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You thought you had it all figured out. You’ve cooked a few roasts and baked a few loaves in your time, so you know your way around a Dutch oven and a Silpat (if you have to ask, then you definitely need this list). Perhaps you’ve even made dalgona coffee, or tried the 3-ingredient creme brulee hack and felt pretty proud of yourself (you should!). But you think you know everything? Well, we have some game-changing kitchen and food hacks for you too.
You say your bookshelf has a dedicated cookbook section (or you have a dedicated cookbook bookcase)? You have a whole slew of recipe websites bookmarked and cooking apps downloaded? You’ve already tried all the online cooking classes you can find? There’s no way any of these tricks are new to you? We bet you’ll still find something useful in this list—probably a few things, at least.
And, OK, maybe these kitchen hacks won’t change your life in an “I won the lottery” or “I just found out I’m pregnant” kind of way. And maybe you have seen a few of these before. But we’ve mixed it up a bit and covered a lot of territory here—from making over your refrigerator to the easiest one-ingredient ice cream you’ll ever make (no cooking or fancy gizmos required). Not to mention neat tricks for edible bowls, ways to make unitasker gadgets into multitaskers, and even how to rescue burnt cookies.
Are you sick of eating a mediocre a.m. meal of bland yogurt or a granola bar that’s way more sugar than you need anyway? Meet your new morning best friend: the microwave. Find out how to make a breakfast-of-champions in just a few simple steps, plus the help of minimal equipment (a microwaveable plate or bowl). In under 5 minutes you can make scrambled eggs, or even fried eggs (hello desk-side huevos rancheros—and fried egg tacos!), in the time that it would take you to order that overpriced cup of oatmeal. Your work day is about to get a whole lot better.
Do this with ground beef, ground turkey and chicken, and ground pork and you can break off only as much as you need without defrosting the whole package. See more great freezer storage tips while you’re at it.
Drop chip-size slices of fresh cucumber into leftover pickle brine in the jar and store in the refrigerator for a few days to make crunchy quick pickles. (You can also drop in other vegetables like green beans, garlic, carrots, or radishes. For best results, par-boil these veggies before pickling to speed up the process.) But that’s not all you can do with pickle juice—see nine more ways to use your leftover pickle brine.
Stray shell bits in your cracked egg? Dab your finger in water before you go after it. Water acts like a magnet and the shell will stick to your finger without having to chase it around the bowl.
Trim the top and bottom of the celery (cut it off of the root if it is still attached) and drop the stalks upright into a pitcher or jar of ice-cold water to re-crisp. You can also store celery like this as soon as you bring it home—asparagus too. The ice water trick also works to perk up tired broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, and spinach.
Forget about the cast iron skillet. Line a baking sheet with heavy-duty aluminum foil (or two layers of foil) that has been crimped at 1-inch intervals to create a disposable bacon rack—or place an actual wire rack over the foil if you have one. Then cook the bacon in the oven—the easiest, cleanest, and best way to do it. Elevating the bacon keeps it out of the grease and allows hot air to circulate around the strips, so they cook and crisp evenly.
As the chefs at Konbi know well, egg slicers are an inexpensive investment that actually make egg salad a lot easier. But it’s not a single-use kitchen tool! It can also make perfect slices of ripe strawberries, or even button mushrooms.
If the bottom of your cookies got a wee bit scorched, brush the grater over the burnt side to buff away the evidence. (A Microplane is also good for grating garlic, citrus, chocolate, spices, and hard cheese. You’ll find a tip on properly using it farther down the list.)
9. “Dot” Your Butter…Better
When a recipe calls for “dotting” with butter, such as a fruit crisp or a breadcrumb-covered casserole (where the butter adds richness and helps browning), don’t cut it into tiny chunks that stick together (and to your knife)—instead, grate chilled butter on the large holes of a flat or box grater to create uniform pieces that are easier to distribute.
Reducing the amount of plastic bottles you use is an admirable goal, but if you end up with some anyway, this is a great way to give them a second purpose. And it’s also a more reliable and longer-lasting seal than twist ties and chip clips. See a step-by-step guide to this hack here.
