26 Cooking Tricks to Steal from the World’s Best Chefs

STYLECASTER | Pro Chef Cooking Tips
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If you’ve ever taken a cooking class, there was probably a moment (or several) when the instructor demo’d something—how to properly sear meat, or how to efficiently cut veggies—and said something like, “As I’m sure you know, you should always…”

This happened to me when I took my first-ever class at The Brooklyn Kitchen with culinary instructor Sydney Willcox. Willcox kept saying things as she effortlessly floated around the kitchen, and I kept wanting to whip out my phone and take notes, because as basic as what she was saying sounded, they were epiphanies to me, revelations that would cut down my prep time before dinner and minimize the chances of me slicing a finger open.

Below, check out 26 general cooking tips from nine pro chefs around the U.S., some of whom specialize in gourmet vegan cooking, some of whom are grilling and meat aficionados—but all of whom know their way around a kitchen like the back of their hand, so you’d do well to copy them.

MORE: How 5 STYLECASTER Staffers Use Avocado

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Hone Those Knife Skills

“Always keep your fingers tucked in on your non-dominant hand, using your upper knuckles to guide your knife as you slice. If your finger tips are tucked in, you cant ever cut them! And for the highest degree of control over your knife. hold the knife by the blade, pinching the bottom of the blade between your thumb and the side of your forefinger. Grip your middle, ring, and pinky fingers around the handle for support, and avoid laying your forefinger over the spine of the knife.” –Sydney Willcox, culinary instructor at The Brooklyn Kitchen

Cut Veggies Smarter

“Use a mandoline to cut down on prep time and ensure consistent slice sizes for your veggies.” –Willcox

Use Ingredients in New Ways

“Try a seasonal ingredient in an unexpected way! If you have never tried juicing a sweet potato you will be pleasantly surprised. The starch in potato makes your drinks lightly creamy, and the flavor combination is perfectly sweet. This is a dessert vegetable juice, packed full of vitamins A and B complex and beta-carotene.” –Matthew Kenney, raw food chef and owner of Plant Food + Wine Miami

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Don’t Forget the Garnish

“To make an impression on your guests, throw a simple garnish on your finished platter: mMicrogreens are easy and beautiful, or take an element from the dish, such as whole herb sprigs or extra spice, and add just a small amount to create a pop for the eye.” –Willcox

Blend Better

“Always put your liquids in your blender first—water, juice, broths—and then load your more solid ingredients—veggies, leafy greens, fruits. This takes stress off your blender motor, and as the blade spins your ingredients are more easily pulled down into the blender vessel and your blends are more consistent, smooth, and creamy. Adding your liquids first will lengthen the life of your blender and your ‘blends’ will come out perfect.” –Nina Curtis, executive chef of The Ranch Malibu

Turn Up the Heat

“Don’t be scared of the heat! If you are looking for a sear, you need to bring on high levels of heat. Without a smoking-hot pan, it will be close to impossible to achieve a crispy, caramelized browning on your steak, pork, chicken or fish. Also be sure not to overcrowd a pan when searing, otherwise the pan will cool down too much, and there will not be enough heat from the bottom of the pan or circulating around the meat in the pan.” –Willcox

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MORE: 7 STYLECASTER Staffers’ Go-To Dinner Recipes

Let Your Meat Sit Out Before Cooking

“If you’re going to cook a steak, for instance, take it out of your fridge and let it come to room temperature before you throw it on the grill or in the oven. A lot of times people will take meat from a cooler or a 40-degree fridge and throw it on the grill and want it medium rare. What do you think the inside is going to be? Cold, right? You have to let your meat come up to room temperature.” –Aarón Sánchez, chef at Johnny Sánchez

Slice Meat Properly

“Always slice meat against the grain, or even the most tender filet mignon can feel chewy.” –Willcox

Take Advantage of Salt

“Be sure to use a high-quality coarse salt for finishing your dishes: This is an easy way to really transcend your home cooking to restaurant-level quality. You can also use flavored salts, such as smoked salt, to add depth.” –Willcox

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Don’t Cry Over Onions

 “Put onions in ice water for 10 minutes before cutting them; this prevents them from causing your eyes to water.” –Angel Leon, executive chef at Seaspice Miami

