Heading Out on Your Own — Day 21: Know Your Way Around a Kitchen

by Brett & Kate McKay on August 21, 2012 · 41 comments

in Heading Out On Your Own

If there remains a lingering sense among older generations of men that cooking is “women’s work,” I would think it is probably fading greatly among the younger set. True, for much of human history men did the hunting/farming and women did the cooking, and this arrangement continued to work well into the 20th century. Young men made a quick transition from living with their flapjack-flipping mother, to settling down with a meatloaf-making wife. Or, he lodged at boarding houses that provided victuals along with a bed.

But those days are long gone; accommodations that come with a cook are now virtually non-existent (although it lives on in fraternity houses), and men are remaining bachelors longer – well into their late 20s and early 30s. As all modern men still need to eat virtually every single day, the only choice that remains is either starving…or being completely dependent on restaurant meals and take-out food.

Maturing into a grown man means becoming self-sufficient, so daily dependence isn’t an option. Further, not only does learning to cook help you become more independent, it offers other benefits as well:

Keeps you healthy and strong. When you cook for yourself, you know and control exactly what you put in your mouth. Almost anything you make for yourself, even the same dish served at a restaurant, will have less salt, fat, calories, and additives than the commercially-made variety.

Saves you money. Sure, it is possible to eat cheaply by ordering all your food off the dollar menu, but while fast food won’t clip your wallet, it will take a toll on your health, which will cost you big bucks down the line. When it comes to making real, wholesome food, cooking at home is generally cheaper than eating out.

Impresses the ladies. As a young man, you’re going to be dating, and nothing impresses a gal like a man who can invite her back to his place for a home-cooked meal.

Gives you enjoyment. No, I don’t always enjoy cooking. But when you have time and are in the right mood, it can be very satisfying to create something tasty for you and for your friends/family.

Now, I’m not a home cooking zealot. Sometimes the way I feel about cooking can be summed up in this comic from The Oatmeal; it can seem like it is more hassle than it’s worth, and when you’re super busy and stressed, the convenience of take-out is a lifesaver. The key is striking a balance, and you can’t do that if you can’t cook anything beyond toast and ramen.

The good news here is that while gourmet chef-ery takes a lot of training and practice, simple cooking can be learned by anyone who knows how to read. So in this post, we cover many of the basics a young man who’s never cooked for himself needs to know to get started. First we’ll talk about how to stock your kitchen with equipment and your pantry with staple items. Then we’ll talk about a few basic skills and bits of know-how you need to learn in order to cook edible, hopefully delicious, food. Finally, because you don’t need to amass the kitchen equipment listed below all at once, we’ll talk about some things you can cook when your options and tools are limited.

Let’s get started.

Stocking Your Kitchen: Essential Equipment

For this section, I had AoM’s food writer, Matt Moore, give us the lowdown on how to outfit your kitchen. Here’s what he had to say:

For me, it’s always about quality over quantity. Instead of investing in specialty garlic presses, zesters, or other gimmicks – just give me a killer knife that’ll do all those jobs and not get lost in my junk drawer. Less is always more.

For that reason I’ve put together my list of essential kitchen equipment needed for every guy. You don’t need to go out immediately and stock your kitchen with everything listed here. You can acquire this stuff over time. Be resourceful and check yard sales, flea markets, or online outlets that offer these items at great deals. Meanwhile, improvise and make the most of what you have.

Hardware: Pots/Pans/Baking Dishes

  1. (1) Small 2.5-qt Pot with Lid - terrific for making sauces, steaming veggies, or heating liquids.
  2. 1 Large 6-qt Pot with Lid - perfect for boiling pasta or potatoes.
  3. 9×13 Pyrex Baking Dish - a must have for baking or roasting.
  4. 12-Inch Cast Iron Skillet - cast iron cookware is inexpensive and will last a lifetime. On top of that, it cooks evenly, retains heat, and is also believed to keep you healthy by supplying a steady dose of iron to your diet. For more tips on use and care, check out my post from last month!
  5. 12-Inch Non-Stick Skillet with Glass Lid - the non-stick surface makes cleanup quick and easy.
  6. Dutch Oven Style Pot with Lid - enameled cast iron is the best option; however any pot with a heavy bottom will do the trick.  Great for making soups and braising meats.
  7. Grill Pan - a fantastic substitute for a grill.  I prefer cast iron grill pans over the non-stick versions.
  8. Non-Stick Baking Sheet - super cheap, and probably one of my most utilized items in the kitchen.