Use a straight or Y-shaped peeler to make curls from a stick of cold butter for easier spreading on toast, or shavings of dark chocolate for garnishing a cake; slice cheese super-thin for easy browning (or for putting the finishing touch on pasta and other dishes, like our Couscous Salad above); peel off the zest-y outer layer of lemon and lime rinds (sans pith) for cocktail twists, infusing homemade digestif, and candying for desserts; or cut long strips of root vegetables like parsnips, carrots, beets, or rutabagas to crisp for easy veggie chips, make quick pickles, or even compose a tangled salad.
When you’re measuring thick, sticky ingredients like honey, maple syrup, molasses, corn syrup, agave, Nutella, or peanut butter, spray your measuring cups with nonstick cooking spray first to make the ingredients slip right out.
If your ice cream lasts long enough to get freezer burned, try trimming the ice cream container down as you eat your way through it. The lid will still fit the miniaturized container and this reduces the amount of air the ice cream is exposed to (the culprit behind freezer burn). It also takes up less space in the freezer! See more ways to prevent freezer burn.
Why settle for putting an egg on something when you can cook the egg in that something? This works brilliantly for burgers, and our Egg-in-a-Nest Benedict Sandwich recipe. Whatever you call it, it’s delicious. If you like to flip the script, though, try this Inside-Out Egg Sandwich recipe too.
Related Reading: The Origins of Odd Food Names
Scrambled eggs, brownies, cornbread, hash browns, s’mores, carrot cake, cheese squares, tofu with sticky rice. Want more waffle maker recipes? Check out Will It Waffle.
Related Reading: The 9 Best Waffle Makers for 2020
Want to like what you see in the fridge every time you open the door, even if the contents of it are meager? Cut decorative shelf paper to fit your refrigerator shelves. Cleaning bonus: If you cover the shelves with Press-n-Seal plastic wrap, just rip it off and replace it when the shelves get dirty.
Related Reading: 10 Fridge Organizing Photos That Will Make You Want to Overhaul Your Own
Sure, you can always look up “how many tablespoons in 1/4 cup” on your phone again, but printing out a chart to hang on your fridge or inside a cabinet—or even investing in a handy magnetized version—of basic kitchen measurement conversions saves your screen from buttery thumbprints.
Print out another handy chart with this info and find a different cabinet door to tape it to. Or, try the trick demonstrated in the video above that uses your own hand to measure the perfect amount of water for cooking rice—just be sure your finger’s clean, of course.
There are several ways to dry fresh herbs at home, but using the microwave is the quickest method. Then again, you can always mix them with oil and freeze in an ice cube tray. (See how to grow herbs too, indoors or out. And get more ways to use fresh herbs if you don’t want to dry them out or otherwise preserve them.)
The only thing better than taco salad for dinner? Taco salad for dinner…served in a bowl that you can also eat. Just drape large flour tortillas over foil balls, inverted oven-safe measuring cups, or even cake pans, and bake until crisp! See how it’s done in our Beef Taco Salad recipe.
The old-school chef trick involves gently prodding the steak to tell whether it’s rare, well done, or somewhere in between; the firmness of the flesh will correspond to the firmness of your own hand in various positions. It’s a fun (and maybe kind of creepy?) party trick, and a great one to remember in case your digital thermometer battery dies on steak night.
Blending up frozen bananas for a healthy, vegan ice cream (or “nice cream”) is old news by now, but that doesn’t make it any less delicious—or magical, really. It’s remarkable how creamy it gets, and it’s great drizzled with caramel and/or chocolate sauce. But if you’re not bananas about, well, bananas, there are many other ways to make ice cream without an ice cream machine.
Related Reading: Amazing 3-Ingredient Recipes Anyone Can Pull Off
Because a vegetable peeler can’t reach all of those knobby nooks and crannies. It’s also an easy way to peel ginger that won’t risk nicking your fingers.
If you can’t defrost in water (still the fastest method), aluminum is an excellent heat conductor and will cut the defrost time by about 30 percent, according to Serious Eats—much faster than a ceramic plate or plastic cutting board.
The simple formula above is pretty much it, but see the Homemade Cooking Spray recipe for more helpful tips.
