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There used to be a part of me that thought recipe cook times were just made up.
Then I became a food blogger.
Now I know recipe cook times aren’t made up but they may as well be thanks to the comically large number of assumptions that go into them.
In a lot of ways, recipe times remind me of economic forecasts – interesting yet effectively useless in the real world.
Unless you have the same experience, kitchen layout, appliances, tools, ingredients, etc. as the recipe author in question, there’s just no way it’ll take you the same amount of time to make the same food. Not to mention people are notoriously bad at estimating time. Recipe authors are no more immune to the planning fallacy than the rest of us so while their cooking time estimates may suck, try not to judge them too harshly.
All that being said, terrible time estimates are not the only reason it takes you twice as long to make chicken fajitas as Susie Q Food Blogger. There are in fact things people do (or don’t do) that add significant amounts of time to how long it takes them to cook something.
Check out the following five common issues and see whether you’re guilty of any of them. If you are, keep that in mind the next time you feel inclined to yell at a recipe author for “lying” about the prep time.
1. Your kitchen is disorganized.
Five minutes to sort through a jumbled utensil drawer for your potato peeler, three minutes to find your liquid measuring cup in the back of a cupboard, five minutes to wash and dry your dutch oven you didn’t clean and put away the night before. All of a sudden without realizing it you’ve added thirteen minutes to your “30 minute dinner recipe.”
Small snippets of time add up fast.
If you’re constantly searching for things and fighting to get pots and pans out of cabinets then you’re wasting time.
And adding unnecessary stress to the whole cooking process.
Don’t even get me started on cluttered countertops.
Whether you have a large kitchen or a cozy kitchen, it’s important to keep it tidy and organized. Like my rowing coach in college used to always say, “A clean boathouse is a fast boathouse.”
Or in this case, a clean kitchen is a fast kitchen.
2. Your knife skills could use some work.
Are you one of those cooks that mesmerizes people with your vegetable chopping speed and uniformity?
Well you could be.
And spending even just ten minutes studying basic knife skills would pay off in spades. Just think about how many things you slice, dice, chop, mince, etc. when you’re cooking. If you could cut your chopping time in half (see what I did there?) you’d be significantly more efficient in the kitchen.
Here’s a great basic knife skills video from Tasty to get you started.
3. Speaking of knives, yours are dull.
Be honest, when was the last time you gave your kitchen knives a good sharpening?
If the answer is never then I rest my case.
Not only do dull knives make ingredient prep more cumbersome (and remember, you’re doing A LOT of ingredient prep when you’re cooking), they’re also more likely to result in an injury. Dull blades require more pressure to use and are therefore more likely to roll off a surface and chop something you don’t want them to chop.
How much time do you think chopping your thumb will add to the recipe cook time?
4. You don’t have the right tools.
If you’re a frequent visitor here at Carol the Cook then you probably know my disdain for most single use appliances. I refuse to buy a pasta machine and I don’t have a stand mixer. Ok, stand mixers aren’t single use appliances but they do take up a lot of space.
I have to concede that sometimes there’s a specific tool for a specific job and not having that specific tool can be a huge hassle. And a huge time sink.
Point in case, I love making sweet potato soup. (Recipe coming soon – be sure to subscribe to the blog so you don’t miss it!). To purée the sweet potatoes I used to transfer the soup, ladle by ladle, into a blender. It worked but it took forever and always made a giant mess.
Fast forward a couple of years and I bought an immersion blender. One of the best cooking decisions I have ever made.
Bonsenkitchen Immersion Blender
12-Speed and Turbo Hand Blender
3-In-1 Hand Held Stick Blender with Egg Whisk & 700ml Beaker
Not only did it dramatically reduce the amount of time it takes me to purée a batch of sweet potato soup (or black bean soup or tomato soup), but I also use its whisk attachment to whip up whipped cream in no time flat.
As my husband always tells me when he’s fixing things around the house, it’s important to have the right tool for the job. Stocking the right tools while keeping your kitchen clutter free requires a delicate balance but if there’s a dish you make often that would benefit from a specific tool, it’s probably worth it to buy it.
And for goodness sake if you make a lot of puréed soups invest in an immersion blender!
5. You need more practice.
How many times do you think a recipe author makes a recipe before they share it with the world?
Five times? Ten times?
Definitely more than once, that’s for sure. Yet when listing the cook time, recipe authors don’t list how long it took them to make something the first time, they list how fast they can make it now. You know, after they’ve practiced three or four or twenty times.
If you’re making a recipe for the first time a good rule of thumb is to add at least 15 minutes to the prep time. From there it’s just a matter of practice. The more you make a recipe, the less time you’ll spend pouring over each step and the faster you’ll be at producing the final product.
So, do recipes always underestimate the cook time?
No, not always.
But definitely sometimes.
And sometimes the blame lies squarely with the cook rather than the recipe author.
The next time you’re following a recipe pay extra attention to how long it takes you to complete each step. What you discover about your personal cooking process may surprise you.
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