Cooking for Beginners: Frequently Asked Questions (& Their Answers!)

Whether you’re an experienced home cook or making your first batch of scrambled eggs, you probably have cooking-related questions. Here at Medicareful Living, we still have questions to this day, and roughly a fourth of our articles are about cooking! So, we figure there’s no better way to help our readers than by opening the floor, finding out what questions you have about cooking, baking, or making food, and answering them!

Today, we’ll be taking a quick look at a few common cooking questions so you’re more prepared the next time you set off to make that special dish. If you want to learn more about a certain topic, give us a heads up. We may explore some of these more in the future! Also, if you don’t see your question in here, don’t worry. We’ve received a lot of inquiries from our readers (thank you!), and we’ll be answering more of them in the future. Without further ado, let’s get cooking!

How Do I Know What Heat to Cook Something At?

To answer your question, there’s no set temperature that’ll work for everything when it comes to cooking heat. Generally, the temperature you cook something at will depend on what you’re cooking and your desired final product. The more robust an ingredient, the higher the temperature it can handle. High temperature cooking doesn’t really work for delicate ingredients like many vegetables, fish, dairy, or eggs. Certain oils or butter can only handle a certain level of heat before they burn and ruin the dish.

The temperature you cook something at will depend on what you’re cooking and your desired final product.

As long as you’re not using a cooking method that requires a specific heat (like searing), you can always adjust the heat while you’re cooking. Just make sure to pay attention to what you’re making and use your senses when you’re cooking. If something is cooking too fast (you’ll know it when you see it), or is about to burn, turn the heat down. Watch for changes to the food and check the color and feel throughout until you get a feel for the right temperature something should be. Like with most cooking, your senses will probably be a better guide than a recipe.

Still unsure of how to proceed with cooking at the right temperature? Don’t worry, we’ll definitely be exploring this topic in more detail in a future article, because there’s a lot that can be said about cooking heats.

How Can I Tell When My Chicken is Cooked?

Unlike red meats, white meat like chicken can sometimes be tough to tell if it’s done. If you’ve seared or fried the chicken, the outside may look perfect, but the inside could still be underdone. This can be an issue, since undercooked chicken can get you sick. Luckily, there are a few easy ways to know when your chicken is ready to serve.

If there’s pink meat or juices, cook the chicken for a bit longer.

The most straightforward method that anyone can do to check if chicken is done is to make a small cut in the thickest part of the chicken. If you’re cooking with plating and look in mind, make the cut on the side you plan the have down on the plate so it’s hidden. Next, spread the cut with a fork and check the meat. The juices should be clear, and the meat should be white. If there’s pink meat, cook it for a bit longer. Make another small cut to check after a few more minutes.

If you have a kitchen thermometer, you can also stick that into the meat. Chicken is done when the internal temperature reaches 165°F. Also, chicken that’s cooked through will shrink and be firm, but not tough, when pressed.

How Can I Prevent Cross-Contamination?

Cross-contamination is an easy way to get sick when you’re cooking. We talked about this a little bit in “5 Common Kitchen Mistakes Making You Sick,” specifically cross-contamination with cutting boards. As a refresher, when you’re prepping a meal, have one cutting board for raw meats and one cutting board for anything else that needs cut. At the very least, wash your cutting boards with soap and water before switching from one type of ingredient to the other.

When you’re prepping a meal, have one cutting board for raw meats and one cutting board for anything else that needs cut.

There are risks of cross-contamination in other areas of the kitchen, too. Your hands are one of the biggest culprits. If you don’t wash your hands after handling raw meat or uncleaned produce, you could be spreading pathogens to different ingredients. At the same time, your counters can be contaminated if raw meat or juices, seafood, or eggs come into contact with them and aren’t cleaned properly. Finally, the improper storage or thawing of meat, also discussed in “5 Common Kitchen Mistakes Making You Sick,” can lead to foodborne illnesses. As long as you clean and wash surfaces and equipment and keep raw proteins separated from other ingredients and each other, you should mitigate much of these risks.

How Can I Fix Adding Too Much Salt?

Salt is one of the foundational flavors of cooking. It just makes food taste great. This can make it easy to overdo it on the salt. If you do that, though, it doesn’t mean the dish is ruined. The best fix for adding too much salt is preventing it. We’ve mentioned this cooking tip before, but taste as you cook so you get a feel for what’s needed. This will help you catch yourself from adding too much of a seasoning or flavor, like salt. Once the deed is done and you’ve over-salted, you can still fix the dish, though.

The best fix for adding too much salt is preventing it, so taste as you cook!

One way is to simply make more of the dish, balancing out the salt levels with the other ingredients. If doubling or tripling the recipe isn’t an option, you can try adding a starchy ingredient — like rice, pasta, or potatoes — that will absorb the some of the salt. If you’re making a soup or a braise or something with a lot of liquid, add unsalted liquid like water, cream, broth, or wine. Essentially, if you over-salt a dish, add starchy or unseasoned ingredients to bring the dish’s balance back to where it should be.

How Can I Cut an Onion Without Crying?

Cutting onions can famously make your eyes sting and burn. This is caused by an irritant found in onions called lachrymatory-factor synthase. When we cut the onions, this irritant is released into the air and can get into our eyes. This causes us to reflexively shed a few tears in order to flush out the irritant. Of course, there are a few ways you can decrease your tears.

When we cut the onions, lachrymatory-factor synthase is released into the air and can get into our eyes.

If you find that every time you cut an onion, you’re crying, you’re likely not using a sharp enough knife. You should always keep your knives sharp for safety reasons, but a sharp knife also cuts the onion cleaner, meaning less of the irritants are released into the air. Cooling an onion, in the fridge for example, will ensure that the irritant stays in its liquid form instead of evaporating. When cutting, you can also keep the exposed or cut side of the onion flat against the cutting board, preventing the lachrymatory-factor synthase from releasing into the air.

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Cooking is a learning process, something you have to try and do yourself to master. A big part of learning, though, is asking questions! We hope these tips answered some of your cooking questions. If you have another question that you don’t see the answer to in our posts, don’t hesitate to ask! You can send us questions on Facebook, on Twitter, and to our email address, living@medicareful.com. We’d be more than happy to look into any food myths and mysteries or test out recipes and tricks you’ve seen or heard of.

If you want to learn more about any of these topics, reach out and tell us! We’d certainly be more than willing to expand on them in their own articles. Don’t forget, if you didn’t see your question today, check back to Medicareful Living. We’ve received plenty of submissions so far, so we’ll be having another article like this one down the road!