The quickest, easiest cooking technique you should have in your repertoire

I’ve been using foil packets for years while camping as an easy way to make individually portioned meals. It wasn’t until recently that I started using them outside of a fire pit. Once I learned a few things about how to cook in foil packets, I fell in love with this easy cooking technique!

We have a great collection of wrap-and-cook foil packet recipes, but you can make almost anything in aluminum foil. This guide will teach you everything you need to know about making these prep-ahead meals.

Getting started: Which foods work (and, which don’t)

Most foods work for foil packet cooking, but some items take longer to cook than others. It would be a bad idea to put raw potatoes and cheese into a packet at the same time—the cheese would burn well before the potatoes had a chance to cook! Consider the cook time of your meats and vegetables before packing them in foil together. You can always open the packet and add quick-cooking foods at the end.

If you want to include grains like rice or pasta in your packet, you’ll need to pre-cook them first. The foil packet simply won’t get hot enough, and it lacks the proper amount of moisture to cook these types of food.

Choosing your seasonings

You can season your foil packets with any number of herbs or dried spices, but make sure you consider moisture when putting together your seasoning blend. You definitely want to create some steam in there to keep your meats and vegetables from drying out. Think about adding some high-moisture vegetables like onions or tomatoes, or include any number of flavorful liquids to the mix. We really like oil and vinegar, soy sauce, Worcestershire, or beer—but feel free to get creative with those seasonings.

10 PHOTOS
Chefs: The 10 cardinal rules of cooking
See Gallery
Chefs: The 10 cardinal rules of cooking

Care for your knives

All of celebrity chef Daniel Boulud’s Letters to a Young Chef consists of cooking advice, but the final chapter boils it all down to Boulud’s top ten cooking commandments. The first of these is to make sure your knives are sharp. “Your most basic tool is your knife,” Boulud says. “To cut well, all of your knives must be sharp. Make sharpening a daily ritual at the very least.”

Here are the best knives for everyday cooking.

Season food well

“The taste of every ingredient is elevated by proper seasoning,” Boulud writes. “There is an exact point at which ingredients are seasoned correctly.” For the best results, he believes you should tweak your tastes based on the fundamentals of classic recipes as well as feedback you get from friends and family.

Here are some great seasoning mixes you can make at home.

(Getty)

Don't add oil to pasta water

This is a major no-no, says to Gianluigi Zenti, president of food culture organization Academia Barilla. According to Smithsonian, “Olive oil is said to prevent the pot from boiling over and prevent the pasta from sticking together,” but it can do more harm than good, including preventing the sauce from sticking to the pasta.

If you start now, these pasta dinners can be ready in 30 minutes.

(Getty)

Prep for the week

By spending a few hours prepping ahead of time on Sunday, celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis manages to whip up “easy, healthy meals all week long,” she told Health magazine. “If I’m around on a Sunday, I cook off two, sometimes three, grains, and I keep them plain,” she says. She repeats this process with vegetables, blanching them in a little salt and water and protein. One of De Laurentiis’ go-to proteins is chicken thighs, and we’ve got a bunch of reasons to cook with them.

(Getty)

Respect all kinds of foods

Author, food veteran, food adventurist, and travel enthusiast and self-described appreciator for “doing things the right way,” Anthony Bourdain has a deep respect for food of all stripes, and wishes people would stop “cleansing” themselves of certain foods. He proclaims that food is meant to be enjoyed, not to be the object of guilt or shame.

Indulge yourself with these chocolaty recipes.

(Getty)

Please don't bake with 'low-fat' spread

British food writer and longtime cooking-show staple, Mary Berry may be best known for BBC’s beloved Great British Bake-Off. So when she says she wouldn’t consider baking a cake with anything but real margarine or butter, it would be wise to follow suit. “Most of my emails and letters are from people having problems as they’re using what they think is margarine, but is, in fact, a low-fat spread which they think is healthier,” she says. “They tend to be full of water.”

(Getty)

Hands off food while it's grilling

“When you put something on the grill, leave it alone!” says celebrity chef, restaurateur and reality TV star Bobby Flay, who is also the author of Boy Meets Grill. “The most common mistake is when people continue to touch the food with their tongs or spatula to see if it’s sticking. And that’s when it sticks!”

Get our pro burger-grilling tips here.

(Getty)

Embrace non-stick pans 

Anyone who’s ever watched television’s Hell’s Kitchen knows that award-winning restaurateur and TV chef Gordon Ramsay can be a bit, well, opinionated. And something he feels quite strongly about is not being “above” using non-stick pans. “I mean, seriously,” he told Ask Men, “with a non-stick pan there’s less fat, less butter, you let the pan do the work and, also, it galvanizes. It conducts heat, you can take it off and things can continue cooking. And the sear on a fish or piece of scallop is exactly the same.”

Get organized

“Whether I’m cooking at home or in the restaurant, having a game plan is essential,” chef and author Emeril Lagasse told Prevention. Prep ingredients in advance, according to the order used in the recipe. Then put all your cookware and your tools out on the counter. This way, “you can get in the kitchen and really have some fun!”

Get your kitchen ship-shape with these tips.

(Getty)

Relax!

Celebrity chef Nigella Lawson’s most famous bit of cooking advice is to have no rules in the kitchen. “I think cooking should be about fun and family,” she says. That said, she admits she’s not a trained chef. “I don’t pretend to be, and I think part of my appeal is that my approach to cooking is really relaxed and not rigid.”

In other words, cook according to rules, but capitalize on your innate talent and infectious charm!

