How-To Guides

May 21, 2021

The 15 Most Common Cooking Terms You Should Know

Don't let the fancy culinary terms scare you away from a recipe! By learning these 15 most common cooking terms, you'll have the confidence to try new recipes and conquer the kitchen every single time!

Once upon a time, before I was a full-time food blogger, I was a young freshman in college who desperately wanted to avoid the "freshman 15."

As such, I was living on campus in the dorms, but chose not to have a meal plan with "dining dollars" for all the restaurants on campus; I was going to cook all my own food!

I quickly discovered that cooking took more time and preparation than I thought. I had to set aside time every week to go grocery shopping (with a car I didn't have), as well as time each day in between classes, exercise, my social life, and sleeping to prepare all that food.

I also had to pick and choose my food carefully because I shared one fridge with five other roommates!

Little 18-year-old me was quite overwhelmed for the first few weeks. I just picked one breakfast and one lunch that I would eat every single day, then try and make a few different dinners each week.

I stocked up on frozen fruit, frozen veggies, and frozen chicken from Walmart, bought a few sauces, a loaf of bread, and got to work.

Raspberry almond arugula salad with lemon pepper chiceknh

If you must know, I survived that first semester just fine; in fact, I LOST 5 pounds! I also lost a lot of fresh produce and the non-stick part of my non-stick pans from all the failed recipes and poorly planned grocery shopping trips...

Anyway, I remember trying to teach myself to cook by finding simple recipes on Pinterest. More often than I'm willing to admit, there would be words and phrases that I simply didn't understand, so I always had to keep Google close by.

It was quite frustrating to want to be a better cook but never feel like a better cook.

Now, years later, part of my "why" here at Ka Pai Cooking is to help young and inexperienced cooks navigate the rough waters of the kitchen.

So today's blog post is dedicated to YOU, my friend, who wants to feel more confident in the kitchen and perfect those Pinterest recipes but lacks the culinary terminology to do so.

Commit these common cooking terms to memory and watch your skills (and patience!) improve dramatically!

Pro tip: find an example for each term that will help you remember what it means. I've included some of my own examples as well as recipes on my blog that use these techniques to help you permanently remember each of these common cooking terms!

Ingredients for BBQ chicken pizza

Common cooking terms you need to know

  1. Baste: to spoon juices, melted fat, or a sauce over food to keep it moist while cooking. A good example of this is basting a steak in melted butter and herbs on the stove. I use this technique for my Grilled Chicken Piccata Skillet!
  2. Broil: cooking food in the oven only on the top at high temperature; for example, if you want garlic bread, you would add butter and garlic to your slices of French bread, put them on a tray, and broil them in the oven for no longer than two minutes. This would toast the very top of the bread rather than baking the bread. You can broil almost anything to “crisp” it up, but it’s not for cooking, just the final touches of certain dishes. Never leave your food unattended because it will burn quickly! One of my favorite recipes with a broiled finish is these White Cheddar Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes!
  3. Brown: partially cooking the surface of meat or vegetables to remove excess fat and add flavor. Typically you brown vegetables before adding broth (like in soups) or brown meat before adding other ingredients so all ingredients finish cooking at the same time. You can use frying pans, pots (if you need to brown veggies before making the soup), or woks (before adding sauces to Asian dishes). This recipe for Egg Roll in a Bowl is a great example of browning both meat and veggies!

Pro tip: grab yourself one of these meat choppers from Amazon to make browning meat the easiest thing you've ever done! 95% of the time, your meat comes in one big slab and you need to break it up into crumbles (like for ground beef or ground turkey), but it's annoying with just a regular spatula. This tool will literally change your life! It's my absolute favorite.

  1. Dash: similar to a "pinch," used in reference to seasoning. I always use a two-finger pinch, but if you're extremely technical like my husband, it's technically 1/8 of a teaspoon. You might also use this technique when a recipe says "season to taste" like in the streusel for my Carrot Cake Muffins.
  2. Dice: to cut into equal sized squares or cubes, about 1/4" to 1/2" thick. This technique is very common when preparing chicken or vegetables for a skillet meal. It's also one of the common cooking terms you should master! You can practice dicing chicken for my Better-Than-Takeout Orange Chicken or dicing fresh produce for this incredible Peach Mango Salsa!
  3. Dredge: to thoroughly coat food (usually meat) in flour or breadcrumbs prior to cooking. A great example of this is my famous Sheet Pan Chicken Cordon Bleu - you need to dip the chicken in egg whites, then completely cover in homemade breadcrumbs before baking. Even if you don't think you need to practice dredging, you have to make this Chicken Cordon Bleu recipe (pictured below) because it is seriously SO good!

