Just like there’s more than one way to play a guitar, you can cook the same food using multiple methods, each yielding a unique texture, aroma, and taste.
The more methods you learn, the more diverse your home-cooked meals will become. Though you and your household will probably favor some more than you do others, it only helps if, with time, you’ve perfected them all.
Cooking methods generally fall in one of two categories: dry-heat cooking and wet-heat cooking. Foods cooked with dry heat will brown, whereas those cooked in wet heat won’t.
Searing, sautéing, roasting, shallow-frying, deep-frying, and baking are all examples of dry-heat cooking. Boiling, stewing, sweating, poaching, and steaming are examples for wet-heat cooking.
Sometimes, to get the best color, texture, aroma, and flavor out of your foods, you will combine dry-heat and wet-heat cooking by searing meat or sweating onions in your pan, then braising or stewing them in a pot or Dutch oven.
A few cooking methods do this by standing right in between, combining the use of dry and wet heat. In braising, for example, you briefly pan-fry a steak to give it a crispy crust before slow-cooking it in liquid. Or sous vide, in which food is sealed in a plastic bag or glass jar, then submerged and cooked over low heat in water.
Table of Contents
Here’s a list of all the cooking methods that I’m about to cover in this article:
|Baking||Make golden-brown, crispy baked goods or dinners in the oven||Baking sheet, cookie sheet, casserole, Dutch oven, baking stone/steel||Preheat your oven to 325-350°F (163-177°C) and place baked goods inside. Let cook until golden-brown and crispy.|
|Blanching||Boil vegetables and certain meats so that they’re crisp and tender, but not overcooked and mushy||Pot, pasta pentola, or Dutch oven||Briefly cook the vegetables or meat in a full boil, then cool in an ice water bath or under cold running water to stop the cooking process.|
|Boiling||Cook eggs, rehydrate grains, legumes, and pasta, or improve the texture of starchy foods||Pot, pasta pentola, or Dutch oven||Bring the water to a full boil first, and keep on high a rolling boil, reduce the heat to low for hot water, or medium for simmering water.|
|Braising||Tenderize cheaper, tougher, and less succulent cuts of meat||Sauté pan (a skillet will also do) or Dutch oven||Sear the meat, then bring down the heat to low and slow-cook in beer, wine, sherry, vinegar, or canned tomatoes.|
|Broiling||Brown, caramelize, and/or lightly char meats and vegetables indoors||Cast iron skillet or rimmed stainless steel baking sheet||Adjust the oven rack to the highest position, preheat the top element to 500°F (260°C), and broil your food for 5-10 minutes.|
|Deep-frying||Give coated meats, cheeses, and veggies a golden-brown crust while keeping moisture in||Deep fryer, Dutch oven, or heavy-bottomed pot||Preheat a pot of oil to 375°F (190°C) and cook food in it, submerged.|
|Deglazing||Turn the burnt-on food residue in your pan into an aromatic and flavorful fond for pan sauce or gravy||Stainless steel frying pan or baking sheet||Once your pan has cooled, add cooking liquid (broth, beer, wine, sherry, vinegar, and/or water), season with spices and herbs. Bring to a simmer on medium-high heat and cook down.|
|Roasting||Give meats and vegetables a crisp and golden-brown exterior while cooking them through inside||Rimmed baking sheet with a wire rack||Preheat your oven to 200-320°F (93-163°F) for red meat, poultry, and fish, or 325-350°F (163-177°C) for vegetables, then cook to the correct internal temperature or until golden-brown.|
|Searing||Add a crispy and savory crust to thick-cut steak, chicken breasts or fillets, salmon and other fatty fish||Skillet, preferably uncoated and with a thick, heavy bottom||Briefly brown the meat on high heat, then serve (in the case of beef) or continue cooking with a gentler method (for pork, poultry, and seafood).|
|Sautéing||Pan-fry thin slices of meats and vegetables in a hot pan with little oil||Skillet, preferably one that’s lightweight and easy to pan-flip in||Toss and turn the food in a hot frying pan over high heat with as little fat as possible until it’s cooked fully through.|
|Shallow-frying||Pan-fry portion-sized meats and vegetables, coated or not, in a hot pan with plenty of oil||Skillet or sauté pan||Preheat a pan with some oil to 375°F (190°C) and cook food in it, dipped.|
Select the one you came here to learn about from the Table of Contents above. Or simply scroll down to read through the entire article.
