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Quite a few of you reading this are just now entering a phase in your life when you're expected to be able to actually prepare food that doesn't involve simply combining water with some kind of powder. Due to a lack of practice, most of you will be terrible at it.

I know I was, at least. But, over the last couple of years, I've thrown myself into cooking -- not just because I'm a gluttonous white devil, devoid of willpower and basic self-control, but because it's a major release valve for personal stress. At the end of a long line of increasingly edible dishes, and after watching hundreds of hours of Gordon Ramsay screaming the word "twat" at people in white aprons, I've accumulated a list of rookie cooking mistakes everyone seems to make. See if you can't catch yourself ...

5
Cutting Meat Too Soon After Cooking It

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What New Cooks Tend to Do

You've spent 30 minutes preparing the perfect dish, and your stomach is growling. The smells are just too much, and you're not sure how much longer you can wait because you have the self-control of a 4-month-old puppy. So you pull the meat out of the oven, and thank God, it's finally done. You cut into that shit, and meat juice flows out everywhere. That's a good sign. Juicy meat is awesome. But when you bite into it, something is slightly off.

How in the hell can the meat be so dry when you just saw half a gallon of brown juice ooze out of it? Well, that's the problem -- the juice is now on your plate instead of in the meat. You didn't let the meat "rest" before cutting into it.

Why That's a Bad Idea

What, you thought that those warnings to let the food sit for five minutes before eating was just to let it cool so you wouldn't burn your mouth like a dumbass? There's a bigger reason: Once the meat heats up during the actual cooking process, the juices inside start to "boil" from the inside outward. What's actually happening is that as the meat cooks, the muscle cells contract, and the juices get squeezed out, like ringing out a dishrag. It's why you can put a piece of meat into the oven, dry, and it develops a small puddle by the time it's done -- that's not all melted fat.

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Sometimes, it's the tears produced by our soul-crushing lives.

When you pull it off of the heat, it will continue to cook for a few minutes. The residual heat from the outside of the meat will try to gain equilibrium with the cooler inside, so the center heats up while the outside cools down. A roast will typically rise another 10 degrees in temperature as it rests. That's important because as the meat rests, the equilibrium process will reach a peak before finally cooling as a whole, and at that point the muscle cells start to relax, turning into a sort of sponge and soaking up the liquid that was squeezed out earlier. Much like your bear costume at a Craigslist swap meet.

When you cut into meat before it's had a chance to relax and reabsorb the moisture, you're spilling the juice, leaving the fiber of the meat drier than if it just sat undisturbed for a few minutes. A good rule of thumb for resting a roast is 15 to 20 minutes on top of a turned-off stove, where it's still warm but not hot. Or loosely covered in foil, so it doesn't get cold. Smaller cuts of meat like steak or chicken only take five to 10 minutes. If the witch from "Hansel and Gretel" knew what she was doing in the kitchen, you could expect her to rest large cuts of meat like children anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour.

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"Dude, I cook them whole -- turds and all. So I'm not too concerned about technique."

4
Using High Heat on Everything

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What New Cooks Tend to Do

It sounds obvious to the point of being insulting to include "don't burn the shit out of your food" on a list of cooking tips, but too much heat is still probably the most common cooking mistake in the world. After all, you're hungry as hell, and you only have 15 minutes before your stolen copy of The Karate Dog finishes downloading. So in anticipation of hearing Chevy Chase awkwardly slur out his lines as the voice of a dog that doesn't do karate for 99 percent of the movie, you chuck a big ass slab of meat into a frying pan, crank up the heat to "hell" and begin cursing at and degrading the food (insulting your meat is like spiritual marinade). Shouldn't take five minutes at that temperature, right?

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Yeah, just 30 more seconds, baby. I'm like a cooking pit crew.

After all, fire is a loyal friend, and it would never, ever betray you.

Why That's a Bad Idea

The reason so many novice cooks get fooled by this is that high heat is a great way to make food appear to be cooked. A couple of minutes on high heat will make a piece of chicken look as golden as the one on the cover of a restaurant's glossy menu. Then you bite into it and realize the inside is still pink and carrying lots of still-living bacteria.

The reality is that there are only a few specific foods that ever require high heat. High-end pan-seared steaks like T-bone and New York strip. Flash-fried sides like zucchini. Certain breeds of European dog. Basically, any food that you want to be cooked more on the outside than the inside. Try that with chicken, and your ass could end up in the hospital, shitting out your soul.

