Watching a cooking show makes food prep look easy — but you’re no professional chef. Try as you might, you just can’t seem to master the techniques you see on TV. Some skills can improve over time, of course, but some of your other habits? You may simply be doing things wrong, and you won’t know any better without some help. Luckily, there are some pros out there who are more than willing to give you advice. Here are some of the biggest kitchen mistakes people make — and how Ina Garten, Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver and Anthony Bourdain would fix them.
20. Why you’re getting dry cookies
For Ree Drummond, it all started with a blog called The Pioneer Woman, a reference to her rural life on a ranch in Oklahoma. She shared a steak recipe with her followers and the rest, as they say, is history. After that, she garnered such a big following that her blog was earning her $1 million a year, and the Food Network offered her a cooking show named after her blog.
For all of her culinary know-how, Drummond has recognized one major baking mistake that many home cooks make. Apparently, most people keep their cookie dough in the oven for too long. Instead, the baking pro suggests pulling your confections out just before the timer goes off so they stay nice and chewy.
19. Don’t boil your pasta water
Alton Brown started his career as a cameraman and went on to become a commercials director. But his dreams changed in the early 1990s when he decided he wanted to make food-centric programming, which inspired him to study at culinary school. That led him to Food Network’s door, where he landed his comedy, history, science and cooking hybrid show, Good Eats.
Brown’s foodie knowledge has led him to a new way of preparing dried pasta — and he says you should forego your big pot of boiling water. Instead, he places his pasta into a vat of cold water, then heats it up. This method saves time, too — the pasta only has to cook for about four and half minutes once the water boils, since it has gotten to heat up with the water gradually.
18. Bland beef, be gone
Food Network star Guy Fieri famously envisions a place called Flavortown, where all the tastiest foods live in harmony. As he explained on an episode of his show, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, “On camera, I once said, ‘This pizza looks like a manhole cover in Flavortown.’ […] So it’s taking these iconic food items, these iconic food moments, and giving them a home. They all live in Flavortown.”
But not all home chefs are prepping food worthy of entry into Flavortown, Fieri says. Specifically, he has advice for preparing chili — and he says you shouldn’t be browning all of your meat at once. Firing it up in batches allows it to char and fill with flavor. Too much meat in one pan will steam instead.
17. Stop stabbing your chicken
Few chefs have been as revolutionary as Julia Child. In the 1960s — an era whose cuisine was typified by frozen dinners and casseroles — she inspired housewives to expand their horizons. Her cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking and subsequent TV show made the country’s cuisine accessible to home chefs the world over.
One thing Child hated was an overcooked chicken — and, we imagine, one repeatedly stabbed with a meat thermometer. Rather than doing that, the master of French cuisine advised home chefs to simply pierce their poultry with a fork or a small knife. If the chicken’s juices are clear and not pink, it’s cooked — no need to overdo it.
16. No need to cut a finger while slicing a mango
As a kid, Ayesha Curry would fall asleep watching cooking shows, a habit that sparked her passion for food. Fast-forward to adulthood, and the wife of NBA legend Stephen Curry has built an online following for her culinary videos and tips. She has also written a cookbook called The Seasoned Life.
Curry also has at least one great correction for all the home chefs out there, too. She says that you should stop peeling your mangoes with a knife — there’s no reason to risk injury. Instead, slice the fruit into pieces, press the fleshy side against the rim of a glass and press down. This will separate skin from fruit, no cut marks or bandaids required.
15. You’re wasting too much time on garlic
Lorena Garcia studied to become a lawyer, but her heart wasn’t in it. Fond childhood memories of food-filled family gatherings, compelled her to become a chef. Nowadays, Garcia has found success in both the culinary and business worlds, as she has started a slew of her own restaurants. She has also been on food-centric TV shows like America’s Next Great Restaurant and Top Chef All-Stars.
All of her time in the kitchen has made Garcia realize that the rest of the world is wasting too much time peeling garlic. Instead, she told People, “I like to throw whole, unpeeled garlic cloves into the microwave for 10 seconds. It makes the peels slip right off.” As a bonus, her method helps “reduce the harsh flavor of raw garlic in uncooked recipes,” such as guacamole and salsa.
14. Chilly eggs have sabotaged your bakes
Duff Goldman’s culinary career started at 14 when he worked in a bagel shop — and almost got fired for putting too many toppings on the sandwiches. If anything, that was an indication of the unique way in which he’d live and cook. He became famous for opening Charm City Cakes — the focus of the Food Network show, Ace of Cakes. Off-screen, though, Goldman has a completely different lifestyle, making graffiti art and playing bass in an indie band.
