Cooking for Beginners: More Frequently Asked Questions (& Their Answers!)

Whether you’re a beginner home cook or the veteran of a thousand recipes, you’ll still have questions. We’ve kept a running list of some of these questions that crop up — from readers, coworkers, and our own experiences — that we like to look back over occasionally. We’ve already done one article covering a few of those questions, but it’s been a little over a year since we last answered them. The time felt right to look over the list and pick out a few more to discuss.

Today, we’ll be answering questions that run the gamut from annoying cooking fibs to health and safety. If you don’t see your question here, don’t worry. We’ll be sure to feature it in a future post! With that in mind, let’s start with one of the most frustrating things that can happen regularly in the kitchen.

Why Is Food Sticking to My Nonstick Pan?

One of the most frustrating things that happens in the kitchen is when you’re making a perfect steak, burger, or really anything in the pan, and it sticks. The reason why things stick in a pan comes down to a bit of chemistry. In the simplest explanation possible, by heating the ingredients (especially proteins) a chemical bond is formed between the ingredient and the metal of the pan. Usually, you can prevent this with a fat, generally oil or butter, which can create a barrier between the ingredient and the metal, as well as cause steam that further separates the two. Additionally, you can ensure the ingredient isn’t cold and is dry while the oil is quite hot. You should also give proteins long enough to fully brown and break down in the pan, which allows the ingredient to release and stop sticking.

By filling those holes, the nonstick coating effectively acts like oil, creating a barrier.

The way nonstick pans work is with a nonstick coating that fills in the microscopic holes and valleys in the pan’s metal that can exacerbate the sticking. By filling those holes, the coating effectively acts like oil, creating a barrier. Food can still stick in a nonstick pan, though, and this is where it can get annoying. It’s a nonstick pan, after all! You could be cooking at too high of a heat for the coating or using a cooking spray that may be burning at a lower temperature. Finally, it could be a sign that the nonstick coating is breaking down, leaving the metal exposed. Luckily, you can reseal a nonstick pan, preventing you from needing to buy a new one.

How Do You Properly Defrost Meat?

In the modern world, most of us don’t have the time or availability to run out to the grocery store each day to pick up fresh ingredients and proteins for dinner. For this reason, many of us shop in advance and freeze stuff to preserve it for later. That does leave you with the issue of thawing when it comes time to use the ingredient, though.

The way you go about unfreezing something can actually make you sick. We’ve touched on the proper way to thaw something out before, and it’s safe to say that leaving it on the counter or in the sink for a few hours isn’t it. Both are squarely in the danger zone of temperatures for growing harmful bacteria. Instead, you should try one of three methods.

If this isn’t an option for time reasons, place the food in a cold bath in the sink and allow it to thaw for a few hours.

The best way to thaw meat is to allow it to thaw in the fridge overnight. If this isn’t an option for time reasons, you could instead fill your sink with cold water. Place the food in this cold bath and allow it to thaw for a few hours. Finally, you can try the microwave, though your experience may vary based on the specific microwave you have. These can control the temperature and prevent bacterial growth, though you should cook the meat shortly after it’s thawed.

What’s the Difference Between Cooking Spray, Butter, and Oils?

Cooking spray is a popular alternative to butter and cooking oils, especially if you’re trying to reduce your consumption of fats. A cooking spray is a mixture of a type of oil, lecithin (which combines everything), and a propellant that helps spray everything out of the can. You can now find many different types of cooking sprays that can mimic different types of oils and even butter, which can help you in cooking and baking. Cooking spray usually doesn’t have a taste or at least a very mild flavor, so it can protect foods from sticking without adding flavor.

You should never use cooking spray on nonstick pans!

So, cooking sprays can be very useful in many situations, but there are some where they’re less effective. While they can be useful in evenly coating a cooking surface or ingredient, which can be helpful for creating a crisp edge, you should never use cooking spray on nonstick pans, as the spray can stick to the surface, and over time, weaken its nonstick performance. You should also be wary of cooking sprays if you’re allergic to soy, since soy is a common source of lecithin (usually usage of soy lecithin is identified on the can). Furthermore, while it may be nice that cooking spray doesn’t add a flavor, sometimes you want that flavor added. (Think how some dishes would miss the rich flavor or texture of butter.) You also can’t add it into ingredients, like butter or oils in certain baked goods. What this shows is that cooking spray certainly can be a useful tool in your kitchen, but it shouldn’t fully replace butter and oils.

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We hope these answers help you along as you become a better home cook. If you still have questions you’d like answered, please don’t hesitate to email living@medicareful.com or reach out on Facebook or Twitter. If it’s a really good question, we may even turn it into a full article! Our goal is ultimately to help our readers, so if you have a question about any of our subjects, we’d be more than happy to try to answer it.