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Diagnosis: Wings.

In the case of more delicate food like eggs, it scorches the hell out of the edges and bottom, turning it crunchy while leaving the middle too runny, like deep-fried semen. No, most foods will use medium to medium-high because the lower the heat, the more control you have over the process. Lower heat tends to cook food more evenly because the outside of the food is rising in temperature at a rate more consistent with the inside.

If you've ever done the dishes and had a bullshit pan that required scraping or two hours of soaking before you could get it clean, it was cooked too hot with not enough lubrication between the food and the surface. The same is true when you've cut into a pork chop or fried chicken that's started to char on the outside and is still pink in the middle. The best way to make sure you're doing it right is to not only look up a recipe before diving in, but find a video that demonstrates the technique. And also be Scottish:

Of course, none of that matters if you make the mistake that many "just moved out for the first time" college students make ...

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3
Not Knowing Your Pans

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What New Cooks Tend to Do

A pan is a pan. It's just a container to hold the food while I kick its ass with fire. Just throw the shit in, turn on the burner, and let's cook this bitch!

Why That's a Bad Idea

I'm not going to give you a rundown on what each pot and pan is used for, but there's a reason you don't see many people making a grilled cheese sandwich in the bottom of a kettle. Yes, certain pans were made for certain types of cooking, and it's not just nitpicky bullshit that finicky chefs harp about just to be elitist. They save the dick measuring for their actual food. A chef can't get away with using a single pan any more than a mechanic could get away with using a single crescent wrench. Different jobs require different tools.

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Ironically, the problem with that car is that there's a cake stuffed into the engine.

Put a cast iron skillet on the hottest flame you can muster, and it'll be fine. Do the same thing with a nonstick frying pan, and your house is going to be full of smoke on a fucking Cheech and Chong level, minus the awesome effects. Sear off and fry potatoes in a frying pan, and you'll get that nice, crispy texture you're going for. Try the same thing in a big pot meant for boiling water, and its deep sides are going to trap and hold steam, giving it the consistency of limp dick.

It's the same with size. If you try to cook pasta in a pan that barely holds the noodles, they will give off so much starch in the confined area, they'll become gummy. You need a bigger pot that allows for more water and room for the noodles to cook without touching each other too much. You'll see the same result when browning too much shit in one pan. It gets overcrowded, and the released juices saturate and stew the actual contents, ruining the texture. So to get around the size problem there, you'd need to break down the contents into two separate pans.

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Or suspend half of the food in midair until the other half is finished cooking.

But make no mistake, the pans do matter because it's all about texture. And if you don't think texture is important, imagine eating your favorite food as a gelatin. Everything about it tastes exactly the same, flavor-wise, but in the form of mucus.

2
Going Crazy With the Seasoning

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What New Cooks Tend to Do

"Look, buddy, I've watched cooking shows enough to know that the secret is in the seasoning. How much to put on, as well as the quantity of different spices. KFC makes the best chicken in the world, and their tagline is that they use '11 different herbs and spices.' So it's all about the complex chemistry of combining all of those different flavors."

OK, first of all, you need to see someone about your KFC problem. You're obviously in the throes of a debilitating depression, and you can't let that go unchecked. Second ...

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"You're being punished, young lady. Now you sit on the ground and eat that KFC and think about what you did!"

Why That's a Bad Idea

This is one area where the college kid who only has salt, pepper and some garlic powder is at an advantage. When you start cooking seriously, you'll be tempted to buy a whole rack full of spices because you want to take that shit to the next level. But for the most part, this is all about restraint.

Now obviously some dishes are going to have a ton of spices -- nobody wants chili that's just meat and beans soaking in hot water. But when you're talking about the general preparation of dishes, it's a pretty agreed upon philosophy among chefs that good ingredients should be the focus. The seasoning is only there to accent and enhance the flavor of your centerpiece. If I'm paying $15 for a thick New York strip, I want to taste the steak -- not 40 cents' worth of seasoning that was already in my cabinet. If you get good at the cooking part, and buy good meat, you shouldn't have to season the hell out of it.

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"And you can really bring out the flavor with my patented pork icing."