Tools and Accessories: For the Utility Drawer

  1. 8-Inch Chef’s Knife with a Sharpening Steel - a chef’s best friend. Don’t go cheap here.
  2. Can Opener - I prefer the manual ones – still never figured out the electronic versions.
  3. Box Cheese Grater - I like these because it provides several different options in one; a slicer, a rough grate, a fine grate, and an extra fine grate for harder cheeses. Choose one with a large base to provide more stability.
  4. Food Processor/Blender - the workhorse of the kitchen. Great for saving time and creating specialized dishes.
  5. Pepper Mill - indispensable for any kitchen. Fresh cracked pepper is worth the extra effort, and this tool makes it easy to always have it on hand.
  6. Measuring Cups and Spoons - these will be absolutely necessary to make sure you are getting the right measurements when following recipes.
  7. Pot Holder/Oven Mitt - because I don’t know anyone who likes to burn themselves. A folded towel will also work.
  8. Spatula - my preference is stainless steel slotted spatulas.
  9. Tongs - great for when you need a more precise touch.
  10. Vegetable Peeler – fantastic for peeling fresh vegetables or shaving cheeses.
  11. Wine Opener - I prefer the ones that also have a bottle opener. A drill, drywall screw, and pliers will do the trick if you find yourself in a bind. Trust me.
  12. Potato Ricer/Masher - a ricer is a great tool for making silky smooth mashed potatoes. A masher is an even cheaper and more versatile tool that will provide a more rustic consistency.
  13. Digital Meat Thermometer - a useful tool to make sure your meat is always perfectly cooked.
  14. Cutting Board - I prefer a large wood cutting board over any other surface. Make sure it has a solid footing, so as not to slide while cutting.
  15. Whisks - extremely versatile; fantastic for making vinaigrettes, dressings, or even a roux. 
  16. Wooden Spoonheatproof and durable, I like having these in several different sizes.
  17. Colander - a must-have for draining, washing, straining, or rinsing.

Serving/Storage Items: For the Cupboards

  1. Flatware
  2. Assorted Serving Plates or Platters
  3. Assorted Mixing/Serving Bowls
  4. Storage Containers
  5. Storage Bags
  6. Plastic Wrap
  7. Aluminum Foil
  8. Wax/Parchment Paper

Thanks Matt! Now let’s take a look at stocking your pantry.

Stocking Your Pantry: The Essentials

These are the things that will come in handy for a variety of recipes or a spontaneous meal idea, and are always good to have on hand.

  1. All-purpose flour
  2. Baking powder
  3. Baking soda
  4. Brown sugar
  5. Honey
  6. Oats
  7. Sauces (Soy sauce, BBQ sauce, hot sauce, etc.) 
  8. Cornstarch
  9. Peanut butter
  10. White sugar
  11. Olive oil
  12. Cans of beans
  13. Diced tomatoes/tomato paste/tomato sauce
  14. Herbs and spices (salt, pepper, Italian & Mexican seasonings, crushed red pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, curry powder, chili powder, basil, cilantro…whatever seasonings you enjoy)
  15. Instant broth (cans or cubes)
  16. Pasta and other noodles
  17. Rice

How to Read a Recipe

It’s true (and is often said) that all you need to know in order to cook is how to read a recipe. But how do you read a recipe? These tips will up your chances of culinary success.

1. First things first, read through the recipe in its entirety. It’s easy to look only at a recipe’s ingredients before deciding to make something. But when it comes time to prepare the dish, you may find you don’t have a tool or ingredient that may only be mentioned in the directions, or that it’s a lot more complicated than you thought, and a little above your pay grade. If the recipe includes terms you don’t recognize, look them up.

2. Add up how much time it will take. Be sure to check out the “prep time” (slicing, stirring, can-opening) and “cook time” (baking, frying, grilling). Add them up to find the total time needed to complete the dish. If it’s your first time making a certain recipe, it will definitely take you longer than the given time; give yourself an ample cushion.

3. Make sure you have all the ingredients. If you think you might have something already, but aren’t sure, check to see. Also make sure it’s still fresh. Then write a list of all the ingredients you don’t have on hand.

4. Take note of what you need to do before the preparations begin. Before you start slicing, dicing, and mixing, you may need to do things like preheat the oven, soften butter, or defrost meat.

5. Set out all of your ingredients and tools. Line up everything you will need: bowls, pans, and utensils are on the counter, ingredients are measured and ready to go. This will not only make things smoother as you go along, saving you from dashing to and from the fridge and the cupboards, but it’s basically a chance to check off the recipe’s ingredient and supply list one more time; you don’t want to get halfway through your preparations, only to realize you’re ¼ cup short of the required 1 cup of flour.

Measuring Ingredients

Dry Measurements Versus Wet Measurements

When a recipe calls for a ½ cup of this, and 2 cups of that, the tool you reach for depends on whether the ingredient is dry or wet (if it’s pourable – oil, sauce, milk — it’s wet).

There are two options: wet measuring cups and dry measuring cups. While they technically each hold the same volume, there are reasons why you should choose one or the other for respective ingredients.

