Introductory Cooking Terms

Back to the Basics: Introductory Cooking Methods

When you start out cooking, there are a few basic cooking methods that you need to know how to prepare even the most basic recipes.

When preparing meals it’s good to know what the basic cooking terms mean so you can prepare your recipe correctly. Some of these may seem simple and obvious. But remember we all have to start somewhere and even a beginner cook can learn the basic skills to become a better cook with a little practice.

When I first started cooking home-cooked meals, I knew a few of the basics from watching my dad cook. However, as I continued to expand my recipe repertoire and cook from home, I had to learn different cooking methods.

For now, let’s start with 4 basic techniques and 2 advanced terms.

Originally Published On: April 6, 2018

Last Updated On: January 2, 2024

Basic Cooking Terms

Baking

Bake: to cook by dry heat in an oven or on heated metal or stones

In my opinion, this is the easiest cooking method since you don’t have to do much at all. When you bake something the oven does most of the work for you. You have to prepare the food for baking, but the actual act of baking is simple.

When you want to bake a recipe, it helps to preheat the oven. Set it to the correct temperature about 15 minutes before you plan to put your food in the oven. 

Always remember that oven temperatures can vary so keep an eye on your food so it doesn’t burn. For best results, I suggest setting your timer for a shorter time in the range and checking the food. You can cook it longer if needed, but you can’t uncook it!

Back to the Basics: Introductory Cooking Terms

Boiling

Boil: to change from a liquid to a gaseous state, producing bubbles of gas that rise to the surface of the liquid, agitating it as they rise

The second easiest way to cook food is to boil it. Boiling is done on the stovetop, in a saucepan or stockpot, usually over a medium-high to high temperature. Many foods, such as pasta, are boiled in hot water to soften or cook. You can boil them in any liquid, though, not just water.

Boiling is done to get the water to high heat to cook foods, as with pasta or hard-boiled eggs. When you are boiling soups, stews, and other similar recipes, you are boiling to also to agitate everything. This is the best way to heat those foods that are both liquid and chunky. 

When you are boiling foods, make sure to know if you need to boil water before adding your different ingredients or if you add them before bringing the liquid to a boil. 

Back to the Basics: Introductory Cooking Terms

Frying

Fry: cook in a shallow pan such as a sauté pan, frying pan, skillet, or on a griddle over direct heat, usually in a small amount of oil or a little bit of fat

There are so many things that you can fry, and it doesn’t always have to be foods that aren’t as healthy. Yes, you can make some deep-fried chicken wings and cover them with batter and oil, or delicious French fries. Frying can be used to make something like chicken fried rice which is a healthier alternative for you overall since it is packed with vegetables. 

No matter what you are frying, be careful of the hot oil and grease that spits or pops from the pan. I’ve had it hit me many times and it stings for a few seconds. Make sure to be very careful that kids stay away from the stove area when frying because the oil can cause serious burns.

Also, when frying, know the most important thing when it comes to safety: If a grease/oil fire starts DO NOT put water on it!! Turn off the heat, and try to cover it with a lid or another pan to smother the fire. If you can’t do that then throw baking soda on the fire to extinguish it. You should also keep a fire extinguisher near the stove for emergencies. But not so close that a fire would prevent you from getting to it (such as in the cabinet over the stove or directly next to it).

The type of oil you use depends on both what you are frying as well as what heat you will be frying at. You want one that holds well to higher temperatures such as canola oil or vegetable oil. I love olive oil, but it isn’t the best for frying since it cooks better over low heat. 

Back to the Basics: Introductory Cooking Terms

Grilling

Grill: to broil on a gridiron or other apparatus over or before a fire

When I think of grilling, a summer backyard barbecue comes to mind. We love to grill hamburgers and hot dogs, steak and shrimp kabobs, chicken, and anything else in the summer. In South Texas, the summer is basically from March through October, so we get a lot of time to use the grill.

grill will be fueled by either charcoal or propane and is one of the simplest dry heat methods. The one you use depends on your preferences in flavor and maintenance. A charcoal grill gives you that freshly grilled taste. But it’s not as easy to regulate the temperature of the heat and takes more effort to clean when you are done. A propane grill doesn’t have as much flavor, though it’s easier to cook on because you can turn the flame higher or lower to set the right temperature and all you have to clean afterward is the griddles.

Slowly grilling is a great way to cook tough cuts of meat, too. It warms them up while also softening the meat. And, of course, you get those delicious grill lines on the surface of food when you grill it. 

Grilling isn’t limited only to the typical barbecue grill, but can also be done over a firepit or campfire. Anytime you are cooking something on a slotted griddle or grill grates over a flame, you are grilling. I’ve also used a grill pan to get the same effect without using a full grill. 

Back to the Basics: Introductory Cooking Terms

Advanced Terms

Poaching

Poach: to cook (eggs, fish, fruits, etc.) in a hot liquid in a large pot or skillet that is kept just below the boiling point

There are two types of poaching: shallow poaching and deep poaching, which are defined by the amount of liquid the food item is submerged into when cooking. Poaching is a good method for foods that are delicate and could easily fall apart or dry out if they are cooked in other ways. Poaching food is generally a healthy option since you don’t use fats to cook.

Shallow Poaching is good for meat that is boneless and naturally tender, such as chicken breast. To do this, smear your pan with butter and add any aromatics to that pan (such as rosemary) then place the meat on top. Fill the pan with cold liquid until the meat is partially submerged. Use medium heat so the liquid doesn’t ever reach its boiling point, but stays close to it.

Deep Poaching is done in a similar way to shallow poaching, but the food is completely submerged. Add enough liquid to cover the food and any spices, but make sure there is enough space for the liquid to expand as it cooks.

Typical poaching liquid depends on the food being cooked. Eggs are cooked in water and vinegar. Fish is cooked in white wine. Chicken in a stock. And fruit in red wine. The cook time will vary based on the type of food you are poaching.

Back to the Basics: Introductory Cooking Terms

Blanching

Blanch: to scald briefly and then drain, as peaches or almonds to facilitate removal of skins, or as rice or macaroni to separate the grains or strands

Blanching foods can be done for a variety of reasons, but I’ve used it for two very different things. We’ve had some extra vegetables that we wanted to freeze to use for later, and everything I found on the subject suggested to blanch them first to help preserve the color, texture, and flavor by stopping the decay process. I’ve also blanched almonds to make it easy to remove the skin before using them in other recipes.

To blanch a food, bring a pot of water to a rolling boil. Submerge the food for whatever time interval is needed (depending on what you are blanching), then remove it from the boiling water and immediately plunge it into ice cold water. You want to make sure to halt the cooking process. Once it’s cool enough to handle you are done!

Back to the Basics: Introductory Cooking Terms

17 thoughts on “Back to the Basics: Introductory Cooking Methods”

  1. I need to send these terms to my daughter. She’s finally (married x 12 years) starting to cook more varieties of foods. She’s really enjoying it but wouldn’t have a clue what most of these terms are.

  2. These are all great explanations for cooking techniques. I have always had a difficult time understanding exactly how to blanch…

  3. angela@marathonsandmotivation.com

    This is great! I’m going to share it with my son who is just learning his way around the kitchen!!

  4. This is such an awesome post for those that are beginning with cooking. Any resource like this is so helpful!

  5. Helpful to differentiate them properly! Some people inter-exchange these terms but they don’t have the same meaning…Especially with cooking..Also, didn’t realize there was shallow and deep poaching! .Thanks for breaking them down!

  6. Oh Thank you so much for the in depth basics blog.
    Really helpful. I always get confused with blanching. Now I won’t 🙂 Love cooking!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *