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I was always taught, “If you can read, you can cook.” Essentially this is true-if you can read a recipe and follow directions, you can cook.
I will have to say, however, that I have found in my 20 years of cooking that the best dishes usually don’t come from adhering strictly to a recipe. When you’re learning to cook it may be a good idea to stick closely to the recipe to avoid disaster and disappointment.
Once you’ve got the basics down, that’s when you unleash your imagination…you’ll be pleasantly surprised with what you can come up with! To get to that point follow some of these tips and ideas to learn to cook:
Equip Your Kitchen
I could talk about this all day and have even written an article about equipping your kitchen for baking. Having the proper equipment in your kitchen will save you failures, disappointments and frustration.
Think of the items you purchase as an investment: if you purchase quality tools now, your cooking experience will be positive and you won’t have to repurchase the same equipment anytime soon. Here is a quick list of my must-haves:
Start with heavy, stainless-steel cookware including: 1-3 and 1-5 quart saucepan, 1-small saute pan, 1-large saute pan, 1-deep sided skillet. All with sturdy handles and lids that do not get too hot to touch.
I’d recommend this Calphalon Tri-Ply Stainless Steel 13-Piece Cookware Set
Heavy aluminum sheet pans and various sized glass casserole/baking dishes should also form the basis of your beginning cookware set.
Once you have these, then you can expand your collection and try out other types of cookware materials such as cast iron (one of my loves) and copper pots and pans (again another one of my loves).
Pyrex Easy Grab 19-Piece Glass Bakeware Set with Blue Lids
QUALITY kitchen knives that are evenly distributed, heavy, comfortable and SHARP. I could literally preach on this all day. You’re more likely to injure yourself with a dull knife than a sharp one.
If you’re nervous about sharpening knives, I’d suggest investing in the Chef’s Choice Model 130 Sharpener if your budget will stretch that far.
I’d also recommend that your knife block set includes one paring knife, one fillet knife, one 7″ Santoku knife, one 7″ or 8″ chef’s knife, one boning knife and one serrated knife as a starter set.
Although I love true Japanese kitchen knives, these can be difficult to sharpen unless you know what your doing.
You should consider a hybrid for your Santoku in the form of the of the Wusthoff shown below.
Wusthof Classic Santoku with Red 2-Stage Asian Edge Sharpener, 7 Inch
Since this knife has Japanese form but the softer steels and cutting angles found in western knives, it has an amazing ability to chop while allowing the novice to easily sharpen the knife with the included sharpener which should do an adequate job. Will it get as sharp or stay sharp as long as a true Japanese example?
No, but it doesn’t require hours of study and practice to hone it either and you can use the included sharpener or an electric one such as they Chef’s Choice suggested above with zero issues or problems.
Utensils that include: 3 stirring/mixing spoons ( I prefer a heavy resin to wood), slotted spoons (spoons with holes), 2-3 spatulas varying in size, hand grater, microplane, colander, 3 sizes of mixing bowls, professional quality cutting boards (1 designated for meat only and 1 for fruits and veggies only) wood may be used for the fruits and veggies.
I generally use a use a rubber board for meats; whisks, dry and liquid measuring cups, measuring spoons, fish spatula (this is also great for gravy making), meat thermometer, and kitchen shears.
OXO Good Grips 15-Piece Everyday Kitchen Tool Set
If your absolutely starting from zero in the kitchen department, I’d suggest that a set like this one from OXO pictured above will go a long way in filling out your utensil needs.
One of the worst ways to start learning to cook is to dive in head first without some sort of plan. Set your kitchen up so that you know where things are and can access them quickly. I realize that many people do not have the luxury of designing their kitchen, but hopefully your kitchen is easy to move around in.
As a general rule, the oven/range, fridge and sink are set up in a triangular shape to make moving about easy and fluid. Keep like utensils together, have a hook for your apron, and I prefer to have hooks for my cutting boards so that they air dry.
The second part of getting organized to take inventory and be sure you have everything that you need. If you’re following a recipe, take 5 minutes to be sure you have all the ingredients you need and, while you’re at it, get them out and prepped. Also be sure you have the proper equipment.