(Getty)

HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Make sure everything cooks evenly

Cooking in a foil packet is pretty similar to cooking a sheet pan dinner—you want to make sure everything cooks at the same rate. Consider cutting vegetables to the same size, and avoid packing long-cooking vegetables in the same foil as short-cooking ones.

If you’re cooking with meat, either pound the meat so it’s thinner or cut it into small strips. You could also include a whole piece of meat, if you like, but make sure to pack it on the bottom of the foil. Since it takes the longest to cook, it needs to be closest to the heat.

10 PHOTOS
10 best cooking shortcuts from Joanna Gaines
See Gallery
10 best cooking shortcuts from Joanna Gaines

Stock up on crescent rolls

To get that homemade feel you don’t always have to make everything 100% from scratch. In Magnolia Table, Joanna relies on refrigerated crescent roll dough for a few tasty recipes, like her quick orange-walnut sweet rolls and her classic chicken potpie. This cuts the prep time down significantly, and the results can taste just as good as something made all by hand.

(Getty)

Save time with rotisserie chicken

While everyone loves a perfectly roasted chicken for dinner—and then the leftovers used in tasty dinners all week—it can be hard to find the time to roast one on a busy evening. That’s why Joanna grabs a grocery store rotisserie chicken to use in a handful of recipes, like her cozy chicken potpie.

(Getty)

Turn tricky dishes into casseroles

Have a favorite dish that you always order at a restaurant but is just too tricky to make at home? Joanna says turn those into a casserole! She explains in her book that Chip loves eggs Benedict, but making individual servings at home can be a real hassle. So to get that same flavor with less work, Joanna turned it into an easy-to-make, easy-to-serve casserole. Genius! 

(Getty)

Use store-bought crust

Pie crust serves as the foundation for so many of our favorite dishes—pie (obviously!), quiches and tarts—but making your own crust from scratch is sometimes too time-consuming. According to Joanna, don’t worry about it! She writes in Magnolia table that she subs store-bought crust for homemade all the time, especially when she’s whipping up a tasty quiche.

(Getty)

Refrigerated biscuits are your friend

We all know that Joanna is a true Southern gal with an authentic recipe for buttermilk biscuits (you can check out how to make them right here), but we also know she’s a busy woman! That’s why when it comes to chicken and dumplings, Joanna says that you can easily substitute packaged biscuits for her biscuit and dumpling recipe.

(Getty)

Focus on the main dish and take shortcuts on the sides

In Magnolia Table, Joanna explains how enchiladas are a family favorite in her house. The cheese-filled chicken enchiladas are the star of the show and the side dishes—beans and rice—are just supporting players. So when time is tight, focus on the main, and used packaged rice as a quick substitute. Joanna prefers Knorr brand Mexican rice mix.

(Getty)

Transform your condiments 

We love our sandwiches layered with flavored aiolis, but we never think to make those fancy types of mayonnaise at home. After all, mayonnaise from scratch can be a real chore. But to get that same effect, Joanna takes her favorite mayonnaise (she says she prefers Hellman’s) and stirs in a handful of herbs and spices. For her version, add chopped chives, garlic, dill, parsley, paprika and a bit of lemon juice. Feel free to add your favorite flavors to dress up your sandwiches.

Have a boxed pancake mix on hand

While Magnolia Table has an exceptional recipe for fluffy pancakes, Joanna writes, “I always have a boxed mix in the pantry for when I just don’t have the time.” It’s always smart to have these backup plans, plus boxed mixes serve as a great foundation for all sorts of recipes like these pumpkin chocolate chip pancakes and even this five-star breaded catfish.

(Getty)

Use basics as a base

Even the most unassuming ingredients can turn into a craveable snack. In Magnolia Table, Joanna describes how her friend makes the tastiest seasoned crackers, perfect for parties. Try our version with these seasoned crackers—only four ingredients!

(Getty)

There's always pizza

No matter how carefully you plan or how carefully you read a recipe, sometimes dishes can just go wrong. If something goes wrong and your dinner flops, take this advice from Chip and Joanna from Magnolia Table, “there’s always pizza.”

(Getty)

HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Sealing your foil packet

It might sound easy to seal a foil packet, but there’s actually a tried-and-true technique here. If you just pinch the sides shut, you might allow steam and juices to escape as the packet heats up. The best way to prevent undercooked food is by tightly folding the foil shut.

After placing your ingredients in the middle of the aluminum foil sheet, bring the long sides together in the center. Crease the pieces together and tightly fold in a downward motion, continuing to create folds until the foil lies flat against the packet’s top. Then, fold the shorter sides inward in a similar fashion.

A few additional tips and tricks

It’s definitely worth investing in heavy-duty foil. The lightweight stuff will rip easily, causing any built up steam to escape. Your food won’t cook as quickly, and you could also create a mess because of leaks. If you don’t have any heavy-duty foil on hand, consider double wrapping your packet.

Finally, be careful when opening your packet! If you followed all of these tips and tricks, your packet will be perfectly cooked but full of steam. You can pierce a small hole into the packet to release the steam if you know everything is cooked, or carefully unfold the foil using tongs to protect your hands.

Try making some of these foil packets for your next dinner party. It definitely qualifies as a way to achieve tip No. 2 on our list of insanely smart ideas for your backyard barbecue!

Stock your kitchen with these gadgets!

20 PHOTOS
20 kitchen gadgets you didn't know you needed
See Gallery
20 kitchen gadgets you didn't know you needed
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Read Full Story