Whether you’re packing a picnic or transporting perishable groceries from store to home, ice packs are key for keeping your goods cold in the heat of summer. If you’re all out of the mini ice packs you picked up at Restaurant Depot (or that came with your latest meal kit)—or the full-size ice packs are too big for your cooler—watch our tutorial to find out how to make DIY freezer packs (both solid or gel ice packs) with dish soap or rubbing alcohol.
How hard is it to cut a round cake into even wedges that don’t fall apart? Hard enough to justify printing out this genius chart for slicing all sizes of round cakes in clever ways. Cutting a circle in the middle of a 10-inch cake and slicing around the circle produces even, sturdy slices every time. Or, you can simply slice horizontally and then divide those slices into smaller vertical pieces, as shown above!
Smooshing thawed spinach in a strainer or wringing it out in a paper towel is messy and not very effective—but if you have either of the aforementioned kitchen tools, you’re golden. You can easily remove the excess water in thawed spinach by rolling it in a sushi mat lined with a paper towel or gently squashing it in a potato ricer. This trick comes in handy when you’re making something like Easy Spinach Lasagna, spinach dip, Saag with Tofu, Greek Spinach and Feta Pies, and other recipes that call for frozen spinach to be thawed and drained.
Baking powder and baking soda should maintain their active properties for up to 18 months, depending on humidity levels and how well the container is sealed. Not sure how long your container has been around? Find out if your baking powder or baking soda is still active with this easy test.
And if the baking soda is no longer fit to bake with, don’t throw it out! It can still be used to clean your kitchen (since its prime value as a cleaner is its mild abrasiveness).
Use a straw to suck out excess air in a zip-top bag—et voila, you are your own vacuum sealer! (Removing the air from storage bags protects the food better and helps it last a little longer, by the way.) Note: You might not want to use this trick if you’re sealing up a bag of raw meat. Or just be extra careful.
Related Reading: The Best Reusable Straws That Don’t Suck
If buttering corn the old-fashioned way is too messy, drop tablespoons of cut, unsalted butter directly into the pot of hot water after you’ve removed the boiled corn. (Use a little less than 1 tablespoon per ear of corn.) The melted butter will float to the top of the pot, and you can use a pair of tongs to dip and swirl the corn in the butter. Obviously, this doesn’t help if you grill corn on the cob, but is it really that hard to just roll the ears around in a shallow baking dish or platter until they’re all buttery anyway?
If you’ve ever cursed a roll of cheap, sticks-to-everything-but-the-bowl plastic wrap, find out how to tame unruly wrap and make it stick in all the right places (the former trick involves the freezer, while a little water works its magic in the latter).
Just when you think you’re hot stuff in the kitchen, someone comes along and bursts your fragile culinary ego. Like this totally obvious “trick.” Raise your hand if you’ve been zesting citrus with a Microplane turned the wrong way all this time, or moving the citrus back and forth instead of the zester.
Mug cakes are great, but sometimes you’re hungry for a salty, savory snack instead of a sweet treat—luckily, your microwave can do that too. And we don’t mean popcorn.
How is it that you’ve gotten this far in life serving rock-hard ice cream the standard carpal-tunnel-inducing scoop-by-scoop way? How did you not realize you can (and should) pre-scoop the softened ice cream into muffin tins and re-freeze it? Slicing it is perfect for ice cream sandwiches. (Or ice cream doughnuts, which are a thing.)
Related Reading: More Brilliant Ice Cream Hacks
It’s probably overkill if you only need a scattering of grated cheese for a recipe, but if you’re grating enough for a taco bar’s worth of cheddar or making homemade mac and cheese, this super-easy, time-saving tip for grating cheese will make it less of a chore.
When you make “green juice”—an all-veggie concoction—you can use the mass of shredded pulp your juicer spits out for more than just compost. Although this smart tip won’t work with citrus or fruit-based juice leftovers, it’s a genius idea for preventing food waste and getting the most out of your precious produce.
Related Reading: More Ways to Use Food Scraps
Do you struggle to get all the seeds out of your pepper (and unstuck from your knife blade and fingers)? Here’s an easy way around that issue—which doesn’t work if you’re making stuffed peppers, of course, but otherwise is the quickest way to get to slicing or dicing. (And the process is pretty much the same for smaller jalapeños—though in that case, you may want to be wearing gloves.)
