You thought you had it all figured out. You’ve cooked a few roasts and baked a few loaves in your time, so you know your way around a Dutch oven and a Silpat (if you have to ask, then you definitely need this list). Your bookshelf has a dedicated cookbook section, plus several of your favorite recipe websites are bookmarked and apps downloaded. Well, we’ve got the Holy Grail. *Cue angelic singing, parting clouds, and beams of light.*
OK, maybe these kitchen hacks won’t change your life in an “I won the lottery” or “I just found out I’m pregnant” kind of way. And maybe you’ve seen a few of these before. But we’ve mixed it up a bit and covered a lot of territory here — from pimping out your refrigerator to the easiest four-ingredient ice cream you’ll ever make (no cooking or fancy gizmos required).
1. Make Eggs in the Microwave
Are you sick of eating a mediocre AM meal of bland yogurt at work every morning? Meet your new office best friend: the microwave. Find out how to make a breakfast-of-champions in just a few simple steps, plus the help of minimal equipment (a microwaveable plate or bowl). In under 5 minutes you can make scrambled eggs, or even fried eggs (hello desk-side huevos rancheros!), in the time that it would take you to order that overpriced cup of oatmeal. Your work day is about to get a whole lot better.
2. Section ground meat before freezing
You can break off as much as you need without defrosting the whole package.
3. Reuse pickle brine
Drop chip-size slices of fresh cucumber into leftover pickle brine in the jar and store in the refrigerator for a few days to make crunchy quick pickles. (You can also drop in other vegetables like green beans, garlic, carrots or radishes. For best results, par-boil these veggies before pickling to speed up the process.)
4. Wet your fingers to remove eggshell
Stray shell bits in your cracked egg? Dab your finger in water before you go after it. Water acts like a magnet and the shell will stick to your finger without having to chase it around the bowl.
5. Make limp celery crisp again
Trim the top and bottom of the celery (cut it off of the root if it is still attached) and drop the stalks upright into a pitcher or jar of ice-cold water to re-crisp. You can also store celery like this. The ice water trick also works on tired broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, lettuce, and spinach.
6. Makin’ crispy bacon without the mess
America’s Test Kitchen
Forget about the cast iron skill. Line a baking sheet with heavy-duty aluminum foil (or two layers of foil) that has been crimped at 1-inch intervals to create a disposable bacon rack. Elevating the bacon keeps it out of the grease and allows hot air to circulate around the bacon, so it cooks and crisps evenly.
7. Use an egg slicer to slice mushrooms (or strawberries)
8. Use your Microplane grater on burnt bits
If the bottom of your cookies got a wee bit scorched, brush the grater over the burnt side to buff away the evidence.
9. “Dot” your butter … better
When a recipe calls for “dotting” with butter, such as a fruit crisp or a breadcrumb-covered casserole (it adds richness and helps browning), grate chilled butter on the large holes of a flat grater to create uniform pieces that are easier to distribute.
10. Seal bagged foods with a MacGyver’d plastic bottle
11. Multitask your vegetable peeler
Use it to make curls from a stick of cold butter or dark chocolate, slice cheese super-thin for easy browning, peel off the zest-y outer layer of lemon and lime rinds (sans pith) for cocktail twists, or cut long strips of root vegetables like parsnips, carrots, beets, or rutabagas to crisp for easy veggie chips.
12. Measure sticky ingredients without getting stuck
When you’re measuring thick, sticky ingredients like honey or peanut butter, spray your measuring cups with nonstick cooking spray to make the ingredients slip right out.
13. Prevent freezer burn
America’s Test Kitchen
If your ice cream lasts long enough to get freezer burned, try trimming the ice cream container down as you eat your way through it. The lid will still fit the miniaturized container and this reduces the amount of air the ice cream is exposed to (the culprit behind freezer burn).
14. Make a toad-in-the-hole burger
J. Kenji López-Alt / Serious Eats
Put the egg inside the burger. Duh.
Will It Waffle
Scrambled eggs, brownies, cornbread, hash browns, s’mores, carrot cake, cheese squares, tofu with sticky rice. Want more waffle maker recipes? Check out Will It Waffle.