There’s nothing like the smell of something baking in the oven. And for a good reason: baking promotes browning, which leads to the creation of hundreds of new aromatic and flavorful compounds on the surface of your food.
Baking is a dry-heat cooking method for preparing baked goods and family dinners in the oven. The typical temperature for baking is from 325°F (163°C) to 350°F (177°C), whereas higher heat is mostly used for roasting.
The difference between baking and roasting?
You bake goods made of dough or batter to make them edible and puff them up, so that they come out airy or firm. Whereas you roast foods that already have a structure, such as red meats, birds, seafood, and vegetables, to cook them through and develop a crispy, well-textured crust.
But you could also bake foods that contain liquids with the goal to dry them out. Such is the case with Italian lasagna, Italian-American ziti, or Spanish rice.
Ideas for baked goods that any cook can make in their kitchen include loaves of bread, pan pizza, pot pies, biscuits, cookies, cakes, and pastries, to name a few.
To rise to the occasion when making baked goods, it’s important to understand the role of each ingredient—following the proportions and sequencing of the recipe precisely.
For example, yeast can leaven loaves of bread and pizza pies through the biological process of fermentation. On the other hand, baking soda and baking powder can achieve the same using the mechanical process of steam production.
Yeast needs warmth, moisture, and time to make your baked goods rise. Unlike baking soda and baking powder, the yeast cells’ fermentation of the dough also develops its flavor. As a general rule of thumb, a longer rising time yields more flavorful doughs.
Baking soda requires the presence of an acid, such as lemon juice, vinegar, or yogurt, to be activated. In contrast, baking powder contains a base and an acid already, so all it needs to make the dough rise quickly is a bit of water.
Eggs are not just an ingredient that adds flavor and—when added with the yolks—enriches your doughts with a golden-yellow color. They’re both a thickening agent and a stabilizer that improves the dough’s ability to hold on to air. Last but not least, they can help your doughs come out lighter and airier, as their thick consistency traps air in.
Baking sheets, Dutch ovens, and a pizza steel/stone are the best bakeware for the job. But you could also bake in a cast iron skillet with a metal handle or thick-bottomed and oven-safe stainless steel frying pan. Remember to use mittens or a kitchen towel as your cookware will get scorching-hot!
Blanched vegetables are cooked “just enough” to come out crisp on the outside and tender on the inside, but not so much that they’re mushy and soggy.
Blanching is a wet-heat cooking method in which vegetables are cooked briefly in boiling water for 30 seconds to a few minutes, then plunged in a bowl of ice water or placed under cold running water to prevent further cooking.
Asparagus, green beans, broccoli florets, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, celery, mushrooms, peppers, and potatoes (halves or quarters) are excellent vegetable choices for blanching.
Some animal cuts, like whole birds, bird parts, and veal sweetbreads, can also be blanched (salt, onions, carrots, celery, and herbs are added to the ice water bath to make the final product tastier). Last but not least, blanching is a way to prepare shrimp.
A great technique for grilling chicken, for example, is to blanch it first, which lessens the grilling time and doesn’t dry out the muscle as much.
Blanching works so well because it preserves the color, texture, and flavor of vegetables by inactivating the enzymes that usually lead to their loss during cooking. As an added benefit, it smoothens strong flavors and makes vegetables easier to prep or pack for school/office lunches.