For example, if you don’t have a mixer, hand mixer or whisk, you’re going to have a hard time making a meringue. At the same time, if you don’t have eggs or cartoned whites, you’re definitely not making a meringue. I can only imagine how irritated I’d be to get the pie shell and lemon filling ready for the meringue to find I don’t have eggs or whites.
Read The Directions
You learned this task in Kindergarten and it’s still important today! Cooking isn’t scary or hard. All you have to do is read and follow directions. If a recipe says to preheat the oven, then preheat the oven. The chef’s who developed the recipe added that step for a reason: it’s important.
Now, this is not to say that you need to hang on every single word as gospel. Cooking is also a lot of common sense. If a recipe says bake your chicken for 45 minutes, but you take it out and it’s still clucking (pink and/or cold) put it back in and keep an eye on it. The best way to know if your meat is done when you’re learning to cook is to take its temperature.
Also keep in mind that because your chicken wasn’t done at 45 minutes, it’s not your fault (unless you forgot to turn the oven on) and it’s not the recipe’s fault. Your cut of meat may be bigger and thicker than the one used in the test kitchen. Just read, follow directions, be safe and use some common sense and you won’t have a bit of trouble.
Get The Feel Of It
Take some chances. Recipes are not gospel, they can be tweaked. For instance, if you’re making salsa and the recipe you’re using calls for 1 jalapeno pepper, but you just go gaga for spicy, go ahead and add two or skip taking the seeds out! Adding and subtracting ingredients to suit your taste is a must.
What’s the point of cooking food you’re not going to like? This rule applies to cooking recipes, but you have to be very careful doing this with baking recipes, and yes, there is a difference. Same idea applies to achieving the desired texture of foods.
Everyone likes their mashed potatoes differently. Some like chunky, some like smooth and others like skins in. If you don’t like skins, peel those taters before tossing them in the pot! While you’re whipping them, keep an eye on the texture. If you like chunky, stop when it’s chunky, if you like smooth keep going. Same goes for adding the liquids: if you like your potatoes thick don’t add quite as much liquid and vice versa. Cook to your preferences. And always remember to season and taste as you go.
Don’t hold off seasoning and tasting until the end. Seasoning throughout will help develop flavors. Tasting as you go lets you know whether or not you’re on the right track. You can salvage a dish partway through, but if you’ve got it dished up and ready for the table before you taste, you’re going to have problems.
If you’re petrified of failure, start with easy recipes. The best way to build confidence is to have success. So what if you’re not cooking circles around Emeril the first time in the kitchen? Something as simple as a tasty meatloaf and a good mash will make you feel more confident in your abilities than a collapsed soufflé or gummy risotto. Also, don’t make your first foray into the kitchen to entertain.
Cook for yourself and a few (very) close friends and family before throwing a dinner party. You want honest, but kind feedback. If you’re going to throw a dinner party, give the whole meal a trial run for you and your significant other before you dive in head first.
So that’s basically my tips for learning to cook. If you’re looking for specific recipes or techniques, let me know and I’ll see if I have the answers.
I started cooking when I was 5 years old and pretty much everything I do/know is self-taught.
I literally sat down and read cookbooks cover to cover as if they were best selling novels. I started out simple and have moved on to some pretty advanced stuff because I love cooking and feeding my family good, healthy food. Enjoy!
About Lynne Jaques
Lynne is a stay-at-home mother of two boys. As a former US military officer and the spouse of an active duty US military member, Lynne enjoys traveling the world (although not the moving part!) and finding new cuisine and methods of preparing food. She also has the habit of using parenthesis way too much!
25 thoughts on “Cooking Tips for Beginners”
I remember my first time in cooking, its always messy in the kitchen! I also noticed that it took me more than an hour to finish the dish. Its because I wasn’t organized, the ingredients were incomplete and some utensils were not available in the kitchen. I must say that this is a very smart post to the beginners!