A liquid measuring cup has small measurement gradients printed up the side, and the top fill line sits well below the spout, so you don’t spill any liquid when you pick up the cup. When you fill a wet measuring cup, don’t hold it in your hand – put it on a level surface and squat down to make sure the liquid is sitting right at the desired mark.

Dry measuring cups are meant to be filled up to the very top, and then leveled off with a knife. If you filled a dry measuring cup to the very brim with a liquid, you’d be bound to spill some. And if you used a wet measuring cup for a dry ingredient, you wouldn’t be able to level it off.

Here’s how you fill a dry measuring cup with a few common ingredients:

  • Flour — lightly spoon into cup and level off with knife. Don’t tap the cup to settle, or pack in with spoon or fingers.
  • White sugar — scoop directly from bag/container. Level off with knife.
  • Brown sugar – scoop and then press with back of a spoon until the sugar is level with the brim of the cup.
  • Peanut butter/shortening – pack with spatula (spraying the cup with cooking spray before using PB will result in it sliding out easier).

Tablespoons Versus Teaspoons

A common mistake beginner cooks make is to confuse the tablespoon with the teaspoon, as they are often abbreviated in recipes in different ways, and these abbreviations are very similar. You may see any of the following:

  • Tablespoon: T, tb, tbs, tbsp, tblsp, tblspn. (May be capitalized or lower case)
  • Teaspoon: t, ts, tsp, tspn. (Almost always lower case)

A tablespoon is larger than a teaspoon. In the US, one tablespoon equals three teaspoons.

You can use tablespoons and teaspoons for both wet and dry ingredients. A recipe may call for a level or rounded amount; rounded roughly sits above the rim of the spoon, level is done by scraping off the top with a knife.


A stick of butter will have the measurements printed on the wrapper of each stick. Just mark off what you need and cut through the butter, wrapper and all.

Basic Cooking Skills Every Young Man Should Master

There are tons of cooking techniques out there, and down the road you may want to learn to make a soufflé or smoke some ribs. But it really only takes a few basic how-tos to keep yourself well-fed and happy.

First we’ll cover one of the most basic of the basics – how to make pasta—and then I invite you to click on the images below to learn more simple, but handy, skills.

How to Make Pasta

Pasta is an especially good option for young men; it’s cheap, versatile, and relatively good for you (depending on what you add to it). It’s also really simple to make. At least, it should be. But I didn’t realize I was making it wrong until after I got married; Kate was aghast to see me put the pasta in right after filling up the pot with water, instead of waiting for the water to boil. A recipe for mushy pasta. Here’s how to do it right:

1. Use about 5 quarts of water for a pound of pasta. That sounds like a lot, but a common mistake is to use too little water, which leads to the pasta sticking and clumping together. When planning your mealtime, keep in mind that that much water takes a while to boil, especially because you want to start with cold water (as it absorbs the least amount of impurities from your pipes).

2. Choose a pot that will leave you some room on top, so the water doesn’t boil over. 5 quarts of water in an 8-quart pot works well. If all you’ve got is a 6-quart-er, just keep a close eye on it.

3. Bring water to a rolling boil. This means it’s boiling across the whole surface of the water and you can’t stop the boil by stirring it. Putting a cover on the pot will help it reach this point faster.

4. Once boiling, add two tablespoons of salt. The salt boosts the boiling temperature slightly and adds a little flavor to the pasta. But fear not — it only raises the pasta’s sodium content a tiny bit.

5. Add the pasta, and stir it around immediately to keep it from sticking together, as the strands release their starch as they hit the heat. Stir the pot again every few minutes until pasta is done.

6. Consult the pasta package for relatively accurate cooking time. A minute before the minimum given cooking time on the package is up, fish out a strand with tongs and bite into it. The consistency you’re looking for is “al dente” (Italian for “to the tooth”) – tender, but with a little bite. Keep in mind that the pasta will continue to cook a bit even after you remove it from the heat.

7. As soon as the pasta reaches desired doneness, dump it into a colander. Pick up the colander and give it a few shakes to get the water out. But don’t overstrain it – a little wetness works well with sauce. Don’t rinse the pasta either (unless you’re making a cold pasta salad), as it rinses away the starch that coats each strand, and this starch will help the sauce stick to the pasta.

8. Toss pasta with sauce immediately, if you can. If you can’t, toss the pasta with a little olive oil to keep the strands from sticking to each other.

Click the images below to read past AoM articles on basic cooking skills:

What Can I Make With….?

Even if heading out on your own means setting up camp in a college dorm with a meal plan in hand, that doesn’t mean cooking can’t have any place in your life for the next two semesters. There will be times when you don’t feel like making your way over to the cafeteria or food court, and times when they won’t be open, leaving you to pillage the dorm vending machine. And unless you have an unlimited meal plan, making some meals for yourself can save you money.