To blanch properly, add the vegetables to water after you’ve brought it to a rolling boil. Don’t add all of the vegetables at once, or the temperature of the water will drop too much—and they won’t blanch.
Boiling, one of the simplest cooking methods in any cook’s book, helps you cook food in a way that’s not only tasty but good for you.
Boiling is a wet-heat cooking method for preparing foods submerged in water or seasoned cooking liquid. The liquid is heated near water’s boiling point of 212°F (100°C), and the food items are cooked in it.
Depending on how much heat you need, there are generally three “levels” of boiling water:
- Hot water, which has steam but few bubbles, is typically achieved over low to medium-low heat.
- Simmering water, which has steam and the occasional bubbles breaking the surface, is usually achieved over medium heat.
- Water brought to a rolling boil, which is steaming abundantly and bubbling hectically, is normally achieved over medium-high to high heat.
Bring a pot of water to a boil quickly by covering it with the lid (it keeps the moisture and heat in). When in a hurry, heat water in a water kettle, then transfer it to a pot and fire up your stove; it won’t take you more than a few minutes.
As a cooking method, boiling can help you cook shelled foods like eggs, rehydrate grains, legumes, and all kinds of pasta, as well as enhance the texture of starchy foods or tough meats.
The jury’s out on whether to add eggs to a cold pot of water or only after you’ve brought the water to a boil. Personally, I prefer the latter, as it cooks them more predictably and more evenly.
Grains like rice or quinoa and legumes like beans and lentils are best cooked in simmering water and should be stirred frequently to keep them from sticking to and burning on the bottom of the pot.
Pasta is best cooked in a rolling boil. The continuous and chaotic movement of the water keeps the pasta shapes or noodles from sticking together. Remember to salt the water for flavor and don’t add oil to it. Contrary to what most people think, it won’t keep it from sticking.
When cooking grains and pasta, salt your water generously. As they rehydrate and absorb the water, they’ll also soak up the salt, which will season them on the inside and give them a full-bodied flavor. Otherwise, they’ll come out tasting bland—and that’s something that’s often hard to fix, even if your sauce is very flavorful.
Few cooking methods can take a cheap, unpalatable cut of meat—such as the beef chuck, brisket, and rump in American cuisine, or the French coq (rooster)—and turn it into a succulent, savory dinner. Without a shadow of a doubt, braising is one of them.
Braising is a cooking method for preparing tougher cuts of meat. It starts by pan-searing the meat over medium-high heat to give it a well-textured and flavorful crust. A small amount of cooking liquid is added, and the heat is reduced to low, slow cooking the meat to tender perfection.
As a cooking method, braising is similar to stewing. The difference is that the meat is partially covered in the cooking liquid in braising, whereas it’s fully submerged in stewing. The cooking liquid consists of water, alcohol, and/or vinegar enriched with salt, spices, and herbs.
You can braise in any alcohol, such as beer, white wine, red wine, or sherry, as well as in acidic liquids such as canned tomatoes or balsamic vinegar. Though the flavor won’t be as intense, you could even use water with salt, spices, and a bouquet garni of herbs; the slow-cooked meat will yield its own stock.
The cooking liquid serves two functions:
The first is that it helps to tenderize the meat. The sauce’s acidity breaks down the collagen and muscle fibers, the connective tissues of the meat that make it tough.
The second and less obvious one is that it releases those bits and pieces of meat stuck to the bottom of the pan, which professional chefs call “fond,” that carry a lot of meaty aromas and savory flavors.
In terms of cookware, braising is usually done in a stainless steel sauté pan or a Dutch oven.
Seasoned cast iron cooking vessels leach dietary iron into acidic foods and impart a strong metallic taste to them, so it’s recommended to braise in an enameled cast iron Dutch oven instead. The porcelain enamel coat keeps the iron from coming into contact with the acidity of your braise.
