"You Can Really Taste The Difference": Home Cooks Are Sharing Tiny Changes That Can Massively Improve Your Home Cooking (And They Take Almost No Effort)

·8 min read

Cooking is a game of learning. And if you cook often, you're probably constantly discovering new tricks, adjustments, and methods that make an enormous difference in the quality of your food. So Redditor u/CaptainWisconsin asked, "What extremely simple but often overlooked cooking tip/hack makes all the difference?" — and here's what people said.

1."For me, it’s mise en place. I get so stressed out easily when cooking, and preparing and laying out my ingredients in advance really helps me."

Ingredients prepared in small glass bowls.
Annick Vanderschelden Photograph / Getty Images

2."Make sure to actually get the pan hot before putting food in it. Lots of flavor comes from the physical reactions between food and a hot pan or grill. For most things, if it doesn't hiss and sizzle when it goes into the pan, then you're cheating yourself out of huge concentrations of flavor."

Shrimp cooking in a skillet.
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3."When you're making meatballs, season the entire batch of raw meat. Then cook one tiny 'tester' meatball. Taste it, and adjust the seasoning in the larger batch if it's needed."

Preparing meatballs.
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4."When baking, freeze butter and grate it with a microplane. It's the easiest way to get very fine pieces of cold butter that distribute evenly into your dough."

Cold grated butter on a plate.
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5."Often when people are looking for additional seasoning, what they really need is a hit of acid. Instead of adding more salt to a dish, try brightening things up with a squeeze of lemon/lime or some kind of vinegar."

Squeezing lemon juice into a ramekin.
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6."I used to think bacon should go straight into a piping hot pan, but mine always came out tasting boiled and limp. I didn't understand why it wasn't crispy. But then I learned that just placing those bacon strips in a room temperature pan and gradually raising the heat ensures it comes out crispy every time. A lot of people may think you can just fry up bacon in a couple of minutes, but in actuality, good, crispy bacon takes at least 15-20 minutes."

Bacon cooking in a skillet.
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7."Adding some of the pasta water back into your pasta sauce. Just a quarter or half cup is all you need. The starch from the water will help the sauce emulsify and stick to the noodles."

An above-shot of pasta next to eggs and Parmesan.
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8."Pounding chicken breast to a uniform thickness before you cook them. It makes them cook more evenly."

Pounded chicken breasts on a cutting board.
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9."Dry the surface of your food to absorb any excess moisture if you want it to sear well. Lots of people take this step for granted and wonder why their food doesn't come out golden brown!"

Patting a steak dry with paper towel.
Lisovskaya / Getty Images/iStockphoto

10."There is no such thing as cooking wine. Don't cook with a wine that you wouldn't drink on its own. You don't have to spend a ton, but cooking with quality drinking wine (even a $12 bottle) adds much more flavor to a dish."

A wine display
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11."Removing food from the heat source once it's done cooking. Things like meat and eggs continue to cook even after you remove them from the oven or take them off the grill/stove. Remove your food from the heat before it's done cooking, and let it rest. It will reach the desired consistency rather than taste overcooked."

Scrambling eggs on a stovetop.
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12."The more you process or crush garlic, the stronger the flavor becomes in your dish."

Crushing garlic in a press.
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13."Oven temperatures and controls are always wildly inaccurate. Get an oven thermometer, and figure out how hot it really gets — you'd be shocked at just how 'off' it is."

Taking the temperature of meat with a digital thermometer.
Unrestedm / Getty Images/iStockphoto

14."Lots of people just cook ground beef until it’s no longer pink and it starts to turn grey, but try letting it cook for longer (to the point that you fear it might even overcook). I find that really nicely browned ground beef is much, much tastier for your tacos, sauces, etc."

Ground meat in a hot pan
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15."Don't overcrowd the pan. If you crowd the pan, you will steam your food instead of browning it. When you give your food the space it needs in order to achieve that golden-brown crust, you achieve the Maillard reaction, which makes food taste better."

Zucchini cooking.
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16."You can almost always swap chicken stock for water to impart extra flavor in whatever it is you're cooking."

