The Essential Kitchen Skills No One Is Taught (But Everyone Should Know)

The Essential Kitchen Skills No One Is Taught (But Everyone Should Know)

Most of us never get formal training in how to cook or find our way around the kitchen. We learn from others: friends, parents, TV shows, cookbooks. That means there are often gaps in our knowledge: things we really should know or have been doing wrong. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Title image remixed from YanLev (Shutterstock). Other photos by bradleypjohnson, Bart Everson, Dinner Series, and Alex Schultz

How To Peel Peaches, Nectarines Or Tomatoes

Stone fruit such as peaches, tomatoes, or any fruit with thin skin and delicate flesh can be tricky to peel. The flesh bruises easily if you take a knife to it. Instead, try blanching them to loosen the skin and make it easy to remove. Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil, then take a small knife and cut an X in the bottom of each peach or tomato. Lower it into the boiling water, and let it sit there for about 30 seconds to two minutes. Then remove and immediately drop into an ice bath to stop the cooking process. When they’re cooled and easy to handle, take your paring knife again and pull the skin away from the flesh. The video above, from Saveur Magazine, shows you how it’s done.

How To Properly Dispose Of Oil

Frying can produce a lot of leftover oil. If you’re frying something particularly flavorful, like bacon, that oil can come in handy later. Just wait for it to cool, pour it off into a container, and save it to pop popcorn, cook eggs, or use anywhere else bacony goodness is called for. However, if you’re cooking something that just leaves oil you don’t want, don’t pour it down the sink. It can harden and clog your pipes, and do serious damage to your plumbing and the surrounding water system.

Instead, grab a couple of plastic bags, put one inside the other, and pour the (cooled!) leftover oil into the interior bag. Tie them both shut, and toss them in the garbage. It’s a lot of waste, but it’s the easiest and safest way to get rid of it if it has no further use. We suggest you try to get as much use from it as possible; but if you do need to toss it out, this tip from our friends at America’s Test Kitchen shows you how.

How To Clean Your Washing Machine, Dryer And Dishwasher

Most people don’t think about cleaning their washing machine, dryer or dishwasher, because they use them to clean other things. We assume that because we put soap and water in them, they clean themselves. That’s only partially true (after all, does your bathtub clean itself?). You can certainly run your dishwasher or washing machine empty, but that will only do so much. Instead, try this:

  • For your dishwasher: Regular use should keep your dishwasher fairly clean, but with age it may wind up collecting water at the bottom, develop hard water stains or scale, or experience mildew buildup. Take out the racks and go at it with a brush or sponge to remove all of that. Then, run the dishwasher empty, on a hot water cycle. Sprinkle some bicarb soda around the bottom of the dishwasher, and leave a cup of vinegar on the top rack.
  • For your washing machine: Run your washing machine empty, with hot water. Add some bicarb soda and vinegar to the wash cycle, but don’t forget to clean the fabric softener well, or any other crevices or parts of the machine not normally touched by the hot water. An old toothbrush or a Magic Eraser sponge works well for this.
  • For your dryer: A quick wipe-down of the interior should suffice there, but make sure you clean out any lint or dirt lurking around the sides, or in the back where the heating element is. Clean the lint trap after every use, and make sure you get the lint trap, vent line, and the tubing cleaned every year or two. We’ve covered how to do it before and WikiHow has some tips too. Don’t overlook this — lint buildup can cause of household fires.

You don’t have to clean these appliances terribly often. You could always just wait until they’re dirty, but it makes sense to be proactive. Every few months or a year should be enough. Make them part of your spring cleaning regimen, or do it now if you’ve never done it before.

How To Break A Chicken Or Turkey Down Into Parts

Whether it’s raw and about to be cooked, or cooked and about to be served, breaking down a chicken or turkey is a handy kitchen skill everyone should know The video above from the New York Times shows you how to break down a whole chicken in a matter of minutes before cooking. This gives you the freedom to cook different parts of the chicken for different meals, and to save the bones for stock. Best of all, you have control over the whole bird, and you don’t have to pay more per kilo to have someone else cut it up for you.

If your chicken or turkey is already cooked, carving is fairly easy. Alton Brown shows you how to carve a turkey in the video above, and the same process works for just about every type of poultry, from chickens to geese. Watch to the end — he shows you how to completely deconstruct the bird, which is helpful when you’re sitting in front of leftovers, and you don’t have enough room to just throw plastic wrap over the whole thing and shove it into the fridge.

How To Properly Clean Your Knives

We’ve told you several times how to sharpen knives, but taking good care of them and cleaning them properly is equally important, and something many people overlook. While most knives are dishwasher safe, putting them through the dishwasher is generally a bad idea. You’ll shorten the life of your blade, and it’s potentially dangerous when emptying the machine.

In the video above, Alton Brown walks you through how to clean your knives properly. It’s simple — press your knife flat against the side of the sink, and use a bristled brush to clean off one side of the knife. Flip it over and clean the other side. Don’t bother trying to brush or sponge directly into the top or the blade. Dry it carefully, then store it in a block (or, in a knife protector or a magnetic knife rack) — never in the drawer with the rest of your stuff.

How To Care For A Cutting Board

Taking good care of your knives is half the battle. The other half is taking good care of your cutting boards and surfaces. First, regular washing after every use is ideal, no matter what your cutting board is made of. After that, it varies depending on the material. Here’s what you need to know for each type of cutting surface:

  • For wooden cutting boards and butcher blocks: Regular cleaning will do the trick. For deep cleaning (monthly if you use your board every day) or if there are any lingering food odours, you’ll want to clean it with a light abrasive. We’ve suggested lemon and salt before, and America’s Test Kitchen suggests bicarb soda and water. Vinegar and salt would work too. Scrub it down, then clean it with hot water and soap, and you’ll be set. Then, every year, rub it down with a fine grit sandpaper to smooth out any nicks or edges, and rub in some walnut oil or mineral oil to moisten the wood, keep it soft, and help it keep its shine.
  • For plastic cutting surfaces: Regular cleaning should do here as well. You don’t need to do anything special with these — if you want to prolong their life, you can scrub them down and let them dry.
  • For marble, glass or other hard cutting surfaces: Soap and water will do the trick, and a bleach solution to sanitise. These surfaces can be really hard on your knives, so try to avoid them in the first place.

Whatever cutting surface you have, it shouldn’t take too long to clean it. Regular scrubbing is key, but with wood, you really want to go the extra mile to make sure it lasts over the long term.

How To Store And Rescue Hardened Brown Sugar

Storing brown sugar is easy: A simple airtight container will keep your brown sugar moist and fresh for as long as possible. If you want to keep it moist as long as possible, you can always toss in a slice of bread > with the brown sugar and seal the container as tightly as possible. The moisture in the bread will keep the brown sugar loose enough to use. Alternatively, you can get a terra cotta sugar bear to do the same job. Soak it, and put it in with your brown sugar.

As for rescuing brown sugar once it’s dried out, if you have the time, you can pop in the bread or terra cotta and let it set. It’ll take a while, but it will loosen up. If you need to use it now, a quick trip through the microwave with some water will do the trick.

The Usual Suspects: Knife Sharpening, Fridge Stacking, Onion Cutting

We’ve covered many other kitchen skills in the past. Here are a few to check out:

Beyond the ones we’ve mentioned, there are a number of kitchen skills that are worth learning, but we’ve discussed here at Lifehacker enough times that we’d hope you’d be better at them by now than we are. Here are a few:

With all of these tips combined, there’s little you’ll run into in the kitchen or around the house that you won’t be prepared for.


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