Braising can be done only on the stove, or first on the stove to sear the meat, then in the oven to slow-cook it. For the latter, use a Dutch oven; pans don’t always have oven-safe lids, especially if their handles are made of bakelite or wood.
Another reason to go for a Dutch oven is if you’re braising ahead of time. Since cast iron is a poor conductor of heat, it’s as reluctant to let go of heat as it is slow to absorb it. So a cast iron Dutch oven can keep a braise warm for hours on end.
Some cooks prefer to sear the meat in a skillet, then finish it off in the convenience of a Crock-Pot or Instant Pot, which doesn’t require them to stay close to the stove. These kitchen appliances braise meat faster. But fail to yield the same level of tenderness as when it’s slow-cooked the traditional way.
When you’re craving grilled sausage or BBQ ribs but the weather outside is crappy, switch to Plan B and preheat your broiler.
Broiling is a cooking method for preparing thick cuts of meat and coarsely-sliced vegetables quickly by exposing them to the high heat of an oven’s broiler. The food comes out browned, caramelized, and slightly charred like it was cooked on an outdoor grill.
Broiling, like grilling, works so well because it triggers the Maillard reaction, a chemical chain of events that creates hundreds of aromatic and flavorful compounds on the surface of protein-rich foods at a temperature between 284°F (140°C) and 356°F (180°C).
The trick to getting broiling right, as with most high-heat cooking methods, is not to overdo it. As a general rule of thumb, most meats and vegetables will be done in 5 to 10 minutes—and leaving them under the broiler for any longer than that will cause them to char and burn.
Technically, every oven with a heating element that’s situated at the top has a broiler. To use it, set the rack to the highest position, and preheat, for at least 15-20 minutes, to 500°F (260°C) using only upper heat.
Keep in mind that not all bakeware is broiler-safe. Never broil in silicone or non-stick sheets, as the prolonged exposure to high heat may not only damage them but ruin your food. Use a cast iron skillet or a rimmed stainless steel sheet instead.
There’s a reason why deep-fried food is so delicious. Cooked in oil, food forms a crispy and crunchy crust on the outside while retaining most of its moisture on the inside.
Deep-frying is a cooking method where meat, poultry, seafood, vegetables, or cheeses, battered or breaded, are submerged in hot oil and cooked in it until they cook on the inside and turn golden brown on the outside.
To deep-fry foods quickly and evenly, preheat the oil to 375°F (190°C) and cut the food into equally-sized pieces. You’ll know individual pieces are done when they become crispy and golden-brown on the outside.
Tender meats, like meatballs, chicken breasts, and whitefish fillets are a generally better choice for deep-frying than their marbled counterparts, like beef tenderloin or pork loin, which taste better seared or stewed.
Apart from the “classic” deep-fried chicken, fish, fries, onion rings, and cheese sticks, other options for deep-fried foods are cornbread, sliced eggplants, sliced zucchini, dill pickles, spring rolls, and mushrooms.
A few unusual but incredibly delicious foods to deep-fry are spaghetti balls, filled pasta shapes (ravioli, tortellini, mezzelune), fruit (apple, banana, watermelon), and desserts (cookies, doughnuts).
While you could always get a deep fryer, a more traditional choice of cookware for this cooking method would be a cast iron Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed stainless steel pot. Commonwealth countries also use “chip pans,” medium-sized pans with an insert and lid primarily used for preparing potato chips (called “fries” in the states).
The foolproof way to tell if the oil in your pan or pot is hot enough for deep-frying is to use an oil-safe meat thermometer.
Ever wonder how chefs make that savory, gravy-like sauce that they pour on steak and chops before serving? The secret lies in a cooking method called “glazing.”
To deglaze is to dissolve the food residue that’s stuck to a stainless steel skillet or baking sheet after cooking meat in it by adding liquid, herbs, and spices and bringing the whole thing to a simmer.
The result is a salty, savory, highly aromatic fond that professional chefs and seasoned home cooks use for flavoring the most delicious pan sauces, gravies, or soups.
