The science of cooking

As gardens and local farms are in full swing this month producing vegetables of all sorts, I’ve found myself revisiting  America’s Test Kitchen to make sure I’m using evidence-based techniques in my kitchen. I thought it’d be a great time to revisit this post about this culinary research center.

If you’re a haphazard cook like I am, you’ll often wonder why some of your dishes taste like they could be served in a five-star restaurants while others fall short. I’ll admit, I regularly throw together a meal on the fly – often while tending to a cranky baby, or helping a preschooler write his name. So all of my attention is not always focused on the meal in the works.

That said, I find that if I understand a culinary principal – like dishes taste better if your sauté the onions and garlic first – I’m more likely to follow it. So I was thrilled to finally discover America’s Test Kitchen. This real kitchen is home to a cadre of chefs that test everything – from recipes to ingredients to kitchen gear – and offer the best take on evidence-based cooking that I’ve seen to date. (It also serves as a research center for several cooking magazines and books, a big web site with lots of evidence-based cooking tips, and a television and radio show.) Some of my favorite evidence-based cooking tips from the kitchen include:

  • Don’t over-beat your scrambled eggs.  (This shocked me.  I always thought you were supposed to whip them up to be light and fluffy.0  That’s because the protein strands in an uncooked egg are coiled up like a bunch of tangled wires. Cooking the eggs uncoils the protein.  But if you overbeat them, the proteins will uncoil too much and form a tough structure – leading to dry, touch scrambled eggs.
  • Add salt, not oil, to your pasta cooking water. The salt adds flavor to the pasta, but oil prevents sauce from adhering to pasta.
  • For baked good, it’s important to use butter at room temperature – between 65 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Beating butter and sugar together at this temperature allows the maximum amount of air to be beaten into your batter, which, when baked, turn into slightly larger, and very evenly distributed bubbles, creating lighter baked goods that rise more in the oven.

If you cook regularly, it’s certainly a resource worth checking out.  Understanding the science behind our food makes it more fun and interesting to cook!


  1. Sharon Pikul says:

    The modern scrambled egg. Try your blender running at least 600 rpms or greater. The higher the speed the fluffier the egg. The blades of the equipment cut up the strands and incorporate more air than a wire whip. Air is the first key to fluffyness.

    Next consider water and not milk. Why, the yolk is fat and the white it protein. They don’t mix easily. Water acts as an mo calorie emulsifying agent. Milk contains more fat which in theory might coat the protein strands, but because of the fat it takes more milk than water to mix. More liquid means longer cooking time and the chance that you can over cook.

    But however you cook them – high heat constant stirring , poaching, or in the oven just under 200 degrees, the preference is based on time. In a restaurant, or with a family of 6, fast in king. However at home and when time is not an issue, the preference is yours

  2. Well, I certainly won’t be over beating my eggs from now on I can say that much.

  3. Simply add a spoonfil of butter or less, depending on the size of the dish and heat it up. It will be creamy again.

  4. Some really good tips on how to cook right! I particularly agree on the pasta and salt relation. The water there, at least 3 litres for 500 gr of pasta, should be as salty as the sea.

  5. Pasta is one of the most important creations in human cooking history! It combines well with whatever kind of meal you choose – be it a vegetarian or meaty. What I have heard about cooking pasta is that oil shouldn’t be there while boiling. The water, though, must be as salty as the sea one! What’s more, though you might want to eat you pasta portion immediately, because it will dry, there’s a trick here. Simply add a spoonfil of butter or less, depending on the size of the dish and heat it up. It will be creamy again.

  6. locksmith says:

    I love the tip about scrambled eggs. Another tip is to add half an egg shell worth of milk for each egg used and to take them off the heat when they still look fairly wet. The heat in the pan will be enough to finish them up without overcooking them. Add a sprinkle of paprika and you’re set! 🙂

  7. Ann Douglas says:

    I am so thrilled to have discovered your blog. You speak my language (evidence-based everything). And you have a sense of humor. Thank you for helping to direct me to other terrific resources — and for the great cooking tips here. (I am not exactly a chef myself.)

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