7 Common Cooking Mistakes

An innocent error can easily lead to a disappointing dish―here, how to prevent overcrowded pans, recipe missteps, and more.

By Melinda Page
Pasta in a small pot on a stoveKana OkadaRealSimple.com

Mistake #1: You Didn’t Read the Recipe Through Before You Started Cooking

“Reading a recipe is like looking at a map before going on a trip. It’s the best way to make sure your meal is successful,” says Linda Carucci, author of Cooking School Secrets for Real World Cooks. Most cooking mishaps happen when a crucial detail is overlooked. Add cold butter instead of room-temperature butter to the batter and you may end up with a dry and lumpy cake; add tomatoes to the sauce before the onions are fully cooked and you’ll have a crunchy, not smooth, spaghetti topper.

What to do next time: Before picking up a spoon, take a minute to focus on the details.

  • Slow down and look in the recipe for action verbs, like chop, strain, and whip, to figure out which tasks need to be performed before you start cooking and which ones can wait until the recipe is under way.
  • Pull out the ingredients and the equipment you need. If everything is ready to go and you suddenly realize you don’t have a five-by-nine-inch loaf pan, you’ll still be able to look up an appropriate substitute, like an eight-inch square pan, before it’s too late―though you may need to adjust the baking time and temperature. (See Easy Pan Equivalents.)
 
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