Add seasoning as you cook. Don’t overcrowd the pan. Resist the urge to slice into cooked meat before it rests. If you’re as obsessed with the Food Network as we are (*praise hands emoji* to Ina Garten), chances are you’ve heard these cooking tips before. They’re some of the simplest ways to make your food taste more delicious with little effort.
And chefs have tons of these tips they use every single day—that most of us non-culinary experts have zero clue about (surprise, surprise) but can easily start trying in our own kitchens. Like now.
1. Use an extra baking sheet for even heating.
Home ovens tend to heat hotter from either the top or the bottom. Good news: It’s not just because your oven is from the 1950s. You’ll know if the bottom is hotter, for instance, if you’ve noticed cookies getting dark on the bottom, while the top stays pale (or vice versa). To fix this, try putting an empty baking sheet on the shelf either above or below the item you’re baking—whichever is hotter. This will absorb some of the heat and help things bake or roast more evenly.
-Tiffany MacIsaac, owner and pastry chef at Buttercream Bakeshop in Washington, D.C.
2. Chop your garlic first.
Chop garlic before you prep any other ingredients. It takes at least 10 minutes for the allicin (garlic’s main antioxidant compound) to release and be beneficial to the body. If you’re cooking the garlic, pour the oil you’ll use for cooking on top of the chopped garlic in a small bowl, and let it sit while you do your other prep work. Then when you put the oil in the pan, you’ll have garlic-infused oil that creates multiple dimensions of garlicky flavor in your dish.
-Ariane Resnick, certified clinical nutritionist and author of The Bone Broth Miracle
3. Add soy sauce to your barbecue.
Soy sauce: It’s not just for dunking sushi. It’s actually in some of the best barbecue sauces, because it gives depth of flavor and umami to meats. Dark soy sauce is ideal for cooking, sauces, and marinades because it has a robust flavor, intense color, and a lower salt content than light versions. Look for a naturally brewed option (the flavor is more complex than chemically brewed ones) like Sushi Chef Dark Soy Sauce.
-Thomas Boemer, chef at Revival and Corner Table in Minneapolis
4. Season your butter so you can use less.
Adding extra seasoning to butter adds a flavor that you wouldn’t get with plain butter—so you can use less overall (even though we know that third tablespoon is tempting). Thyme, garlic, and lemon zest are solid choices to add (this does wonders for meat). You taste it, but it’s subtle. To make it: Heat butter in a saucepan until foaming, then remove butter from heat and add your herbs or flavorings. Let sit for a minute, then strain and refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.
-James Lintelmann, chef at Baptiste & Bottle in Chicago
5. If you love Greek yogurt, try labneh.
You probably know that you can replace higher-fat ingredients such as sour cream, mayonnaise, and butter with Greek yogurt. While it works well, labneh is even better. A strained yogurt cheese that’s thicker and creamier than Greek yogurt, labneh can even be used in place of butter in baking. It adds flavor, moisture, and brings a lightness to enhance any dish.
-Brandon Shapiro, chef de cuisine at Wildwood Kitchen in Washington, D.C.
6. Try salt in hot drinks.
A sprinkle of sea salt doesn’t just make food more flavorful. It also intensifies the flavor of hot tea or coffee, bringing out subtle flavors that you might have missed in your previous cup of joe. It also neutralizes any bitterness. Next time you think about adding a teaspoon of sugar, try a touch of salt first, and see how much the flavor jumps.
-Stefan Pickerel, corporate chef for The Spice & Tea Exchange
7. Swap cream for cauliflower.
Cauliflower is good for more than just making low-carb rice. When steamed then puréed, it’s also a great way to add richness and body to anything that would benefit from a creamy texture—think risotto or “creamed” spinach. It’s not just lighter than the heavy cream, but it also offers extra nutrients and fiber.
-Sascha Weiss, head of menu and product development for Project Juice
8. Balance flavors with vinegar.
Make vinegar your friend (if you haven’t already… we see you, ACV drinkers). It’s a light and refreshing way to make an average dish taste way better in less than a minute. Add a splash of red wine vinegar to braised meats at the end of cooking to brighten the flavors. If a soup tastes too salty, a bit of balsamic vinegar can help bring balance.
-Nick Melvin, executive chef at Venkman’s in Atlanta
9. Try venison in place of beef.
When you can find it, replace beef with venison. It has the same amount of protein as beef and about 1/5 of the fat—even less than skinless chicken breast but with much more flavor (TBH). Opt for a premium cut (loin, rack, or tenderloin), use a very hot pan or grill, and cook it to medium rare to retain moisture and flavor. And always look for grass-fed venison raised without hormones or steroids when available.
-Brad Famerie, executive chef at PUBLIC and Saxon + Parole in New York City
10. Infuse your oils with turmeric.
Homemade turmeric oil adds earthy flavor (and health benefits) to roasted vegetables, fingerling potatoes, and salad dressings. And it’s easy to make: Combine 1 cup coconut oil and a 1-inch piece of fresh turmeric in a small saucepan and simmer over medium-low heat for 30 minutes, or until the oil has a deep orange color. Cool the oil to room temperature, strain it, and refrigerate in an airtight container or jar for up to a week.
-Marilyn Schlossbach, owner of Langosta Lounge in Asbury Park, New Jersey
11. Add most of your fat at the end of cooking.
A tablespoon of butter or oil added at the end of cooking will add more flavor than 4 or 5 tablespoons added at the start of the cooking process. When you add fat at the end, it rests on the surface of the food instead of melding or combining with your ingredients. Fat on the surface transfers directly to your tongue, giving your taste buds something to be happy about. And isn’t that what we’re all striving for in
life the kitchen?
-Rachel Muse, founder of Talk. Eat. Laugh. in Salisury, England