Of course whether you’re headed to a dorm room or perhaps a tiny studio apartment that only offers a kitchenette, or you do have access to a kitchen but not the assortment of appliances and pots mentioned above, you may feel like it isn’t possible for you to make anything with such limited room and equipment. But with a little creativity, you can truly whip up some tasty stuff for yourself with only the most Spartan of supplies.

Below we offer a few suggestions for things you can make if you only have one or more of the following appliances.

What Can I Make with a Fridge and a Hot Pot?

This is the situation many college freshmen will find themselves in; dorm rules often allow students two appliances in their rooms: a small refrigerator and a hot pot (an electric kettle that quickly boils water). Obviously the number of things you can make with these appliances, beyond ramen and mac n’ cheese of course, is limited, but there are still options:

  • Salad. Get some salad makings; raw veggies, pre-cooked chicken, and dressing – toss together.
  • Cold sandwiches. You don’t have to limit yourself to bologna and cheese, either. There are hundreds of really good sandwich combos out there. Don’t forget wrap sandwiches too – get a Caesar salad kit, mix, add some precooked chicken, mix, and wrap.
  • Oatmeal. Get the kind that’s not quite old fashioned whole oats, but are a step up from instant. Add nuts and dried fruit.
  • Hard boiled eggs. Portable and nutritious snack.
  • Canned soups. Easy, nutritious, and can hit the spot on a winter’s day.

What Can I Make with a Microwave?

Some dorms allow microwaves in students’ rooms, or have a common microwave for all to use. It is a surprisingly versatile tool — good for more than heating up your Hungry Man dinners.

  • Scrambled eggs. This was a staple of mine freshman year, and not as bad as you might think. Scramble the eggs in a bowl, and nuke for 60-90 seconds, stopping to stir once or twice. Add salt, pepper, and ketchup to taste. You can also poach and “fry,” eggs this way. But never cook them in their shell, as they can explode, and always prick the yolk if you leave it intact.
  • Bacon. What are eggs without bacon? Layer a plate with three paper towels, place bacon strips on top, and cover with another paper towel. Cook at about one minute per slice.
  • Bean and cheese burrito. Warm up some refried or black beans and layer in a tortilla with cheese, guacamole, salsa, sour cream…whatever your heart desires.
  • Rice+Tasty Bite/Soup. You can make instant rice in the microwave, or they even sell pre-cooked rice in a package that only needs to be warmed up. Add some beef stew or Tasty Bite Indian food on top of the rice. The latter is a good option for vegetarians.
  • Pizza bagels. Better in a toaster oven, for sure, but fine in a pinch.
  • Corn on the cob. Yes, you can actually make it in the microwave.
  • Steamer meals. Primer Magazine did a great, well, primer, on how to use microwave steam bags to cook up tasty and super nutritious meals. You add meat, veggies, and sauce to the special bags, and steam in the microwave. Sample recipe: Beef fajitas strips, pineapple, onion, bell peppers (red, green, yellow), BBQ sauce.

Image from Primer Magazine

What Can I Make with a George Foreman Grill?

Obviously George’s Lean Mean Grilling Machine is adept at cooking things like burgers and chicken breasts, but it handles meats like bacon and sausage patties well, along with making good grilled cheese sandwiches, paninis of any variety, and tasty quesadillas too. I wouldn’t go out of my way to get one though – it’s one of those things that sounds handy, but will end up gathering dust on a shelf. At least it did for me.

What Can I Make with a Rice Cooker?

A rice cooker is basically a steamer and a hot plate, and if you have a microwave and a hot plate (or regular stovetop), you don’t need one, unless you enjoy using it and have the space. But you might live in a dorm that allows rice cookers, but not hot plates, and if that’s the case, take heart; despite the name, this appliance can cook a lot more than the white stuff – eggs, spaghettichicken soup, and even taco meat and spare ribs can be whipped up in one.

What Can I Make with a Crockpot?

The ladies have been all over crockpotting lately, and it’s perplexing more men don’t adopt this cooking tool, as it’s one of the easiest, least time-intensive methods of cooking available. One of my favorite crockpot meals is stupidly simple: plop in a couple of chicken breasts, pour some BBQ sauce over them, and then let it cook on low for six hours (or on high for four). When it’s done, you shred the chicken, and pile it on some Texas toast. Delicious. I also enjoy making easy beef stew: throw in some stew meat, cut-up potatoes, carrots, and green beans, and then some V8 juice and other spices to taste. Press cook. Go about your day. Enjoy your stew hours later.

Hundreds of other tasty crockpot recipes are only a Google search away.

What Can I Make with a Hot Plate/Stovetop and One Pot?

