Based on popular media, you might think that professional cooks are born knowing how to dice, sauté, and flip an omelet in the pan with a discreet flick of the wrist, but this is just not so. Good cooks become good because they practice with technique and recipes, sometimes making delicious food and sometimes creating a disaster in the kitchen.
The best-case scenario for learning to cook is at the side of a trusted adult as you are growing up, of course, but not everyone was blessed with such a person. If you are just starting out in the kitchen, don’t despair. Here are some basic cooking resources to get you started on your culinary journey.
Online cooking school
If you want to start at the very beginning, the best place to do it is in an online cooking school, and one of the best out there is The Kitchn’s 20-lesson cooking basics course. Divided into categories of skill, not recipes, this course starts with knife work and ends with baking. Each section offers video instruction and three “homework” assignments, plus recipes for you to try out your new skills. And did we mention that it’s free? Start here with Lesson 1: Knife Skills then advance through each lesson at the bottom of the page.
In-person cooking school
If you feel like you might be one of those people who needs to see someone practice a skill in person, online cooking school may not be your best bet. Look for online cooking courses through your local kitchen supply or some chain grocery stores like Whole Foods. Other good places to look for cooking schools might be a local community center or YMCA. Community colleges and high schools also sometimes offer adult ed learning opportunities. A quick online search for cooking classes in your area should yield results specific to your city or town.
Yes, these blogs can sometimes be a little intimidating with their gorgeous photographs and perfectly designed kitchen. Even if their cooking space looks nothing like yours or you aren’t planning to take frame-ready photos of your finished dish, many of these blogs are very helpful when learning to cook. Look for blogs that utilize step-by-step photos. Pioneer Woman written by Ree Drummond takes detailed, step-by-step photos of every part of each recipe, making it very easy to stay on track.
Another excellent step-by-step blog is Nom Nom Paleo. While this blog is specifically for a paleo diet, the tips and techniques offered for each recipe translate to cooking in general. Plus the food just sounds delicious, and that’s important, too!
So maybe you didn’t grow up cooking at the knee of an elder, but you don’t have to be a tiny sprout to learn from a loved one. If you have a friend who is an excellent cook, ask him or her if they might be interested in designing a menu for a cooking party for you and a handful of interested people. They can plan the menu. You shop as if you are shopping for a regular party, only the food won’t be ready when everyone arrives! With just a little planning, you and your guests can learn some new skills, eat some delicious food, and walk away with recipes to try out at home.
What can’t Pinterest do? Originally started as a crafty home décor site, Pinterest has evolved into a DIYers dreamscape, and this includes cooking. A quick search for step-by-step cooking tutorials yielded results from quinoa wraps to homemade bagels to petit fours. Another search for cooking basics was a goldmine of information in visuals and writing. From these search results you can learn things like what the different types of knives are; basics of herbs; how to stock a kitchen, fridge, and pantry; and how to meal plan.
And that is just the beginning. You can search for step-by-step guides to different cuisines, cooking techniques, and cookbook reviews. If you need specifics, narrow your search as much as possible for the best results.
For more hands-on demonstrations, turn to YouTube, home of serious cooks like Thomas Keller and not- so-serious cooks like Hannah Hart of My Drunk Kitchen. In between, there are plenty of tutorials for specific recipes and cooking techniques.
Good old-fashioned cookbooks
Every cook worth their salt has a cookbook or two that is their go-to no matter what the occasion or recipe. These cookbooks are sauce-spattered, dog-eared, and generally beaten up, but they are tried-and-true companions in the kitchen. The best of these for beginning cooks offer not only recipes but also explanations of basic techniques and tips for beginners.
A few we like:
- How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman: A huge book with 2,000 recipes (and variations) on everything from soup to nuts.
- The Elements of Cooking by Michael Ruhlman: Starts with an essay on the essential eight elements of cooking and then lists the elements of cooking from “A” (acid) to “Z” (zester).
- Huckleberry by Zoe Nathan: Delicious scones, muffins, and other pastry from the baker at the Huckleberry Café in Santa Monica.
- The Baking Bible by Rose Lev Beranbaum: This book lies flat so that you can really get into the dough with your hands. That, plus tips and tricks to demystify the particular chemistry of baking make this a must-have.
If you are inspired more by stories from the kitchen then recipes, try Marcus Samuelsson’s memoir, the essays of Anthony Bourdain, or the story of Gabrielle Hamilton and her journey to becoming a restaurant owner. These books will lead you to other inspiring stories and cookbooks.
Still making excuses why you can’t learn to cook? There’s an answer for that. It’s never too late, so get started!
Image by Tim Sackton via Flickr