16. Pimp your refrigerator
Cut decorative shelf paper to fit your refrigerator shelves. Cleaning bonus: If you cover the shelves with Press-n-Seal plastic wrap, just rip it off and replace it when the shelves get dirty.
17. Avoid kitchen math
18. Never second-guess grain-to-water ratios again
19. Nuke your fresh herbs to dry
20. Make eating an apple nearly impossible
21. When your digital thermometer battery dies on steak night …
22. Make ice cream with 4 ingredients (bonus: one of ’em is booze!)
23. Scrape the skin off of ginger with a grapefruit spoon
Foodie for Two
Because a vegetable peeler can’t reach all of those knobby nooks and crannies.
24. Defrost meat on an aluminum tray
If you can’t defrost in water (still the fastest method), aluminum is an excellent heat conductor and will cut the defrost time by about 30 percent, according to Serious Eats – much faster than a ceramic plate or plastic cutting board.
25. 1 part oil + 5 parts water + squirt bottle = DIY cooking spray
26. Make your own freezer packs
Whether you’re packing a picnic or transporting perishable groceries from store to home, ice packs are key for keeping your goods cold in the heat of summer. If you’re all out of the mini ice packs you picked up at Restaurant Depot or the full-size ice packs are too big for your cooler, watch this tutorial to find out how to make DIY freezer packs (both solid or gel ice packs) with dish soap or rubbing alcohol.
27. Cut 34 servings from a 10-inch round cake
How hard is it to cut a round cake into even wedges that don’t fall apart? Hard enough to justify printing out this genius chart for slicing all sizes of round cakes in clever ways. Cutting a circle in the middle of a 10-inch cake and slicing around the circle produces even, sturdy slices every time.
28. Squeeze spinach with a sushi mat or potato ricer
Lox Stock and Barrel
Smooshing thawed spinach in a strainer or wringing it out in a paper towel is messy and not very effective. You can easily remove the excess water in thawed spinach by rolling it in a sushi mat lined with a paper towel or gently squashing it in a potato ricer. This trick comes in handy when you’re making something like Easy Spinach Lasagna, spinach dip, Saag with Tofu, Greek Spinach and Feta Pies, and other recipes that call for frozen spinach to be thawed and drained.
29. Test your baking powder
Baking powder and baking soda should maintain their active properties for up to 18 months, depending on humidity levels and how well the container is sealed. Not sure how long your container has been around? Find out if your baking powder or baking soda is still active with this easy test.
30. Save $200 and vacuum-seal food storage bags with a straw
An Oregon Cottage
Use a straw to suck out excess air in a zip-top bag. Removing the air from storage bags protects the food better and helps it last a little longer. Note: You might not want to use this trick if you’re sealing up a bag of raw meat.
31. The easiest way to butter corn (‘coz it’s so difficult otherwise?)
If buttering corn the old-fashioned way is too messy, drop tablespoons of cut, unsalted butter directly into the pot of hot water after you’ve removed the boiled corn. (Use a little less than 1 tablespoon per ear of corn.) The melted butter will float to the top of the pot, and you can use a pair of tongs to dip and swirl the corn in the butter.
32. Two pro tips for handling plastic wrap
If you’ve ever cursed a roll of cheap, sticks-to-everything plastic wrap, find out how to tame unruly wrap and make it stick in all the right places.
33. Because you’ve been zesting the wrong way all this time
Just when you think you’re hot stuff in the kitchen, someone comes along and bursts your fragile culinary ego. Like this totally obvious “trick.” Raise your hand if you’ve been zesting citrus with a Microplane turned the wrong way all this time, or moving the citrus back and forth instead of the zester.
34. Make potato chips in your microwave
Because you’ve tried that horrible chocolate-cake-in-the-microwave recipe every which way, and it is spongy and terrible every time, you think microwaves are meant for re-heating coffee, melting butter, and popping popcorn … period. Guess what? This tutorial on making potato chips in the microwave will make up for that rubbery, stupid “cake.”