If you have a hot plate or stovetop, but your cookware is limited, do a search for “one pot meals.” These are just what the name implies, and they make clean-up a snap. Easy chili is one of my go-tos: brown hamburger meat at the bottom of the pan, add a can of drained pinto beans, diced tomatoes, and a packet of chili seasoning. Simmer for 10-15 minutes. Done. I like to ladle mine over some Fritos and top with cheese. It’s not going to win any prizes in a chili-cooking competition, but it’s really satisfying on a cold winter’s day.

Also, check out Matt’s post on one skillet meals that are proportioned for the bachelor; the stir-fry has become a staple around here.

But, Brett! I don’t even have any of the things above! Is there anything I can make for myself?

Maybe you’re living in a dorm that’s super strict about appliances in rooms. Well, there is one trick you can use…get out your iron. Yes, the one you use to get the wrinkles out of your shirts.

Iron-Made Grill Cheese

First, I’ll show you how to make a classic comfort food staple, the grilled cheese, using an iron in your dorm room.

What you need: an iron, a towel, aluminum foil, butter, two slices of bread and two slices of cheese. Heat up the iron to its highest setting (no steam!) as you get things together. You’ll want to iron on a towel or some other protective surface.

Butter the bread. I might have gone a little too crazy with it on this slice.

Tear off a piece of foil that is big enough to wrap your sandwich. Put down the first slice of bread — butter side down! — on the foil.

Slap on two slices of cheese, and then put down the second slice of bread — butter side up! — on top.

Wrap up the sandwich in the foil. You don’t want your grill cheese getting on your iron.

Place your iron on top and let it sit there for 1-2 minutes. Cook time will depend on how hot your iron gets, so the first time you try this, check on it 45 seconds in to see how it’s fairing and to make sure it doesn’t burn. Once one side is done, flip the foil packet over and repeat on the other side.

Boom! Grilled cheese sandwich! Adjust the toast level to your personal preference.

There you go — the perfect accompaniment to your late night study sessions. You can also add turkey or ham to make the sandwich heartier.

Iron-Made Bacon

Not only can you add turkey or ham to your grilled cheese, you can also add some…bacon! Here’s how:

What you need: bacon, foil, towel, and iron.

Tear a strip of bacon in half (you can make more or less depending on the size/width of your iron), and place on foil.

Wrap in foil and crimp the sides — you don’t want any bacon grease to escape.

Set iron packet on a towel and place iron on top. Let it sit there for about 5 minutes, check to see how it is doing, and then flip and repeat. Again, cook time will depend on the heat of your iron and desired doneness of the bacon.

Be careful when you open the foil — it’s hot. And there you have it. Freshly cooked bacon! In your dorm room! Made with an iron!

Okay, cooking with an iron isn’t too practical, but it’s really quite simple and fun. Give it a try — your lady friend or roommate will be delighted to know a real “iron chef!” Yar yar yar!

Got any other basic cooking tips for a young man heading out on his own for the first time? Share them with us in the comments!

{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Cody Slusher August 22, 2012 at 12:31 am

This article couldn’t have come at a more perfect time! I’m moving into my new apartment in college and I have rarely ever cooked for my self. AoM = Lifesaver!

2 Alan August 22, 2012 at 12:37 am

Pinterest is actually a great place to get started in the kitchen. A lot of the more popular recipes only have 3-4 ingredients and are “hacks” if you will on pre-made products like turning Grands croissants into mini-pizza rolls. My favorite recipes are here: http://pinterest.com/alancass/get-in-ma-belly/

3 Michael August 22, 2012 at 12:56 am

“What Can I Make with a Hot Plate/Stovetop and One Pot?”

While living in Brazil I discovered that you can prop an iron upside-down on a pair of shoes and suddenly you’ve got a hotplate!

As for pots and pans, If I has a small space or was starting out I would consolidate pots 1,2, 6 and maybe 5 into a single 6-qt. pressure cooker. you can use it for any of 1,2,6 or 5′s tasks, and more. You can make dried beans in it, and the toughest of meats soften right up with a bit of pressure.

4 Nate August 22, 2012 at 1:02 am

Definitely bookmarking this and saving for the future! I’m actually really excited for when I have to start cooking a lot more!

5 Andrew August 22, 2012 at 1:38 am

Does Alton Brown know about the iron waffle trick?

6 Steve August 22, 2012 at 2:27 am

Great stuff. I’ve been living on my own now for some years, half the world away from my parents and needed to find out a lot of cooking on my own. Of course I asked my family that live close-by, but doing it yourself lets you learn faster (even if it goes smokey in the kitchen ;)).
But this article makes it a lot easier for the new young men on the block & it added some stuff for me that I forgot/missed.
I just disagree with one thing. My grandma is half Chinese/Surinamese and the first thing she gave when I moved across the planet, was a ricecooker. Saying that you don’t need one, not true. If you eat a lot of rice, thing machine is a timesaver! You put in the rice (or something else recommended by Brett or Kate), some water & wait untill it’s done, no looking back. Then it can rest there for hours, keeping it warm without overdoing it. Sure, it may can get a bit dry if leaving it too long, but almost every cooker is safe enough for not burning your rice. So get one & happy cooking ;)!

