Good Cooking Habits

In the interest of making our Tour of Cookware a shorter read, we’ve split off our good cooking habits to their own post 🙂 Enjoy, and feel free to share your favourite tricks and tips for easy cooking without non stick surfaces!

1. Be Prepared.

zwilling proOnce a pan gets hot, you need to be ready to cook. Take the time and prepare your ingredients before turning on the stove. (The oven is a different story; ovens can take up to an hour to full heat to temperature, so that should be the first thing you when you walk in the kitchen!)

If you put cold, wet food in a cold pan, it will glue together, tear apart, and generally drive you crazy. Pat your meats dry with paper towel and let rest at room temperature while you chop the rest (this is a great time to add seasonings and rubs).

If you’ve marinated the meat before cooking, or want to add sauce before cooking, you’re in for a bit more work. Sugar will burn easily, especially on direct heat, so searing can be problematic if your marinade is thick and sweet. Try cooking with indirect or at least lower heat in these cases. BBQ sauce (very sugary) should be added to the meat near the end of cooking, and on indirect heat in the oven or BBQ (try turning off the burner directly under the meat).

2. Pre-heat your pan

Some pans don’t like being heated dry, but generally you want to warm up your pan on a low-medium heat before adding your ingredients. This only takes a minute or two, so don’t leave the room! Adding a thin layer of oil to the pan will prevent damaging nonstick surfaces (try using a silicone pastry brush to cover the whole pan). When water droplets bead and slowly sizzle off, you’re ready to add ingredients. If the water vaporizes instantly, you’re too hot! Use this to gauge the heat of your pan throughout cooking; if you let it overheat, you’ll burn your meal and have your work cut out for you with cleaning.

Your stove has a dial, not a switch. USE IT.


3. Be aware of the oils and fats you’re using.

Fats have gotten a bad reputation in the past, but a recent Time issue had butter on the front page as good for you again. Glen and I feel strongly that the natural fats are best, and when used in moderation should not ruin your diet (check with your doc though). Whenever you see non or low fat items, they’ve usually supplemented the meal with chemicals, sugar and other weirdness to replace the missing flavour. Since your body doesn’t get the “I’m full” message that fat gives, you tend to eat much more than you otherwise would.

Many flavourful oils have low smoking points and are more suited to cold or warm dishes, not for high heat cooking. The most common culprits for “sticky” pans are over heated unrefined oils and cooking sprays. (click the tabs on the left to find out more)

 Unrefined oils are packed full of minerals, enzymes and other great things that add flavour and health benefits. When these delicate fats are overheated, they break down and release free radicals (cancer-related) and acrolein (bitter taste). Certain types of ceramic coated and silicone cookware and bakeware can develop residues that inhibit their non-stick qualities. Sometimes this can be rectified by cleaning with Barkeepers Friend or another cleaner.

Read more about smoke points
Read the ingredients carefully if you use a cooking spray; the additives can cause horrible sticky residues when overheated (try wiping off excess spray on areas without food, like between the muffin cups to reduce this effect).

Alternatives: A hand pump sprayer works great filled with your own favourite high heat oil, or wipe the pan with oil using a paper towel or silicone pastry brush.

Don’t throw out the old cooking sprays! They’re great for cleaning windshields and coating snow shovels 🙂

4. Don’t play with your meat.

chicken_stickingMany new cooks will play with their meat like young boys, constantly touching and turning. Once your (dry) chicken breast hits that hot pan, it’ll stick. Temporarily. Leave it be, make sure the pan stays at the correct temperature (water test), and trust in the science. Once the meat is cooked and ready to turn, it’ll slowly peel itself off the metal, I promise. That sticking is where the browning and flavour come from, so let the pan do its job. The same concept applies to BBQ; once the meat peels off the metal, give it a quarter turn to make your cross marks, leave it until the sides start to look cooked, then flip. The less you touch it, the more moisture stays inside, the less likely it is to pull apart, and the better it will taste. As long as your pan doesn’t overheat, it won’t burn!

5. Show love for your cookware - Clean by Hand

A lot of cookware says it’s dishwasher safe. I don’t recommend it; the robot just doesn’t know where to scrub and for how long. Non-stick finishes can be damaged and degraded with the high pressure bits flying around inside, or rattled against other dishes and scratched or chipped. Stainless steel can be discoloured by the caustic cleansers, and any bits that aren’t washed off will be baked on and really difficult to clean.

Would you put your best outfit in the dryer on high heat? Why would you do the same to your good cookware?

Keep your stainless shiny by cleaning shortly after cooking; just make sure it has time to cool enough that the water doesn’t sizzle when it hits the pan. If you’re watching your temperatures and drying your meat before cooking, you shouldn’t have too much work to do. Soak if need be (careful with cast iron; read below). If you’re finding your cookware is discoloured from high heats or oil residues, try using Barkeeper’s Friend cleaner. Designed for the bars of Louisiana in 1882, this cleaner will remove the most stubborn of stains.

6. Deglazing (or how to avoid scrubbing)

In stainless steel and cast iron, once you’ve seared your steak, there is a layer of brown, cooked flavour. If you add a little liquid over a low heat (stock, soy sauce, wine, etc), you can turn this flavour into an amazing sauce. Add some mushrooms and/or onions, and you’ll be over the moon with flavour-flave! (Bonus: your pan will be almost spotless afterwards. Why scrub and pour all that goodness down the drain?)

Be warned: if you see more black than brown, that means you were cooking on too high of a heat (water test, people). Chock it up as a lesson, de-glaze with water anyway for easier cleaning, but don’t eat charred or burnt tasting bits (blackened meat contains carcinogens). You’ll likely still have to scrub a bit to get the pan clean; heating some water in the pan will help clean this burnt stuff off.