9 Best Cooking Hacks to Save Time, Hassle and Money
A culinary instructor reveals the cooking hacks worth having up your sleeve.
Pamela is a freelance food and travel writer based in Astoria, Queens. While she writes about most things edible and potable (and accessories dedicated to those topics,) her real areas of expertise are cheese, chocolate, cooking and wine. She's a culinary school grad, certified sommelier, former bartender and fine dining captain with 10 years in the industry. When not sitting at the keys, she leads in-home cheese classes, wine tastings and cocktail demonstrations.
When it comes to cooking, it may feel like there's nothing new under the sun (your air fryer and Instant Pot can only do so much). However, social media apps like TikTok and Instagram are helping people rediscover useful tips and tricks in the kitchen. These cooking hacks tend to go viral since they often save time or money and sometimes give another use to some kitchen tool you thought was a one-trick pony. But the real question is, do they actually work?
We wanted to uncover what happens when there are no lights, cameras and action, but just a home cook trying something new, or just someone who wants to get into cooking. So we reached out to chef instructor Kierin Baldwin from the Institute of Culinary Education for her expert opinion on which cooking hacks are actually helpful and which are best left on your phone.
For more helpful tips in the kitchen, find out how to protect yourself from a leaky gas stove, how to store cheese so it lasts longer and how to store leftovers so they stay fresher longer.
1. Use a wine bottle as a rolling pin
You were certain you had a rolling pin, but it's nowhere to be seen and you'd never have begun this pizza dough, sugar cookie or cinnamon roll project without one. So…now what? A wine bottle can rescue both your dough and your nerves in one handy package.
"It works!" said Baldwin, who points out that a wine bottle even comes with its own tapered handle. You'll want to make sure the bottle is clean but otherwise roll as you would with a traditional rolling pin; no need to coat the surface with anything special. "I think it would drive me nuts though," Baldwin adds, "because it's so much shorter than a normal rolling pin. I would only do it in extreme circumstances." As rolling pins are low-maintenance and inexpensive kitchen tools, if you find yourself using this hack more often than not, it's probably time to invest in the real thing.
As a home cook, the utility of this hack might come down to your need for multiple cloves of garlic all at once, but according to Baldwin: "I gotta tell you, it works great. In a lot of the restaurants that I worked in, the prep guys would actually put two small pans together and shake a bunch of garlic cloves in order to peel them."
If it's good enough for restaurant cooks, it's certainly good enough for home cooks. Rather than smashing individual garlic cloves with the side of your knife to loosen the skins -- or fruitlessly trying to pick them off with your fingernails -- all you need is a jar with a lid, or two small metal bowls inverted together. Add garlic cloves, shake vigorously, and voilà! Perfectly peeled garlic without the lingering, tell-tale aroma beneath your fingernails.
3. Use dental floss to cut cheese or baked goods
You shouldn't try this with just anything you'd typically need a knife for. But when it comes to slicing certain creamy foods, such as cheesecake or goat cheese, dental floss is the answer. It's so thin, it doesn't create drag like the blade of a knife would, and slices come out cleanly with just a simple loop and pull of the floss. "It's also really great if you're making cinnamon rolls or something like that," said Baldwin, since not only does dental floss create clean slices, but it won't smush or flatten softer items during the cutting process.
As for the quality of the floss, "you might not want to use mint," she said. You should employ straightforward, waxed floss rather than the extra-textured varieties. "But pretty much anything else is fine."
Read more: Stop Cutting Cake With a Knife. Here's a Way That's Faster and Cleaner
4. Dice or mash with a cooling rack
"This is actually one of my favorite hacks," said Baldwin, who doesn't necessarily recommend it for foods that require a uniform, cleanly sliced look, but for when the end result is going to be a puree. Pressing your item through a gridded cooling rack not only breaks down whatever you're mashing, but it also has an added, peeling bonus.
"If I'm roasting squash and am going to end up pureeing it, you just take it -- skin side up -- smash it right on the cooling rack, and it separates it from the skin really easily," said Baldwin. "Or if I were making guacamole or something with an avocado, it's a great way to get the avocado out of the skin," also breaking it down to smashable chunks in one effort.
5. Add oil to your pasta water to prevent sticking
The best way to prevent noodles from congealing while cooking is to make sure you're using a large enough pot with an appropriate amount of water, and not forgetting to stir along the way.
What if you've been taught to add some oil to the water to ensure individual strands of spaghetti? "I do it all the time," said Baldwin. "I know chefs who say it doesn't work, but it kind of does." The oil has to be in the water before the pasta, however, so the noodles pass through the skim of oil and get a little coating on their way to the water bath.
Bonus pasta hack: Stick a wooden spoon across the top can keep your pasta water from boiling over and spilling all on the stovetop.
6. Use deli lids to cut through multiple round items at once
If you're losing minutes of your day on the regular by individually slicing spherical items such as cherry tomatoes or grapes, this hack is for you.
"Basically you put one lid on your work surface right side up, put a layer of whatever you're cutting on top of the lid, and then invert a second lid on top of that," said Baldwin, "then slide your knife horizontally in between the two lids to cut everything in half all at once. It's so much quicker than cutting each one individually."
The internet would have you freezing individual portions of sauces such as pesto in ice cube trays, but Baldwin believes it's a better trick for specific components that usually come in larger quantities than a single recipe calls for. "Two that come immediately to mind are chipotles in adobo and tomato paste," said Baldwin. "I usually just use a small amount and then freeze the rest, and freezing things in ice cube-sized quantities makes it so much easier to use up bit by bit." Homemade chicken stock is another great candidate for freezing in ice cube trays. As is leftover wine (I know, I know: what is leftover wine?) to use the next time you're whipping together a sauce on the range.
If you don't already have some, snag trays in different sizes since you may want certain leftover ingredients in larger or smaller portions when the time comes. Upstart kitchen brand Anytime makes a line of trays for freezing liquid and solid foods made from food-grade silicone with steel frames so they won't crack as easily as plastic.
8. Keep ginger in the freezer for easy grating
"I haven't actually diced ginger in I don't know how many years because it's a total pain," said Baldwin, but she's certainly not advocating for a ginger-less existence. "I just keep it in the freezer," she said, "and whenever I need some, I take out the microplane and just grate however much I need." According to Baldwin, with this method, you don't even need to bother peeling the ginger when it's frozen, a winning hack for anyone with less than fond memories of battling ginger's knobby form with a spoon. "It's so much easier than any other way," she said.
9. Cut pizza with scissors
If you never quite got the hang of using a pizza cutter, or if your gorgeous, homemade pies end up mangled during the slicing process, it may be simply a matter of thinking beyond the knife when it comes to cutting pizza. Culinary scissors are the way forward here. "Just make sure they're clean scissors, and that they're ones that have the hinge that comes completely apart for proper cleaning," said Baldwin. In other words, do not attempt this with scissors straight from your craft drawer. If you want to get high-tech, the kitchen gear innovators at Dreamfarm have created the Scizzas, a pair of scissors designed specifically for portioning out pizza.
As for whether any of the hacks that promise tear-free onion cutting have merit? "If you're crying, it probably is a sign that you just need to sharpen your knife," said Baldwin.
More home tips to keep the kitchen humming
You're Using Your Chef's Knife Wrong. Here's How
Stop Loading Your Dishwasher the Wrong Way. Here's How to Do It
The Secret to Cleaning a Cast-Iron Skillet Is Already in Your Pantry