Experts agree that if you stop making these mistakes, you’ll be a better—and safer—chef in no time.
1. Holding knives wrong
Most people hold a knife by wrapping all their fingers around the handle or with their pointer finger on the top of the knife blade, but these grips aren’t only wrong (big kitchen mistake!), they are very unsafe. According to Robert Ramsey, Chef Instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education, you’re actually supposed to hold your kitchen knife with your thumb on one side of the blade and your pointer finger on the other side with your remaining three fingers wrapped tightly around the top part of the handle. “If you’re holding your knife properly, you’ll be able to make straighter cuts,” he says.
2. Intentionally burning your foods
For those of you that like say, charred and blackened toast, it’s time to turn down the toaster. Besides tasting off, burning your food creates carbon (the blackness you see), a known carcinogen that’s been linked to all kinds of cancers. “Burning food is something you’ll want to avoid because the carbon increases your risk of cancers and it also creates a bitter flavor,” says Ramsey. Both are huge no no’s.
3. Adding ingredients in the wrong order
A recipe has steps you’re supposed to follow for a reason: flavor development. If you add your ingredients out of order, you risk ruining the dish and/or creating a meal that tastes off from the original recipe. For example, a lot of herbs, like parsley and chives, are added towards the end of the cooking process in the recipe because they tend to lose their flavor the longer they cook. Herbs are an easy way to spice a bland dish, but can also be pretty costly. Save money and consider planting these 10 herbs that are best for a home garden.
4. Not sharpening knives regularly
“People think they can sharpen their knife once every five years, yet a sharp knife makes all the difference in the world with everything in the kitchen,” Ramsey says. Even if you’re a casual cook that makes two to three meals a week, you should still be sharpening your knives at least two to four times a year. Ramsey recommends avoiding this kitchen mistake by spending a few extra dollars and getting your knives professionally sharpened, as it’s super easy to accidentally chip or break the blade. And no, that metal rod that comes in most knife kits isn’t a knife sharpener. It’s actually called a honing steel that’s used to straighten, not sharpen, the blade.
5. Buying a fancy knife set
It’s tempting to add that fancy knife set and block to your wedding registry, but Ramsey says its better to buy knives individually. “You have to really weigh if the price is worth it when you really don’t need half the knives,” he says. This is actually a really good point. Think of your current knife set that probably cost you more than you’d like to admit. Have you used that giant cleaver? Guessing probably not.
6. Leaving knife blades uncovered
Make sure you never leave your knife blades uncovered, especially if you store your sharp knives with the rest of your utensils in a jumbled up drawer. Besides accidentally slicing off a finger, as previously mentioned, the knife blades are extremely thin and brittle and can easily dent and chip if unprotected, so avoid this kitchen mistake and consider purchasing knife blades, which can be found at most grocery stores. If you have a knife block, make sure you put the right sized knives in the right sized slot. “The knife will last a lot longer if the blade is protected,” adds Ramsey.
7. Using a food processor when you should be using a mixer
A blender, mixer, and food processor all serve different purposes and are designed to do different things. A blender is used to mix and puree food, giving it a creamy or velvety texture, like a smoothie. A mixer, like the KitchenAid, stirs, whisks, or beats foods, like dough. A food processor or Cuisinart is kind of a hybrid of both a blender and a mixer. “While some tasks are interchangeable, the machine as a whole is not,” says Ramsey. For example, you will never be able to make a dough in your blender.
8. Putting hot liquids and foods in the blender
If you’re a professional chef and have experience putting hot foods and liquids in the blender, this isn’t that big of an issue, but be forewarned: it’s a lot easier to burn yourself that you’d think. The added steam trapped in the blender can cause extra pressure to blow off the lid and cause the hot liquid to explode everywhere. No wonder it’s one of the most common blender mistakes people make. The only safe way to blend a hot liquid is by placing a folded towel over the blender lid, holding it down, and starting to blend on a slow speed before increasing in intervals. Or you can always reduce your chances of getting a third-degree burn and just let your foods cool a bit before blending.
9. Allowing ready-to-eat foods and raw foods to touch
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has termed foods that need no further preparation to achieve food safety as ready-to-eat or RTE (think fruits and veggies). To avoid cross-contamination, you should never put RTE foods and raw foods on the same plate or cutting board. This means never put a cucumber on the same cutting board that you used to slice raw chicken without washing first.
10. Cutting meats before veggies
Again, cross-contamination, people. While you don’t need two separate cutting boards for your meats and veggies, you should always cut your vegetables before your meat. This way you don’t have to clean the cutting board numerous times and you reduce your chances of cross-contamination. “There is no real reason why you can’t cut your chicken and your peppers and your onions all on the same cutting board, but you need to make sure to cut your veggies before cutting potentially hazardous foods like meats,” advises Ramsey. And if you’re cooking all the foods together, for example, a chicken and veggie stir-fry, it’s completed safe to put all the raw foods together in a pan.