Back to Basics 3: Are you guilty of this common cooking mistake?

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IMG_6681Are you a beginner cook? Or have you just started experimenting with this cooking stuff? Maybe made a resolution or 2 to get cooking this year? Or maybe you’ve been cooking for a little while but it doesn’t really feel like cooking is coming together for you?

Do you think you might be guilty of making the number 1 mistake all beginners make?

If you’re cooking EVERYTHING on the highest heat possible, then yes, you are guilty!

In theory it makes sense, right? If you turn up the heat then the food must cook faster, yeah? Well, the OUTSIDE might cook faster, but the inside will be raw. So then you’ll have to keep cooking, but if you keep that heat high then you’ll get a really dry piece of meat, blackened veggies or a burnt dinner.

That ever happened to you? Does it sound like something you’ve been doing for a while now?

I did exactly the same thing when I was starting out so don’t feel so bad. I especially loved to overcook roast meats (dry chicken anyone?), undercook pizza bases and I even overcooked an artichoke once that was so black it turned to ash (waaaaay overcooked that one!).

I especially remember one night making pizza bases that were black on top but when I lifted a shard of charcoal the dough underneath was just as raw as when I’d rolled it out (some 40 minutes beforehand). No extra cooking was going to fix it, so in a huff I threw the pizza on the bench and headed off to the shower to cry. Twenty minutes later my husband gently called through the bathroom door offering to get McDonalds for dinner (it was already 10pm by this stage).

So how can you avoid your own trip to McDonalds?

How not to overcook dinner

Here’s what you need to do so that you don’t end up cooking everything as hot as possible (or hotter).


  1. Heat the pan to hot then add a few tablespoons of oil.
  2. Add the meat to the pan. If it sizzles the pan was hot enough. (If it wasn’t next time leave it another minute).
  3. Cook the meat on high for a few minutes on one side then on the other side.
  4. Turn the heat down to low and continue to cook the meat until its done. (You might like to put a lid over the pan to help it cook through to the middle – but this is optional).
  5. Check the meat a few minutes before you think it will be done – then put it back in for a couple minutes more if its not quite ready.
  6. Meat and chicken need time to ‘rest’, which means the meat/chicken will continue to cook for 5-10 mins after you’ve taken it out of the pan (or oven) – that’s why I said to check it earlier than expected because otherwise you run the risk of overcooking it during the resting time.

For the oven:

  1. Preheat the oven to a high heat – I usually heat it to around 20 degrees (Celsius) more than I need (i.e. if the recipe calls for 180 degrees I’ll heat it to 200 degrees).
  2. Cover your dish with foil.
  3. When you put the dish in the oven immediately turn the heat down to the temperature in the recipe.
  4. About 5-10 minutes before the end of the cooking time take the foil off and check to see if the dish is almost cooked. If its no where near ready leave the foil on and cook for another 10 mins before checking again. Otherwise go to step 5.
  5. Leave the foil off so the dish has time to brown up nicely before you serve it. This might be for the last 5-10 mins of cooking depending on how high the oven is (if in doubt turn the oven down so you wont make it black and cook it a few mins extra), or what type of dish you’re cooking.


Know your cooking times

The other part of making sure you don’t overlook everything is knowing how long your food should cook for. There’s no point cooking your steak on high for 30 minutes when all you need is 2 mins on high and 6 mins on medium (I’m not saying that’s the correct times, I’m just saying to check the guidelines because most of them don’t tell you to use the highest heat possible for the longest time possible).

There are guides available for roasting and for making sure you cook the perfect steak. Try these for help:

Other tips

  • One way to make sure you have perfect meat is to use a thermometer to check the temperature at different times during cooking. Some of the above links give advice on this too.
  • All you need to know about choosing the cut of meat and choosing the cooking method of your meat is available here.

So now that you know you don’t need to use the heat as high as possible, are you going to continue to keep that heat cranked up as high as possible? I don’t think you will, but tell me in the comments which meal you’ll turn the heat down for first.

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