So, the next time you sear steak or roast chops in a stainless steel pan or sheet, don’t scrub down that brown residue in your sink.
Instead, pour some stale beer, leftover wine, or cheap vinegar in the pan, add a few fresh herbs and some of your favorite spices, season with salt, and, optionally, a teaspoon of honey, then bring to a simmer.
Readers who don’t want to cook with alcohol or vinegar could substitute them with bone broth or mushroom stock. Cook over medium-high heat, occasionally stirring, until the residue has dissolved and the liquid has reduced to a thick sauce.
Who doesn’t love the herby smell of Thanksgiving turkey or the succulent taste of a Sunday roast?
Roasting is a dry-heat cooking method for preparing red meat, birds, seafood, and vegetables in the oven or close to an open flame. Roast foods are brown and caramelized, with a crispy texture on the outside.
The optimal temperature for roasting large cuts of meat or whole birds is 200-320°F (93-163°F), as it allows them to develop a golden-brown and well-crisp exterior while cooking fully through inside.
The best temperature for roasting vegetables is 325-350°F (163-177°C), though it can vary significantly depending on whether you want to char them quickly (on a higher heat than that) or slow-cook them (on a lower heat).
When it comes to red meat, you can hardly go wrong by roasting ribs, knuckles, loin, and shoulders. Whole birds or birds cut in pieces make for great roasts, and so do whole fish or large and fatty fish fillets.
Some of my favorite vegetables to roast are potatoes (peeled or skin-on, whole or sliced in halves/quarters), carrots (peeled or whole), onions (peeled, whole), and beets (pre-boiled, peeled).
When roasting, it’s best to use a rimmed baking sheet with a wire rack. The rims will catch the fats and juices that drip down from your food, while the wire rack elevates the food and prevents it from coming out soggy-bottomed.
Non-stick sheets are convenient to use, but their coating typically wears off and starts to peel within a year or two. They seem cheap at first but—when you factor in the total cost of ownership over time—end up costing you much more than a set of stainless steel sheets, which can go in the dishwasher and will last you a lifetime.
That brown residue consisting of bits and pieces of food stuck to the bottom of the sheet when you’re done roasting? Deglaze it to make pan sauce just like a professional chef would.
Sauter is a French verb that means to jump, to pop out. When you think about how, in their busy kitchens during service, chefs will pan-flip foods to marry their ingredients in a hurry, it’s not surprising why the French have named technique to sauté, or, literally, to “make food jump.”
Sautéing is a cooking method for pan-frying foods quickly, in a hot pan over relatively high heat and in a minimal amount of fat, until cooked fully through. Red meat, poultry, seafood, or vegetables can all be sautéed, as long as they’re sliced thinly.
The trick to getting sautéing right is to use medium-high to high heat (depending on your stove’s power) and to preheat your frying pan for a good 2-3 minutes. Thin-sliced food will stick to a pan that’s too cold, and you’ll have to put in a tremendous effort not to mangle it.
Another reason to turn up the heat is that sautéing is a dry cooking method. Not using enough heat won’t make moisture evaporate, and therefore won’t dry and brown your food. Instead, it will come out mushy, soggy, and bland, partly boiled in liquid.
When sautéing, reach for a shallow and slope-sided frying pan or an equally shallow but straight-sided sauté pan. Even though the sauté pan is eponymous to the sautéing cooking method, a skillet is the better tool for the job; its sloped sides make it easier to pan-flip foods.
I’ve written a whole post on the topic titled, “Frying Pan, Sauté Pan, or Saucepan?”
Beginner cooks sometimes struggle to understand the difference between searing and sautéing. The two become easy to differentiate when you consider that to sear is to pan-fry thick cuts of meat to give them a crispy crust, whereas to sauté is to pan-fry thin slices of meat or vegetables until they’re cooked all the way through.