7 Melvin August 22, 2012 at 4:09 am

Yes, this is awesome!

8 Nick August 22, 2012 at 5:51 am

Don’t use a metal spatula on your non-stick cookware as it will scratch it and ruin it – no metal cooking tools with non-stick!

9 Srinivas Kari August 22, 2012 at 6:21 am

I’m glad I know most of this stuff and I already cook and do most of the stuff up here. I am following the Paleolithic diet and would recommend everybody to do their research on this diet. Mark Sisson’s Daily Apple is a great place to start. All the information is priceless and I am overwhelmed by the good quality and variety of knowledge. A finishing touch would be to perhaps add a bit about knowing how to store your knives/plates/cast-iron cookware and homemade ideas to a cleaner and better kitchen (apple cider vinegar, baking soda etc make for great disinfectants, deodorizers etc). I found that I need a lot more utensils than you have listed above. I need about 4-5 wooden/steel spatula’s, about 2-3 skillets, 2 dutch style ovens and a hell of a lot more spoons, forks and knives. I didn’t buy them all at once. I started small and kept increasing my utensils gradually.

10 Andy Skibba August 22, 2012 at 7:08 am

I was a Resident Assistant at the local university for a year and a half, and I have done most of the college cooking that you mention. All of the residence halls on campus had kitchens in the basement, a few had them on each floor. They were very nice because you weren’t as limited to the microwave and hotplate. The front desk also rented out pots and pans as well as other items to make it that much easier.
I would recommend any college student check out what their hall can offer just to see what you can use from them.

11 Clem August 22, 2012 at 7:50 am

This is an awesome article. I’m a bit of a cook myself and I agree with almost everything on here. I am going to make two recommendations to new cooks out there: 1) Don’t buy unitaskers. This comes from the great Alton Brown. So, go with the potato masher over the ricer and maybe you don’t even need a garlic press (just chop it up real little). 2) Take your knives to a sharpener. Don’t try using those little electronic home sharpening gadgets; they only wreck the stability of the blade edge. You can take them to a knife sharpener twice a year and use the steel whenever you remember to. You’ll get MUCH more life out of your knives. Thanks for this article, I really enjoyed reading it!

12 Carson Chittom August 22, 2012 at 8:02 am

As a man who shoulders nearly all of the cooking duties for our family of six, I strongly believe that if you own only one cookbook, it should be The Joy of Cooking. Not only does it include a ton of recipes, but it also has explanations and prefaces before each section that explain why the recipes are written that way, so that you can modify them to suit you. It also handily gives you pretty accurate ideas of how many adults each recipe will serve, and frequently how to scale them down or up. Seriously, I can’t sing its praises enough.

13 Tom August 22, 2012 at 9:01 am

That guy in the first vintage photo? I’d like to learn my way around HIS kitchen :)

14 Keith August 22, 2012 at 9:10 am

I’m an older guy, but am now back on my own and had to rebuild a kitchen. Not unlike a first loner experience. I have always liked to cook and am good at it. Sort of like how labs were the best part of chemistry classes. I like what I cook and that’s oh, so important. I am self-employed. I live in a smaller place. Time is precious. Eating out is expensive with many nutrient booby-traps. You never know the toxic crap that’s in frozen food, Lean Cuisine type foods are packed with starch, sugar, salt, multi-syllabic artifical chemicals, to make it palatable, cheap and shelf stable. Far from healthy. I have moved to a healthier primal style diet. Good food – meat, veg, fruits – that precludes most prepared items. Contrary to your contention, the Foreman Grill I was given has been a godsend. Thaw in the fridge or microwave. Steak, 5 minutes, chicken thighs, 6-8 minutes, wild salmon, 1-2 minutes, bacon, 6-7 minutes (without spattering grease). Squash, onions, tomatoes can grill alongside. Combine with a salad, steamed or grilled veg or just some good old corn on the cob. Learned my best cooking tips from watching cooking shows – Julia & Jacques, Sara Multon, Test Kitchen.

15 Julie August 22, 2012 at 9:30 am

I tend to “translate” all my baking recipes into weight measurements (grams) instead of volume measurements (cups, tbsp, tsp). I find that I get much more consistent results this way and go through a lot fewer measuring dishes. Yes, you need a kitchen scale, but they’re not very expensive and SUPER handy. I just wish more recipes came with weight measurements.

