Every home cook has their own toolkit of hacks, shortcuts and swaps to help them in the kitchen. No matter how much you think you're a Masterchef, there are always more tips and tricks that can help you take your skills to the next level.
We asked our kitchen experts to share their kitchen habits so you can up your kitchen game – and the list was much longer than we'd expected. Even if you only take on one or two of these habits, it'll make your time in the kitchen more enjoyable and productive. Bon appétit!
- A few well-considered grocery swaps can save you time and money – and they're often better for your health, too. We've compiled a list of simple grocery swaps to save you money to get you started.
- Run out of self-raising flour? No worries – keep our list of ingredient substitutes on hand and you'll still be able to whip up a cake at the last minute.
- Get used to using your kitchen appliances to minimise food waste in the kitchen and you'll always have things like breadcrumbs, frozen sliced vegetables and smoothie ingredients on hand so you'll be able to magic up something delicious. Plus, you'll be helping the environment!
- If you have leftovers of things such as pasta sauce, stock or dhal, freeze them in large silicone ice cube trays to use later. They'll defrost faster, and they're great portion sizes for babies and children.
- If you're cooking larger quantities, freeze meals in large ziplock bags and flatten out the content so that it freezes in a thin layer, which will save you defrosting time. It's worth portioning them out so you can just defrost enough for one meal, rather than a week's worth of food. You can also store the flattened ziplock bags upright in the freezer like a file card system, which will make it easier to see what's in your freezer (and minimise the chances of finding something three years later that's freezer-burnt and inedible).
- Use your food processor to pre-prepare curry pastes, pestos and marinades so you can zhoosh up weeknight meals – they'll be tastier, healthier and cheaper! You can also DIY other kitchen staples such as salad dressings and keep them in the fridge so they're ready to make that salad more appealing.
- Make sure you have a clear labelling and dating system so you won't find yourself playing freezer roulette in a few years' time.
- Build up layers of umami as you cook. Save the rind from the parmesan in the freezer and drop it in a soup or bolognese the next time you make one for extra deliciousness.
Freeze meals in large ziplock bags and flatten them out so they freeze in a thin layer, which will save you defrosting time
Always remember to sear your meat before slow cooking.
- Always sear your meat before slow cooking: this will help caramelise the meat, adding extra flavour and giving extra richness to the sauce.
- Remove meat from the fridge at least 30 minutes before cooking. This prevents the meat from tensing and becoming tough when placed in a hot pan, oven or BBQ.
- Cover your roasts with foil for the first 15–30 minutes of cooking, then remove the foil to finish off the browning.
- Always place your roast on a rack to elevate the meat, and add water to the pan to help keep the meat from drying out.
- Learn to use your instincts when cooking to check food for 'doneness'. Don't just rely on a cooking time or temperature, as all ovens and cooktops are different. Smell is a good indicator of when your food is ready.
- Every time you cook a roast chicken, keep the bones in the freezer. Once you have a few carcasses you can use them to make stock. Home-made chicken stock is far superior to supermarket stock, as it has a much lower sodium content. Add a tablespoon of vinegar to your stock to help break down the cartilage and create a more gelatinous stock.
- Don't just buy premium meat cuts – take a look at cheaper and lesser-known cuts. They're great for slow cooking and have loads of flavour. These are the best cuts of meat for slow cooking.
Cover your roasts with foil for the first 15–30 minutes of cooking, then remove the foil to finish off the browning
Keep a bowl or compost bucket to hand so you can compost vegie scraps.
- For larger vegetables such as a whole cauliflower or pumpkin, cut them into portions and store in an airtight container or bag in the fridge, ready to be used for the next meal. This saves time and effort when cooking so you're more likely to use it – rather than it getting lost in the back of the fridge and being wasted. It also frees up more room in the fridge.
- Wash your fresh produce in a fruit and vegetable wash to remove residual pesticides, oils, waxes and the like.
- Wrap fresh herbs in damp paper towel and place in a sealed container. This will help them last for longer. You could also try fresh produce bags – cotton bags that you can dampen and put your fruit and vegetables in to extend the life of your fresh produce.
- When making smoothies, use cold fruit, veg and liquid – some high-performance blenders can start to warm the ingredients due to the friction from blending.
- Potatoes are best kept in a cool, dark place (not the fridge!). This prevents the starch turning into sugars.
- When preparing food, keep a bowl or compost bucket to hand so you can compost food scraps. Aside from reducing the amount of food waste in landfill, it also reduces the smell in your garbage bin, since it won't be full of stinky rotting vegetable matter.
