20 Foods Everyone Should Know How to Cook

20 Foods Everyone Should Know How to Cook
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20 Foods Everyone Should Know How to Cook

Click through to learn which 20 foods everyone should know how to cook.


With the scents of maple syrup and pancakes hot off the griddle in the air, it’s hard not to enjoy this breakfast. Make sure to measure carefully and follow a recipe, since incorrect measuring often ruins pancake mix.

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Roast Chicken

Roast chicken should be on the list of what everyone needs to know how to make. The one mistake most people make when roasting a chicken? Skimping on the salt. Don't be afraid to use seasonings!

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Whether your ideal hamburger is a thick, juicy one or a thin, flat griddle burger, there are some rules that apply to every type of burger. First, do not, we repeat, do not overhandle the meat. The result will be a tough, dry burger that no amount of cheese or mayo will rescue.

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It sounds simple: Add pasta to boiling water, cook until done. But there are many steps along the way that can prevent the gummy end result of overcooked pasta. For starters, don't add oil to the cooking pot!

Credit: Eising

Roast Turkey

Admittedly, cooking a turkey only becomes a necessity in November, but since Thanksgiving happens every year, it’s not a bad skill to learn. One thing to note? Don't cook stuffing inside the meat; the cooking times for meat and stuffing vary too much.

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Whole Fish

Whether it's roasted or grilled, a whole fish can be an easy dinner. Get creative with spices or go the simple route with fresh herbs, olive oil, salt, pepper and lemon slices. The biggest mistake people make with fish is cooking it for too long!

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Mac and Cheese

A perennial childhood favorite, this recipe is typically made with a classic béchamel sauce. Once you get the basics down, try a high-end lobster mac or a meatier version with chorizo. Always prepare the cheese sauce separately to avoid a lumpy mixture.

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Tofu is a great vegetarian option and it's delicious for carnivores as well. But, it can be an intimidating food, especially when deciding what type of tofu to buy. Beginners should start with Chinese tofu--it's easy to find and versatile.

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Steaming an artichoke will take longer than you think. Trim off some of the leaves on the bottom, snip off the pointy tips of the remaining leaves, and chop off the excess stem. Place in a steamer basket above a few inches of water, and add any aromatics like lemon slices, garlic cloves or herbs.

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The all-American apple pie is a staple at most holiday meals and even cookouts in the summer. Instead of opting for a frozen pie crust, learn how to make a basic simple one and then play around with the fillings to give your own twist to this classic dish.

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Scrambled Eggs

Scrambled eggs are a breakfast favorite, especially when paired with crispy potatoes and bacon, but almost everyone has experienced the poorly cooked scrambled egg and it’s not pretty. Or tasty. Make sure to cook the eggs until they start to brown and don't over-salt.

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Vinaigrette/Salad Dressing

The ratios of a salad dressing might be set as three parts oil to one part vinegar or acid, but it comes down to your personal preference. A tip from the pros: Add the oil in last, after combining the other ingredients, whisking while drizzling it in to emulsify the dressing.

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Potato Salad

Potato salad requires little know-how to come out great. After boiling potatoes with aromatics of your choice — think black peppercorns, thyme, rosemary, salt — drain the pot, then dress them while warm so the dense potatoes can absorb the vinaigrette.

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One thing that differentiates home cooks from professional chefs is the amount of seasoning used when cooking, and steaks are a perfect example. As chef Jason Landon Smith of Florida's Steak 954 says, when he's grilling a steak, it is white (with salt) when it's put on the grill.

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Hard-Boiled Eggs

A healthy snack, hard-boiled eggs come in handy in the kitchen. But the problem with them still being in the shell is that there's no way to look at them and know if they're done. A tip? If the eggs spin on end like a top, they're done.

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A childhood favorite for most, cookies are quick and easy to make. But this isn't to say that it isn't easy to mess up a cookie; they can be over- or undercooked, tough and brittle, and flavorless. Make sure to measure carefully and to bake at an altitude-appropriate temperature.

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A classic , meatloaf is popular amongst home cooks for its simplicity. Meatloaf is typically made with ground meat and a mixture of herbs, vegetables or spices and bound with eggs or breadcrumbs. Make sure to use a meat thermometer to determine doneness.

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"Pesto can be tossed with pasta, used as a pizza sauce, rubbed on meat before grilling or thinned with vinegar to use as a salad dressing." say Scarbrough and Weinstein. Most common pesto mistake? Using wet basil.

Roast Vegetables

An easy side dish to any winter roast or fish dish, roasted vegetables should be a staple in any cook’s kitchen. Make sure you don't shy away from using high heat! This helps with browning and caramelization of the vegetables.

Credit: Eising

Basic Tomato Sauce

Whether it's used for traditional pastas or lasagnas, tomato sauce is a simple and basic recipe to know. Just make sure to stir often and to turn down the heat to avoid burning the sauce.


Once, when cooking with a friend, I asked him to check if the artichokes were done. "Sure!" was the immediate response, followed by a pause, and then, "How do I know if they're done?"

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When first starting to cook, there are many foods and dishes that can be intimidating to prepare or seem overly complicated. But the truth is that when you boil it down to the basics, they are typically quite easy. Remember that good-tasting food doesn't always take a lot of skill to make — just some basic know-how and good ingredients.

And yet, these run-of-the mill foods that should be requisites in any cook's repertoire often go overlooked for fancier or more exciting dishes. Take, for instance, the roast chicken: basic, easy and economical because one chicken can be turned into many other dishes for later in the week, but most cooks seem to avoid making it at home and opt for chicken breasts or store-bought rotisserie chickens instead. I can promise you this, nailing a roast chicken — we're talking one that's perfectly done, with tender, succulent meat and crispy skin — gives a great feeling of accomplishment. I still remember my first time.

Others on this list, like tofu or pesto, might not be personal preferences of yours, but they are versatile ingredients that can be used in a multitude of ways to keep cooking at home from getting boring. In fact, if a cook has these basics down, they can virtually make anything. Anything.

For some professional wisdom and good humor, we asked two accomplished cookbook authors, Mark Scarbrough and Bruce Weinstein, about a few things they think everyone should know how to make. Look for their advice sprinkled throughout this list, and mark down the others for future cooking adventures.

View the slideshow above to see the list of 20 foods everyone should know how to cook, as well as the most common mistakes most people make when cooking these items.

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