16 Bryan August 22, 2012 at 10:29 am

You want the best way to learn to cook? Talk to your mother. If she isn’t that great of a cook, and the option still exists for you, talk to your grandmother. They will have all the recipes you remember from childhood, and there’s a good chance it is fairly healthy eating.

For those of you who are learning to cook (or already know how) and want your children to have this useful skill, get them involved early. My mother had all of my siblings involved in cooking dinner from the point that she trusted us not to hurt ourselves around the stove (usually about the time you can reach a pot on the back burner with a stool). If they grow up around cooking, they will learn how to cook.

More than anything else, remember that cooking is not a science – it is an art. Baking is science. Don’t deviate from those instructions. But cooking, don’t be afraid to deviate. Add the flavors you enjoy.

And some nights, you will create a disaster that leaves you scrambling for the phone to order Chinese.

17 Ryan August 22, 2012 at 10:48 am

In defense of of the George Foreman Grill, during the winter I’m quite fond of grilling outside snow and all. But, last winter I ran out of propane for the grill and with all the local farmstands closed for the season it would seem i was out of luck. Luckily though, the Foreman Grill was able to cook my steaks, chicken, burgers, bacon and even a Portuguese styled sausage called lingucia with no problems.

18 Matt August 22, 2012 at 11:58 am

Umm… best article, EVER? This is so great. So many things a man should know. Cooking is something you should enjoy doing for yourself and doing it well. Ever man deserves to eat like a king and why not be the one to cook such a meal?

19 Bill August 22, 2012 at 1:08 pm

One note on cutting boards: wooden boards are great for veggies, not for meats. The wood will soak up meat juices and retain bacteria. Go with a plastic/glass cutting board for meats, stick with the plastic for fruits, vegetables, and cheese.

Also, I rarely scrub my wooden board (and NEVER put it in the dishwasher!). Instead, wipe it down with a damp, hot towel after each use and wash with lemon juice/vinegar every couple of weeks. For this reason I also avoid cutting onions on the wooden board (the stink sets in).

20 John August 22, 2012 at 4:50 pm

Thank you, great article. Keep them coming.

21 Mike August 22, 2012 at 9:24 pm

Great article. You left out the chili and corned beef hash from the pantry.

22 Paul August 22, 2012 at 10:53 pm

I have a vintage Veg-O-Matic that really cuts down (no pun intended) on the time of dicing an onion for my chili recipe. The blades can be set to make thin slices, or rotated 90 degrees to make thin strips as in French fries. http://www.amazon.com/Ronco-FS100200GEN-Matic-Chopper-Slicer/dp/B000HDJN9E

23 Mark August 22, 2012 at 11:58 pm

A good, sensible article and many useful comments.

To these let me add:

A good pair of kitchen shears is very handy and often much easier to use than a knife, especially for tasks like cutting up chicken.

A paddle-style grater is probably all a beginning cook needs. It’s easier to clean than a box type, and I also use mine to strain pasta when I use a smallish pot and to grate garlic in lieu of a garlic press.

Beware of pyrex cookware. The quality and heat resistance of these items seem to have declined. They tend to shatter (at least they have for me)

Dry lentils are another good item to keep in the pantry. Cheap, easy to cook and easy to incorporate into many different types of dishes.

24 Larry August 23, 2012 at 1:53 am

RE: Rolling up your sleeves
This article was helpful, but I roll up my sleeves before I put on my shirt, when possible.

25 Ed August 23, 2012 at 11:46 am

This series is great but this might be the best article so far. Great stuff.

Here in the northeast, the “International Aisle” at both Shaw’s and Stop & Shop carry Badia and Goya brand things, usually much cheaper than the items in the regular aisles (spices, stock cubes, canned beans). Not sure if it’s the same elsewhere but that’s where we go for the basics.

26 L.T. August 23, 2012 at 1:14 pm

Cooking…..one of my favorite things to do around the house. I could literally type a million tips/things I have learned over the years. My favorites are as follows:
Cutlery. My absolute favorite knife is a Japanese carbon steel Nakiri. I have a block full of knives and rarely reach for anything other than the Nakiri. I can get a hair whittling edge using Sharpmaker stones and stropping.
My best cutting board is a huge end grain deal with feet on it that I got for less than 20 bucks at a Ross store. Mineral oil keeps it protected.
Stainless steel skillets. Buy a good one or three. Calphalon tri ply is a joy. Clean it with Barkeepers Friend. I can cook eggs, omelettes that just slip around and de-glaze with balsamic vinegar and water.
Cast Iron. Buy it, season it, love it. I have seven cast iron pieces now and love them all. The Lodge 14 inch pizza pan is a crowd pleaser.
The internet/web. I can find a myriad of tasty recipes all for free with semi accurate reviews. Youtube is chock full of videos on cooking related subjects.

