What are some tips for learning how to cook?
First of all, it takes many many years to master the skills of cooking. It's a mix of art and science. If you really want to learn to cook well, you need to be in it for the long haul.
Allow yourself to fail. Every good cook has had countless flops and failures. Just consider it lesson learned and go on.
Experiment. Just try stuff. If it flops, who cares. Maybe you'll make something amazing.
It's really helpful to have someone available who already knows how to cook and will give you helping hand - not take over and do it for you but just some nudges in the right direction.
Learn to make some easy things. If you eat sweets, there are tons of easy cookie recipes. Cakes are substantially more difficult than cookies. Better have that helpful someone around who knows how to make cakes before you give it try.
Experiment. Once you've successfully prepared a food item, try changing it. What happens if I used this instead of that?
Learn some of the chemistry of cooking. Why does the recipe call for this ingredient? Why are the ingredients mixed in this order? What would happen if you changed the order?
Experiment with flavors.
Learn as much as you can from other people's experience - buy cookbooks and read the material between the recipes - where the author talks about the food and how it's prepared.
Start simple. Make a simple easy dish and then elaborate on it. Yeah, at some point, you're totally going to mess it up, but that's OK because you're going to allow yourself to fail.
Well, I have been cooking for more than 20 years, and haven't mastered everything yet, so if you can do it in just a few, I am jealous.
I learned some skills from my parents, starting at a very young age. My mother did everything from scratch. Her family had farms, so we even made cheese, soap and lard. Weird types of stuff, but you can see it was learning about where our food comes from, and how everything is used. There was no waste. Even organic scraps were composted to provide mulch for the garden.
A lot of people get their start from cooking as they grow up. Some don't catch the bug until they're older, true, but they've usually been exposed to different cuisines and become enamoured with learning to cook them. Some take a job in a restaurant, then discover that they have a passion for cooking, or just think the line cooks look cool.
To ‘master' cooking skills takes dedication. If all you want are tips to help you avoid wasting money on expensive restaurants, or having something more nutritional to eat than fast food and processed frozen dinners, then I suggest watching a few cooking shows, with chefs who instruct and don't just prepare. Eric Ripert, Lydia Bastianich and Jacques Pepin are three chefs who are excellent teachers. Another important and basic skill is how to use a knife. Links like
Learn to Prep, master making a roux, the importance of time and temperature, and the difference between cooking and baking. Do this and some day you will overhear others at your party mention your cooking skills while muttering "I just don't know how they can do it, they probably cheat.
Let's start with time and temperature. Understanding it not only will keep your guest and yourself from getting sick, it will give you the ability to create a masterful meal that appears almost effortless to others. While working at Wolfgang Puck's, the guest at that $125 a plate wedding reception had no idea that most of the cooking had actually started 2 days ago. Vegetables can be carefully cut and stored, sauces prepared from scratch, pasta noodles precooked, meat pre cooked or at a minimum pre seared, and recipe ingredients pre portioned out. To make this happen you have to get a good understanding of how the different ingredients react once they are cut, and or cooked, and how long they can be stored in that condition without affecting taste, texture, and safety. Instead of a cookbook, the first book I would buy would be a gently used college book on "Sanitation and Safety".
The next thing to start working on is Baking. A professional will tell you that while cooking is an art, baking is a science. The biggest mistake people make with baking is not having a clear understanding of the reaction of the ingredients in the mixing process, and the actual portion of the ingredients. A cheap kitchen scale is needed for consistent results because in baking, all dry ingredients should be weighed. A cup of flour for example can vary quite a bit in actual size dependent on how densely it is packed, but by using weight, you will end up with a consistent size or portion.
Finally learn to make and master Roux. A simple mixture of fat and starch (generally butter and flour) carefully cooked to a consistency needed dependent on the end use. It may start as flour and butter, but in cooking, roux is like a atom is to life. You can turn it into soup, gravy, and sauce, once you learn its complexities. You can use other starches to thicken with, but none will ever be as good day in and day out, as a roux.
If I were to start my career over again, I would probably only buy two books for cooking. Betty Crocker (which I've had since I was 12), and the Sanitation book I already mentioned. The rest would be recipes compiled on my computer along with links to my favorite recipe sites, and also stored on my cloud (google drive) in case I need them on the go. Ok, I would still probably end up with a closet full of cookbooks, that's what cooks do, but its a good theory. I think I'm a bit too old to completely trust in the internet, and or not have my best friend Betty Crocker around if I need her.
Safety first! A kitchen is a dangerous place. You have hot things that can burn you, you can start a fire, you can poison yourself if you don't handle food properly and let it become contaminated with bacteria. Sharp knives can cut, wet floors can be slippery.
here is a slideshare presentation about it, a quick internet search should give you many more kitchen safety pages too.
here is another page from food Services America
I would also say to first learn about patience and heat control. Learning to fry a perfect egg, make an excellent pot of tea, and boiling potatoes for mashed potatoes would give a good start on learning those skills.
Accurate measuring matters. Collect a decent set of measuring cups and spoons (both liquid and dry), thermometers and timers. I use a digital scale a lot. If you shop carefully these do not need to be very expensive to buy. When starting to cook a book of simple recipes that you can follow will help, and I would like to suggest a book meant as a text for a professional cooking course. I have a couple of good ones I got at a thrift store very cheaply. I have also seen Gisslen's Professional Cooking 7th edition available very cheaply on the internet, so again if you are careful you can get professional quality texts economically.
You should think about the comfort foods you like the most and learn how to make those first. For me, it was always some kind of noodle or macaroni or pasta. If you learn to make homemade macaroni and cheese, which involves learning how to make a basic white sauce, which involves learning how to make a roux, you will be set, plus you might get a few marriage proposals. Butter, flour, milk, grated cheese and your choice of macaroni shape. Bam, you are fed and your friends think you are a god. Good spaghetti sauce is another easy thing, to which if you add bacon, you will make friends for a lifetime. College kids are hungry and dorm food sucks. Be a hero and learn to cook these things.
The main thing about learning to cook is just practicing. I'm a very good cook, but I have been practicing for 45 years. You are lucky. There are only 750 thousand cooking videos online these days, so you can learn by watching too. Don't try to make a crown roast or puff pastry right away. Start with food you already like and go from there.
Good for you! Cooking is a wonderful skill to have and improve.
Start simple. Learn what foods and spices go well with each other, and don't make the ingredient list complicated until you're more experienced, or unless a recipe guides you.
As you learn more, don't be afraid to experiment. Don't be afraid to fail.
Have a variety of spices on hand. Spices make food interesting. The wrong combination or amount of spices can ruin a dish.
Ask other people to taste your food. Request their honest feedback. If you cook only for yourself, it may taste good to you, but mildly passable or even awful to someone else. Conveniently, this could also allow you an opportunity to create and foster friendship.
Be sure to treat your tools correctly: pans, knives, utensils, and dishes. If these are not treated properly, cooking can be a real pain.
Don't use too much oil. Oils are used partly to make cooking easier, but they also add flavor and change texture. Using too much can ruin a dish. As a personal preference, I would suggest using coconut, avocado, or olive oil. They contain good fats, and they add nice flavor to dishes.