Traditionally (or as traditionally as something that was invented in the last five years can be) “hacks” refer to shortcuts and DIY solutions to life’s little problems. Time-savers.
But over the years, the term has evolved to mean something like, “Cool stuff you can do that you didn’t know you could do.”
They might not save time, per se, but they WILL make you feel smart and look awesome.
We’ve rounded up the Internet’s best kitchen hacks, broken down into various categories. (We left out a few, like using a blowtorch to pop the cork off a wine bottle, or peeling potatoes with a power drill. Come on.)
Cutting & Chopping Hacks (get it?)
Use a regular old kitchen glass to peel a mango. Cut the mango lengthwise, leaving the wide pit in the middle. Scrap the mango against the side of the glass, allowing the fruit to drop into the glass while the lip of the glass scrapes every bit of yumminess from the peel.
Make peeling winter squash easier. Microwave for 20 seconds to soften the skin on hard squash like butternut, kabocha, and acorn. You could also bake for 20 minutes, if you have the patience. (But don’t burn your fingers!)
Use an apple slicer to make evenly sized potato wedges. That one seems obvious, but it never occurred to us before.
Use an ice-cream scoop to quickly remove seeds from pumpkins, winter squash or zucchinis. (For smaller produce, like cucumbers, a melon-baller will do the same thing.)
Stick citrus fruits in the microwave for 20 seconds to loosen them from their tough exteriors (i.e. no more sticky white gunk stuck under your fingernails).
To squeeze the last drops out of a lemon, lime, or orange, they must be at room temperature. If you store these fruits in the fridge, give them some time to warm up. Alternatively, you can zap them in the microwave for 10-15 seconds.
When you need to finely chop things like onions, garlic, or anything else, use a pizza cutter to get the job done quickly.
To slice a bunch of cherry tomatoes in half all at once, lay them out on a flat surface, and cover them with a flat plate or tupperware lid. Hold the top down with one hand, and with your other hand run a long serrated knife through all the tomatoes in the middle.
Keep the pit in your avocado or guacamole to keep it from turning brown.
How to separate leafy greens from their stalks: Hold the bottom of the stalk in your right hand. Grip the stem with your left hand, just above the right. In one quick movement, pull the entire stem, hard, with your right hand. The leaf should stay in your left hand, and the stem will remain in your right. This works best with curly kale and other firm greens, but it’ll work for all of them.
To grate soft cheeses — without ending up with a mushy ball — keep them in the freezer for about 30 minutes before grating. This will harden up the cheese so it won’t stick to the grater (or itself).
Smash garlic in a dish towel. To save time (and get some crazy out of your system), wrap the entire clove in a dish towel, then bang the heck out of it against the counter. Open it up, and all the garlic will be separated from the peel. Save what you don’t need in a sealed container in the fridge.
Chop onions without crying. Store the onion in the freezer before chopping. (This only works if you plan to cook the onion; if you’re using it for salad or salsa, be aware that the freezing process will take away the crunch. But that could be good, too.)
Stop chopping onions. I decided a couple years ago, I would never chop an onion again. I cut them in half long ways, then slice into half moons. ALWAYS. If you need smaller pieces you just slice really really thin half moons.
Remove the stem and top from strawberries in one slick move. Poke a straw vertically through the berry, starting from the bottom up. This handy little trick will remove the step and leafy top in one fell swoop.
Store your saran wrap in the fridge. It’ll tear away from that serrated edge without getting all jacked up, and be less likely to stick to itself.
Give your greens some air. You know how greens get all slimy and gross-smelling when they sit in the fridge for too long? It’s because they need to breathe. Poke a few holes in the plastic bag before storing in the fridge. The same works for sprouts.
Freeze fresh herbs in an ice cube tray filled with filtered water or olive oil. Add them straight to your next cooked dish without thawing first. (If you use water, it will evaporate anyway. If you use oil, it’ll melt right into the pan.)
Save your wilty greens! When fresh greens start to get that slimy-around-the-edges look, toss ‘em in a Ziploc and freeze. Next time you need greens for a cooked dish, like soup, omelets, stir-fry, etc., pull them out of the freezer and add them straight to the pot.
Instead of letting wine turn to vinegar on your counter, freeze it into wine cubes. Use it for sauces, spritzers, or sangria.
Make the most of your nuts. Haha 🙂 When you need toasted nuts for a recipe (and if you’re not familiar with the deliciousness of toasted nuts, you’re missing out), make a LOT. You can freeze toasted nuts and add them to future recipes without even thawing. BONUS: To quickly toast nuts, use a dry skillet over medium heat, tossing frequently and removing from heat as soon as you see a little color. Or use a 325° oven or toaster oven.
