Here’s a collection of minor cooking tips that I think make life in the kitchen easier. Lots of these I learned from J. Kenji Lopez-Alt and Dave Arnold.

Last updated 2021-09-21.


  • You need sharp knives. Dull knives limit the things you can do and slow you down. Sharpening is easy, but also cheap. Lots of hardware stores will sharpen knives for a couple bucks. Good kitchen supply stores will do the same. The folks at Northwestern Cutlery in Chicago do a great job.
  • Lots of knife skills are hard to intuit but easy to learn. Jacques Pepin has good videos. Some standouts:


  • For preparing items, chopping etc, you want metal bowls of different sizes, and multiples of each. I have 4 small metal bowls (big enough to hold an egg), 4 medium (big enough to hold a good serving of chips), 3 large (big enough to hold maybe 3 large russet potatoes) and 2 extra large (big enough to hold 2 squashes).
    • Metal is good because it can’t chip or break
      • if you need to microwave, many metal bowls are actually microwavable (read the Food Lab for more)
    • You want to buy multiples that stack. My small bowls take up maybe 2” counter space and that’s true if I have 1 or 10.
  • The above all holds true for sheet pans, as well. Sheet pans of all size are useful, and having multiple that stack together is very convenient. If you have five half sheet pans, you can have up to five batches of cookies being scooped out, in the oven, cooling, without having to wait for another batch to complete.
  • Avoid nesting items of different sizes together. Think about how much work it takes to access the second-smallest russian nesting doll. When you’re prepping items you don’t want to have to fish around and pluck out the second-smallest mixing bowl. Especially if your hands are dirty.
  • There’s no such thing as extra bread, just future croutons. Rather than throw heels or odd slices in the garbage, cut them into small chunks and throw the chunks in a ziplock bag that you keep in the freezer. When you’ve collected a lot of the chunks, toss them in olive oil with salt and pepper then roast at 425F until they’re golden-brown and crunchy. This takes 15-20 minutes, though the bread you use can change that a lot.
  • If you’re chopping carrots, onions, or celery, save all the odd bits at the ends and the peels. Throw those in a bag in the freezer, and use them to make stock.
    • nut milk bags are great for making stock, especially in the pressure cooker. You can throw all your peels in the bag, then pull it out when the stock is ready. They’re washable and reusable.
  • When you have leftover bones from butchering a bird or cooking a roast, throw those in a ziplock bag in the freezer. Again, these are great for when it’s time to make stock.
  • When you’re chopping a lot of vegetables, keep a large mixing bowl nearby that you can throw waste into. It’s easy to accumulate all the peels, stems, etc in your garbage bowl and then dispose of it once you’re done chopping, saving some trips.


  • if you’re making stock or sauce and it’s going to cook for more than 10 minutes, be very very light on salt at the start. It’s hard to know how much reduction you’ll have, and that can leave you with something unpalatably salty. That’s hard to undo.


  • Nuke your bowls. If you have a piping hot pan full of pasta and you put the pasta in a room temperature bowl, you’ll very quickly have a bowl of room temperature pasta. Shortly before your dish is about to be ready, throw your empty plates and bowls in the microwave for 60-90 seconds. They’ll come out hot, ensuring you don’t lose a bunch of heat by the time you’re ready to eat.
  • odd numbers look better. This is a basic design rule apparently. If you have a sliced cucumber garnish, use three or five slices per plate, not 2 or 4.
  • Lots of tasty dishes are all brown and beige. Even a little bit of green, even if it’s just parsley, can make a big visual difference.

Useful Tools:

  • Travel with a knife sharpener. It’s a hassle to travel with a good knife, and it’s a hassle to cook with a dull knife. A cheap, small knife sharpener helps you avoid both throse problems.
  • Squirt bottles
    • excellent for stir frying and sauteeing. You can get exactly as much oil as you need, where you need it. I keep one in the fridge at all times.
    • also excellent for cocktails. You can get precise measurements of syrups and juices very quickly.
  • deli containers
    • In short:
      • they stack well
      • the lids all match
      • you’re often given them for free
        • actually some of the places give out non-matching lids and you should not keep those.
      • they’re available in many sizes
      • they’re dishwasher safe
    • they’ve very cheap if you buy them from a restaurant supply.
  • Label maker
    • if you make a nice sauce, or soup, and put it in the fridge, you won’t know what it is the next day. You won’t remember when you made it. Make labels for everything you make, all your leftovers, and include the date on the label. Anybody can read it, it can’t smear. It holds until you remove it.
      • remember to put the label on the body of the container, never on the lid. A label on a lid stops working when you remove the lid.


  • If you need soft butter and only have it cold and hard, a rolling pin is helpful. Its hard to time the softening with a microwave or oven. You can whack the butter with your rolling pin to warm it up and make it more pliable.
  • When you watch a chef prepare something, pay as much attention to their hands as their words. Their words might be wrong but their hands probably aren’t.

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