Stirring Italian risotto,
Sergio Amiti / Getty Images

17."Cooking pasta for the last couple of minutes in the sauce. I traveled to Italy last year, and it made me understand what al dente is actually supposed to taste like, and also why you want to cook pasta in the sauce at the end. It totally changed my pasta game for the better."

Pasta in a skillet with sauce.
Lingqi Xie / Getty Images

18."Coat baked goods with granulated sugar instead of flour. Whenever I bake, I always grease my pans, but instead of using flour to coat the pan, I use granulated sugar. It makes the edges of whatever I'm baking sweet and crunchy, and saves me from needing to use extra icing or frosting."

Two cakes in pans.
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19."Resisting the urge to flip food while cooking. The best thing you can do for your meats is leave them alone. After you put it in the pan, on the grill, or whatever, don't touch it. Do not poke, probe, press, squeeze, lift, turn, or anything else until it is time to flip it. Moving it will cause the juices to leak out and disrupt the cooking process, leaving your meat dry and flavorless."

Chicken cooking in a skillet.
Jeff R Clow / Getty Images

20."Keeping notes about the recipes I make. I jot down the quantities of ingredients I used, how many servings it made, and helpful pointers about the cooking process. I also rate recipes so I know which to make again. You can improve on them by changing a few variables at a time, and when you make it again in a month or in a year, you'll know exactly how to do it."

A woman chopping vegetables.
Julpo / Getty Images

21."Always brine your meats, especially chicken. Your food will taste so much juicier and more flavorful after brining, even if you're not using the highest-quality meat."

A turkey being brined.
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22."Always deglaze the pan to take advantage of any fond left behind. That's pure flavor."

Frying pan with browned food residue.
Annick Vanderschelden Photograph / Getty Images

23."Always toast your hamburger buns. Smear a little Duke's mayo on them first, then sprinkle some garlic powder seasoning, then toast them in a pan until nice and golden."

BBQ grill with toasted hamburger buns and hamburgers.
Fortyninjafish / Getty Images/iStockphoto

24."Add tomato paste to sautéed onions and garlic, allow it to cook and stick to the pan, then deglaze it. It will add tremendous flavor to your dish and taste as if it’s been slow cooking all day. It's especially delicious for tomato sauces, etc…"

Tomato sauce
Liudmila Shevaga / Getty Images/iStockphoto

25."Treat temperature as if it were an ingredient. Follow the recipe instructions. A pan that's too hot or too cold will result in bad food or, at the very least, a dish that isn't cooked properly."

Close-up of stove and pot
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26."Use kosher salt (or Maldon flakes) over other kinds of salt like iodized. This lets you adjust the amount of salt better because the flakes are bulkier, so it's harder to overdo it."

Salting a piece of fish.
Karl Tapales / Getty Images

27."Monter au beurre, aka whisk cold butter into your sauces to finish them for a beautiful glossy finish. It’s the reason why almost all sauces you have at a restaurant just taste better."

Cold pieces of butter in tomato sauce.
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28."Always start cooking mushrooms in a dry pan for a few minutes to get some of the moisture out before adding oil or butter. They brown so much better this way."

Cooking mushrooms in a skillet.
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29."Taste everything as you cook, not just the finished recipe. Try all the spices, salt, and pepper separately before you add them to your dish. Don't let one bad ingredient ruin your meal."

Woman cooking salmon with spinach and mushrooms.
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30."Roast vegetables for longer than you might think necessary. I used to hate roasted veggies because they’d either be hard and undercooked or mushy. Then, I realized you just need to cook them for even longer so that they transcend the mushy stage, the moisture is removed, and they begin to brown."

Removing vegetables from the oven.
Bernard Van Berg / Getty Images/EyeEm

31."Toast ingredients before cooking with them. Think: spices, oats for oatmeal, flour for roux, arborio rice for risotto, and nuts going into anything. It does wonders for the flavor."

Toasted sesame seeds.
Annick Vanderschelden Photograph / Getty Images

What's an underrated tip that has made a major difference in your cooking? Tell us in the comments!