Before one begins an endeavor, my friends, be it rocket science or preparing a nourishing meal for your family, the first step should always be defining our terms. And since our primary endeavor on this site actually is cooking dinner, I want to start by defining and explaining four of the most common cooking methods.
Some people would have you believe that cooking is an instinctual, automatic thing that we do.
They scoff at those who are confused in the kitchen and pretend that they never burned the omelet black or forget to add flour to the cookies. Yes, I’ve done both, and worse. What, you ask? Well, let me tell you – never place a glass baking dish on a hot burner, never put potatoes in the oven without poking them full of holes, and never, ever check your email while boiling dried beans.
Meanwhile, you ponder the recipe that is supposedly easy. “Sauté until golden”, it says, and it says nothing else to tell you what that means. Shall we, then, define our terms?
4 Most Common Cooking Methods
Grilling is a primal and satisfying way of cooking food over an open flame or heat.
It imparts a smoky and charred flavor that is hard to resist, which is of course why we cook everything from burgers to potatoes with this method. Whether you use charcoal or gas, a barbecue or a stovetop grill, you can transform simple ingredients into mouthwatering dishes with this method.
When grilling, we want the temperature to be very hot. For direct heat, like burgers, preheat to at least 500 degrees Fahrenheit. For indirect heat, 350 degrees Fahrenheit is enough.
There are few hot foods that can’t be improved by grilling. It works for delicate items like fish fillets, chopped vegetables, and shrimp, so long as you use a grill pan or basket.
Also, ignore anyone who tells you that the grates must be dark and charred and dirty, with some foolish notion that this imparts “flavor”. Dirty grills impart rancid grease, bacteria, and harmful carcinogens to your food, and not a single good thing! In fact, this filthy habit actually prevents your food from getting proper char marks and grill flavor. Not only is it unhealthy to expect heat alone to clean your grill, but it also shortens the lifespan of your grill.
Always clean your grill well after use and then grease the grates or grill pan to prevent sticking.
Broiling is a quick and intense way of cooking food under a direct heat source, such as a flame or, more commonly, an oven element.
It creates a crisp and caramelized crust that seals in the juices and flavors.
Most ovens have a special setting for broiling, which activates the upper element instead of the lower one used for baking. To broil successfully, you need to position your food close to the heat, usually on the top rack of the oven.
It may seem as though broiling and grilling are the same, and they are quite similar, but the difference lies in the source and direction of the heat.
Broiling is usually done under the steady heat of an oven element for a brief amount of time, while the food is in a pan or dish. In comparison, food on a grill is exposed and above an open flame.
Frying and Deep Frying
Frying and deep-frying are two ways of cooking food in hot oil or butter, but they differ in the amount and temperature of the fat. Frying can be done on any heat source, such as a stove or a fire. A thin layer of oil or butter is heated in a pan and the food is cooked by its sizzling heat. This method is good for foods that are tender and thin, such as eggs, bacon, or pancakes.
Deep-frying, on the other hand, requires a large amount of oil that completely covers the food. The oil is heated to a high temperature and the food is plunged into it. This method is good for foods that are coated or battered, such as french fries, chicken nuggets, or doughnuts. It creates a crispy and golden crust that contrasts with the soft and moist interior.
However, deep-frying can be dangerous if not done carefully. The oil can splatter, burn, or catch fire if it is too hot or too full. It is important to use proper equipment and safety precautions when deep-frying. An electric deep fryer or an air fryer can make this method easier and safer.
Sauteing is one way of cooking food in a small amount of fat.
It is similar to frying, but it uses less oil and more heat, resulting in a shorter cooking time.
This method preserves the natural juices and colors of the food, while enhancing its flavors with a light browning. Sauteing is ideal for foods that are tender and thin, such as chicken breasts, fish fillets, or sliced vegetables.
Now you know four of the most common stovetop cooking methods and how to use them to create delicious dishes. To recap, here are the main features of each method:
Grilling: Cooking food over an open flame or heat source to create a smoky and charred flavor.
Broiling: Cooking food under a direct heat source to create a crisp and caramelized crust.
Frying: Cooking food in oil or butter to create a golden and crispy texture.
Sautéing: Cooking food in a small amount of oil or fat over high heat to bring out the natural flavors and juices.
Knowing what is involved with the various terms will make it easier to plan when following a recipe. You’ll know what equipment and ingredients you’ll need that are unique to each method.