35. Pre-scoop or slice the ice cream before serving
How is it that you’ve gotten this far in life serving rock-hard ice cream the standard carpal-tunnel-inducing scoop-by-scoop way? How did you not realize you can (and should) slice it or pre-scoop the softened ice cream into muffin tins and re-freeze it? Clearly, you have not been eating or serving enough ice cream. This changes now.
36. Grate cheese like a champ
It’s probably overkill if you only need a scattering of grated cheese for a recipe, but if you’re grating enough for a taco bar’s worth of cheddar or making homemade mac-and-cheese, this super-easy, time-saving tip for grating cheese will make it less of a chore.
37. Repurpose your green juice pulp
When you make “green juice” – an all-veggie concoction – you can use the mass of shredded pulp your juicer spits out for more than just compost. Although this smart tip won’t work with citrus or fruit-based juice leftovers, it’s a genius idea for preventing waste and getting the most out of your produce.
38. Slice a bell pepper like a boss
Have you been slicing the top and bottom of your bell peppers all this time, and getting stuck with those oddball round pieces that don’t quite dice the same way? Cutting a bell pepper this way produces less waste and a better julienne.
39. Speed-ripen bananas in 5 minutes.
One Good Thing by Jillee
You want banana bread, and you want it now. Not tomorrow. Not next week. NOW. But all you’ve got is a bunch of nearly-green, un-ripe bananas. Bake those bananas for 5 to 7 minutes in a 350-degree oven and – voila! – quick-ripened, perfectly sweet and gooey bananas.
40. Remove wine cork shrapnel with a straw
When your cork disintegrates and leaves a layer of crumbs floating in the top of the bottle (or glass), use a straw to pluck out the pieces. Insert the straw into the bottle and place the end over a piece of cork. Cover the other end of the straw with your finger to create a vacuum and remove the cork floater.
41. Start a kitchen herb garden in recycled egg cartons
You’ve seen a zillion different, clever ways to reuse cardboard egg cartons (DIY bird feeders, compost scrap, packing material), but this recycling method creates the gift that keeps giving – herb seedlings to start your kitchen garden.
42. Make interesting chocolate molds with brown sugar
Daring Baker Duluth
If craft store candy molds are a bit too heart-shaped, teddy-bear earnest or cookie-cutter boring for your taste, try this crafty trick for creating totally unique chocolate molds with ordinary objects. Brown sugar creates a rustic, purposefully imperfect finish, and flour makes an interesting mold medium, too.
43. Try the sneakiest hair-of-the-dog cure for your next hangover
Ordering a Bloody Mary or cracking a beer the morning after a boozy night may be just a tad too much for your next hangover. If you need just a little something to take the edge off, this innocent hair-of-the-dog treatment doubles as your morning breakfast. Relax, there’s only a tablespoon of hooch in it.
44. Hull strawberries with a straw
Most of us use a pairing knife to lop the top off of a perfectly ripe strawberry, but you can use a straw to push the stem and core out. This method keeps the strawberry intact and creates less waste.
45. Use a Hanger as a Cookbook Holder
Old-school rack-style cookbook holders take up too much precious counter space in some kitchens. The two clips on a pants hanger are the perfect size to hold magazines, printed recipes, and small cookbooks. Just dangle the hanger from any cabinet knob or shelf in your kitchen.
46. Make your frosting look like fondant with a paper towel
Forget the special tools or sticky, unforgiving fondant. If you want a satin-smooth surface on a cake, find out how to frost it to a fondant-perfect finish using the cheapest kitchen item: a paper towel
47. Find out how much gas is in your grill propane tank
One of these days, propane tank makers will figure out how to put a standard gauge on all gas tanks so you know how much propane you have left. Until then, there’s a way to ballpark the amount, so you’ll know if you have enough gas to cook a quick steak dinner or feed burgers to a small army.
48. Pit cherries with a chopstick
Don’t Eat the Paintings
If you’ve ever wrestled with one of those cherry-pitting gadgets, you know this: jamming a fat, ripe cherry into the pitter often scratches or mashes the flesh. This method uses a chopstick and a bottle to keep the whole operation clean and the fruit blemish-free.
This article was originally written by Colleen Rush.