To keep bananas from over-ripening, cover their stems with plastic wrap. This is another one we don’t understand; it just works.
To boil pasta without overflowing, place a wooden spoon or spatula across the top of the pot. The wood will stop the foam from boiling over. (Don’t ask us why; it just works. This is probably the most popular kitchen hack we know of.)
Make chicken stock without really doing anything. Place a 3-4 pound chicken in your slow cooker, on a bed of celery, carrots, and onion (just rough cuts; no need to chop). Cook for 4-6 hours on low. Remove the chicken, carve, and eat, leaving the veggies, drippings, etc. in the pot. Return the carcass to the slow cooker, with 8 cups of water, some bonus vegetable scraps (like those mushroom stems), and a few sprigs of fresh rosemary. Cook on low for 8-12 hours. Cool, strain, and you’re done.
To remove excess fat from soups, stocks and stews, wrap a few ice cubes in a paper towel and wipe it over the top of the food. The ice will act as a magnet, drawing floating fat towards it to congeal on the tissue.
Speaking of chicken stock, add it to everything. If you have homemade stock on hand, add it to all your home-cooked dishes for a flavor boost. Add a splash to your stir fry. Steam your greens in it. Simmer beans with some onions and peppers for an easy weeknight meal. Cook your rice in half stock and half water. The applications are endless.
Only cook with wine you’d actually drink. Okay, so this isn’t really a hack, but wine is important. Don’t use weeks-old wine or $1.50 swill. If you wouldn’t drink it, don’t put it in your food.
To avoid bacon splatter: Cook in a 400° oven instead of on the stovetop. Drain the grease into a little jar and keep it in the fridge for cooking. OR, add a bit of water to your pan to minimize stovetop splatter.
Save yourself from burnt food. If you’re sautéing veggies and they start to head toward burnt-ville, throw an ice cube into the pan. The water will evaporate, but your food will be saved.
Take advantage of frozen vegetables. Vegetables are frozen at peak freshness, so you’re not skimping on flavor or nutrition by going frozen. Just stick to plain old veggies (none of these weird flavor explosions), and you’re good. Great on busy weeknights.
Make muffins, not meatloaf. Meatloaf’s delicious, but it takes an hour to cook. Instead of waiting, portion the mixture into a muffin tin and bake at 425° for 20 minutes.
Kick up the flavor in your grains (quinoa, millet, rice, etc.) by infusing the cooking water with Lapsang souchong or Earl Grey tea. Sounds weird; tastes amazing.
Don’t crowd the pan. When roasting vegetables or potatoes, make sure to leave a little space between each piece. This will prevent sticking and ensure crispiness.
Poke a little hole in your burgers to ensure even cooking. This works for boneless chicken breasts too.
Stop trussing your birds. According to Mark Bittman, this is a time-consuming procedure that doesn’t really make much of a difference. As long as you start your bird breast-down and baste it at appropriate intervals, you’re good to go.
Cook fish perfectly. Every. Time. Start with 6-ounce fillets, and place as many as you need two inches apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Season or glaze as you desire. Bake at 400° for 10 minutes.
Overripen your bananas on demand. Need to make something sweet, like, right now, but don’t have any overripe bananas? Easy. While you’re preheating the oven, place the bananas, still in their peels, on a parchment-lined pan. When the skins are black, they’re ready to go.
Serve creamy and / or starchy dishes on pre-warmed plates to keep them from getting gummy. Just set your oven to “warm” and heat your serving dishes for about ten minutes. This will help risottos and creamy pasta dishes keep their lovely consistency, instead of tuning chewy. (Especially helpful for gluten- and dairy-free dishes, which tend to gum up a lot faster.)
BTW — you can try out these new skills with 107 Healthy Recipes that’ll make your friends think you secretly hired a personal chef.
You can bake tortillas directly on your oven rack (as long as it’s clean). Drape tortillas over the rungs in the rack and bake at 250° until they just start to brown.
Bake cupcakes & muffins in parchment paper instead of muffin cups. There isn’t really much benefit to this, besides the fact that it keeps you from having to own muffin cups. Plus it looks super profesh.
Speaking of parchment paper, use that shit for erry-thang. Line baking sheets with it to avoid tedious cleanups. Line storage containers with it to keep leftovers fresh — especially foods like pizza and meatloaf. Use it instead of a bowl when sifting dry ingredients like flour, baking soda or spices. When you’re done, just fold up the paper and dump into the bowl.
