At Cozymeal, we’ve been answering your cooking questions and sharing cooking tips in our articles, cooking classes, and beyond for five-plus years. Now there’s a whole new way for you to ask your cooking questions. Introducing our free Ask a Chef hotline!
Whether you’re on the hunt for recipe-substitution advice or need ideas for a last-minute side dish for Thanksgiving, having a professional chef on call during the holidays will definitely help things run a little more smoothly in the kitchen.
Plus, we’ve answered 46 of the most common cooking questions and baking questions for you. Happy holidays!
Cooking Questions for Beginners
- Does adding salt to water make it boil faster?
No, but it will add extra flavor to whatever you are boiling.
- Is it safe to cook chicken in a slow cooker?
Yes. The low- and high-heat settings on slow cookers reach a hot enough temperature to kill potential bacteria.
- What’s the best way to defrost meat quickly?
Place your frozen cut of meat in a resealable plastic bag, squeezing out as much air as possible. Submerge the bag in a large bowl filled with cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes to ensure that it stays cold. Smaller cuts (about a pound) can thaw in less than an hour.
- How do I know if cheese has gone bad?
A simple taste is usually enough to deduce potential spoilage. If there is a sour or easily detectable unpleasantness, it’s probably time for the bin.
- Which part of the scallion (green onion) do you use?
Both the green and white parts are edible, but each taste better when used in a different way. The white part has a sharp flavor so is best cooked, whereas the green parts have a milder taste and so can be eaten raw or as garnish.
- Is there a way to chop onions without crying?
Before you cut the onion, place it in the freezer for 30 minutes before chopping. Doing so prevents the onion from releasing its tear-inducing chemicals.
- Which side of the foil are you supposed to cook on?
Technically the shiny side, but the difference is negligible so don’t worry about it.
- What’s the best method for cooking a burger indoors at home without a grill?
A cast-iron griddle. Only flip once and never press. Open the window to air out inevitable smoke.
- What does marinating do to meat?
Marinades are used to add different flavors to meat. Marinades usually contain some kind of acid, which reacts with the meat and breaks down some of the protein to make it more tender.
- Is it wrong to put food in an oven before the oven is preheated?
The results often suffer when you add food too early, so wait until the oven is properly heated before placing food inside.
- Can I cook rice without a rice cooker?
Yes. Combine 1 1/2 cups water and 1 cup rice in saucepan. Bring to a boil, then cover with a tight-fitting lid and reduce heat to low. Cook rice, undisturbed (do NOT open the lid!) for 18 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand 15 minutes. Uncover and fluff with a fork.
Common Questions to Ask a Chef
- How do I stop pasta from sticking together?
Use a bigger pot—the pasta needs room to move and separate. Other than that, boiling (really boiling) water is your best bet. Boiling water washes off the starch of the pasta, whereas a lukewarm pot will cause the starch to concentrate, and the pasta to stick.
- Which herbs and spices are okay to buy dry?
Go dry for spices and fresh for herbs. Oregano is the exception. It’s better dry.
- If a recipe calls for wine, is it best to choose a dry wine?
Use exactly the same kind of wine you would pair with the meal if drinking it.
- How do I keep hard-boiled eggs from turning green near the yolk?
Cook them gradually. Place eggs in cold water, bring to a boil, turn off and let sit for 10 minutes.
- How do you preserve nutrients when cooking veggies?
The best method to preserve and enhance the nutrients in vegetables is to steam them.
- Can I substitute baking soda for baking powder?
Yes, as long as there is enough of an acidic ingredient to make a reaction. And remember that baking soda has 4 times the power of baking powder, so 1/4 teaspoon soda is equivalent to 1 teaspoon of baking powder.
- Can I substitute baking powder for baking soda?
It’s not recommended. Because baking powder is made of baking soda combined with other ingredients, it’s difficult to give a straight formula to convert it into pure soda.
- What’s the best way to cook steak at home?
To cook the perfect steak at home is actually a lot easier than you might think. All you need is a quality steak and this simple step-by-step method to ensure a perfectly pan seared steak.
- What’s the best oil to cook with?
With a smoke point of 440-450˚F, sunflower oil is the pantry hero for all things sear- and sauté-related.
- What can I substitute for heavy cream?
It depends on what you’re making. If you’re making a savory soup, Greek yogurt would add the richness you’re looking for. But if you want to make whipped cream, you probably want to use coconut milk.
- Can I use whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose flour?
In the case of baked good where you want a light and tender texture, like cake, the answer is no. In the case of muffins and quick breads, you can usually substitute up to 25% of the all-purpose flour for whole wheat.
- Can I bake this recipe in a different pan?
The answer is usually yes, but with some adjusting. The volume capacity of any pan depends on its shape and height of its sides. Use this handy guide to determine if you will need to scale the recipe up or down and by what percentage.
- Can I substitute coconut oil for butter?
Generally speaking, no. Any recipe that starts with creaming butter and sugar together relies on the special properties of butter that allow it to be whipped. The action of working air into butter during creaming contributes to a light, fluffy texture for baked goods.
- Do I really need parchment paper?