You guys have no excuse. I learned to cook pre-internet days. Learn how to slice and dice, how to broil, how to bake, learn your way around the kitchen.

Fair warning….it may ruin your dining out experiences when you perfect your favorite dishes. I can’t order steak out anymore after learning to cook it over lump charcoal with a bourbon basting sauce. :-)

27 vel August 23, 2012 at 2:49 pm

just love this site. I’d also say “get yourself a old copy (the one with the turtle soup in it) of The Joy of Cooking. Follow it and learn to cook well. Some of us had no good cooks in our families, grandmothers included.

28 Levi Wadd August 23, 2012 at 6:13 pm

Best article of the series! Some really great comments and tips from everyone as well. Especially not using metal utensils on non-stick pans.

My brains are all over the floor after the tips about cooking with an iron :O

29 Bill N. August 23, 2012 at 8:00 pm

For measuring my mom recommended two sets of spoons and cups. One was for measuring dry stuff like flour and sugar and the second set was for liquids. This minimizes dry stuff from sticking if you have to measure a liquid first.

30 Joe W. August 23, 2012 at 9:49 pm

Great article! Reminds me of my college days.

I would change one thing to your pasta recipe: more salt in the water. This is a very common mistake. The water should be briny or taste like seawater. If it doesn’t then there isn’t enough salt. It makes a huge difference in the flavor of the pasta. For that much water try a small handful.

31 Michael M. August 24, 2012 at 3:42 pm

Brett, I love the iron-made grilled cheese sandwich and bacon. Kind of funny, but a good idea.

32 Michael M. August 24, 2012 at 3:49 pm

These seem like solid fundamentals. I’ll be referring to this post a lot over the next several months because my wife is starting school again and I’ve committed to picking up the slack in the meal preparation part of our lives. I don’t want to be eating sandwiches for the next 4 years so I need to work on my skills. Again, great post!

33 Kyle August 26, 2012 at 11:01 pm

I love the iron-grill food solutions- I could definitely use these on the road. In general, I’ve realized when i’m traveling for long stretches I really only need a camping stove, a pot and a pan. These are the essentials and allow me to cook pretty much everything I need. For those starting out in an actual kitchen (haha) these lessons can be extrapolated: you don’t need much to whip up a meal. I know a lot of friends who have moved into apt.s and have literally avoided cooking by using the excuse “But i don’t have any kitchenware…” The value from just a pot and pan can go a long way.

34 Nick August 28, 2012 at 4:35 am

Was just at a fancy (stuffy) restaurant with my wife last week (not our sort of place but dinner came with the hotel room). The food was very fancy but was actually crappy. My wife and I just spent a few days away from home in which I was cooking simple meals with few ingredients. The best part of the night was when my wife leaned over and said “I would rather be eating your potatoes”.

My potatoes are very simple. You put a big potato (which has been poked a few times with a fork) in a bowl with about 3 teaspoonfuls of water and cover with a small plate or saucer. Next you cook in in the microwave for 4 minutes, flip it over, and cook for another 4 minutes. Then you cut it in the middle and serve with butter, a few slices of cheese and/or bit of canned tuna. Its super simple and actually really good.

35 Tyler September 3, 2012 at 2:10 am

For those of you who look online for recipes, I highly suggest cookingcomically.com. I’ve made his 2AM chili and his burritos on multiple occasions, and they are always amazing.

36 LeFrench January 11, 2013 at 3:48 pm

Neat tip my Da (who was a professional chef) taught me to stop pasta clumping – put in a splash of oil and then mix the pasta up. you can then ignore it until its ready – no chance of it sticking.
Good article.

37 only me March 14, 2013 at 6:14 pm

Can i use Iron for steam coocking ?

38 Arwen17 April 12, 2013 at 2:34 am

Great article! Even though I’m a girl, I’ve never had any interest in cooking (boring as shit). So I never paid any attention to what mom was doing in the kitchen, I just let her do the work.

I’m moving into my first apartment in a month and NOW I’m starting to think I might wanna know how to cook something beyond frozen pizzas lol.

I love that you included pictures of the kitchen hardware. You make it interesting and easy to understand for people who’ve had no interest or experience in cooking.

39 David July 10, 2013 at 12:09 am

This is an awesome article; thanks for posting it! The part about cooking bacon on an iron really surprised me.

About the hardware, I think I would want a dutch oven in addition to all the other hardware.

40 Lyndsey Grieve December 8, 2013 at 1:39 am

I thought this was a truly excellent blog post. I always like reading articles such as this one. I should experience more within your posts.

41 c.p. March 3, 2014 at 11:00 pm

it’s actually pretty easy to make ramen noodles healthy, if you add meat and vegetable or even an egg, its even easier than pasta.

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