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Navigate Recipes Easier by Learning These 30 Basic Cooking Terms

Mother and daughter looking up cooking terms on a tablet in the kitchen.
VGstockstudio/Shutterstock

Cookbooks and YouTube tutorials tend to assume you know basic cooking and baking lingo. If you’re just starting out, though, you might need some assistance with your kitchen terminology. We’ll help you decipher those recipes and get on with the cooking!

While there are hundreds of cooking, baking, and grilling terms in the culinary world, we picked out the few you’re most likely to stumble upon during your recipe adventures.

The glossary below is in alphabetical order so you can quickly find the word you’re looking for:

  • Al dente: An Italian term which means “to the tooth.” It’s used to describe food (usually pasta) that is cooked until firm to the bite. Most pasta boxes provide instructions for preparing your pasta to al dente.
  • Bake: To cook food in an oven using dry heat. This term most often refers to foods that lack structure and become solid once they’re baked, like muffins and cupcakes.
  • Beat: To rapidly stir using a whip or mixer to thoroughly incorporate ingredients and air.
  • Blanch: To cook something (often fruits and vegetables prior to freezing) briefly in boiling water to preserve its flavor, texture, and color.
  • Blend: To thoroughly combine (at least two) ingredients, using a whisk, spoon, mixer, or blender.
  • Boil: To heat water to the boiling point of a liquid, which is 212 degrees Fahrenheit, and then cook food in that water at the same temperature.
  • Braise: To cook first by browning (or cooking on high heat), and then simmering gently in a small amount of liquid until tender and cooked through.
  • Brine: Salted water itself or soaking something in salted water before cooking.
  • Broil: A method of cooking that exposes food to direct high heat to cook its surface quickly.
  • Broth: A flavorful liquid made with simmering meat, aromatics, and other ingredients. Here’s the difference between stock and broth.
  • Cream: To beat ingredients (often sugar, or butter or another fat) until fluffy and smooth.
  • Deglaze: Adding liquid (usually wine, or stock) to a hot pan to loosen brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan.
  • Dice: To cut food into small (usually 1/4-inch) cubes.
  • Garnish: To decorate a dish with an edible enhancement. Examples of garnishes include fresh sprigs of herbs, a slice or wedge of lemon, or a vegetable.
  • Glaze: Finishing a food by coating it with a glossy mixture, like a sauce or jelly.
  • Grill: To cook food on an open rack (or grate) with the heat source below.
  • Jus: Pan drippings, usually created from roasting meat. Jus (along with the brown bits) can be enhanced by deglazing a pan with wine or stock.
  • Knead: To combine and blend dough with your hands (or a mixer) until it forms a pliable ball.
  • Mince: To cut food (usually vegetables) into tiny pieces.
  • Mirepoix: A combination of onion, carrots, and celery used as an aromatic base for soups, sauces, and stocks.
Mirepoix (carrots, onion, and celery) diced very small on a cutting board.
Emilee Unterkoefler
  • Poach: To gently cook food (often eggs or fruit) at a low simmer.
  • Purée: To blend cooked food (usually vegetables) into a creamy or paste-like consistency, such as applesauce, hummus, or baby food.
  • Roasting: Similar to baking, this is another dry heat cooking method. It’s usually done with foods that already have structure, like meat or vegetables.
  • Roux: A mixture of equal parts fat and flour cooked together, and then used as a thickener in soups, sauces, and stews.
  • Sauté: Another form of dry-heat cooking that uses minimal fat, and a very hot pan to cook different foods quickly. Meat, seafood, and vegetables are often cooked this way.
  • Season: Adding salt, spices, herbs, or blended mixes to food to enhance its flavor.
  • Simmer: To cook food in a hot liquid just below the boiling point.
  • Stock: A liquid made from simmering bones and aromatic ingredients, like onions, carrots, and celery. It’s usually not seasoned and offers a neutral flavor as a base for stews or dishes with multiple sauces.
  • Yeast: A living microscopic organism. It converts sugar or starch into alcohol and CO2. Baker’s yeast is used for leavening.
  • Zest: The outer portion of citrus fruits. Also, the act of removing the zest with a grater, microplane, peeler, or zester.

Post this handy list on your fridge! Hopefully, the next time you stumble upon a word you don’t recognize in a recipe, this glossary will help you out.

Emilee Unterkoefler Emilee Unterkoefler
Emilee Unterkoefler is a freelance food writer, hiking enthusiast, and mama with over ten years of experience working in the food industry. Read Full Bio »

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