Some old wives’ tales never go out of style—like “A pot you watch for never boils” and “You are what you eat.” Just like some old-fashioned cooking tips are still worth using in your modern kitchen. Some of these tips are aha’s while others are duh’s – but all are still relevant despite the fact that home kitchens have all the latest gadgets and appliances.
We asked chefs and other cooking experts their opinions on whether these ancient techniques still hold up today, and everyone responded enthusiastically. Here are 15 clever and creative old-fashioned cooking tips that still apply. Get ready to be transported back to your grandmother’s linoleum-floored kitchen. Also, don’t miss 15 Old-Fashioned Cooking Tips You Should Never Use and find out how 16 celebs make the ultimate bowl of oatmeal.
This tip may be familiar, says Anne Grossman, founder of Rebel Daughter Cookies, but it’s worth repeating. “Refrigerate this dough. If you want a thicker cookie, solidify the butter before baking. Actually, try pre-balling the dough and then freezing it and letting it thaw in the fridge overnight. Place the cookies in the fridge that cold oven as possible. This gives the butter a chance against the hot oven.”
A wooden spoon is softer and mixes better than a metal or plastic spoon, says Michael Cook, retired chef, foodie, former owner of two restaurants, and blogger at My Conscious Eating. A wooden spoon also does not conduct heat, so you can use it to stir sauces without overheating them too quickly.
Professional chefs do it all the time, and no doubt your grandmother did it too. “Hold your leftovers and then boil them in a large pot of water for a homemade vegetable stock,” says Emily Eggers, registered chef from the Institute of Culinary Education and owner of Legally Healthy Blonde.
The salt will help the pasta combine with the sauce for a thicker consistency. “It also dissolves and gets absorbed into the pasta to give it extra flavor. Not a step to miss,” says Foolproof Living’s Aysegul Sanford.
“Fruit and veg that ripen at the same time taste great together,” says Clare Ivatt, founder of Kitchen Time Savers. Recipes that use these types of combinations will be the most successful—bell peppers combined with tomatoes, squash and sweetcorn, and kale and squash are great combinations.
This classic Old World cooking technique from Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region (regarded by chefs, historians, and culinary travelers as the epicenter of Italian cuisine) is a must-try for home cooks. Use this tip when preparing fresh (unpackaged) pasta, says chef Wendy Cacciatori, a native of Bologna and owner of Via Emilia 9 in Miami and Nonna Beppa.
In NYC. Most of his dishes come from his grandmother: tortellini en brodo, tagliatelle with bolognese sauce and hand-cut chicken breast with artichokes. “Water washes away the pasta’s natural flavor,” says Wendy, “while broth — preferably vegetables and beef — adds significant flavor to any pasta dish, even if you simply serve it with fresh butter and cheese.”
Since chicken tends to dry out while cooking, this is another classic Old World tip that results in juicy chicken. “During the steeping, the milk helps to tenderize and add moisture,” says Chef Wendy. “This also works well with roast turkey.”
When you rinse, you wash away the starch. And the sauce doesn’t stick well to the pasta. “Alternatively, you can finish cooking the pasta in the sauce with some of the reserved pasta cooking water,” says Brian Theis, cookbook author of The Infinite Feast: How to Host the Ones You Love and chef and food blogger at The Infinite Feast. theinfinitefeast.com.
Rely on your senses when cooking – for smell, colour, texture, taste – not just for the recipe. “And always taste it,” says Theis.
“A dull knife is more dangerous than a sharp knife,” says Theis.
If you are preparing beef or lamb, brown it in a skillet before putting it in the oven at the desired temperature. “It seals in flavor and ensures that as the juices flow, they add flavor instead of being wasted,” says Christina Russo, co-founder of The Kitchen Community. It’s a tip she got from her grandmother, she says.
When cooking a casserole or stew in a stew, the longer you cook it at a lower temperature, the better it will taste, as long as there is enough liquid. “Long, deep, and slow was a rule my grandmother swore by and still adheres to,” says Russo of The Kitchen Community.
This is an old-fashioned cooking tip that brings back childhood memories of Top Chef 18 and 2022 James Beard semifinalist Chris Viaud. As a child, Viaud would help his Haitian mother prepare dinner every night by grinding herbs and spices in a pilon, or mortar. He still uses this technique when preparing his Sunday lunches at Ansanm in Greenleaf, his restaurant in Milford, New Hampshire.
Read the whole recipe before you start. “Rushing through a recipe only increases the chances of messing things up — like skipping a step or using the wrong measurement,” says Lori Bogedin, chef/owner of Twigs Cafe.
Ask your fishmonger about fish trimmings, which are the leftover parts of fish after it’s been filleted. “Homemade fish broth has delicate aromas and flavors that can’t be mimicked in canned or box-store broth,” says Craig Fear, author of New England soups from the sea.