When heating up baked items, like pizza, muffins, or biscuits, USE THE OVEN. They’ll just get soggy in the microwave. Be patient and heat those babies up at 275° or 300°. If you have a toaster oven, it’ll be faster.
To stop a cast iron frying pan from rusting over time, DON’T WASH IT WITH SOAP. Use warm water and table salt to remove stuck-on food without losing all that beautiful curing you’ve built up.
Save yourself a dish. When transporting raw meat from the kitchen to the grill, line the dish in foil first. Once the meat’s on the grill, toss the foil. You can then use that very same dish to serve the finished product. (Less dishes to wash = winning.)
To remove the stink of onions or garlic on your fingers, rub them on a stainless steel surface. I use my kitchen sink, and it works every time.
Make your stainless steel pots and pans shine by washing them in a mixture of vinegar and water.
Clean your coffee pot with lemons, ice cubes, and salt. This is an old trick from the restaurant industry, and nothing works better. Cut a lemon in half. Squeeze the juice into your coffee pot, and throw the lemon halves in there too. Add ice cubes and kosher salt, and swirl around until the stain goes away. Then rinse really well, so your coffee doesn’t taste like a lemon drop. This will also work on tea stains or dingy soup pots.
Restore your wooden cooking utensils to their former glory. Boil them in plain water and leave them to dry in the sun. This will disinfect them and buy you a few more months of good usage.
To properly clean a wooden cutting board, rub with coarse grain salt and a small amount of warm water. Let sit for 15 minutes, then wipe with half a lemon and dry. This will rid the surface of any lingering bacteria, and keep the cutting board smelling fresh.
Keep your cookbooks visible (and clean) while you cook by hanging them on a trouser hanger (the kind with clips). Hang it up above the fray so you can easily refer back to your recipe without splattering food all over the page.
For some reason, there are a lot of kitchen hacks revolving around eggs. Enough to give them their own section, anyway.
To make peeling boiled eggs easier, add soda water or vinegar to the boiling water.
Use a pushpin to poke holes in your eggs before boiling to prevent cracking. TIP: Raw eggs will settle in the bottom of the shell. Be sure to poke your hole in the top of the egg, where there’s space. This way you won’t lose any egg during the boiling process.
Separate eggs with your bare hands. The best way to separate an egg is to crack the whole thing into a bowl, then gently pick up the yolk with clean hands. Transfer the yolk from one hand to another, being careful not to break it. When all the white has slid off the yolk, you’re done.
Wet your fingers to fish out broken pieces of shell from an egg. You know how you try to snag these tiny pieces and they keep slipping away from you in the slimy egg whites? Turns out a little water solves your problem.
Good eggs sink. To test the freshness of questionable eggs, place them in a glass of water. Good eggs will sink; bad ones float.
Serrated knives are better than dull knives. When your trusty kitchen knife is overdue for some sharpening love, and you need to cut stuff, switch to your serrated knife. Dull knives are annoying and dangerous.
Stop messing with tetra packs and other annoying spouts. Use a serrated knife to cut a corner off the box or carton and pour with ease. Works for kosher salt and any liquid that comes in one of those awful tetra packs.
That being said…
Sharpen your knives professionally. Okay — those “sharpening sticks” that come with most knife sets? They’re actually called honers, and their job is to keep your knives true — as in, not crooked. To get them sharpened, let the professionals do it. Your local hardware store will do it for about $7 a knife. You’ll have to live without the knife for a few days though, so plan ahead.
To keep flies and other unwanted visitors out of your mojitos, iced teas, and lemonades this summer, stick a straw through an upside-down muffin liner, and use it as a protective cover.
For crystal clear (not cloudy) ice cubes, boil your water before freezing. (Of course this takes MORE time, not less, but if you’re having a fancy dinner party or something, it’s a nice touch.)
Oh snap! Use unflavored dental floss to cut up a birthday cake with NO MESS. (And one less utensil to wash.)
How to clean mushrooms the right way: Use a damp dish towel to gently wipe the dirt off each mushroom. Don’t run them under water; they’ll turn slimy. (Bonus tip: save the stems for chicken stock!)
Blend your smoothies for a really long time. To get rid of blueberry skins and those tiny pieces of spinach that stick in your teeth, blend for at least one full minute, sometimes two.
Improvise a brush. When you can’t find your pastry or basting brush—or don’t have one—make a quick, disposable stand-in: Fold a piece of parchment paper over and over to make a small rectangle. Cut fringe with kitchen scissors, and marvel at your makeshift brush.
Make your own powdered sugar. If you find that you’re out of powdered sugar when you really need it, pulverize granulated sugar in a spice grinder to make your own.