The One Mistake Every Beginner Makes in the Kitchen

The One Mistake Every Beginner Makes in the Kitchen

Kate Gagnon
Aug 21, 2014

Have you ever wondered what you did wrong when a supposedly crispy batch of hash browns turns out mushy and soft? Or when that piece of chicken doesn't look as beautifully crisped as on the cookbook cover?

Perhaps you're making one of the most common mistakes beginners make in the kitchen.

Many months back, I was cooking Deb Perelman's Harvest Roast Chicken with Grapes, Olives, and Rosemary at my friend's house. The recipe is one of those love-at-first-bite sort of experiences, and over time it's become a staple in my house.

It's super simple, but relies on one key process: browning the chicken, skin-side down in a cast iron skillet, before tucking it into the oven. Perelman makes a very specific note about not moving the chicken until the skin bronzes and releases itself from the pan.

Since it was my friend's kitchen, I just handled the prep, chopping, and seasoning, while she took a more hands-on role with the actual cooking. As the chicken cooked, I noticed that the browning process took much longer than the suggested five minutes. Even after 15 minutes, it never achieved the golden-brown deliciousness promised in the photo. What was going wrong for my friend?

Too much moving things around the pan, that's what.

Months later, as I watched another friend push hash browns around the pan to no avail, I realized it's one of the most obvious and easy mistakes to make in the kitchen: If you fiddle around with everything in the pan too much, it won't brown properly. Instead, take a deep breath, resist the urge to stir, and count to 10.

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

Why You Shouldn't Stir Too Often

When browning and developing flavor by searing meat or vegetables in a hot pan, you waste your work when you push and stir and fiddle. It takes restraint and patience to leave food in the pan and let it brown properly.

→ More on searing meat: How To Sear Meat Properly

Over time, I've noticed some of the best cooks I know rely on many other senses beyond sight — in addition to instinct — in the kitchen. From pressing meat with your finger to test doneness to using your nose to detect an almost-perfect batch of brownies, expert cooks are all about the other senses and have developed the patience to leave things alone to cook properly.

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