Add a Drizzle of Olive Oil

“Take a note from Mediterranean dwellers and finish your dishes with a little drizzle of high-quality extra-virgin olive oil; it will make for a silky finish!” –Willcox

Get an Even Roast

“Be sure to rotate pans or trays in the oven: All ovens have hot spots, so spin your trays around halfway through their cooking time—and alternate racks, if you have multiple trays cooking.” –Willcox

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MORE: 8 Tips for Making the Perfect Burger

Season Your Meat Properly

“Season your meat right before you cook it; this will keep the meat moist. If you season it hours in advance it will make the meat dry.” –Leon 

Keep Meat Juicy

“Never stab the meat with a fork or knife to flip it over. These punctures allow juices to escape and can lead to drying of the meat and less-flavorful protein.  Always use a spatula and/or tongs when you need to turn your meats.” –Aaron Taylor, national executive chef at STK

Let Meat Cool After Cooking

Once any piece of meat is cooked, it’s important to let it rest about 5 to 10 minutes before slicing. The natural juices within the protein get pushed to the outside during the cooking process. Allowing it a chance to sit will help the juices to disperse throughout the center of the meat, giving it a delicious and succulent flavor.” –Taylor

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Keep Herbs on Hand

“Always keep a fresh supply of basil, thyme, oregano, rosemary, sage, and dill.”–Kenney

Make Large Batches with Seasonal Ingredients

Take advantage of seasonal produce. Summer is tomato time! Use that bounty to make extra marinara sauce that you can freeze and use later in the year.” –Meredith Haaz, chef at The Ranch Malibu

Kale Chip Tips

To get crispy kale chips, be sure to dry the leaves well after washing (this will avoid them steaming in the oven). We use a salad spinner. Also, don’t drown them in oil. A half tablespoon rubbed into the leaves is all you need. Sprinkle with nutritional yeast, salt, and pepper and bake at 275 for 10 to 13 minutes.” –Haaz

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MORE: 30 Brilliant New Ways to Grill Veggies

Improve Your Salad Dressing

Substitute a couple of tablespoons of tahini for oil in dressings to give them a creamy consistency.” –Haaz 

Cook with the Right Oils

“Always consider the smoke point of your cooking oil: Be sure to use a fat that correlates to the level of heat you will be cooking at. Low-heat oil, such as butter and some nut oils, will burn at a medium or high temperature, so be sure to use those only when cooking on low heat. With high-heat oils, such as almond, avocado, canola, or grapeseed, you can cook at low or high temperatures without having to worry about them burning.” –Willcox

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Get a More Flavorful Pasta

Add rock salt and olive oil to water when boiling pasta. The salt will season the pasta while they are blanching, and the oil will keep them from sticking together while adding flavor to the pasta.” –Eric Damidot, executive chef, Hyatt Regency New Orleans

Exactly How to Sear

“While you are cooking fish or any protein that has a skin, make sure to heat the sauté pan to a high temperature and cook the skin side first, only flipping once. By heating the pan to a high temperature, it will instantly sear the skin to the perfect crisp and keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pan, keeping it dry and crispy.” –Damidot

Sauté Smarter

If you find you need more oil in the pan when sautéing, try substituting vegetable stock. It will help cut down on the calories but give your pan the moisture it needs.” –Haaz

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Poach a Perfect Egg

“For the perfect poached egg, use a wide pot with enough water to have the egg floating an inch above the bottom of the pot, filling 2/3 with water and 1/3 with white vinegar. Water should be at a slow boil, with tiny bubbles coming from the bottom of the pot. Crack the egg in a ramekin first and drop the egg slowly in the water. If the egg is fresh, the egg white will enrobe the yolk nicely and make the perfect poached egg. Cook to your liking, soft yolk or firm.” –Damidot 

Edit What Goes Into the Pan

“When cooking in a pan, don’t overcrowd. This will create steam instead of direct heat.” –Chef and restaurateur Eric LeVine, partner at Paragon Tap & Table and Morris Tap & Grill

Freeze Your Cheese

“If your cheese is too soft to grate, place it in the freezer for 20 to 30 minutes.” –LeVine

Originally published July 2017. Updated September 2017.