15 Ways We’ve Screwed Up in the Kitchen, and How We Fixed It

updated May 4, 2022
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(Image credit: Kristin Teig)

Show me a cook who’s never burned a pot, oversalted a dish, or forgotten to add some key ingredient, and I’ll show you an alien. Yes, that’s right — all cooks (of this world, at least) fail to get it right every once in a while. We’ve been there hundreds of times, and it’s frustrating!

But take heart: Most things can be salvaged if you’re smart about it. Here are 15 ways we’ve messed up in the kitchen, and how we fixed it.

(Image credit: Alexis Buryk)

1. Our dish tastes bland or flat.

We packed the pot with flavorful ingredients and followed the recipe closely, but the end result was still underwhelming. If we were asked to describe it, we’d say eh, which is a sad thing for any dish to have to live with. Eh doesn’t cut it.

How we fixed it: We added a bit of acid at the end of cooking. Lemon juice or vinegar brightens and balances, and just a little bit can bring a dish back from the brink of blah.

2. We oversalted the soup.

We went gung-ho with the salt, and now it’s too much. Retreat, retreat!

How we fixed it: It’s a three-part punch: dilute, distract, or add some starch. One of these three things, or some combination, usually saves the dish.

3. We over-whipped the cream.

The cream was looking mighty fine until we over-whipped it into shooting distance of butter. Now it’s ruined and we have to start over … or do we?

How we fixed it: No, we didn’t start over. Instead we whisked in a few more tablespoons of cream to smooth it out. Simple!

4. We made a bad batch of coffee.

Blech — this coffee tastes like dirt, and not in that wonderful, earthy, after-the-rain kind of way, but in the dry, crusty, scorched kind of way.

How we fixed it: Fresh beans, proper roasting, ground at the last minute, clean equipment, and good water. That sounds complicated, but it’s not!

5. The brown sugar got hard.

Okay, so technically this wasn’t our fault — it’s just something that happens — but still, it’s distressing to look for brown sugar and find a hard lump in its place.

How we fixed it: When we need the brown sugar right away, we microwave it with a moist paper towel for 30 seconds. It really works!

(Image credit: Faith Durand)

6. We let food waste away in the refrigerator.

That pile of mush used to be a head of lettuce before we completely forgot about it. “Every time we say goodbye, I die a little. Every time we say goodbye, I wonder why a little.” (We’re pretty sure that song was written about throwing away food.)

How we fixed it: We keep a running list of produce and leftovers that need to be used on a dry erase board near the fridge, or on the fridge itself. It doesn’t always keep us from having to throw food away, but it helps!

7. We got grease on our clothes.

The splatter screen didn’t cut it, and we ended up with little grease spots on our clothes — spots that didn’t come off even after washing. Ugh, maddening.

How we fixed it: A grease-fighting dish soap like Dawn will get rid of grease spots on clothes. This trick changed everything for us.

8. We let something explode in the microwave.

… and then forgot about it for a few days. Oops.

How we fixed it: We microwaved a lemon (yes!), which is the easiest way to clean hard, gunky food off the inside of a microwave.

(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

9. We left food on our wood cutting board too long, and now it’s stained (and smells).

Berries, onions, garlic, anchovies — these are just a few of the foods that’ll stain and stink up your wood cutting board if you leave them sitting there too long. (Not that we would know, obviously, since we’ve never made that mistake.)

How we fixed it: We cleaned the board with hot water, lemon, salt, and baking soda, which gets rid of most unwanted smells and stains from wooden cutting boards. Then we oiled the board with a cutting board cream just to give it a little extra love.

10. We accidentally left our wood cutting board in water overnight, and now it’s cracked.

“You crack me up” is not a pun we want to hear right now.

How we fixed it: We filled in the crack with some food-safe wood glue, and then lightly sanded it. Board saved!

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

11. We burned a pot.

We set a pot of water to boil, and then remembered it an hour later. “Boiled dry” doesn’t even begin to describe it.

How we fixed it: We didn’t cry over our burnt stainless steel and enameled cookware, because there are tried-and-true cleaning methods that can save both! (In short, Bar Keepers Friend is a miracle worker.)

12. We broke a glass in the dishwasher.

Argh! Little glass shards everywhere!

How we fixed it: After picking up every large piece of glass we could see, we used a potato to catch the shards, and then ran the dishwasher on an empty cycle once to flush away any remnants.

13. We were mean to our knives.

We stored them loose in the drawer; we put them in the dishwasher; we scraped them, blade-down, across the cutting board to clear away what we just chopped. They, rightfully so, became dull and stopped doing their job.

How we fixed it: We started washing them by hand, storing them properly, and sharpening them twice a year. Things are looking up!

(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

14. We started cooking before reading the recipe all the way through, and then realized we didn’t have a necessary ingredient.

Uh-oh. Things are already cooking, and we can’t stop now to run to the grocery store.

How we fixed it: First, we reaffirmed our commitment to reading the entire recipe before cooking and to mise en place, then we looked for a suitable substitute for the missing ingredient. Here are the substitutes we rely on in a pinch:

15. We had an epic recipe failure.

Sometimes it just happens. We ended up making something that looks nothing like what we set out to make. It’s really another food entirely.

How we fixed it: We owned it. Yup, that’s right. We didn’t throw it out or apologize for it; we just renamed it! We meant to make a brownie-like cake. We meant to make something akin to flatbread. We were going for more of a scramble. It’s inventive! It’s original! It’s us, making it work.

What things have you screwed up in the kitchen, and how did you recover?