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7 Cooking Shortcuts You Can’t Get Away With (And 1 That’s Totally Fine)

Know when it’s OK to cut corners when you’re cooking—and when you might sacrifice safety and taste.

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Fresh green beans boiling in water on stoveZigzag Mountain Art/Shutterstock

How bad is it to boil instead of simmer?

Pretty Bad. A simmer consists of small yet constant pockets of bubbling and a few wisps of steam (roughly 180°F). A boil produces constant steam, with large bubbles quickly rising to the surface (212°F). Boiling destroys the protein in meat, drying it out. However, a boil followed by a cold rinse is best for colorful vegetables like green beans, which can fade when simmered. The takeaway? Closely follow the method the recipe calls for.

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Housewife prepares roast chicken in the ovenAndrey Armyagov/Shutterstock

How bad is it to cook before the oven is preheated?

Somewhat Bad. This shortcut could raise your risk of food-borne illness, especially if food has been out at room temperature for a while. When food is in the danger zone of 40°F to 140°F, bacteria multiply quickly. To be safe, it’s better to wait until the oven reaches cooking temperature. This is how to cook chicken breasts in a pan without drying it out.

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Two moldy bread portions, slices of food with toxic mold or mould with plenty colored spores lying on wooden board with blurred background. Nobody, horizontal orientation.; Shutterstock ID 159728873; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): TOHAriene Studio/Shutterstock

How bad is it to just cut away the mold?

It Depends. Firm foods are more likely to be safe than soft foods. Mold generally can’t penetrate deep into hard cheeses like Asiago and cheddar, so it’s OK to cut off about an inch. The same goes for firm produce like bell peppers and carrots. However, chuck moldy-looking foods with high moisture content—yogurt, soft cheeses, cooked leftovers and bread. Porous foods are likely to be contaminated beneath the surface. On the other hand, here are 11 foods you’re throwing out too soon.

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top view of eggs in bowlJiri Hera/Shutterstock

How bad is it to bake with cold eggs?

Somewhat Bad. Many recipes suggest bringing eggs to room temperature before baking, since ingredients mix best at the same temperature. This creates a smooth batter that rises well for fluffy desserts like angel food cake. For cookies, which are chewier if baked with chilled batter, mix ingredients at room temperature, then chill for 30 minutes. Here’s how to fix the 15 most common cooking mistakes.

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You rinse the cooked pastaLileephoto/Shutterstock

How bad is it to skip the pasta rinse?

Not Bad at All. It’s actually your best option. Rinsing noodles washes away flavor and natural starch, which helps the sauce stick. It’s why some recipes suggest saving pasta water to use in sauce. Instead, skip the wash and spread drained pasta on a pan to cool.

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Frozen meatSUJITRA CHAOWDEE/Shutterstock

How bad is it to refreeze defrosted food?

Somewhat Bad. If you defrost food in the refrigerator (which should be 40°F or below), it is safe to return to the freezer, but it won’t takes as good. Defrosting melts frozen water molecules, causing dryness and changes in texture and flavor. Defrosting the food a second time increases these effects. Make sure you’re not keeping these foods in your freezer.

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Grilled Tender Flank SteakTaste of Home

How bad is it to not let meat rest?

Pretty Bad. If you don’t let meat sit after it’s done cooking, the flavorful juices will run out of the meat, leaving your dinner dry and bland. These juices migrate toward the center of the meat cut during cooking. Allowing just five to ten minutes for a small cut like a boneless, skinless chicken breast or steak allows juices to redistribute throughout.

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Person adding raspberries to their food processorTaste of Home

How bad is it to use a blender and a food processor interchangeably?

Somewhat Bad. For liquid foods like salad dressings and soups, a blender mixes ingredients efficiently. But these recipes can be messy in a food processor, which can leak if any liquid covers the blade piece. For solids like veggies and nuts, however, opt for the food processor. A typical blender’s tiny blade creates air pockets that make it difficult for solids to mix. Next, check out these 25 other brilliant kitchen shortcuts you can get away with.

Sources: Sabrina Sexton, program director of culinary arts at the Institute of Culinary Education; Candy Argondizza, vice president of culinary and pastry arts at the International Culinary Center;;;;;;;

Reader's Digest
Originally Published on Reader's Digest