When he has his Ace of Cakes hat on, Goldman can pinpoint mistakes that other cooks tend to make. His biggest gripe? Baking with refrigerated eggs. Instead, he suggests putting eggs on the counter the night before you bake with them. That way, he told People, “They won’t seize up when mixed with the butter, and egg whites whip up fluffier.”
13. Your overflowing kitchen cabinets aren’t helping you
Ted Allen served as the food and wine specialist on the original run of Queer Eye, which debuted on the Bravo network in 2003. He has also served as a Top Chef judge, and he hosts the Food Network’s cooking competition, Chopped. And, on top of all of that, he has written cookbooks, sharing his knowledge with home chefs everywhere.
But Allen’s not just doling out recipes to his readers — he has a piece of advice for those making a common kitchen mistake. The food expert says that everyone should simplify their culinary tool kit — no need to have multiple implements when one can take care of a range of tasks. His favorite is the fish spatula, which has an edge thin enough for “flipping, stirring, and cutting and getting that first brownie or piece of lasagna out of the pan,” he told People.
12. You’re grilling burgers to imperfection
Gordon Ramsay became a TV culinary star on the back of his hugely successful career in the restaurant business. He earned a couple of Michelin-star ratings for his restaurants before becoming a judge on the BBC’s MasterChef in 1996. By the early 2000s, he hosted a cooking competition called Hell’s Kitchen and Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, through which he aimed to help failing restaurateurs to turn their businesses around.
Ramsay famously gives some pretty blunt advice, and let’s just say he’s disappointed with the way many people grill burgers — in short, you’re probably doing it all wrong. He explained in a 2020 video that the grill should be sizzling hot before you plop down your patties, and you should place them two-thirds of the way up, which is the hottest spot on the cooker. Make sure the lid is shut, too, as this sears the burgers to perfection.
11. Flat fruitcakes? You’re probably missing a step.
Ina Garten became the Barefoot Contessa thanks to a spur-of-the-moment decision in 1978, when she bought a specialty food store in the Hamptons. But running a retail outpost didn’t quite suit the culinary pro. By 1999, she had published her first cookbook, and nowadays she hosts an eponymous cooking show on the Food Network.
Among the many morsels of wisdom doled out on Barefoot Contessa, Garten has corrected a common baking mistake made by many home chefs. Most people will pour add-ins like chocolate chips, nuts or dried fruit into batter without first coating them in flour. This step helps the bits suspend in the dough and distribute evenly — no more fruit-bottomed cakes or scones.
10. Stop cooking with soggy spinach
Italian-born Giada de Laurentiis’s grandfather sold pasta in her home country — clearly, loving Italy’s culinary delights is in her blood. After training as a chef herself and running a successful Hollywood catering business, she landed a Food Network cooking show called Everyday Italian. A few cookbooks, product lines and TV spots later, and she has become a household name.
Throughout her many years in the kitchen, De Laurentiis has pinpointed a common error made when working with spinach. If you ever use frozen spinach, she says, you shouldn’t simply let it thaw and then cook with it. Instead, you should squeeze all of that moisture out so that you just get spinach — no watered down flavors in your food anymore.
9. Your fried foods finish without any crispiness — here’s why
After training as a sushi chef, Adam Richman became the host of the Travel Channel’s Man v. Food in 2008. The show saw him traveling across the U.S. and taking on various restaurants’ over-the-top food challenges. So, Richman chowed down on everything from extra-hot wings to a three-pound pancake to a 72-ounce steak — and everything in between.
Richman’s time on Man v. Food has made him an expert in indulgent fare, a category that obviously includes fried foods. As such, he’s the perfect person to help you fix a common at-home frying mistake. He told People, “It’s better to heat your pan first and then add oil. The longer oil sits on a hot surface, the more time it has to break down.” This method results in food that’s properly seared and not soggy – just as you want it.
8. Your dough is probably too warm to work
Anthony Bourdain traced his life as a foodie all the way back to a pivotal childhood moment when he tried an oyster for the first time. Fast-forward to his young-adult life, and you’d find him studying at culinary school and working his way up the ranks to become Executive Chef of New York’s Brasserie Les Halles by 1998.
Bourdain had a major tip to share with anyone attempting to make their own pastry at home. Room-temperature dough won’t cut it, especially when attempting a fancy French bake. Instead, the chef advised everyone to chill their batter before rolling it out so that it was still malleable but not entirely soft.