Parchment paper is an essential baking tool because it creates a nonstick surface. If you want cakes to release cleanly, brownies to lift out of the pan, and cookies to slide off the sheet, parchment paper is a must.
- Can I cut this recipe in half?
Yes. Cut all the quantities of ingredients in half and proceed with the recipe as written. Sometimes you need to halve an ingredient that’s hard to split, like eggs. In that case, just beat a whole egg and eyeball half into the recipe.
- Can I make this recipe ahead?
Most cakes, bars, pies, tarts, and cookies can be made ahead by at least a day. Let cool completely, cover with plastic or store airtight, and store at room temperature.
- Do I really need to use salt in baking?
Yes. Salt not only adds flavor to baked goods and helps prevent staleness, but is also important for gluten structure and even browning. When it comes to yeasted baked goods, salt is especially important as it helps slow the rise, leading to an even, stable texture.
- What can I substitute for buttermilk?
If you’ve got whole milk and lemon juice or white vinegar on hand, you can make a workable buttermilk substitute. Pour a spoonful of white vinegar or lemon juice into a liquid measuring cup. Add milk until you reach the desired volume. Mix and let sit 10 minutes or until curds form.
- Can I make bread without yeast?
Just because there’s a yeast shortage, doesn’t mean you can’t whip up your own homemade bread. You can make a simple sourdough starter with nothing more than flour and water, or try Irish soda bread, flatbread, or olive bread.
- Why is my melted chocolate grainy and clumping?
Graininess means that a small amount of water has found its way into the chocolate and caused it to seize. However, seized chocolate can be corrected. It might seem counterintuitive, but adding another liquid, such as hot cream or melted butter, should smooth things out.
- How long should I knead my dough?
About 10 minutes. When your dough starts to smooth out and bounce back, perform the “windowpane test.” Tear off a small piece of dough and stretch it from all four corners. It should be able to stretch into a thin, see-through “windowpane” without tearing.
Thanksgiving Cooking Questions
- What size bird should I order?
A 12- to 14-pound turkey is as large as you should go. It will fit in a standard large roasting pan and will easily feed 12. Need to feed 20? Roast two.
- How will I know when the turkey’s done?
Use a thermometer. After resting, a thermometer inserted in the deepest part of the thigh should read 165° F.
- How long does the turkey need to rest?
Let your turkey rest for at least an hour, which conveniently frees your oven for reheating your potatoes and sides.
- How can I remedy an overcooked turkey?
Put gravy on it. A lot of gravy.
- Do I just pour in the pan drippings, fat and all, to make turkey gravy?
While some fat is needed to create a roux, too much makes a broken, greasy mess. Pour pan drippings into a large measuring cup and skim the fat off the top using a spoon. Reserve 1/4 cup and toss the rest.
- Why doesn’t my stuffing have a crispy top/bottom/edges?
Your baking dish might be too deep. Try using a 3-quart 13×9” Pyrex baking dish. More surface area means more crisp edges, and the glass allows you to see when the bottom and sides are crispy.
- Why is my stuffing dry?
If you’ve added plenty of liquid, the problem is most likely that you’re not adding enough fat. Without plenty of fat (e.g. butter), the stuffing will lose too much moisture in the oven as you’re waiting for the top, edges, and bottom to crisp.
Holiday Cooking Questions
- What are good ideas for winter salads that are more than just lettuce and tomatoes?
Grain salads (farro, wheatberries, quinoa), peppery/hearty greens (arugula, watercress, kale), citrus and onion salads, and roasted vegetable salads are all great ideas.
- What kind of potato should I be buying?
The creaminess of Yukon Gold is best for mashed potatoes. If fluffy mashed potatoes are a priority, add some Russets to the mix. For simple roasted potatoes, use fingerlings or baby Yukon—they crisp up well while the inside stays creamy.
- Why are my mashed potatoes gluey?
If you over-mash, you’ll release the potatoes’ gummy starches. Instead, work them as little as possible. Use a ricer on hot potatoes, then fold in dairy until just combined.
- Why do some people put vodka in their pie crust?
The idea is that alcohol can’t form gluten, which can make pie dough tougher. Using vodka can help keep the pie crust flakier and more tender.
- What are good ideas for homemade edible holiday gifts?
Our favorite gourmet holiday gift: homemade infused olive oil.
- How do I keep cookies from spreading too thin?
Softening butter in the microwave is a surefire way to flatten cookies into pancakes. Instead, let the butter sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.
- How long can I safely leave food out for guests?
Hot foods, including meats and casseroles, should be kept above 135°F. If they drop below this temperature for more than two hours, dangerous bacteria could grow on it, many of which could cause food poisoning. After two hours, this food should be immediately refrigerated or tossed.
There’s nothing like the holidays to make you question everything you thought you knew about cooking. But just because the holidays usher in some of the most celebrated meals of the year doesn’t mean they also have to be the most nerve-racking. Now, you can turn to a source you know you can rely on to get your cooking questions answered.
Get the answers to some of your most burning Thanksgiving Day cooking questions and any other cooking questions that come up throughout the holiday season with the Ask a Chef hotline!