For the same reasons, when searing food, you let it brown and turn it only once, when it’s done on one side, while, when sautéing it, you keep tossing and flipping it in the pan.
Contrary to what most of us think, searing doesn’t seal in the juices. Instead, it forms a deliciously crispy crust on your meat.
Searing is a dry-heat cooking method for briefly browning red meat, poultry, or fish over medium-high to high heat. It’s intended to give the meat an aromatic and flavorful crust—not for cooking it through.
Searing is usually done in a heavy, thick-bottomed frying pan on the stove. The best cooking vessel to reach for when searing meat is a cast iron, enameled cast iron, carbon steel, or stainless steel skillet. Don’t use a ceramic or non-stick pan; they don’t brown foods as well.
When searing in an uncoated pan, the meat will stick to the cooking surface at first. After two to three minutes, it will release itself, and that’s how you know that it’s ready to turn.
As a cooking method, searing is similar to grilling. However, it’s done on the stove, in a frying pan greased with butter or cooking oil, while grilling requires an outdoor, gas or charcoal, grill. By using a grill pan with an uncoated cooking surface, you can leave grill marks on your meat, mimicking some of the effects of an outdoor grill.
Seared steak or browned salmon are so tasty because the high heat triggers the Maillard reaction. This chemical reaction takes place at a temperature of 284°F (140°C) or higher, which gives protein-rich foods a dark-brown color, crispy texture, savory flavor, and rich aroma.
That flavor and aroma? They come from the hundreds of molecules that get created as a byproduct of the reaction.
You can only sear meat for a short time because, once it reaches and exceeds 356°F (180°C), pyrolysis takes place—and the meat starts to blacken and burn, developing a bitter flavor and forming potentially harmful compounds to your health.
The trick to getting searing right is to sizzle the meat for long enough to develop a dark-brown crust, but not so long that it chars, dries out, and comes out acrid.
After you’ve seared a cut of meat, you can continue cooking it with another, gentler method, such as pan-frying, braising, stewing, or roasting it. On rarer occasions, like cooking beef steak to medium or a lesser level of doneness, searing is the only cooking method you need.
There are three ways to cook a tender cut of meat in a shallow pan: your could sear it whole, slice it thinly and sauté it, or shallow-fry it (optionally, breaded or battered).
Unlike searing and sautéing, which make foods flavorful but dry them out, shallow-frying forms a sweet-smelling and delightful crust on meats and vegetables that actually seals the juices in.
Shallow-frying is a cooking method for preparing portion-sized meats and vegetables, typically breaded or battered, in hot fat. The amount of oil should be enough to dip the food in but not fully submerge it.
Like Wiener schnitzel or Greek zucchini, shallow-fried foods are so tasty because the oil seals the moisture in, so they come out tender and juicy. Some cooking oils, like rice bran oil, also impact a pleasingly nutty, lightly buttery taste on them.
It’s the heat of the oil that cooks your food more than the contact with your pan. So it’s important to make sure that the oil is hot enough to cook in before adding your food to it.
When shallow-frying, the oil should ideally be heated to 375°F (190°C), which translates to using medium or medium-high heat on most stoves. Don’t use high heat; it’s too much. Your food will burn bitterly on the outside while coming out raw or undercooked on the inside.
Add one piece of food to the pan at a time. The oil’s temperature will drop as soon as the first room-temperature piece of food comes in contact with it, so you want to give it at least a few seconds to recover.
You can tell the oil is hot enough to cook in when it starts to glisten, shimmer, and ripple in your pan. Another tell-tale sign is that your food starts to sizzle as soon as it comes into contact with it as moisture starts to evaporate from the heat. In case that doesn’t happen, take it out quickly and allow the oil more time to get up to heat.
The best cooking vessels for shallow frying are a cast iron skillet, or a stainless steel sauté pan with the lid off. But you will sometimes see cooks using a non-stick pan, saucepan, or a cast iron Dutch oven, seasoned or enameled.