- Par-boil potatoes in advance, then store them on a tray in the fridge. This will cut down on roasting time in the oven, and also promotes a crunchy exterior and fluffy centre.
Par-boil potatoes in advance, then store them in the fridge for faster roasting and a crunchy exterior and fluffy centre
- Keep your knives sharp. Blunt knives can cause accidents. You can sharpen knives yourself using a stone, honing steel or pull-through sharpener, but eventually you'll need to have them professionally sharpened. Most good cookware shops and many butchers offer this service.
- Handwash your knives – always! Don't put your good knives in the dishwasher as the detergent can be abrasive on the blade, and the blade can become damaged if it's knocked against other utensils.
- Store your knives in a block or sleeve to keep them sharp by preventing contact with other utensils.
- Don't be a brand snob – you may be surprised by how well lesser known or cheaper brands perform. For instance, Aldi's Moser Rother chocolate outperformed Cadbury in our milk chocolate taste test. And not by a little bit! Cadbury Dairy Milk was scored at just 49% by our chocolate experts, compared with Moser Roth, which scored a sweet 81%. Before you hit the supermarket, check out our food and drink reviews. Our grocery reviews are free to access, so you can even check our test results on your phone while you fill your trolley.
- It's a similar story with dishwasher detergent reviews and dishwashing liquid reviews. Some expensive products perform well, but some cheap ones also blow the others out of the washing up water. Our rigorous tests don't take into account fancy packaging or slick marketing – we assess products solely on how they perform in our labs, so you can be sure that you're getting unbiased results.
Don't be a brand snob – you may be surprised by how well lesser-known or cheaper brands perform
Try to minimise the opening and closing of your fridge to preserve food and save energy.
- Don't just leave your fridge on the default settings – they may not be right for your climate. Tweaking the temperature will help your food stay fresher for longer, avoid food waste and reduce the risk of food poisoning.
- Use a thermometer to make sure your fridge is sitting at the right temperature: 3°C in the fridge and -18°C in the freezer.
- Don't store your tomatoes in the fridge. Keeping them on the bench will help them to ripen and develop better flavour. Cold tomatoes are tasteless. Want to know what should be refrigerated and what's best on the bench? We'll talk you through the best way to load your fridge.
- Spend some time learning how to use your microwave properly – it's not just for heating and defrosting! Some of the smart functions can really make some tasks much easier.
- Wipe up any microwave spills straight away so they don't get baked on. A dirty microwave will take longer to cook, because it has to cook the residue as well as the food!
- If you haven't been cleaning your microwave as you go, pop in a bowl of water with lemon slices and microwave on high for two minutes. Let it sit and then wipe out with a cloth.
Stacking your dishwasher is a fine art – and key for a top cleaning performance.
- There's no need to pre-rinse your dirty dishes – your dishwasher can more than handle what's on your plates and cutlery. All you need to do is scrape off the solids and let the dishwasher take care of the rest. It'll save you time and save water – a double win!
- Stay on top of cleaning the dishwasher filters. We know, we know: it's a disgusting job. But if you do it at least once a month, it won't be quite so disgusting each time – and it'll save you from having to deal with a truly disgusting blockage or pay a small fortune to have a plumber do it for you.
- Not sure what you can put in the dishwasher? We've compiled an extensive dishwasher master list so you won't have to wonder whether your great-grandmother's hand-painted tea cups can go in the dishwasher. (They can't.)
- Brush up on your dishwasher Tetris skills with our guide to how to stack your dishwasher so you're not left with egg on your plates. You can't excel in the kitchen if you're starting with dirty plates and cutlery.
There's no need to pre-rinse your dirty dishes – your dishwasher can more than handle what's on your plates and cutlery
- As boring as it sounds, follow your oven's guidelines for cooking modes and shelf positions. This will help you get the most out of it.
- You can speed up your oven's preheat time by turning the oven on 'grill' for a few minutes before switching over to conventional oven mode.
- Get into the habit of wiping down your oven after cooking – it'll make it far easier to clean and you won't need to resort to caustic cleaning products.
- After cooking, place a bowl of steaming hot water in the oven while it's still warm – this will make it much easier to wipe clean.
- You can use enzyme-based laundry detergent to clean up greasy oven racks. Just soak the racks in your laundry tub or bath overnight, then wipe clean.
After cooking, place a bowl of steaming hot water in the oven while it's still warm – this will make it much easier to wipe clean
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.