3 Common Cooking Mistakes and How-To Fix Them

Oct 2, 2019 | Cooking Tips

Over the course of doing this blog, and teaching people to cook in person I have noticed 3 common cooking mistakes that people make over and over again. They don’t let their pans heat up, or they over crowed them. They under season or don’t season at all. And, they don’t plan or do proper preparation. On the surface, these 3 common cooking mistakes may not seem like that big a deal. But, when we look a bit deeper, what becomes clear, is that fixing these 3 common cooking mistakes completely changes how people cook.

Today, we are going to look in-depth at these 3 common cooking mistakes. We’re going to talk about why they are actually pretty big problems and how they are holding people back. And, we are going to figure out how to solve them in an easy and straight forward manner.

If you feel like you make these mistakes, this post is for you and will help to make you a better cook. If you don’t make these mistakes, share it with someone who you think does. Because everyone deserves to be able to cook.

And with that let’s take a look at…

3 Common Cooking Mistakes and How-To Fix Them

Number 1 – Pre-Heating/Over-Crowding The Pan

Why is it important to pre-heat your pan?

Problem 1

Has this ever happened to you? You were making a stir-fry or searing meat happily cooking along but then all of a sudden your pan fills with liquid. Instead of stir-frying or searing, you seem to just be boiling your food. The food comes out tough and soggy rather than crips and tender. So, why did this happen? You guessed it because your pan wasn’t hot enough.

When food is cooked, it releases moisture. When moisture hits a hot surface, it evaporates, turns into steam, and floats up into the air. If the surface that the moisture is hitting isn’t hot enough rather than evaporating it just accumulates and pools in the bottom of the pan. This is actually a double-edged sword because the more pooled liquid that accumulates, the more the temperature of the pan drops.

Problem 2

Imagine once again that you are happily cooking along. Let’s say you are once again searing meat. You add a bit of oil to the pan then add in the meat. You let it cook for a minute or two but then when you go to turn the meat you realize that it has stuck to the surface of the pan. It’s not just a little stuck, it’s almost like someone superglued it to the pan. What went wrong? You guessed it, the pan wasn’t hot enough.

When a steak hits a hot surface something known as the Maillard Reaction happens. What that means is that a chemical reaction is happening when the heat is applied to amino acids and sugars in the meat. All this really means is that the surface of the meat turns brown. That browning creates a smooth surface that won’t bond with the pan. You’ll notice this a lot if you are cooking on a BBQ that hasn’t properly been pre-heated.

Fixing this mistake.

The obvious way to fix this mistake is to put your pan on the burner and let it sit for a few minutes. This freaks some people out, and I get it. You don’t want to wreck your pan, you don’t want to start a fire, whatever. Also, knowing how long to let the pan sit can be difficult. This is especially true because some pans like heavy steel or cast iron pans take a while to heat up. But, this also depends on the type of stove you have. The easiest answer I can give you is 2-5 minutes. The best way to check and see if your pan is hot is to splash a little water on it. Just run your hand under the faucet for a second then flick your fingers at the pan. If the water sizzles and evaporates quickly, or if a droplet bounces around the surface of the pan, it is hot enough.

Make sure there is no oil in the pan if you are going to test it with water. Also on that note, always heat the pan then add any oil or fat right before adding the food. Just think hot pan cold oil.


Sometimes, you may properly heat your pan but you still get that pooling in the bottom. This is likely happening due to overcrowding. When you are searing meat you want to make sure that about 30% of the surface of the pan is open. This may mean that you need to sear meat in batches, but it will give you an even sear. Just wait a minute or two for the pan to heat back up before adding addition batches of meat into the pan.

If you are stir-frying, you’ve heated the wok properly, and you are still getting pooling, it is the same reason. You are overcrowding. With a wok, it is a little different. The key here is to add ingredients in stages, giving the wok time to heat back up after every addition. So, let’s say you put meat in a nice hot wok. You brown it then add the onion. Cook the onions for 1-2 minutes, letting the pan heat up, then add carrots, and broccoli. Cook that for 2-3 minutes letting the wok heat back up, then add baby corn and so on. For the record this is why I don’t like frozen stir-fry vegetables, they cool the pan down and boil rather than stir-fry.

Under seasoning

Why is seasoning important?