When looking up recipes online, I have a pretty solid rule of thumb that has never failed me: If the chef starts talking about marinading an already expensive piece of meat, I start to worry. I won't write him off just yet, because a good marinade can be awesome if used properly. But if they then start talking about five or six different spices to throw onto it after that, it's time to find another source. Unless they're a well known, proven, trusted name in cooking, chances are they're putting too much shit on it, and they're about to ruin a meal that represents several hours of time at your job in order to buy.

Of course, it's not always about just the seasoning. You can fuck up a dish just as badly by trying to make it too complex, piling lots of other foods on top. Watch this clip from Kitchen Nightmares where Gordon Ramsay encounters an entire staff of Michelin-trained chefs in a dying restaurant, devoid of customers:

They are serving high-end ingredients like lobster, but ruining it by covering it with sauces and pasta and other bullshit. It doesn't need it -- combining five good flavors often just creates one bland one. Let me put it this way: Take a hot porn star and throw a cheerleader outfit on her, and it looks great. Or maybe a Catwoman type of latex suit. Or any one of a hundred fetish outfits that come to mind. But put them all on her at the same time, and she just turns into a coat rack. What I'm saying is that cooking is exactly like porn in every way.

I'm not good with analogies. Don't put lots of shit on expensive meat.

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While you're at it, don't just jam a fork through raw meat and then point at it and smile like a fucking idiot.

But the hardest habit to break, and the most difficult lesson to accept, is when you learn that you are ...

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1
Fucking With It Too Much

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What New Cooks Tend to Do

Has it been on one side too long? It has, hasn't it? I can hear it sizzling like crazy -- it has to be burning. Should I flip it? I'm going to flip it. No, wait, it can't be burning because it's only been on there for like 20 seconds. I should leave it alone. But I can't. Listen to that thing! There's no way it's not burnt. I have to flip it right now. Here I go.

Shit, it hasn't even lost its pink yet.

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"Fuck it, it'll have to do. Here."

Why That's a Bad Idea

One of the coolest things to watch, even if you're not a fan of or don't even understand baseball, is an outfielder's reaction and motion the second the ball comes off of the bat. Just from the sound of the contact, the trajectory and the speed, he can make NASA-level calculations in a fraction of a second and position himself within inches of where that ball will land, 200 feet before it gets there. Of course, he's not a rocket scientist, and he's not psychic. He has just played so many games that it's become instinct.

That same type of second nature reaction is something you'll pick up the more you cook. You'll be able to hear a change in the way a piece of fish sizzles when its texture changes after a few minutes in a hot pan. You'll be able to tell from sight if a piece of chicken is overcooked by the way the meat draws back from the bone. Without a timer and without opening the oven door, you'll be able to tell how much longer your cake has to bake just by the smell. But until you get to that level, just like the baseball player, you have to learn the fundamentals, and don't fucking deviate from it, or you'll be playing for the Houston Astros.

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"I don't know what to do with these! Vegetables make me explode with rage!"

If you're pan searing a steak, and the recipe says to let it sit on high heat for five minutes per side, don't lift that motherfucker up to see if it's burning. Every time you do, you're screwing up the time it needs to do its thing. You're removing heat, which forces it to rebuild its momentum, and now it's fighting an uphill battle to get a simple sear.

Have you ever tried to pan fry chicken, and when you ran a spatula or tongs under it, it was stuck to the bottom of the pan? If you've properly lubricated the pan, then chances are that you didn't catch the chicken too late -- you're actually more likely to have caught it too early. Sounds crazy, doesn't it? But top chefs tell us that this is natural, and once the breading has cooked long enough, it releases from the pan on its own, and you're then free to flip it.

So leave that shit alone. Let it cook. That doesn't mean to walk away from it. Stay and listen to the sounds it makes while it's cooking. They change from minute to minute, and knowing those will improve your timing and your reaction to necessary adjustments, and make you an overall better chef. Notice the change in smells. The way it softly coerces you to stab your loved ones. The way it constantly urges you to put your dick in the bubbling oil.

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"The ham told me about your dirty little secret. You must be cleansed."

I ... I have to go. I suddenly got hungry for Fuck Muffins.

John has a Twitter. Because sometimes a dude just has to fucking FLIP OUT and type one-liners.

For more Cheese, check out Worst Job Ever: Video Game Sewer Repair and 5 Ways Television Went Crazy Since I Quit Watching in 2003.

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