7. Measuring too precisely? Your food could suffer.
Women who cook for their families don’t have to feel like a drudge — they can do it simply because they enjoy it. This was celebrated by Nigella Lawson in her 1998 cookbook, How to Be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking. More than two decades later, she continues to put out cookbooks and appear on TV with valuable advice about food and life.
In a 2018 interview with Vogue, Lawson advised home chefs to stop putting so much emphasis on exactness — cooking didn’t have to be as precise as baking, she said. The pro explained, “With cooking, you have to learn to not be too hung up on small details. I think sometimes people feel if you go one step off, the whole thing’s going to explode.”
6. A stagnant baking sheet is ruining your confections
Kelly Fields has mastered both the art of low-country-southern cooking and baking. As patrons of her New Orleans restaurant, Willa Jean, will attest. And she’s won a slew of awards for her cuisine, as well as praise from the likes of National Geographic, Saveur and Bon Appétit.
Her baking expertise makes Field the perfect person to offer advice. Even the newest — or most expensive — oven will have some uneven airflows or warmer spots. So, she told People, “Rotate [baking sheets and pans] 180 degrees halfway through each bake […] to get the best results.
5. Read recipes the right way
Martha Stewart’s childhood served as the perfect foundation for her future — her Polish-American family taught her everything from cooking to canning to preserving to sewing. By the 1980s, she was sharing all that knowledge in her first book, Entertaining. That publication led to more books, a magazine called Martha Stewart Living, product lines, TV shows and a reputation as the top domestic guru.
It’s no secret that Stewart likes things to be pristine and perfect — perhaps that’s why she advises that you read recipes carefully and properly. She told People, “Mind the details. If the ingredient list calls for ‘one cup sifted flour,’ then sift it first before you measure. If it calls for ‘one cup flour, sifted,’ measure before sifting. It makes a big difference in the final product.”
4. Sharp knives are a non-negotiable
David Chang opened Momofuku Noodle Bar in 2004, an eatery that Bon Appétit magazine called the “most important restaurant in America.” His influential take on contemporary Asian-American fare has made him a respected chef and culinary commentator. He helped to create the Netflix series Ugly Delicious, too, in which he tells stories behind the food people love to eat.
With all of this wisdom and skill, it’s no surprise that Chang has some great advice to share with home chefs. One of the biggest mistakes you can make, he told People, is relying on a dull blade to cut and chop. In fact, he said it was “most important” to “keep your knives sharp.”
3. Stop cracking your eggs like that
We’ve already met Anthony Bourdain on this list, and we’ve covered the first half of his career. He ascended to the rank of master chef, but he was an accomplished writer, as well. After his 2001 book Kitchen Confidential became a bestseller, he wrote A Cook’s Tour. This launched his career in a new direction, as he went on to star in a globe-trotting show of the same name. Then came two more popular, food-centric TV travel shows: Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations and Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown.
Clearly, Bourdain learned a lot during his years spent on the road and sampling foods from around the world. But the master chef’s wisdom for home chefs covered much more basic, much more common mistakes. For example, he said it was a big no-no to crack an egg directly into the dish you were cooking. Instead, he suggested cracking the egg on a flat surface into a cup, making it easier to pluck out any hard bits that fall in.
2. It’s time to use salt the right way
According to his website, Thomas Keller “is the first and only American-born chef to hold multiple three-star ratings from the prestigious Michelin Guide.” He reached the peak of his profession thanks to his high standards and breadth of skill, all of which helped him raise the culinary bar.
So, you probably should listen to Keller’s advice on an oft-misused ingredient: salt. The Michelin-starred chef explained that the stuff serves to enhance flavor, but most home cooks don’t know how to harness that power. He told Fine Dining Lovers in 2020, “Knowing what type of salt to use, when to add it and most importantly why we add it can change your cooking game.”
1. Don’t skip this onion prep step — or else, they’ll taste too strong
Jamie Oliver’s culinary career brought him to an acclaimed London eatery, River Café, where documentary crews captured the young chef at work in 1997. The spotlight suited him, and he soon got an offer to star in his own cooking show, The Naked Chef, which saw him cooking tasty meals. He has been a leading culinary figure since then, thanks to his follow-up TV shows, cookbooks and restaurants.
Oliver’s a fountain of knowledge for home chefs who want to learn with him — and right their most egregious kitchen wrongs. In a 2020 Instagram video, the former Naked Chef revealed where we’re going wrong with onions. He said that home chefs should be “washing sliced onions to make them milder, and that moisture also helps to add extra sweetness as they cook.” Yum.