot more cooking out of the pan than it gets credit for,” said Redditor u/just_a_handle.
Fellow Reddit user u/LostInReddit22 agreed. “Pull the protein a few minutes before you normally would, and let it sit. It will finish cooking on the table,” they claimed.
19. Freeze chunks of bread
Fact: freezing anything for long periods of time can make the food icy and freezer-burned. So you’d think that bread would be the last thing anyone would want to toss into the freezer. But you just haven’t heard Ina Garten’s trick yet. According to the Barefoot Contessa, the secret to having fresh bread on hand at all times is to know how to freeze it.
Simply cut your bread into medium-sized wedges so that they are easy to warm up and serve whenever you want. Cutting the bread into well-proportioned wedges ensures that none of it will go to waste, plus it won’t freeze too quickly.
20. Over-salt pasta and potato water
Too much salt is never a good thing, right? It’s true that many of us should be avoiding uber-salty foods, especially those of us with high blood pressure. But that doesn’t mean you have to throw away your salt shaker for good. In fact, there’s one place where you can never be too generous with salt: the pasta pot. As you boil water for pasta or potatoes, make sure you add salt to the water.
“And not just a pinch either,” a Redditor named u/Myrdok claimed. “It should taste almost (but not quite) as salty as seawater.” Adding salt to pasta and potato water helps season the otherwise-bland foods.
21. Let onions burn
Rule #1 of cooking: never let food burn. Burning food leads to an inedible charred mess that inevitably ends up in the trash as food waste. It’s the mistake we all try to avoid — unless you’re cooking with onions, that is. Don’t tell the head chef, but leaving your onions on the burner for a little longer than you normally would can actually benefit your overall meal.
“Sometimes I let my onions burn — not a whole lot, but enough,” u/eggthrowaway_irl wrote on Reddit. Apparently, overcooked or slightly-charred onions add smokiness and dimension to a meal, especially barbeque. It’s the #1 cooking rule you should probably break.
22. Use a Teflon pan for non-Teflon meals
Teflon or “non-stick” pans are easy to clean, plus they heat up more quickly and evenly than cast-iron ones. And usually, we wouldn’t argue with the fact that Teflon pans should only be used to cook Teflon-safe ingredients, such as eggs and pancakes. But drastic times call for drastic measures, especially when the idea of cleaning cast iron sounds like torture.
“I use a Teflon pan sometimes, even though I own a ton of cast iron,” u/ErikRogers told Reddit. “It’s usually for sticky things, but sometimes [I use it] just for convenience since the aluminum is lighter.” And we can’t blame him.
23. Screw up your cooking sometimes
You should really screw up a meal every now and then. Even better, screw up a meal that you’re serving to a group of your friends! We’re not saying you should purposefully make a bad meal, but there’s no crime in making mistakes, especially while trying out a new cooking technique or complicated recipe. Even a professional chef sang the praises of bad meals on Reddit.
“No matter how bad you goof it up, it’s still a good time,” the anonymous culinary expert wrote. Trying new things and failing is how you get better — and how you entertain your guests.
24. Buy store-bought tortillas
There’s a certain school of thought that says pre-made ingredients or non-homemade meals are nothing short of blasphemous. This is especially true of culturally significant dishes. But in the case of the humble tortilla, even celebrity chef Aarón Sánchez doesn’t see the point of painstakingly making flour or corn tortillas from scratch. That’s why Sánchez suggests buying pre-made tortillas from the store.
You can still make the tortillas feel homemade, however, by warming them on a skillet with oil and water. That way, they still have their signature softness mixed with a fresh, homemade crunch.
25. Add coffee to chocolate recipes
You know what they say: baking is a science, not an art. When you’re baking a cake, going rogue could end in disaster, or at least, a dry, flat sponge. But when it comes to one particular baking ingredient, Garten herself says it’s okay to break the rules.
According to Garten, adding a pinch of coffee to recipes that include chocolate helps give the dessert “a depth of flavor.” And if coffee isn’t your favorite flavor, worry not. Garten says that you won’t be able to tell it’s there if you only add a pinch!