Understand and Use Basic Cooking Terms and Skills

Stumped over what different cooking terms mean? Can't figure out the difference between boil and broil? Below are some commonly used cooking terms explained. Happy cooking!


  1. Understand al dente. The phrase "al dente" literally means "to the tooth". Pasta is cooked al dente and has a slight bite to it.
  2. Comprehend baking. Baking is to cook food using dry heat, usually inside a gas or electric oven. Solar and camp ovens can also bake food. Foods commonly baked include casseroles, cakes, and cookies.
  3. Recognize blending. Blending is to thoroughly mix ingredients, which may involve liquefying them in an electric blender.
  4. Understand boiling. To boil means to cook something in liquid where you can see bubbles breaking the surface. For example, pasta is normally cooked in boiling water.
  5. Learn about broiling]. Broiling is to cook something under direct heat. Common foods broiled include steak, fish steaks, chicken breasts, or open-faced cheese sandwiches.
  6. Look at Braise Meat. Braised food is first browned in a small amount of fat and then simmered over low heat in a small amount of liquid. The liquid should partially cover the food but not totally cover it. Cooking a pot roast or pork chops are two examples of braising.
  7. Know what browning is. Browning is to heat a small amount of fat in a skillet or pan, and add the food, cooking on both sides until brown in color. Browning adds color and flavor to the dish. Common foods that are browned during cooking include fried chicken, steaks, pot roast and fried potatoes. Fry or sauté are other terms used for browning.
  8. Understand cooking. Cooking is the catch-all word for preparing food, but in a more defined sense, cooking means to apply heat to food.
  9. Know what it means to chop. Chopping is to cut food into pieces. The food can be cut into fine or coarse pieces.
  10. Understand creaming. This term is normally used in baking. It means to combine butter, sugar, egg and flavoring until light and fluffy.
  11. Add cubing to your knowledge. When food is cubed, it is cut into even pieces resembling small squares. Cheese and vegetables are both commonly cubed.
  12. Know what deep frying is. Food is submerged into hot fat in the process of deep frying. Doughnuts and fried chicken are commonly cooked this way.
  13. Recognize evaporated milk in recipes. Evaporated milk is sold in cans and can be purchased in full fat or low-fat versions. The milk is unsweetened. May be used diluted in any recipe calling for milk, used in candy making, and poured into coffee or tea as a creamer.
  14. Recognize a fillet. A fillet is a thin boneless piece of meat, poultry or fish.
  15. Understand folding. Folding means to gently incorporate ingredients. Combining flour into a beaten egg whites or adding sugar to egg whites are two examples of having ingredients folded into them.
  16. Learn about Fry. Frying is to cook food in a small amount of hot oil.
  17. Know about grating. If a food is grated, the food is chopped coarsely using a food grater. Food can be grated by using a food grater or a grating disk on a food processor. Cheese and nuts are commonly grated.
  18. Figure out how to julienne. To cut food into even-sized matchsticks is to julienne. Vegetables are typically cut in this fashion.
  19. Learn how to marinate. When you marinate a food, the food is placed in a seasoned liquid for a set amount of time. The food is usually allowed to marinate in the refrigerator. Common foods placed in marinade include chicken breasts, beef, pork or turkey.
  20. Recall what it means to mix. When you mix, you combine ingredients using a spoon or mixer.
  21. Know what powdered sugar is. Powdered sugar is also known as icing sugar, and is 10X sugar and confectioner's sugar. It is a powdery white sugar, with a small crystal and mixed with a bit of cornstarch, which is mainly used to make frosting or icing.
  22. Understand what it means to proof. Proofing means to allow yeast bread to rise. It also means to test to see if yeast is still viable. To proof yeast, add a teaspoon yeast to a bit of water and sugar. Let stand ten minutes and if the mixture bubbles and smells yeasty, it is good to use for baking.
  23. Know what roasting is. When a meat is roasted, large, tender cuts of meat are placed in an oven and baked, uncovered, until cooking is finished.
  24. Make the distinction between simmering and boiling. When simmering, liquid has small bubbles that gently come to the surface. They do not "break" as in boiling but gently rise to the top.
  25. Recognize stewing. When food is stewed, it's cooked gently in liquid. Beef or chicken stew and stewed fruits are examples of foods commonly cooked using this method.
  26. Spot sweetened condensed milk in recipes. Sweetened condensed milk is milk that has sugar added and is condensed. Used in candy making, baked goods and desserts. Some people like to eat it poured over cereal or straight from the can.
  27. Know what whipping an ingredient entails. Whipping a food is to incorporate air into that ingredient. Common foods that are whipped include cream and egg whites.
  28. Understand what zest is. Zest a Citrus Fruit is the outer part of citrus fruit, removed with a scraper or grater.

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Sources and Citations

  • Terms collected from various cookbooks including Betty Crocker and from personal cooking experience.