OK, this isn’t really ripening them, and it won’t work all that well for hard, green bananas. But if yours are starting to ripen and you can’t wait any longer for your banana bread, bake those bananas for 5 to 7 minutes in a 350-degree oven and—ta-da!—sweeter, softer bananas perfect for baking into a quick loaf. Like our Nutella and Roasted Banana Bread recipe.
Related Reading: 9 New Ways to Use Your Loaf Pan Between Batches of Bread
When your cork disintegrates and leaves a layer of crumbs floating in the top of the bottle (or glass), use a straw to pluck out the pieces. Insert the straw into the bottle and place the end over a piece of cork. Cover the other end of the straw with your finger to create a vacuum and remove the cork floater. If you have cheesecloth or a fine mesh strainer, you can use those to prevent the bits from getting into glasses in the first place.
Related Reading: The Best Wine Clubs to Try This Year
You’ve seen a zillion different, clever ways to reuse cardboard egg cartons (DIY bird feeders, compost scrap, packing material), but this recycling method creates the gift that keeps giving—herb seedlings to start your kitchen garden! Read more about growing herbs indoors (or out), and tending a windowsill garden.
If craft store candy molds are a bit too heart-shaped sweet, teddy-bear earnest, or cookie-cutter boring for your taste, try this crafty trick for creating totally unique chocolate molds with ordinary objects. Brown sugar creates a rustic, purposefully imperfect finish, and flour makes an interesting mold medium, too.
Ordering a Bloody Mary or cracking a beer the morning after a boozy night may be just a tad too much for your next hangover. If you need just a little something to take the edge off, this innocent hair-of-the-dog treatment doubles as your morning breakfast. Relax, there’s only a tablespoon of hooch in it.
Related Reading: The Best Ways to Prevent a Hangover
Most of us use a pairing knife to lop the top off of a perfectly ripe strawberry, but you can use a straw to push the stem and core out. This method keeps the strawberry intact and creates less waste.
Related Reading: 11 Ingenious Hacks for Prepping Summer Produce
Old-school rack-style cookbook holders take up too much precious counter space in some kitchens. The two clips on a pants hanger are the perfect size to hold magazines, printed recipes, and small cookbooks. Just dangle the hanger from any cabinet knob or shelf in your kitchen. Obviously, this won’t work with your copy of “Modernist Cuisine” or your iPad, but give it a shot with your latest issue of BA or vintage Gourmet magazines.
Making nut milk usually involves a long soaking session, plus nut milk bags—but if you have nut butter on hand, you can make it in just a couple minutes with this trick. The only other things you need are water and a blender.
One of these days, propane tank makers will figure out how to put a standard gauge on all gas tanks so you know how much propane you have left. Until then, there’s a way to ballpark the amount, so you’ll know if you have enough gas to cook a quick steak dinner or feed burgers to a small army.
Related Reading: CNET’s Picks for Best Gas Grills of 2020 | Everything Else You Need to Know About BBQ for Grilling Season
If you’ve ever wrestled with one of those cherry-pitting gadgets, you know this: jamming a fat, ripe cherry into the pitter often scratches or mashes the flesh. You can use several other household objects to do the job (if you go with the chopstick method, positioning the cherry over the mouth of a bottle helps collect all the pits).
When you squeeze limes or lemons over fried fish, into your iced tea, or otherwise anoint whatever else you’re eating or drinking, you often get a squirt of wayward juice somewhere you don’t want it (in the worst case scenario, your eyeball). But making one little slit in the top of each wedge when you cut them will prevent that! (For yet another great citrus-squeezing trick, see our favorite summer produce hacks.)
Iced coffee is ultra refreshing, but when that ice melts, it dilutes your brew. Prevent that and maximize your caffeine intake by making espresso ice cubes for your cold brew! (While you’re at it, see our other favorite ice cube tray hacks for even more handy ideas.)
No more grating pounds of raw potatoes. Just roughly chop, blitz them up in a blender, and drain the excess liquid—but save that potato starch! Our executive editor Hana Asbrink puts this trick to work in her Korean Potato Pancake (Gamja Jeon) recipe, but you can try it for other types of potato pancake too.