Ah…sailing in the same boat i see, only in my case, i was a nervous wreck and so unsure of myself and what i was doing, i won’t lie my first meal was a a total disaster and my mom didn’t not give me a break, i had to learn the hard, hard way, obviously we are not in the bloodline of chefs and cooks but even a simple meal that day was beyond repair, we slip, we fall but then we get up and learn from our mistakes…am indeed grateful for the tips above, they’ll go a long way.
I am going to send my 21-year-old daughter a link to this. I have tried, repeatedly, to help her learn to cook and she does fine if I’m behind her to supervise, but she totally freaks out when attempting it alone. I’ve always said the same thing to her- if you can read and follow directions, you can cook! Improvisation comes later.
I can’t stress enough to new cooks, that you must read the ENTIRE recipe first. Before you move a muscle. Some recipes throw in surprises that you just aren’t prepared for if you just start at the top and work your way down.
These were excellent tips for new cooks! I will definitely pass them along 🙂
Most people who have a dabble in cooking end up enjoying it, how can you not? It is so satisfying, especially if it tastes great. You showed your experience here and wrote a great post, I have been cooking for many, many years yet found this to be informative. Just goes to show, you are never to cleaver to learn something new.
Thanks for the article! I do admit I am not very organized in the kitchen at all. Not to mention I hate washing the dishes. I find it’s easier for me to cook things in the stove where I can “micromanage,” than baking in the oven when I won’t know I’ve burnt something until it’s too late.
This reminds of me what I used to be like in the kitchen when I first started cooking – what a disorganized mess I was! I used just about every board, knife, pan and utensil I could grab in the kitchen, and didn’t clean up as I want along either. I never read recipes as carefully as I should have done, and just about everything was a disaster. So the points you make about starting off with simple recipes and getting organized, are the two best pieces of advice you can give to a rookie cook.
I’m glad to say that my cooking has greatly improved – I even made your chicken cacciatore over the weekend, and it was delicious. By far one of the best cacciatore recipes I’ve come across, and as it’s my husband’s favorite, he was very impressed. 😉
I’ve gotten better as time has gone by. I used to skip steps or try my own spin on some thing I made and it didn’t always work. Now that I’ve done more cooking and have learned more, I am much more comfortable and my cooking is much better. I learned to start with simple recipes as you stated above and it made a difference. I’ve moved onto some of my mothers more difficult recipes and they have turned out good so far.
Thank you for putting time on making this list. Yes, as a first time cook from not so long ago, it is really the right equipment , enough preparation and willingness to learn that you are going to need to get start on cooking.
I like that you include the one about organizing your kitchen because for me, it is the common mistake of a beginner usually makes. Imagine while cooking, you forgot where you place the lid of the pan or spices that you need, in which this scenarios adds only the tension and pressure to the new cook. I still make this mistakes but mostly when baking (Imagine the mess).
Anyway, thank you for this article.
These are great tips! I’m envious at the thought of having uniform and organized pans, tools, and bakeware. Even when I buy complete sets, I end up with random odds and ends. But anyway, these are great tips for any beginner cooker or just someone who never really got fundamental ideas before branching out on their own.
I should email this to a couple of guys I know. Lol. These are great tips for the beginner, and hey sometimes even for those who think they have it down pat.
Thanks for all your hard work- informing the uniformed.
I am especially interested in an online cooking class I would love to see a review here about some of those resources. One of the best (but most expensive ones) I found was Rouxbe (pronounced like Ruby). I had a free trial and I learned so much in that time. Sadly, the course is too expensive, but it is extremely informantive with professional videos and explanations that make things crystal clear.
My boys are both in their twenties. You would think they could cook a simple meal. After all they have watched me as well as their grandmother cook for years. Not so, I really wonder how they can live on their own. I get text, and phone calls on a weekly basis.
The questions they ask me are common sense. Well at least I thought anyway. I have to give them a refresher course on how to boil an egg, or if pork chops can be baked. I really wish they would read this. It may help them they need it.
As a beginner in cooking I find this article to be very helpful. Each time I’m in the kitchen I’m always stressing out. I was completely disorganized when I first started out but I find that with the more and more I cook it becomes less stressful because I’ve learned from previous mistakes. I definitely need to go out and buy myself a pyrex set though. I live with my in-laws and they primarily use zip lock bags and cling wrap to store their food.
