Basic Cooking Terms Explained

When you’re first starting out in the kitchen, reading recipes and cooking instructions can be a little intimidating. From mincing to searing, common cooking terms can seem like a foreign language at first glance. 

But learning the language of cooking isn’t as hard as it sounds! 

Once you understand these basic cooking terms, you’ll be able to transform your ingredients into a masterly crafted meal. We’re here to offer you some insight into the most common cooking terms you’ll see come up. 

Preparing Your Ingredients 

Prep work should not be neglected. Properly preparing your ingredients leads to an expertly cooked meal. 

But what’s the difference between chop, dice, and slice? Cutting an onion is cutting an onion, right? Well, not exactly. 

Slice 

Slicing an ingredient is when you cut it into pieces that are large, flat, and similar in size. How thick or thin each slice is depends on the recipe and your personal preference. 

For example, if you’re cooking french fries, so long as the cuts are comparable lengths and widths, they’ll cook evenly at the same duration. Thinner fries won’t take as long to fry, while thicker fries will take a bit longer. 

Really, the goal of slicing is to be consistent!  

Chop 

Chopping an ingredient is pretty straightforward. You’ll most likely see this common cooking term quite frequently. 

Essentially, to chop something means to cut the item into similar-sized square pieces — each about half an inch thick. However, if you’re chopping up herbs or greens, you may see “finely chopped” in the instructions. If that’s the case, then you want to get the ingredients chopped down into much smaller pieces. 

“Roughly chopped” is also a common cooking term that offers you a little leeway because the goal is to leave the ingredient in larger chunks. 

Dice

The goal of dicing your ingredients is to make it easier for them to break down while cooking. Distribution throughout a dish is also a key point of dicing. 

To dice correctly, try dicing an ingredient down to ⅛, ¼, or ½ inch. 

Mince

Mince is almost synonymous with “finely chop,” and you may see these basic cooking terms used interchangeably. 

When you mince something (most commonly garlic, ginger, or herbs), you are essentially cutting the food into very fine pieces. 

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Measurements 

Measuring cups and spoons are helpful, but sometimes a recipe won’t specify exactly how much of something you need. 

Instead, you may see basic cooking terms like “dash,” “pinch,” or even “smidgen.” 

While each term is exactly how it sounds, let’s go over the details to make sure you know the differences between them. 

Dash

A dash is a bit more than a pinch at about ⅛ of a teaspoon. 

Pinch 

A pinch comes to roughly 1/16 of a teaspoon. You can literally pinch the ingredients between your fingers! 

Smidgen 

A smidgen is the smallest of all three measurement terms at just 1/32 of a teaspoon! A smidgen adds the tiniest hint of something to your dish. 

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Bake, Roast, or Broil? 

Learning how to cook meat and vegetables in the oven is a big step for any amateur chef.

Here’s the good news about these three common cooking terms: They are very similar to one another! 

Baking and Roasting 

You might be surprised to learn that baking and roasting only differ by what kind of food is being cooked. 

For example, roasting is typically used to refer to meats and vegetables, while baking is for desserts or baked goods such as bread. 

The process for these foods is the same. You preheat your oven to a set temperature and place the item inside for a certain amount of time. 

Broiling 

Broiling, on the other hand, only cooks the top side of a dish. When you’re cooking a frittata or casserole dish, broiling is how you get a nice finish on the top. 

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Brown vs. Char vs. Sauté vs. Sear 

These basic cooking terms refer to stove-top cooking, most commonly involving vegetables or meats. 

Brown 

Brown is similar to sear, in that you cook something over very high heat for a short amount of time. This gives your steak and veggies a nice brown crust. 

Sear 

The thing you should know about searing is that once you place your item into the dry, hot pan, you do not want to move it. The difference between searing and browning is that you’re going for a more defined crust. 

Sauté

You’ll see sauté used a lot when talking about vegetables. Here, you’ll want to use oil or butter in your pan to cook the veggies and get them soft in texture. 

Char

A little hard to pull off, charring something means that you’re almost going to burn the food. The signal that your food has been charred instead of burnt is that the item will bubble, then blacken. 

If you smell burning, however, you’ve missed the mark and gone too far. 

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Ready to Start Cooking? 

At Good Home Chef, we believe that you’re the boss of your kitchen. With a collection of great recipes to try, you’ll never run out of good ideas for delicious meals. Follow us on Instagram or Facebook for more useful cooking tips that will help you master the kitchen!  

 

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