Just to be clear, when I say seasoning, I mean salt and pepper specifically. Talking about spices and herbs and acids, and all that stuff is a post unto itself.

Seasoning is important, salt specifically because it is a flavour enhancer. Pepper, on the other hand, is just flavour. So, what do I mean by salt is a flavour enhancer? I mean, salt makes everything around it taste better. It is important to remember that you should never actually taste salt. If you do, you’ve used too much, and it really is a fine balance. But, when you get that balance just right, all the flavours work in harmony and the food is more delicious than it otherwise would have been.

How to use salt?

The trick with salt is that it is a two-step process that involves one other thing that people don’t do nearly enough, tasting the food. I can not express enough how important it is that you taste what you are cooking. That is the only way to know what is needed to make it better. I know these seems really obvious to some of you, but I also know that there are a lot of people reading this who just had a lightbulb pop on in their heads. It’s for those lightbulb people that I’m saying this.

The general rule for salt is to use a little in the beginning, then taste nearer the end of cooking, and add salt as needed. Taste and adjust as needed always adding salt in small amounts.

How do you know when you’ve used enough salt?

The easy answer for me to give you is you’ve used enough salt when the food tastes as good as you think it can. This is not really a helpful statement but it’s true.

Here’s the thing about food and taste, it is subjective. If you like how it tastes then stop seasoning. However, before you do, ask yourself one simple question, “Is this as good as it can be or, can I make it better?” If you think it is as good as it can be then stopped and enjoy it. Otherwise, keep adjusting. But, remember, if the food starts to taste salty you’ve gone too far and there really is no fix to that.

What type of salt should you use?

There is a problem with regular table salt, two problems actually. The first problem is that it tastes terrible. The second problem is that it doesn’t dissolve evenly in food. So, what can happen is you season a soup, stew, or whatever, you taste, add more seasoning, taste and add more until you get it right. But then as the food sits all that salt starts to dissolve into the food and when you go back to it the food is all of a sudden very salty and you don’t know why. That’s why.

I generally recommend that people use either Kosher Salt or Sea Salt in cooking. The flavour is much better than table salt and both of these salts, Kosher Salt especially dissolve evenly and quickly in food. Both can be found at your local grocery store.

What about seasoning vegetables and meat?

You can’t really taste a steak as it is cooking to be able to tell if it has enough seasoning on it. Really, that isn’t the end of the world. People can always add a bit of salt later if they want. However, I would say that when seasoning a steak or pork chop or chicken breast or something like that, you are going to want to use more than you think you should. People have a tendency to just lightly sprinkle a bit of salt on a piece of meat, about the same amount they would put on a scoop of mashed potatoes, but it’s not enough. Think about it this way, there is no seasoning on the inside of the meat. It’s all on the outside. So, that exterior seasoning has to be enough that it flavours every bite. Be generous and you will be happy.

When it comes to seasoning vegetables, most can be tasted. You can pick up a spoon full of peas, or a green bean, or a piece of carrot and taste it to see if it has enough seasoning. It’s the same process as before; season taste, season taste.

Poor Planning

There is a saying that I love that goes like this, “Failing to plan is planning to fail”. Now, I’m not saying that you need to sit down and map out every step you are going to make in the kitchen. But, you should have all your ingredients handy and know the steps you are going to have to take to make the meal you want. Obviously, if you are following a recipe this won’t be that big of an issue.

The other important part of this is preparing your ingredients. When it actually comes down to cooking, things can happen pretty fast. If you are reaching around in a cupboard for a specific spice or trying to chop garlic while you’re sauteing your onions, things can go bad quickly.

The remedy to this problem is pretty simple, gather your ingredients, and do any chopping/slicing before you start cooking. This way when you need to add something to the pot you have it at hand and ready to go. This is a very simple way to fix a very serious problem.

I do understand that this may extend your total time in the kitchen slightly. But, it will allow you to be more relaxed, take your time to make sure the food comes out exactly how you want, and do clean up as you go. All of this will make the cooking process more enjoyable and relaxing.


Like anything, cooking is a skill that can be learned and honed over time. But that’s the key, it takes time. Be patient, and accept small wins as successes.

I hope that this post has helped you solve some problems that you may have had in the kitchen, and if you know anyone else who may be having similar issues please pass this along to them.

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