I like your tips for those just learning to cook. The equipment you suggest is equipment I wish I had in my kitchen right now. A good knife is essential as there is nothing worse than using a dull one which makes you work to harder to get your meal together.
I think half the battle is already won if you have decent kitchen equipment. Good quality cookware really does make a difference to the end result.
The best advice I think for someone who is just starting out cooking: Never give up. Don’t let a mistake stop you from trying again. Don’t be afraid to toss something that you can’t save. It happens sometimes even to the best cooks. It doesn’t define you. Sometimes we all can confuse the salt for the sugar (or vice versa).
I recently just had a mildly disastrous cooking session with my boyfriend. He was a beginner while I’ve been cooking quite a while. It was like we made our own episode of ‘Hell’s Kitchen’. Hahaha! I think the tips you have were very useful for solo cooking. But do you have any guidelines for two or more people just learning to cook together? In my case, it was a challenge since he wanted to do it his way, while I wanted to do it another way.
This article helped me loads! I’m a real beginner at cooking and I always get frustrated when something I make doesn’t look or taste the way they should be only to realize I’m getting way ahead of myself trying out the most difficult dishes out there. I also found equipping my kitchen helpful because there were loads of times that I needed an equipment but realized I didn’t have one yet. This just makes me feel like the stupidest beginner out there but then there’s always room to learn more! Great post!
I am very lucky to have a chef for a father. However, we may have hundreds of receipe books in my house we never follow them. All my friends loved coming to my house when I was younger! and no I love the homely smell when I step through the door for a visit. I must say I think I used his cook books more times than my dad used them. Mostly because he would read them for fun and to just get some new, interesting flavor combinations.
However anytime that I try to follow a receipe I spend half the time measuring things out exactly so. Whereas with the many years of experiences he can just guess it. I was always too afraid to do that. Once I left home however and finished work I would come home tired and not wanting to measure things out. So in turn I just started throwing things into a pot and seeing what happens. What would normally happen is something extremely tasty.
I guess from all my ramblings is to just try things yourself sometimes. As much as recipes can be good and easy to folow sometimes. Don’t be afraid to venture into new worlds and try new things!
I am sure this article will prove to be most helpful to any beginner cook. You are so right to begin with the equipment. I think this information has covered everything and some more great advice!
Staying organized and having the right kitchen equipment is definitely a necessity. I used to cook with cheap dull knives and I was never able to slice meat thin enough, in turn it when I would cook it the outside would be well done but the inside raw.
Another tip that I think is important for beginners is to start with the early receipes. Don’t try to cook a dish with so many ingredients and spices because you will get discouraged. Try cooking something simple. Once you master that move on to something more complicated.
I was interested in baking when my friend brought me a red velvet cake she had made. I asked her for recipes and instructions so eventually cooking became my hobby. When I started out, I was really disorganized. I would be frantic when I had the oven preheated but my ingredients were all over the place. My tools were scattered throughout the kitchen as well so after I finished mixing something, I would need to find my spatula. I’ve learned from my mistake and really, all beginners should definitely be organized when cooking because it saves you so much trouble. Thanks for the post! I wish I had seen this when I first started out!
Great tips for beginners! I remember the time when I was just starting to cook. I’ve always enjoyed helping my mother in the kitchen, especially when she was baking something tasty. However, I didn’t start actually cooking my own dishes until I was about 17. I totally agree with you that getting the feel of it is an important tip. I was so afraid of ruining something at first so I would try to follow the recipe precisely. But I soon learned that it’s ok to make your own adjustments and that you need a little bit of intuition while cooking. Also, I think one should learn not to see cooking as a chore. Personally, I find it fun and relaxing so I’m always on a hunt for new and exciting recipes.
I would say all of this is so true! I struggled a ton when I first started cooking, since I had no real kitchen gadgets, and all of my “sharp knifes” cut as well as a butter knife. Also, another tip, never raise the temp to cook the food faster, I have done this and its definitely worth waiting the extra time for it to cook, rather than eating burnt food!
Thank you for sharing these cooking tips. These are very helpful!