Chicken cordon bleu with cauliflower and broccoli

  1. Fold: gently incorporating lighter ingredients into heavier ingredients by turning the bottom layer onto the top slowly and repetitively until just combined. Imagine like you're drawing the letter "C" or making the "I'm-spooning-food-into-my-mouth" motion with the ingredients. This technique is common with combinations like whipped cream and pie filling or egg whites and cake but can also be used for simpler recipes like quick breads and muffins. I always use the term "fold in" when describing how to mix the wet and dry ingredients for my banana breads so you don't overmix the batter and deflate the bread!
  2. Knead: a process of massaging and working dough with your hands (or a stand mixer!) to develop gluten, strengthen the dough, and combine the wet and dry ingredients. The easiest way to knead dough by hand is rolling the dough on a floured surface with the heel of your hand until the dough springs back at the touch of your finger. A great recipe to practice with is my 90-Minute Everything Dinner Rolls! I made sure to include step by step photo instructions so you get the best and fluffiest dinner rolls every single time!
  3. Mince: to chop into very small pieces. These pieces are so small, you don't have to worry about them all being the same shape and size! The easiest example is mincing garlic for a recipe, but you'll get lots of practice mincing when you make my Best Ever Homemade Spaghetti Sauce! For more tips on preparing garlic (because garlic is tricky!), check out this 10 minute tutorial I put together!

Pro tip: grab yourself one of these food choppers from Amazon to save yourself 10-15 mincing for any recipe! I got this for Christmas last year and I'm never going back!

A plate of Apple Pecan French Toast Casserole

  1. Mirepoix: pronounced "meer-PWAH," this is just a fancy word for a blend of diced aromatic vegetables, usually celery, onion, and carrots. The veggies are cooked in melted butter over low heat for an extended period of time to add a significant amount of flavor to a dish. In my healthy Baked Potato Soup, we actually cook onions, green onions, and garlic in bacon grease - talk about mouth-watering flavor!
  2. Reduce: to thicken a sauce, soup, or other liquid by evaporating excess liquid over a rolling simmer. Effective reducing usually requires leaving your dish on the stove without a lid; otherwise you're adding more moisture into the liquid! This process also allows for maximum flavor development, so when a recipe like my Chili con Carne calls for it, don't skip it!
  3. Roux: the base of a homemade sauce, made from melted butter and flour. I've also done olive oil a few times, but melted butter is the best choice for a roux. A few of my recipes use a roux to create the homemade sauce, like my Shrimp Alfredo, these White Cheddar Scalloped Potatoes, or my Cheesy Funeral Potatoes.

A pan of Huevos Rancheros Enchiladas

  1. Saute: quickly pan frying food over high heat with a small amount of fat. This is probably one of the most common cooking terms you'll come across! You'll usually see the word "saute" used when preparing vegetables for a side dish or before adding them to the main dish. For example, you need to saute the mushrooms, onions, garlic, and spinach before you make these Healthy Spinach Lasagna Rolls (pictured above); you'll also saute the red onions, celery, red apples, garlic, and thyme before adding in the turkey for these Turkey and Cranberry Stuffed Acorn Squashes.
  2. Simmer: to cook food (usually a liquid like a sauce) just below the boiling point over the stove. This could be done over a medium heat without a lid or over low heat with a lid on, depending on the recipe. Simmering food helps thicken the liquid and intensify the flavors. In fact, my Hawaiian Sloppy Joe Sliders need the sauce to simmer for both of those reasons!
  3. Steam: to cook food through indirect contact with the steam produced by boiling water. This technique is most common with vegetables on the stove, but can also be applied to certain Asian dishes or breads. My Better-Than-Takeout Orange Chicken is served with steamed vegetables!

A stack of chocolate chip pancakes

Conclusion

Cooking doesn't (and shouldn't) have to be intimidating or complicated. After all, it is a part of our daily lives! That's what Ka Pai Cooking is all about: helping you gain confidence in the kitchen while enjoying nourishing recipes you love.

It's recipes like my homemade lasagna that prove cooking can be easy, enjoyable, rewarding, and incredibly delicious!

I know there are other cooking terms you've come across, like "al dente," "caramelize," or "roast," but of all the common cooking terms I researched, these 15 are the ones I feel are both common but not fully understood or mastered yet.

Whether you're new to the kitchen or just want to be a better home-cook, I guarantee that these 15 common cooking terms will help you step up your game and conquer the kitchen!

Of all the cooking terms I listed, which ones were you familiar with? Which ones did you get a better understanding of? Are there any you need a better explanation for? Tell me in the comments below!

The 15 Most Common Cooking Terms You Should Know

Don't let the fancy culinary terms scare you away from a recipe! By learning these 15 most common cooking terms, you'll have the confidence to try new recipes and conquer the kitchen every single time!

Author:

Brooke Harmer

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