Basic Cooking Skills for College Students

Ah, college. When most students learn the art of takeout. But sometimes you just want to eat something other than bourbon chicken or tacos and the miles that separate you from mom’s spaghetti are never so long than when you need a pot of comfort food. To help our College Station students out, here are three basic cooking skills that will help you become the Jamie Oliver of Northpoint Crossing.

Read a Recipe

Just like math, cooking has it’s own language, and knowing what t (teaspoon) vs. T (tablespoon) means can be the difference between just salted enough and ruined cookies. Reading a recipe can be made even more difficult because each blog, site, or pin has it’s own way of writing. But here are some basic tips to get you started.

Start by reading the entire recipe from start to finish. Check to see if any ingredients are split (this ALWAYS gets me!) between two steps, and look at the order of ingredients. Most recipes will list them as they appear in the recipe from start to finish. For example, a garnish will always be last. Next, search any terms you don’t know. Then pay attention to the preparation method listed after the ingredient. “1 medium onion, chopped” means the onion needs to be cleaned, peeled, and chopped before being added to the pot. For even more tips, Joy the Baker has a great article on reading recipes.

Chop & Mince

It’s virtually impossible to find a recipe that doesn’t include chopping or mincing. Imagine a salad made up of a head of lettuce, an entire carrot, and a whole tomato. Does that sound appetizing? Now think about a perfectly chopped salad. Much better! That’s the difference knife skills can make.

So what’s the difference between dicing, chopping, and mincing? Chopping is cutting an ingredient into evenly sized pieces about 1/4 to 1/2 inch in size (the size of your thumbnail). This is great for ingredients like onions and peppers. Mincing is cutting an ingredient into very tiny pieces, as small as you can get them. This is used mostly for herbs and garlic. This video from Cooking Light is super helpful if you are a more visual type of learner.


Taking the time to marinate your meat is a must if you want a meal with flavor. Marinating is soaking your meat in an acidic liquid so that the meat soaks up the flavors of the sauce. If you can drink it, you can probably marinade with it. I’ve used beer, Dr. Pepper, Coke, root beer and salad dressing.

You can pick up a prepared marinade at any grocer, but to really master this skill, start mixing up your own seasoning sauces with what you have in your pantry. It usually takes 20-60 minutes to marinade, and you can let it sit in your fridge while you prep the rest of your meal.

Need inspiration? Take coconut milk, pineapple juice, a little bit of salt, brown sugar, and rum and you’ll have pina colada flavored chicken. Oil, lime, hot sauce, brown sugar and a bit of allspice make a great Caribbean Jerk chicken. This guide on Pinterest even has the times you’ll need.

Call Your Mother

When in doubt, pick up the phone and text yo mama (or dad if he’s the culinary captain of the family). Better yet, call. They’ll love to hear your voice and you can ask for advice as you cook. If you can’t reach your parent, use YouTube. It’s saved me more times than I can count!

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